I know that I’m writing and tweeting a lot about all of this lately — to be honest, it occupies a huge part of my brain — it’s a big deal for me this year. I was talking with someone over the weekend who said he’d had a similar surgery last year, and that it completely changed the complexion of his year. I’m finding the same thing — it dominates my mood and thinking — whether it’s how the shoulder hurts, the psychology of maneuvering with the sling, whatever.
Other than just being on my mind a lot, I’m writing so much for a couple of other reasons. First, as a reminder to myself over the years of the specifics of the injury and recovery. Second, because as I progress through this, I’m finding relevant information about what everything feels like to be tough to find on the web, and I hope that it can help others who are going through it.
My last post was a couple of weeks after the surgery, and we’re now a couple of weeks past that — I saw the surgeon Tuesday and things looked good enough to stop wearing the sling and start physical therapy. I’m really happy not to wear the sling anymore. The physical aspects were annoying, but it was really the psychological aspects that I was getting tired of — being in a sling for weeks, I found that I started to think of myself as less vital, more gimpy. I knew it wasn’t really true, and it was just temporary, but it wore on me a lot in any case.
Overall, things are going well — it’s been pretty painful overall — and lately my shoulder hurts most of the time (although it goes up and down). Sleeping has consistently been the biggest problem. Was hard to sleep with the sling, is hard to sleep with the soreness and sharp pains when I move in the wrong way. But making it through.
Wednesday I started physical therapy — I’ve got 2 weeks of passive stretching & range of motion exercises (I move the arm with my other arm, or the physical therapist moves it) and then another couple of weeks of active range of motion (where I use the arm itself). After that, 4 weeks of resistance training rehab, and who knows after that. So now I’m about 5 days into it. The exercises aren’t complicated — it’s about 30 minutes of laying with my arms wide, stretching them on an exercise ball, doing pendulums, etc. They’re designed to stretch out the capsule that holds the shoulder. The point of the surgery is to tighten up the capsule — and they overtighten it in surgery and use PT to loosen it to a manageable level.
The most interesting/freaky aspect of this phase is psychological, too — the therapist on Wednesday moved my shoulder into positions that my brain knows will dislocate — or rather would have dislocated before the repair. So when I start to approach those positions, I’m finding myself tense up and fight against the motion, which makes everything hurt more. I find it’s also triggering a strong fear response — just a very strong aversion to letting my arm get moved around, some feeling of nausea, etc. The next day, the first one where I was doing the exercises by myself with nobody to ask questions of, was actually a little scarier to me, just because it was a completely unknown feeling.
The good news is that, as of today, Day 5, things are going really well. The difference between today and last week is astonishing, and I’m finding that every day my range of motion is a little bit bigger, and the fear & nausea responses are becoming less severe and happening less often. It hurts most of the time — there’s not really any time that goes by that I’m not aware of it and devoting some attention to it. But it feels pretty good in the mornings now, and hurts more through the day as it gets more tired.
I find, too, that I’m trying to be as aggressive as I can about it — doing the exercises a couple of times a day instead of just once (I asked whether that would be okay) — so hopefully that’s helping. I know I can’t accelerate it that much — I think a lot of it is just diligence and time to heal.
The most amazing thing so far is that I can’t remember, at all, what the surgery and rehab was like when I first repaired the shoulder, in a much more invasive open procedure, in 1990. I literally can’t remember going to a physical therapist, can’t figure out when I got better, since I didn’t take any time off from school, and can only vaguely remember being in the hospital (it was a 3 day thing instead of just the morning like this year). I can remember a lot about both years at Stanford before and after it, but really nothing about getting my shoulder better. Weird.
Anyway, this note is a little all over the place, which is a little how I feel, too. 🙂 But I’m happy to be more active now, and optimistic that the rehab is going well and starting to convince myself that my shoulder really is repaired.