Here I am, one week after my shoulder surgery. I am doing okay this lovely holiday weekend. More on current events later.
Today is the story of my shoulder surgery experience. To learn about how I got into this mess, click here.
I got a labrum repair and stabilization surgery on my right shoulder. Basically, on top of a painful tear in my cartilage, I also have very, very loose joints. Before the procedure my doctor said that when I was under, he would examine exactly how loose they are. Later he followed up with, “They are very loose.”
Why is this a problem? Because my shoulders slip backwards out of their sockets pretty much any time there is something pushing my arm back. Not such a problem until I started really working in physical therapy and realized I could no longer stretch my pectoral muscles against the wall because my shoulders weren’t staying in place. Plus, maybe someday I’d like to do pull-ups, or fall when running and not have something get torn. I’m only 30 and I should be able to get stronger if I work toward getting stronger.
The more pressing problem to me was the grinding pain of the labral tear, though. I use my arms for everything at work – conducting, ukulele playing, whiteboard writing, throwing instruments at children. The pain needed to go away because the instruments weren’t flying far enough.
So on to the experience. My amazing husband Brian agreed to drive me there. The time to be in Pismo Beach was 5:45am for a 6:30 surgery, so we stumbled out of bed at 5am and began the day. I never knew there was such a thing as a “surgical center,” but that was where my surgery would be taking place. When we got there at 5:39, naturally, the door was locked and I had a very paranoid moment that we were at the wrong place even though it looked just like the picture on the brochure and said “Coastal Surgical Institute” on the door. So we just waited a minute for the door to unlock.
It was quite well decorated inside, very cozy, lots of purple. The nice receptionist signed me in and I only had to wait a little bit. I was taken back to a room with lots of beds separated by purple curtains. The nurse had me stand on a scale that talked. “Sorry, she’s kind of bossy,” she said.
“Please step off,” the scale verbalized in a robotic English accent. I was relieved to see the number wasn’t that bad for me. “At least she’s polite,” I said.
I was brought to my bed where the nurse brought me a gown and offered me socks and a warm blanket, to which of course I said yes. The socks were royal blue with white sticky paw print shapes on one side. “The paws go on the bottom.”
Once I changed, and sat on the bed, and the nurse confirmed that it was indeed my right shoulder they were operating on by writing “YES” on my arm in purple marker, it was time to poke me for the IV. No big deal, I figured. I’ve been poked and attached to an IV before. But for some reason it didn’t work on my wrist, or on the inside of my elbow, so they wrapped my left arm in a warm blanket in an attempt to expand my veins.
While they were doing that, my surgeon came in. “So we’re working on your left shoulder today?” I laughed at this hilarious joke as he initialed my right arm. He had been a lot nicer to me since the first two times I saw him. I felt weirdly self conscious that they were having difficulty finding my vein and I tried to avoid looking by introducing the doctor to my husband.
Somewhere in there the anesthesiologist came in to introduce himself and talk about what he was going to do. It sounded horrifying. The first thing he would do was sedate me, so that didn’t sound so bad. Then at he would administer the nerve block using a long needle to inject stuff into my neck. “We could do this while you’re still awake, or after you’ve gone under,” he said. Guess which option I chose?
When the IV finally got figured out they put the sedative in. They introduced me to a male nurse that would be helping out in my operation. (I never saw him again.) My bed got wheeled into the operating room and I was asked to crawl over to lie on the still bed. Once I did, that’s the last thing I remember.
I woke up back in the comfy bed to voices talking. My husband was there and it was daylight outside. The most amazing sensation was keeping me warm. I found out it was just hot air being blown under the covers. I wanted to live in that. It didn’t take long to remember where I was, but it took awhile to figure out where my arm was because I couldn’t feel it and was afraid to move either side. The nurse offered me a beverage and I asked for water. I sipped on some through a straw and dosed off again.
When I woke up again the nurse suggested something with sugar in it because it can take awhile to wake up otherwise. It had been since dinner the night before that I’d last had anything to eat or drink, after all, and it was now approaching 11 am. So I asked for some ginger ale. That perked me up. Brian said, “It looks like they have to monitor your meanness now.” He was referring to the blood pressure monitor, where at the bottom it read “MEAN: 70.”
I said, “If you were hooked up it would say a thousand.” This is the love we share.
The nerve block had put my arm into phantom limb mode. I really thought I was wiggling my fingers, or that my arm was resting to the side of me, but it was secure next to my body.
I didn’t want to leave the paradise that was the bed with hot air blowing under the blanket, but eventually they asked if I was ready to try and get up. I said fine, if I must.
The nurse helped me get dressed and asked if I had a bra to wear. I said nope, so we put on one of my trusty shark shirts, bad arm first. Then because apparently no bra means also no underwear, she put on my pants without underwear. (Honestly I would have said something but I just didn’t really want to.) I had a giant padded dressing on my shoulder that looked like a football pad under my shirt.
The nurse attempted to fit me into a sling that seemed rather ill-fitting. She looked at the box. “Size large?! No…”
Take two, I got a medium sling. At that point I think my doctor came back and gave quick directions. “Move your arm like this a few times a day. Squeeze the ball a few times a day. Do not put your arm across your body at all!” He smiled as they wheeled me away into the daylight.
My sling is intense. The doctor had described to me in my pre-op that I would have a pillow that keeps my arm facing forward and doesn’t allow it to cross my body. I guess when you get your shoulder stabilized it has to un-learn all the tricks it used to rely on to move normally.
Brian drove me home and built me a pillow throne. I basically slept on and off that day. I was anticipating the nerve block wearing off. I think for me that was the most uncomfortable part of the experience – looking at my fingers, willing them to move and them not moving, poking my arm and not feeling it, but knowing as soon as I started to feel it it would be time for the heavy meds. And anticipating lots of pain. I didn’t actually experience much pain at all, just discomfort from the anesthesia, the meds, and the numbness.
I had some toast when I got home, and a small amount of leftover soup around dinner time. It was hard to eat when there was so much flavor. I hadn’t anticipated that my heavy soup spicing habits would be an issue.
I went to bed where we built a second pillow throne (including a travel neck pillow!) and I’m fairly certain I slept upright through the night. I had set alarms for drugs, and was able to take them, and they made me feel drowsy enough to fall asleep immediately after. I kind of already miss those days.
The second day was hard. Getting up, eating breakfast, taking the meds. I mostly dosed the day away. I tried to drink water but the anti-nausea meds advised against it because it would cause headaches. The timing of food, pain killer, anti nausea, and water didn’t quite work out. I threw up my dinner that night. My amazing husband waited on me hand and foot – good Bri Bri.
Day 3 was better. I wore different clothes and went for a walk with Brian. He just worked a half day that day. I would have been okay if he’d worked the full day but I really appreciated his company.
Day 4, Monday the 18th, was my first day out. I got the dressing taken off and got to see my stitches for the first time. The doctor showed me photos of what they did. “It was really easy to see because your joints were so loose.” Thanks doc, I get it.
My hair was starting to look like I’d been taking grease baths, so I asked Brian if we could go get it washed. And finally, I felt human again.
So that about sums up my surgery experience. Right now I’m 9 days after and feeling okay. I no longer feel a need to take the narcotic pain meds (though they were amazing for helping me fall asleep). I just take a prescribed anti-inflammatory once every 12 hours. I don’t feel a huge amount of pain at this point in the game. I try to go for at least one or two walks each day, though it’s a little different right now as it’s Christmas weekend. I have started wearing sports bras during the day but still keep my clothes very comfy and 1-arm friendly.