Waking up after rotator cuff surgery is like nothing I’ve experienced. The doctor had told me I was a good candidate for the surgery. No major health issues. Otherwise strong and hearty. “Piece of cake,” he’d said, compared to other surgeries I’ve had: hysterectomy, and not the minimally invasive kind. Spinal surgery—that was the minimally invasive kind.
I’d also had bi-lateral carpal tunnel releases and a right elbow tendon release. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Had I not listened when my mom said to go sit quietly with my hands folded in my lap? Actually she had never said that. It was my grade school nuns. And I guess I did not listen. Or else my body is just determined to wear out faster than a Fiat in the early days of manufacture. Maybe that’s it. When they were doling out tendons, muscles and spinal what-nots I got lemon parts. The bottom line though is I’ve had a few surgeries. Some major. And even some where I had to adjust to single-handed and left-handed living. So why did the recovery from rotator cuff surgery seem so different?
First, is the waking up feeling like a cockroach, on its back. Ah, Kafka must have had this surgery.
Strapped to my right arm was a contraption I’ll call it. That included a sling, which I’d expected. But Velcro-ed to the sling was an oblong pillow, with a blue tennis ball at the end. What’s up with that? Was that to tantalize me so I’d be motivated to follow instructions and recover enough to hit a killer overhead serve? Or was that the Doc’s “get even”? I’d made some bad joke on the way to the operating room about my overhead serve. Doc must not have thought it funny. OK. I’ve never had a killer overhead serve. Mostly I just tried to lob it over the net. And not in a long, long time.
Back to the contraption connected to my arm and upper body. Straps around my neck, around my waist and everywhere else. The pre-surgery instructions had said bring a big, loose shirt. I brought a men’s XL dress shirt. That was not big enough to put the sling-contraption through. So it sort of draped over my shoulders, with no bra underneath. Luckily I was sufficiently drugged I didn’t really care. But when I woke up enough to realize how I was dressed I was a bit horrified.
And then I realized the contraption, if I kept it on 24-7 as directed by the Doc’s instructions, would not allow me to actually cover my chest unless I resorted to a Halloween ghost costume: a sheet with a head hole cut in it. We experimented with cutting up some of my husband's old t- shirts. They left big gaps. But they had the advantage of being in style as “oversized boyfriend wear.” Finally I could say I was on trend.
Then there were all the other rules. My husband had listened carefully to post-op instructions. While I had laid in a stupor of drugs after the surgery. I was supposed to always have my hand higher than my elbow. Except for the three times a day I was supposed to bend over and swing my arm like a pendulum. And my shoulder was supposed to always be at least at a 30 degree angle.
So I was supposed to sit in a recliner which created the correct angles and support. But the recliner was designed for a right-hander, with the handle on the right side. With the contraption on my right hand and upper body, my left hand could not come close to reaching the handle. And though I have reasonably long, strong legs, with the contraption and significant pain (did I mention the pain?) I could not maneuver the recliner open or closed. Of course, my husband was willing to assist but that meant he could not leave the room in case I needed to get out of the chair, say at any time over the night. Which is where the instructions suggested I sleep.
At some point I discovered I could hop out of the open recliner and then hop back in. the instruction sheet did not have any prohibitions on hopping. But I imagine that's only because they had not thought of it.
So why was I so poorly prepared for this cockroach-like existence after surgery? Well, for one thing I had thought I was only having a bone spur near my rotator cuff removed. Not a tear in the cuff itself repaired. I had been experiencing pain in my right shoulder for over four years.
Here’s how it began. Several years ago, on a fateful, fall day I was walking our two dogs and they both spotted squirrels to chase. In different directions. I’d gone to the Doc who dutifully examined my shoulder and listened to my tale. And recommended an MRI. Since my insurance had changed to, what is it you call the Cheapskate Plan? Oh, “consumer-driven”.
So as the consumer, driven by cost-saving, I decided I knew better than the orthopedic specialist whether I needed an MRI. Instead of an MRI I consented to the much cheaper x-ray. Which showed a large bone spur sitting right next to my rotator cuff.
I tried cortisone shots, physical therapy, new dog leashes, and a lot of aspirin. Nothing made the pain go away. After about four years of consumer-driven cost-savings, I opted for surgery to remove the bone spur, not knowing the spur, plus dog pulling, already had torn my rotator cuff.
So I went into the surgery, as a result of my own stupidity, ill-informed of the extent the surgery, the pain, or the recovery would ultimately involve. The pain I’ve been able to handle much better than I’m handling the contraption.
I’m grateful the Doc was able to fix the cuff at the same time he removed the spur. I just wish he had told me about how awkward and uncomfortable the contraption would be. And that his office had provided some post surgery clothing guidance that did not leave me as uncovered as women who get paid to show off their chests.