It feels like an awful case of deja vu. Early morning subway ride to Manhattan. Outpatient surgery center check-in. Mountains of paperwork with the same nurse who did my in-take for knee surgery three years ago. A battery of questions about my allergies. The lavender hospital gown, paper-thin pants and fuzzy socks. Waiting for my name to be called.
A physician assistant comes to ask me another set of questions and does a few tests on my shoulder, which seems a little odd since I am sitting here in the pre-op area. Haven’t we already made the decision that my shoulder is messed up enough for surgery?
I’m escorted to the next area and meet with the Anesthesiologist – the same doctor who administered my anesthesia during my knee surgery. “Weren’t you here before for your knee?” he asks? He remembers me only because he’s friends with my sister but still. “Yes. Last time it was my knee. This time it’s my shoulder.”
He asks if I want to be asleep for the procedure or awake. Are you joking? Asleep! He tells me that he’s going to give me a sedative, set the nerve block and then we’ll go to the OR. He places a mask over my face.
Next thing I know, I’m waking up after surgery. I didn’t even make it to the OR this time before passing out.
Ed meets me in the recovery room. My left shoulder is swollen and padded with surgical dressing. I look like a linebacker, but only on the left side. I can’t feel a thing. I am numb from my neck to my fingertips, my arm feels like a rubber chicken. All I really want to do was squeeze my hand into a fist. It is the worst case of pins and needles ever.
According to Ed, my doctor said that my shoulder was a mess. I had three different tears – in my labrum, rotator cuff and biceps tendon (slap tear) – and they stitched them up. I also had pretty bad arthritis in my AC joint so he shaved down the end of my clavicle so hopefully my bones don’t rub against each other any more. But the tissues is healthy so he expects everything to heal nicely.
Surprisingly, I felt OK immediately after surgery. We went home and all I wanted to do was eat. The next day, it was my son’s birthday and he was having his party at Chuck E. Cheese of all places. I wasn’t sure if Chuck E. Cheese was really where I wanted to be the day after surgery but I felt well enough to do so. Thank you painkillers.
It’s been an interesting two weeks so far, learning to navigate life with one arm. My poor husband has to help me do so much. It’s amazing to realize how many everyday movements involve or implicate your shoulder. And not just obvious movements like lifting and raising your arms but things like turning your torso, lying down on the bed, sitting up.
I said that I wanted to have surgery sooner rather than later so that I could start on the road to recovery. I’m glad that I had the procedure and I’m hopeful that it will mean no pain in the long run. But, I had no idea what to expect after shoulder surgery. The reality of the long road ahead is kicking in. I’m in a sling for another 2-3 weeks and then will be able to start physical therapy at that point.
I really hope you never ever have to have shoulder surgery, but if you do, here’s a little bit about my experience as well as what to expect after shoulder surgery. I’m a little over two weeks post-surgery.
- Pain: Not going to lie. It hurts. I don’t like to take painkillers but found myself taking them regularly for the first week and definitely before bed. My elbow, wrist and muscles felt extremely stiff. Gently massaging my bicep and tricep seemed to help a bit.
- Sleep: I can only really sleep on my back or sitting up. After a few days, I could roll onto my right side sometimes but only if I stack my shoulder properly, bone on bone or propped up with a pillow, so there isn’t pressure or tugging on the shoulder joint.
- Showers: OMG all I wanted to do was take a shower after surgery but unfortunately, I couldn’t get my stitches wet. My husband was nice enough to wash my hair for me. I couldn’t take it anymore after about 5 days and carefully wrapped my shoulder in plastic wrap.
- Getting Dressed: Getting dressed in an interesting process. Pants with elastic waistbands and large shirts or button downs are my uniform, slowly slipping the bad arm into its sleeve first and then gently slip the shirt over my head and good arm. It takes a lot of effort not to move the bad shoulder forward, backward or shrug it up while getting dressed!
- The Sling: For the first week+ after surgery, my husband had to help my put on the sling. I’ve now figured out how to put it on myself, sort of slipping my left arm into the sling while bring the strap over my right shoulder. I hold the strap with my teeth while I adjust the sling and then velcro the whole thing together.
- The Sling part 2: I’m sick of wearing the sling.
- Shoes: I can’t tie my shoes myself. If I need to wear sneakers, my husband or son ties my shoes for me.
- Hair: I really want to put my hair up in a ponytail. It’s driving me nuts. My husband helps me but it’s not the same.
- Reflexes still kick in. When I drop something, I instinctively try to catch it which means I jolt my left shoulder and that really really hurts. Just let the damn thing drop.
- Work: I took the first week off from work and intended to take the second week off too but some assignments and projects came up and I started to get antsy at home. It’s hard to type with one hand but if I prop my laptop just right, I can use both of my hands.
- Rehab: The day after surgery, my doctor wanted me to take my arm out of the sling and straighten my arm so my wrist and elbow won’t get overly stiff. About a week after surgery, I’m allowed to do passive movement with my left arm to help prevent the shoulder from getting super stiff, like pendulums essentially bending over and letting my arm hang and make gentle circles. I can’t active move or lift my arm yet as everything is still healing.
- What I miss: I miss being active. Like a lot. I got clearance to use the stationary bike but OMG it is the most mind-numbingly boring thing ever. I’ve been doing some squats and lunges but realize that I need to be careful that I don’t tweak my shoulder.
What should you expect 10 months after shoulder surgery? Read here.
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