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.
It has now been 31 days since my shoulder surgery. Overall I am feeling motivated and also a little overwhelmed.
I have some pretty gnarly scar tissue. I guess they did open up my skin in four places and jam a camera all the way into my joint.
My PT has started massaging the scars after I do the exercises and it HURTS. Maybe more than most other things. I don’t know what more I can say about it. The only thing that hurts more is when I get startled and accidentally jerk my shoulder.
I still have 11 more days with this thing. While it is a pain, I’ve actually been starting to sleep better on my back and left side. (Remember, my sling has my arm facing straight ahead, not across my body.) When I sleep on my left side, I still need a pillow to support my arm at the right angle. Often my shoulder aches in that position because it’s floating at the top of my body, not totally stable. The most stable way to sleep is on my back, but that can be hard if I want my comforter to cover me all the way. The weight of the blanket presses down on my hand, which stands straight up.
My sling has become pretty much a crumb and pet hair collector. When I’m finished with it I will give it a good vacuum and see if I can send it to be re-purposed.
With my arm this way, I still can’t drive. Even though it could seem like a loss of freedom I don’t think it really has to be. I can walk to the grocery store if I have to. I’m finding a lot of ways to keep busy at home, which brings me to…
My One-Arm Hobbies
Next week is when my school district goes back in session (I know, we have a long winter break!), and therefore my work friends will no longer be available to drive me around and hang out at any given time. No worries, though, I have acquired a few hobbies and activities I can do with one arm.
Blogging has been a nice way to chronicle this experience. As you may have noticed if you’ve perused this site before, I don’t only blog about how sexy my scars are. I like to write about all kinds of things. It’s been fun to explore other blogs and other people’s worlds through this platform.
Reading is the next thing I can do with one arm. I’m currently reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. I’m about halfway through. I also read Wonder by R.J. Palacio – that was a much quicker read. I finished that one in about 3 days. I was thinking about getting a library card. Before I do, I want to read every book I have. This will be part of downsizing – If I read a book and want to read it again, I’ll keep it. If once was enough, I will donate it or maybe sell it on eBay.
Walking my dog has been a nice hobby. I usually give her a walk after my husband leaves for work, and before he comes home. Lately I’ve been trying to go for 5 miles of walking a day.
Not looking at my phone all day has been really helpful for my sleep. I’m trying to develop better habits about that. I go on my phone to communicate. I can go on my Chromebook for social media.
Two days ago, as a step toward my zero waste journey, I went outside with a bag and picked up trash. I walked around my neighborhood and filled the bag, got another, and filled another bag with stuff from a different part of the neighborhood. I don’t know if it’s because I live right by two high schools, by an apartment community, or some combination of those things, but there’s a lot of trash around.
It has been a weirdly meditative process to go around and pick up trash. It feels bad because it’s there – some other human in this world decided that leaving their trash there was okay. But it feels better when I pick it up, and it’s no longer on the ground.
I hung up a poster on my neighborhood bulletin board inviting others to pick up trash with me. It feels nice to take some responsibility for my surroundings. What happens if nobody shows up? There will still be one person going around picking up trash.
An unexpected side effect of this activity: squatting down to pick something up off the ground has left my gluteus muscles a little sore. Obviously this is how I will be getting my booty muscles back.
Outside of those everyday things, I’ve been doing a lot of little projects around the house: Sending late wedding photos and Christmas presents, turning my husband’s old undershirts into rags, sorting out the piles of stuff in the kitchen, getting rid of magazines I don’t need.
I spent one day making care kits for homeless shelters and people on the street. I reused bags to contain sample snacks I’ve received in the mail, sample soaps and lotions, washcloths, feminine products (I just got reusable ones in the mail yesterday!), socks and gloves, band-aids, plastic silverware, napkins, and cleansing cloths. These are things that I know could be used by someone but I don’t need them in my house anymore. I really hope they end up helping someone.
So, that’s about where I am right now. Future projects? I have a photo project in mind for my brass chamber music workshop I will be compiling for soon. I would like to find a use or a project for the wine corks we always accumulate. And I need to figure out how to better organize this blog for new visitors. There is much to be done, but I need to go at my own pace. The most important reason I’m taking this time off from work is to heal myself.
What are some healing activities you like to incorporate into your day?
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!
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.
To read about what I did to prepare for this surgery, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 13, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 21, click here.