WOW, it has been a long time since I was last on here. At least I’m posting now!
Today I’m going to write about something I had not seen addressed when I was looking into life after shoulder surgery. But first, I will update you on my life.
Going Back to Work…Kinda
On March 26th, I returned to work. My principals seemed surprised to see me even though I had e-mailed them. I learned later that HR had not distributed my return note…whoops.
It was a bizarre and intense experience to be back. I prepared all of the ukuleles for the third graders who would be meeting me for the first time (I would have started their lessons in January). I was so happy to deliver that first lesson to each group and excited to teach them the ukulele. All of my lessons went smoothly and wonderfully.
Band was a different story. At one of my schools, some very sweet children who weren’t even my students came in and asked if I needed any help setting up my classroom, so I directed them as they moved the chairs and stands into place for me. It was wonderful. At the other school, I had no help. I had to lift the cafeteria benches to move them into place, and they were HEAVY.
It was a shock to see how many students were still in my bands…not many at all. I’d left in December with over 140 total band students, and I think I only saw about 40 or 50 that week. It was the week before spring break, and maybe the kids didn’t know I was back, but it wasn’t something I expected. It happens over time, and I was seeing three months of attrition all at once.
There were a lot of things about work that I found physically overwhelming. The fact that I had to lug my laptop around to do any kind of digital work was hard. I went to my partner teacher’s classroom to work, carrying my laptop bag. Because I knew I would be there awhile, I also brought my lunch, water bottle, purse, and books. Because the school is gated and I had to walk through the office to get to the room, I walked about a quarter mile with all that heavy stuff.
Every school was like that. Every place I went, I had to carry a million things. Plus, there was stuff in front of my stuff that I had to move. NOT ideal for a shoulder healing from surgery. I was tired, very sore, and hungry because I kept forgetting to buy food to prepare lunch at home.
Mental Health Is Important Too
The straw that broke the camel’s back was on Wednesday, the 28th of March. I was originally going to help my friend lead the district honor jazz band, but here’s the thing…I was out late on Monday going with my other colleague’s band to festival, I was out late on Tuesday for regular band practice. On Wednesday, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and heartbroken that only three students had shown up to my last class of the day.
I could not even show my face to the honor jazz rehearsal. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I could not make it through one week of teaching.
The truth is that teaching music, band, or any kind of program where you build something throughout the school year is contingent on consistency. Leaving it for three months and then coming back is DIFFICULT because March and April are the pinnacle months of the school year.
And the truth is that I overlooked that. Because I wanted to be back so badly. I wanted to be normal again so badly. But I’m not normal yet.
My therapist (counselor) insisted on Friday (March 30th) that I ask for more time. I called my doctor’s office the following week (spring break) and got two more weeks.
And then, faced with trying to figure out what the remainder of the school year will look like, and feeling completely hopeless that my program for this year has essentially been ruined, she suggested last Thursday (April 12th) that I don’t go back.
It’s Okay to Feel Feelings
The normal that I used to be is gone and I am sad because of that. My situation is different from other kinds of situations, my work is different from other kinds of work, and my surgery was different from other kinds of surgeries.
Things that I used to do, tools such as exercise that I was using to manage my emotions and process my thoughts, are not available to me the way they had previously been. Other things that I do to help myself, physically and emotionally, take more time right now. I have to respect that.
I am nervous about asking my doctor to extend my leave through June. My therapist said that if he doesn’t write a note to take me out, she will.
The important thing to consider is, who am I helping by being overwhelmed? Is it healthful for me to work in that state? Is it safe for my shoulder? If my work allows me to stay out, I can start again in August with every system in place to be my very best self in my teaching practice. That’s what the students deserve.
In the mean time, I’m doing everything I can to just breathe. And making some damn good videos.
To start from the beginning of the shoulder saga, click here.
How’s my shoulder now? It’s weird. It’s perpetually weird. You guys…will my shoulder ever be normal again?
I’m a little over 3 months past my surgery now. I’m still going to PT twice per week.
Last week I told my therapist (the newest one) that I was struggling with pain. I went on a road trip that ended up being a day longer than I’d expected, meaning I missed two doses of the Relafen (anti-inflammatory). And I was torn about when I should return to work.
The PT said that if I was having a lot of pain when I missed one day’s worth of pain meds, it’s probably not time to go back yet. And it takes 3-4 months for anyone to go back who has this procedure. I’m still normal. I’m still doing okay.
I also had lost track of what the day was, and I thought spring break was next week, but it’s actually in two weeks. So the PT said, of course, “Just take next week off, then you’ll have the spring break week, and you can start fresh!”
But now I’m feeling like if I waited until the real spring break, two more weeks off and returning to work on April 9th…that might be a little too long. For my comfort as a music teacher whose goal is to maintain the program.
My dad called me as I was grappling with this. (He’s had rotator cuff repairs on both of his shoulders – not the same condition as mine, but similar.) He said yeah, it’s probably going to just be painful forever. Just go back to work and keep doing the exercises at home, and be careful at work in the meantime.
My PT said, “You would not want to injure yourself again.” It’s important to remember that my job is quite physical. I lift heavy items and open heavy doors and do awkward arm-related things.
So for now, the plan is to return next week, work for one week, then have spring break, and then business as usual. I haven’t had PT yet this week, so I suppose we’ll see how it goes.
How is my shoulder feeling now? I have a lot of tightness in the front part of my bicep, actually kind of close to one of my incisions. Stretching is hard because of this tightness but it’s supposed to be like that, I guess.
I asked to have some massage work done on my back behind the shoulder blade. It’s been kind of tingly-numb there. Because of my restrictions, I don’t really have any stretches to counter all the forward-type motion I’m doing. The massage work helped a ton, and the therapist also suggested self-massage by rolling a tennis ball on my back against the wall.
I’m doing a lot of strengthening exercises every day. I’m up to 80 wall push-ups and 80 of each rotator cuff band exercise. (I do the rotator cuff strengthening on my left side, too, just to keep it strong.) I also practice my range of motion in the mirror and use a homemade pulley to stretch those stubborn biceps.
I’d say I spend about 40-50 minutes per day doing PT exercises at home.
In the therapists’ office (?), I’m now pulling back 20 pounds in seated rows, 4 sets of 15. I’m also pulling down 20 pounds, a new one for me. I do range-of-motion exercises in the mirror and lying on my stomach, with 1 pound weights on my wrists. Those are hard. The goal is to get up to 4 sets of 20 on those, but they take a long time. Currently I do about 4 sets of 12.
How’s my range of motion looking?
Something to know about these photos – even though I am pretty close with my reach here, it is a LOT of effort to bring my arm up this high! Even though I’m practicing bringing it up like this 60 times a day.
I’d like to think my ideal would be to effortlessly be able to get my arm next to my ear. And now, for the most awkward photo to take:
This reach has improved, but I haven’t been stretching this way every day. I was told that it should come last after everything else is in place.
I have a confession to make: I have been playing trumpet or flugelhorn practically every day this month. And wow, I’m sounding good. And wow, that might have something to do with how weird my biceps are feeling. Maybe it’s bad for me to do that. But…but…but…it’s truly healing for my soul.
So that’s basically where I’m at right now, in terms of my shoulder. Work in 7 days…hmm…we’ll see.
I wanted to write today about one of my favorite concepts. I strive to integrate this throughout working with my band students, who constantly are in a place where they have to learn something new all the time.
Learning an instrument is hard, in different ways to different students. Sometimes it’s about learning how to listen. Sometimes it’s about re-shaping what the face does. Sometimes a student has difficulty with reading notation. Sometimes everything is in place, but playing in front of a teacher is really scary.
There is ego involved with something so liquid as music. Success at something one time does not guarantee success a second time. Student musicians constantly experience potential embarrassment.
These difficulties are all normal and okay. We work through them.
What happens if we’re comfortable all the time? Maybe I’m sitting on the couch, mindlessly playing a game on my phone with the TV on cartoons (this may or may not be something I do every morning). My body is using minimal energy, just resting. There is no challenge to the muscles and no growth in strength. There is no progress.
The same thing happens with the mind, and this where my anecdote of the day comes in. Because I haven’t been working – I’ve been on disability leave for six weeks and still have six more weeks to go. And that’s a big deal to me.
Something you should know about me – I’m an introvert. That is a part of my personality that I am very aware of. (Introverts tend to be very aware that they’re introverts. Many of the most charismatic educators I’ve ever learned from have confided to me about their introversion.)
And I have a natural inclination to be shy. This is something I’ve worked on my whole life. My career (talking to students and adults) has lent itself very well as a stage to my explicit practice of social skills. I love talking to people. But I get nervous if there are problems – they are uncomfortable. It has taken me years of work to get to a place where I can talk to people as freely as I do about issues at work.
This takes work and maintenance. Just like anyone with a hot muscle-y bod, if I don’t do the work it takes to maintain those mental muscles, the skills deflate.
My Own Discomfort
I am approaching six weeks into recovery from a major shoulder surgery. Before the surgery, I was bendy-bendy-bendy. I could twist and contort both of my arms in all directions. I could bring my clasped hands over my head from the back to the front. I could lick my elbow.
So imagine my surprise today, in physical therapy, when I was asked to bring my arms forward and up, and then out and up, and I could only begrudgingly go about halfway.
I am embarrassed to say that this hurt my ego a little bit. I thought I was so great because I used to be able to do so much before. I thought, because I had worked so hard to stay strong before the surgery, that it wouldn’t take so long to regain my range of motion or strength as my protocol suggested.
I was so wrong and that was truly the uncomfortable part. It hurt like needles in my shoulder and like daggers in my mind. No way am I anywhere near ready to resume the activity level required to do my job at the present moment.
I was mean to my therapist. I questioned what he was having me do. He assured me that he was following the protocol outlined by my doctor. I am embarrassed that I didn’t trust him for a second and I plan on apologizing next time.
One of my favorite professional development talks I ever went to was a session called “Mindfulness, Discomfort, and Growth.” It was geared toward teaching GATE kids, but I firmly believe that students and humans of all needs can extract value from taking a mental inventory of any uncomfortable moment. (The presenter was Dave Mochel, by the way.)
I loved it when he said, “The best two times to practice mindfulness are when things are going really well, and when they aren’t.” When I got home from PT this morning, I immediately prepared my dog for a walk and prepared my brain to feel some feelings. Years ago, I would have felt hopeless about my situation and cried on the couch. (This is still a valid thing to do, but I’ve gone through this process so many times I’ve learned how to streamline it/save it for later.)
As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I immersed myself mentally into every aspect of how I felt. My arm already aches. It will hurt more tomorrow. I will plan on breathing through the physical pain that I know is in my future. I will probably do a drug.
There is also mental discomfort. I regret that I gave my therapist attitude. I retraced the steps that prompted that behavior. I realized that some of my mental/social muscles (usually exercised at work) have weakened. I will work on mending that important relationship.
Through mindfulness I can figure out the source of our discomfort, and create a plan to either fix it or work through it. And there is growth. It’s my most powerful tool.
My recipe post philosophy: Recipe first, dumb story later.
1/2 cup cashews, raw and unsalted
1 cup (plus some more) water
Anything else you like – I used a splash of maple syrup just to add some “complexity.” Some recipes call for a pinch of sea salt. Whatever floats your boat.
Submerge the cashews in water and soak for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Drain the cashews and place in a high-speed blender.
Add 1 cup of water, plus any extras.
Blend on the highest setting for a few minutes. If the mixture looks grainy, add a tablespoon more of water.
You have a choice here: You can use a nut milk bag or cloth napkin to squeeze out the liquid into another container. With the cashew dregs left on the napkin, you can scrape them off back into the blender, add more water, and blend again. OR, you can just enjoy as is. There may be a grainy texture to it but it will still be tasty and get the job done.
Place liquid into a container that will confuse your husband and roommate.
My go-to creamer since giving up dairy has been the soy creamer from Trader Joe’s. I’ve loved it soooo much, but since I’ve been looking to reduce my waste I knew the time had finally come to consider making my own creamer.
Plus, those additives manufacturers put in creamers to make them shelf-stable can become really detrimental over time. (I’m looking at you, carrageenan.)
A lot of creamer recipes call for coconut oil or coconut milk, but the truth is, neither of those ingredients is a whole plant food. And yes, I do consume those things on occasion if there’s nothing else available, but coffee is an every day beverage for me, and I’m not comfortable putting so much saturated fat in something I drink every day – especially when I can make this instead.
I’m excited to keep this recipe in my weekly routine because of how cost-effective it will be. One pint of the Trader Joe’s soy creamer is about $2.25, and I used about one per week. Over a year, that’s $117.
A 40-ounce tub of cashews from Costco, while not waste-free, is one recyclable plastic container as opposed to 52 non-recyclable Tetra-paks. It costs $21.99. It will make 19 batches of this recipe, which is about a pint if you use the extra water like I did. You would buy about 3 (or exactly 2.73) tubs to make this recipe every week for the course of a year. That is an annual cost of $60.18: a savings of almost $57!
57 extra dollars could buy a lot of something, or one pretty nice thing. If you drink creamy coffee every morning like I do, this is the cost-effective way to do it.
One thing I will say is that the appearance of the creamer in the coffee is not perfectly smooth, especially if you don’t shake it up a bit before pouring. It may look grainy. Consider if that’s really a problem for you. If it were milk or something unfamiliar, I’d be worried if my creamer looked like that. But since you saw everything that went into the blender, and you know it’s just tiny chunks of cashew, you should assume it’s perfectly safe. Just stir it up and enjoy!
Please let me know if you try this, and what you think!
It’s a little dreary out to walk the dog right now (only 60 degrees, I’ve become such a wimp) so I thought I would update my friends and family on how my shoulder recovery is going.
If you are new to this saga of my life, I had labrum repair surgery on December 15th, 21 days ago. I’m at the 3 week mark! I will put links at the bottom of this page if you want the full previous context of my experience.
Last Doctor’s Visit
I went in for my 2-week follow up last week and was disappointed to learn that I am actually supposed to have my sling on for 6 weeks, not the 4 weeks my original work note had said. You guys. I don’t have a regular sling that holds my forearm across my body. I have an immobilizer with a wedge-shaped pillow that keeps my right arm facing straight ahead all day and night.
So that was disappointing to find out.
I also got my stitches out. They put steri-strips over the scars, which the assistant said would “come off on their own.” But last night I decided to just peel them off, because it had been 6 days.
With my stitches out I was able to start physical therapy this week. I was visiting this same facility frequently before my surgery, before I was able to get an MRI and was just trying to figure out the source of my pain. They know me there.
I came in Tuesday morning and my therapist said, “So, cartwheels and push-ups today?” Heh heh heh…I wish.
This set of exercises, of course, was very different from what I was doing before the surgery. Before it was a lot of strengthening and stability exercises. Now it’s just getting used to the feeling of using it again – letting it hang, curling my arms, climbing up the finger ladder and using the pulley to reach a little higher.
It felt weird that I could only get my elbow as high as my chin. My shoulder feels so different – like moving it at the wrong angle could dislocate it again. I guess that’s why I have to stay in the sling for so long.
I have relinquished a lot of freedom in my life by only having use of one arm. I can’t drive with my sling. Luckily I have a great husband and good friends who can take me places. My husband just had a lot of days off in the past few weeks, so it’s been nice to spend some extra time with him.
I get approached a lot by people in public now. Many people will ask, “Rotator cuff surgery?” (no) or “Who did your procedure?” or smile and say “I remember those days!” I find that people at check out stands, in making polite conversation, will ask what happened. I promise a lot of people, it looks much worse than it is. (Though maybe it’s just as bad as it looks? I don’t know.)
I wonder if that’s what it’s like to be pregnant.
I’ve been using my Chromebook a lot to write blog entries and read other people’s blogs. I’m liking this routine, peeking into other people’s worlds. I’ve also been reading a few books like I said I would. I’m preparing to go “zero waste” and making plans for how I’m going to live my life when I have my independence back.
I’m still walking my Loon dog once or twice per day. Usually I will walk about 3-5 miles a day total. It’s important to me that I move around as often as I’m able.
I have done two, beginning-level, YouTube spin classes on the exercise bike. Those are challenging and I’m glad to get even more of a lower body workout. I can’t do it all the way because I’m wary of standing up with only one hand to grab the handlebars. Still, it’s a good aerobic workout in a situation where I can only move one arm.
I really, really miss cooking my own meals. Brian is a good cook, but he doesn’t always want to cook. And those days we get take-out, which creates a lot of trash and is expensive. I bought a lot of pre-cut veggies from Trader Joe’s so I can cook some meals with one hand. I know it’s a lot of packaging waste, but I can’t cut or hold something down that’s being cut with my right arm. So for now, it’s take-out, leftovers, smoothies, veggie burgers, and sauteed pre-cut vegetables.
Bathing is getting easier. With my stitches out I can shower like normal, and I have washed my own hair (with one hand) twice. I was starting to get a rash in my armpit area, so I applied hydro-cortisone cream on it for a few days and made sure my arms were completely dry after bathing, before I got dressed. That seemed to help a lot.
I can’t put my hair up at all unless I contort my neck at a crazy angle. Something I didn’t realize – boys do not know how to tie ponytails. I asked my husband to tie my hair up and it felt like a kindergartner was playing with my hair! I know what I will teach my future son.
I am pretty much a pro at buttoning my jeans with one hand now. I got tired of feeling like I was always in pajamas.
It sucks. It sucks. It sucks.
Some nights I’m like, “I will probably sleep really well tonight!” But most nights I do not.
The evening after my first PT session, my 40-pound heeler dog jumped on the couch and practically sat on my bad shoulder. It was so painful I decided to break out one of the hard core painkillers from right after surgery. I slept well that night!
I have taken to occasionally smoking the wacky tobacky before bed. The stuff we have is not particularly strong but it helps a little bit.
I’ve had vivid dreams almost every night since the surgery. It’s like my brain has been processing every possible awkward or uncomfortable situation I could ever have and making me live through it. Last night I dreamed that I was teaching the ukulele to my music teacher colleagues, and we were using ukuleles from my schools. But they were dirty and in cruddy condition. Why did my dream self let those ukuleles look so bad?
Honestly, though, this week I’ve had an easier time sleeping through the night. I think exercising more helps a lot, which is why I was excited to get that bike.
That is about it for where I am. If you’ll excuse me, I must walk my doggy. Thanks for reading!
To read about how I got into this mess, click here.
To read about how I prepared for my surgery and recovery, click here.
To read about my shoulder surgery experience, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 13, click here. 🙂 Woo!
Today for me marks the anniversary of a surprising doctor’s visit. She said, “I wanted to talk to you about your cholesterol. It’s high.”
I was so surprised to hear that at the time. I had been a vegetarian since 2005, the day after I graduated high school. But the truth was, I still ate eggs for breakfast every morning. And cheese with a few meals a week. And put half and half in my coffee.
I asked, “Is there anything I can do?” The doctor, also a vegetarian, suggested a plant based protein powder for breakfast instead of eggs.
I chewed on that information for awhile. And I used the protein powder for awhile. I started to think about why I stopped eating animals in the first place. I thought about how much I had wanted to give up all animal products, but I knew so little in 2005 about what a plant-based lifestyle was.
I made a plan to “eat plant based two meals a day.” That escalated quickly to veganism. Quickly, like within two days. Because, I figured, if I’m going to eat in a way that’s health promoting and reduces suffering in the world (the latter of which eventually far outweighed the former), why only partake 2/3rds of the time? Why only do the best thing most of the time when you can easily and happily do the best thing all the time?
What had stopped me from taking the full leap to veganism in 2005? Lack of education. When I was a kid, in college grocery shopping for the first time, I had no idea legumes could be a cheap and easy staple. I looked at packages of vegan cheese and thought, “That’s so much more expensive than cow milk cheese!” I just didn’t know.
This time, as a 29-year-old woman with a job and an Amazon Prime membership, I knew what I wanted. I did not want a diet full of processed food. I wanted something that would support my active lifestyle and keep me healthy for as long as possible. So I typed in the search engine, “Vegan whole food cookbook.”
(And quickly learned that the term was “Whole foods plant based.”)
I bought an embarrassing number of cookbooks. Some of them were way over my head with the amount of work the recipes required. Some of them called for ingredients that were already in my house! (I gravitated toward those ones.) I liked “Forks Over Knives” for the simplicity in their recipes. I loved “Oh She Glows” because it helped me branch out when I wanted something more impressive.
I read “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. Twice. I learned about food that has been shown to be health promoting through science.
I changed what I bought at the grocery store. Beans of some sort are always on the list. Instead of two eggs for breakfast every morning, it was now overnight oats with berries, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, shredded wheat cereal, cinnamon and walnuts. Replaced 1/2 and 1/2 with the soy creamer from Trader Joe’s, easiest switch ever. I warmed back up to grains like rice, quinoa and barley, which I had mistakenly dismissed under the influence of my keto and paleo friends. Nutritional yeast, which I had loved in my days at Humboldt but slowly phased out when my partner expressed a distaste for it, came back with a fierce yellow vengeance. Instead of any oil for cooking, vegetable broth became my jam.
I got better at bringing my lunch to work. Unconsciously I had started relying on a bagel and cream cheese from Starbucks to eat for lunch in between sites. It became easy to bring last night’s leftovers to work because I would throw just about everything in the fridge into my dinners.
I experimented a lot but also had healthful fallbacks. I’ve developed a love for creating food.
My mom and stepdad gave up meat and dairy this summer. I relished in an opportunity to put together a vegan Thanksgiving for them. It was truly the least stressful Thanksgiving I’d ever had.
Inevitably I ran into the awkward situation of saying I was vegan while wearing leather shoes. They were thick-soled black Mary Janes, shoes that I had bought before I went vegan. Shoes that I wore to work nearly daily. (Extra shame points for being a vegetarian so long and still partaking in this.)
I came to realize there was more to be done in this journey to be less of a burden on the world. I donated my jackets that had down feathers. I switched my leather purse I’d purchased in a thrift store for a nylon bag. I realized it wouldn’t be practical to donate my leather shoes because I needed them for work, so my plan is to use my shoes until they become unusable, and not buy any leather in the future.
I thought about toiletries. I changed to a more ethically produced soap that isn’t tested on animals. I switched to a natural deodorant. I’m still trying to find the right hair products for me, but you can bet when I find the one it will have that starry bunny logo on it.
The Hardest Parts
For me, by far the hardest part about going vegan has been my fear of judgement from non-vegans. I try to have a thick skin and stick to my guns and research but I’m a really sensitive person and care about what people think. For that reason, I generally avoid mentioning veganism unless it comes up.
I don’t like when people say sorry for eating meat in front of me. My lifestyle choice doesn’t have to be the source of your sorrow, and now you’ve shined the awkward spotlight on me. I’m still brainstorming better ways to respond to this behavior.
The restaurants in my area are not incredibly vegan-friendly. The one a few towns up that is, sells mostly salads and smoothies. (No thanks, for $8 I can make my own at home, plus 3 more for my friends.) Dining out is a chore and I generally try to avoid it if I can. I much prefer to cook a nice meal for others. I want to open friends’ eyes to the fact that vegan food can be nourishing, filling, and delicious.
After 1 Year
Now I feel like I don’t have to work so hard to navigate this lifestyle. I can put together any kind of meal. I’m not afraid to ask if something is dairy-free. I feel supported by my loved ones and enjoy seeing the changes they have made in their lives, too. I look forward to enjoying a lifetime of veganism. There are still challenges when it comes to people who are less educated about the horrors of factory farming and what it takes to get animal products to the table. I still struggle to find the right words when people sincerely ask me “Why are you vegan?” But I’m working on those things. It’s always a process.
I haven’t followed up with my bloodwork yet. I’d be interested to see if it’s changed since last January.
Thoughts? Questions? Please feel free to share! See you next time.
Hola my friends and two followers. It has now been 13 days since my shoulder surgery. Here is where I am today.
I stopped taking the narcotic painkillers regularly around day 5, and used them to help me fall asleep until around day 7 (when we left for Christmas). I’ve been taking a prescribed anti-inflammatory called nabumetone, just 2 times a day. It didn’t help me at all before the surgery but I think it makes a big difference now.
I’m not feeling a huge amount of pain right now. I didn’t ice my shoulder at all yesterday, and only iced it once today.
Sleeping is the worst since I stopped taking the narcotic painkillers. Every night I try to get to sleep upright but it’s very uncomfortable, and my butt slips down and I end up just on my back with my forearm sticking straight up. Last night I slept on my left side, placing a firm pillow under my sling pillow so my arm would stay put. That kind of worked. Then my big fluffball kitty Emmy, with her massive kitten mittens, stepped on my bad shoulder with her full weight on each paw. Not the massage experience I was looking for.
I woke up last night at 3am. After failing to get back to sleep for an hour I looked at food webcomics on Bored Panda for the 4:00 hour. Then attempted to go back to sleep around 5am. At 6:15 I gave up and went downstairs for breakfast. I felt like I’d stayed up late writing a paper for college, but I had nothing to show for it.
This afternoon I napped for 2 hours. I woke up feeling horrible. I hate naps. Tonight I will attempt to either sleep on the couch, or re-construct my pillow fort to be more supportive. I think I may also try consulting with Aunt Mary Jane before bed so I can stay alseep. I keep forgetting that’s an option.
Took a bath this morning and shaved my legs thinking it’ll be 74 out today, maybe I’ll wear a skirt. I attempted and failed to shave my armpits. I scrubbed my right armpit 3 times and it still smelled like B.O. Can’t say I didn’t try.
Got a nice hair wash and blow dry. The other client there also had just had surgery. I don’t know what I’m going to do after becoming used to the jetset Fantastic Sams lifestyle!
Since getting back from Christmas I have resolved to go on at least one walk a day, if not two, if not three. The person who was feeding my doggy when we were gone overfed her, so she has put on a little bit of holiday weight. (I, being vegan in a sea of non-vegan social functions, actually felt like I didn’t eat enough for much of my trip.) We walked 4.6 miles yesterday, and 4.3 miles today.
My great work friend brought over her exercise bike she never uses, so I’m excited to give that a try. I figure if my arm has to be totally still, I should still be working on my lower body strength. I can get a little more cardio in that way, too.
My only arm exercise right now is to bend and straighten my arm a few times. I do that 2-3 times a day, usually when I change clothes.
Speaking of clothes, I wore a real bra today! And jeans! I’ve missed looking like a grownup.
My mental health has been up and down so far. Christmas took a lot of energy out of me, much more than I wanted it to, with a jam-packed 3 day schedule of event after event after event. I missed the relaxed and low-key way my own family celebrates.
At home, I’ve been watching a few shows, but I’m trying not to watch TV and look at my phone all day. I’ve been trying to read books. I have a lot of books in my house that are cookbooks or nonfiction “How to do this!” kind of books. Cookbooks are great for when I’m able to drive to the store, purchase ingredients, and use two hands to chop vegetables. But now it just makes me sad that all I can make are leftovers and soup from a can.
I’ve been sloooooowly reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, since I am a musician. It’s good but so long, and I’m not sure reading about music is as exciting for me as actually listening to or participating in making music. After this I think I’d like something lighter and definitely fiction. Reading is actually kind of hard because of what I have to do to hold the book open. But I can make it work.
Walking the dog has helped me break up the day. Luna Loveypants is a great walking dog. We’ve bonded a lot. Plus I’m hoping the sun exposure will help me more to sleep at night.
I’m trying to navigate the cause of my insomnia. I’ve never been great at sleeping. I think it comes down to, even though I have very minimal structure to my days while on disability leave, I’m trying to impose more on myself. I don’t think that’s as good for me as it is for many people. Maybe when I start PT and have more of a routine going, that will change.
So that’s where I’m at. 🙂
To read about how I got into this mess, click here.
To read about how I got prepared for my shoulder surgery, click here.
To read about my shoulder surgery experience, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 21, click here.
My work release note was much more intense than I expected. I’d timed my surgery so that I’d miss one week before winter break started, and I figured maybe a week or two after winter break ended.
But considering that my job as an elementary band teacher is fairly active, that most of these restrictions are ones I couldn’t avoid even with modifications, and that I don’t even have a desk from which I could perform “admin duties,” my district HR director and supervisor agreed that it made more sense to use up all of my sick days (I had 46 of them accrued!) and take the full 3 months off as recommended by my doctor’s note.
It is really strange as a teacher to be taking 3 months off of work in the middle of the year – especially as a band teacher, where subs who know about music come along but once in a blue moon. My supervisor and colleagues have assured me that the kids will be okay and will not be ruined from not learning from me for 12 weeks. But my shoulder will be ruined if I go back to full conducting, white board writing, and band room set-up too soon. So that’s that. Once the sub plans were written, people were aware of where my stuff was, and people who needed to know I’d be gone were informed, I’m now gone until the doctor releases me back.
Pinterest Is My Friend
Something that has really helped me understand my condition and what I might be in for was to look up “Shoulder surgery” and “Labrum repair” on Pinterest. I found a handful of blogs from people who have gone through similar experiences to what mine would be with tons of ideas on how to make recovery life easier. Sometime when I’m less lazy I’ll link those pages up, but for now I’ll just link my Pinterest board.
I saw a lot of advice from surgery blogs about meal prep and making sure you just have food easily available for when you can only use one arm. It seemed like some people went all out and did individual meals but I like adjusting based on how hungry I am. So starting Thanksgiving week, each week my hubby and I made a different giant pot of soup, ate one or two bowls from them as our meal that night and froze the rest in a large Pyrex container. When it’s time for a new soup, I’ll switch it to the fridge to thaw the morning before consumption. I like doing it this way because in each bowl I can also throw in a handful of fresh spinach, something that everyone on constipation-inducing painkillers could always use more of.
Three of my four soups were from the How Not to Die cookbook which just got released. I wanted my meals to be as health-promoting as they could possibly be. All of the recipes in this book are nutrient-dense, and whole-food plant-based.
Something I did not get, that I would recommend should you be on this journey, is saltine crackers (the low sodium kind). Especially in those first few days when eating a whole meal seems like too much, crackers give your stomach just enough to feel like there’s something in there. I didn’t expect to be so sensitive to intense flavor in the first few days, so that may be something you want to take into consideration when planning food. I usually love spicy food and soups, but even bland store-bought hummus was too much flavor for me in the beginning of recovery.
I’ve been trying to have a smoothie every day to make sure I’m getting enough fruit. I use the new “Purple Crush” juice from Trader Joe’s that is fairly hearty, bananas that I froze, frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries or strawberries, fresh spinach, flaxseed, maybe almond milk, water, ice, and a tiny bit of maple syrup. It’s soothing just to slurp it down.
I’ve been able to just do my regular overnight oats for breakfast. Usually I pre-soak steel cut oats overnight, and in the morning add flaxseed and frozen berries and microwave for 2 minutes. After that I add whole-grain cold cereal (I like this for texture), walnuts, almond milk, cinnamon and some maple syrup. The one complaint is that it’s hard to scoop up the last bite of something with only one arm.
Comfy and Cute
It occurred to me that, while I did have a small variety of yoga clothes and jammies, I would definitely want to be changing my clothes every day and night (especially since, realistically, I’m not bathing very much). I needed more easy, loose, stretchy clothes I could wear all day and most importantly, pull over my head/legs without full use of one of my arms.
So I did a thing I’ve been trying to avoid doing as someone who tends to hoard T-shirts, and I went to Target and TJ Maxx and scoured the clearance aisles for tops in soft fabrics in sizes larger than my usual. I also found some cheap pairs of plain black pajama pants that could kind of look like real pants if I went out somewhere.
Zip-up hoodies have been my friend for going outside and for keeping my ice packs in place while I sleep. I bought this one for a steal not even realizing I’d be living in it.
I bought some cotton sports bras online but I have yet to wear a bra 6 days into recovery. I’m starting to doubt that I ever will again. Some of the blogs suggested “bandeau” bras, but I was not able to find anything that matched that description at Target. So, no bra it is! (Plus my giant immobilizing pillow sling covers everything up anyway, so it doesn’t matter and nothing matters.)
Think about shoes. When you’re in a position where you can’t really use one arm, tying shoes doesn’t quite compute. I invested in a very comfy pair of flats I’ll be able to wear to work after this is done. I also have been wearing a slip-on pair of knock-off Keds out to walk to the dog.
I’d had a pretty luxurious mane of hair that I loved, and then I realized it would get in the way of everything after a surgery. So I cut it all off in the easiest haircut ever – shoulder length with no layers. (It took longer for our hair guy to do my husband’s hair!)
The week before my surgery I made the mistake of switching shampoos to one that makes my hair about a thousand times greasier than it ever was before, two days after the previous hair wash. So on Monday after my surgery, when my hair had last been washed on Thursday, I was feeling pretty disgusting.
The suggestion from several of the blogs was to get your hair washed at a salon. There were only two ladies working this week before Christmas so we had to wait 40 minutes, but it was SO worth it to finally feel human again! She did a wash and blow dry for $17. For future reference, she told me, a wash by itself is $6 and a wash and French braid is $13. Three days later, it still looks cute.
So that takes care of the hair washing part. But what about the rest? Umm…people have their different ways. I’m not a super obsessive showerer and can go a few days without. I thought I would need Brian’s help the first time and it didn’t turn out to really be the case. I have waterproof band-aids to go over my stitches and I bought a loofah with a wand. I was careful to not splash anywhere near my shoulder. The hardest part was getting my armpits since I am generally keeping my right arm to the side at all times per doctor’s orders. So reaching across with my right is a no and lifting my arm to get that armpit is a no…
I wore a shower cap to not undo the lovely work of the stylist.
This part is difficult. I’d be lying if I said the drugs don’t absolutely 1000% help me with falling asleep faster. I have generally had trouble with falling asleep as my body gets restless when it’s uncomfortable. But guess what? Now I have no choice but to sleep in one position, and that is upright. And somehow that weirdly makes sleeping easier. That, and drugs.
The prominent suggestion in my preparation literature was to sleep upright in a recliner, but I don’t have one of those. I thought for awhile about sleeping downstairs on the long part of our couch, but several factors about that concerned me (it’s too cold downstairs, the dog might jump up and try to cuddle with me and bump my arm, I wouldn’t be able to wake up Brian if I needed something). So we set up shop up on the bed. It’s a pretty glorious pillow fort. I sit on one regular sized pillow that’s laid flat, and another is upright for my upper back. I bought two “lumbar support” pillows from Target, and one does go behind my back while another goes under my right forearm. Another pillow supports the upper part of my right arm so it doesn’t fall backward. I use Brian’s travel pillow around my neck while sleeping so my head doesn’t get into a weird position.
Because I’m so cool, the surgical center gave me mechanical compression socks that go on my legs to keep blood clots from forming when I’m being sedentary. The on-and-off pressure actually soothes me and gives me a physical sensation to focus on. It really helps me sleep.
I don’t know if I have ever in my life developed a sore butt from sleeping upright all day until that second morning after the surgery. Sitting on a pillow helped. Also, walking during the day. Slowly I’m starting to recline during the night more. Because my sling has my arm sticking straight out and not across my body, I think I would quickly lose circulation in my hand if I reclined all the way.
So yes, I know there are a thousand lists like this everywhere online, but these are the things I got to prepare for my surgery/recovery time or would recommend.
Important: All links in this post are affiliated links. If you click one and purchase the item using these links, I receive a small commission.
Chromebook (Actually this was my early Christmas present. You can’t carry a full laptop and you can’t raise your arm to type at desk-level.)
Sippy cup or something reusable that makes smoothies easy to drink
Oatmeal or whatever is easy for breakfast
SUPER IMPORTANT: Various gel ice packs. I got these on Amazon, and then after fruitlessly searching CVS was able to find a specific shoulder ice pack at Albertson’s, kind of like this one. Definitely pricey, but if there’s ever a time you need something like this, the time is now.
Comfortable clothes, at least 7 changes worth. Someone else will hopefully be doing your laundry.
At least one zip-up hoodie
A storage bin or box for your recovery wardrobe so you don’t have to fish around and pull drawers.
Shower cap to protect your amazing salon-fresh hair do
It was on a long run, while training for my second half marathon. The sun was high in the sky and it was longer than a 7-mile run, so I carried a water bottle with me. It just started to sting a little bit in my right shoulder joint as I swung the water bottle. Casually I switched it over to the left side. Oops, I changed hands without noticing. Switch again. Oops, again. (Habits of hand dominance)
Maybe I slept on it wrong, I figured as I continued to do everything in my life that demands right-handed strength. Setting up the tables, chairs and music stands in my classroom. Conducting my band classes. Playing ukulele in my classroom music classes. Taking apart difficult clarinets and tinkering with stuck trumpet valves. Maybe I just need to strengthen it, I thought in my yoga class as I winced a little bit from the pain of pushing into upward dog.
I continued to train for the run and feel my shoulder. It didn’t concern me a huge amount. I finished my half marathon (kind of, that’s another story) on May 13th. I was darn proud of my performance. I started focusing more on yoga. I wanted to appear toned and feel strong for my upcoming wedding July 1st.
Maybe it was the constant crafting, use of a hole puncher, cutting of thick materials…maybe it was the carrying of heavy boxes during wedding decorating, or some crazy combination of all those things that broke my shoulder’s back right around then. I told my chiropractor, “I don’t know what has happened that makes my shoulder so sore. I’ve just been crafting so hard!”
The first morning on my honeymoon in Portland was the most painful. My whole shoulder, arm, and hand were sore. What had I done now that was so different from anything else? Why was I in so much pain suddenly?
I spent four weeks away from home. Honeymoon, music workshops. I attempted one yoga practice. I thought, “It’s been long enough. Maybe my shoulder won’t hurt anymore.” Nope. It was worse. I imagined my arm falling off carrying my heavy double flugel/trumpet case around.
Upon return, early August, I saw my trusty chiro again. I said, “My shoulder is still really sore after all this time. I don’t know what else I can do.”
He referred me to physical therapy, which I started August 28th. The PT was very nice and gave me plenty of strengthening and stretching exercises. About three weeks in he asked me, “How is your shoulder feeling? Better or worse?”
I had to really think about it before I answered. “It feels…the same.” And his very short “What?!” confirmed for me that this was something that needed further resolution. The PT said it was time for a doctor’s visit.
The doctor said, “Well, I think we should have an MRI before we decide what to do.”
Except that even when I did an X-ray as my insurance asked, and even with the detailed note from my PT, the doctor’s office said there wasn’t enough information to grant me an MRI, so she referred me to a specialist after I called back inquiring every week for three weeks.
Then when I called the specialist’s office, they said, “That doctor doesn’t have any open appointments until January. How about this other guy?” (This phrasing is embellished.) An appointment for mid-October. Fine, I wanted this resolved as soon as possible.
So I went in to see the orthopedic specialist and because my arms move really well in general, and my shoulders pop out of joint toward the back all the time and always have since I was a kid, and the very limited things he asked me to do didn’t hurt when he asked if they hurt, I came out with a prescription for a useless muscle relaxer and more PT 3 times per week.
I went back to PT with the prescription and he read it with a face that said “Really?” and he said, “Well, okay.” I cried for hours that night. I couldn’t understand how doing more of the thing that didn’t work was going to help my painful shoulder feel normal again.
And after the third week, the exercises started hurting more than they previously had. I was strong and had great mobility, but the rotator cuff strengthening exercises had been feeling more unbearable even with fewer repetitions. I couldn’t stretch my right pec muscle using the wall without my shoulder popping out to the back. I couldn’t stretch my neck to the side without intense pain.
Then one night, lying in pain trying to go to sleep I started thinking about how much I missed running long distances, except for that one time I fell. My eyes popped open.
THE ONE TIME I FELL.
When did I fall? I fell once when I was running. I had a water bottle with me. The pavement was unexpectedly jagged, I lost my footing, and I landed on my wrist as the water bottle went flying. I wasn’t bleeding, and I didn’t land on my knees, so I got up and kept running.
This explained the whole sensation with the water bottle.
It was before my 10 mile race in April, so I figured the fall had to have been in March or April. Oh my god oh my god oh my god. The pain in my shoulder was real and there was a real event that caused it. I told my PT. Then I told my chiropractor at my monthly appointment. I asked if there was anything he could do, as the specialist just didn’t seem to believe anything was really wrong and I was so tired of being pushed around and living in pain. He said, “This is a 10 minute phone conversation with your insurance company. I can examine your shoulder, and if I think an MRI is necessary, I will make the call.”
So he did the exam. And I had the MRI. And there it was: superior posterior labral tear. Mild osteoarthritis in the A/C joint. (The labrum is the piece of cartilage that surrounds the ball part of the humerous bone. When I read about how a labrum gets torn I kept seeing the phrase “falling on an outstretched hand.”) My pain was real. I wasn’t crazy. There was photographic evidence. I showed the report to my PT. He said, “You might need surgery. Now you know you’re not crazy.”
And the specialist didn’t even know I’d had the test even though the results were sent to him. I was embarrassed to tell him that it took such a long time to remember the event that triggered all of this pain. He said that makes a big difference knowing there was a traumatic event.
But what date was the event? I checked my Runkeeper for the run where my pace got markedly slower on that stretch of road. January. IT HAPPENED IN JANUARY.
So that’s the story. And now I have my surgery set for December 15th to repair the tear. I’m thinking a lot of thoughts about this. Many of them are about work. I don’t know if anyone can learn anything about how this happened to me, but some advice I would give to people who are accident prone is to keep track of what day it is if you fall. And know your advocates. And know your body. Until next time.
Updates! – To read about what I did to prepare for my surgery, click here. To read about my surgery experience, click here.