Shoulder Surgery-Week One

Hello again!      I have decided to do some posts about my shoulder surgery, because of how useful I found the bloggers who discussed their shoulder surgeries.  However, being that it is just four days behind me, on my dominant arm…typing is pretty slow going.

How did I injure my shoulder?

About 5 or 6 years ago, I caught an edge while snowboarding and crashed face-first, hyperextending my arms overhead as I fell foward.  After realizing it wasn’t just a muscle pull when it didn’t heal for a few months, I decided to go to the doctor. The urgent care facility I went to initially, sent me for x-rays and then  on to eight weeks of physical therapy and Cortisone shots. I also tried chiropractic and massage, but none of these methods resolved the underlying issue. I was referred to a sports medicine office here in New York and they recommended surgery. However, I wanted a surgeon who specializes in shoulders or at the least, does a great number of them, so I asked for a referral and was sent to an orthopedics office in Vermont. I was very happy with the orthopedics office in Vermont and after viewing my records they recommended surgery as well.  However, when I asked the doctor to be 100% honest and explain to me what he himself would do in my situation, he said the following “Given the extensive nature of shoulder surgery and the lengthy recovery time and the level of activity you like to pursue, I would wait until I was unable to sleep at night”.  We scheduled a tentative surgery and I, after much thought decided to cancel the surgery. I had pain but was still able to sleep for the most part, fairly well. Aside from a few minor incidences of injury where I believe I was pulling a muscle during a particularly heavy lift or straining the arm with an unusual activity, the pain was tolerable. I believed then, and still do now, that my other muscles were compensating for those damaged muscles in my shoulder. By strengthening those muscles it seemed to minimize the pain. I did have a situation where I had to go to the emergency room and get injections in my shoulder after doing an overhead lift that somehow tweaked my neck and shoulder.  I think some of that was caused by pushing my limits a little too far and I eventually learned to scale back in certain areas. After a few years of distance running, more snowboarding, lots of CrossFit and stand up paddle boarding, I started to have difficulty sleeping and much more pain. I ventured back down the road toward surgery and spoke again to my orthopedic surgeon. He ordered the MRI with arthrogram,which is a very uncomfortable procedure. It is an MRI where they inject a contrast dye into your shoulder while you are underneath an x-ray machine. They wiggle the needle around to get into the joint spaces and although it doesn’t hurt while it’s happening, the following day the pain is pretty intense. This MRI also showed the same result as the previous MRI. At that time they believed I had torn biceps tendon and a torn subscapularis of my rotator cuff. My surgeon believed that he could offer me tremendous relief by repairing the biceps tendon, but did warn me of the extensive recovery time and the difficulties of shoulder surgery. I’ve also known several people who have had the surgery and knew that it was pretty debilitating, uncomfortable, and discouraging. However this time I did not back out. We took a family vacation to Barbados and returned approximately a week before my scheduled surgery. We can talk about my nerves another time as they were pretty much shot with the stress of having surgery.   I knew this wasn’t going away and it was either now as planned or down the road when I was older and maybe would heal slower.   So I went forward.

Day 1-Surgery in Vermont

March 10 was the day of my surgery and we had to leave the house very early in order to catch the ferry to head over from New York to Vermont. I was so nervous but  my husband was remaining very calm. The staff at the hospital was incredibly compassionate and supportive and made it as pain-free as possible. However, the operating room is always a super intimidating place and I was very scared. As a mom I always have a severe fear of leaving my child and I felt like I was having an elective surgery that I could technically live without. When they wheeled me out of Pre-Op I was trying to be tough and said goodbye to my husband while inside I was choking back tears. The next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery and they were telling me they were going to get my husband and I would be able to leave soon. Yes, they seriously said soon! Also it was awesome to wake up and already be in the sling and have the cryo- cuff hooked up to my arm so ice water was cycling through and decreasing swelling.

Day 2-Slept in the recliner with the cryo-cuff on all night. Not great sleep but not horrible pain. Only took one pain pill. Throughout the day, things became very uncomfortable. 

Day 3-OUCH!!!

Day 4- Monday.  My first day home alone. Tolerable. Tired. Actually took a nap in my daughter’s bed, which for some reason was incredibly comforting.

Day 5-Tuesday. Post operative consultation and initial physical therapy appointment.  This appointment was very quick as we were in the throes of blizzard preparation for Winter Storm Stella. The PT was not as painful as expected and I was given exercises to do at home. I was reassured that everything I had questions about or was concerned about was very normal.  Both my surgeon and the physical therapist were wonderful and got me out of the appointment so I could get home safely as soon as possible. Thanks Mom And Dad for bringing me over to Vermont!

Day 5- Falling into a routine with physical therapy exercises, a few little tasks around the house, a couple naps, and basically watching HGTV. I’m a very avid reader but so far during this recovery I’ve yet to pick up a book. The motivation just wasn’t there.
Up until this point I really haven’t taken many pain pills. I took one oxycodone per night for the first three nights and then I switched to extra strength Tylenol. At first I took two at night before bed, then I decreased to one.  I slowly switched from sleeping on the recliner to sleeping on the foldout bed in our den. I propped myself up and my little dog Sullivan snuggled right in and enjoyed the extra time with me. I did not sleep through the night but I did have some good chunks of sleep. I also discontinued the all night use of the cryo- sleeve and used it for about 20 minutes before bed. By about a week and a half post-surgery, I transitioned to my regular bed.

During the day as long as I get enough rest and do my exercises drink lots of water and eat well, I have noticed that my pain can be kept at a manageable level. The evenings are still very difficult and I wake up quite often, many times going downstairs to get some ice or to just let my arm dangle a little and get the blood flowing.

I was aware of what the surgery would entail and what the recovery would entail, however it’s still very discouraging when you’re in the middle of the process. I will discuss what I learned in my post operative consultation in another post. Up until that point at about day four, I had no idea what had been done inside my shoulder other than the biceps tendoesis.

My husband says I’m healing faster than anyone he’s ever seen so there is that! It’s just kind of hard to see when you’re the person going through it.

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