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’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.
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