Embracing the Unexpected: Shoulder Surgery Adventures

It seems appropriate to finally write a post about my shoulder surgery now that I’ve hit a major milestone = 6-months post surgery.


I haven’t written here for a long time…partially because I’ve gone through some tough times and partially because I didn’t want to write about my experience until I was on the other side of things…

The trouble started last December; my shoulder didn’t feel right when I was bench pressing during my lifting workouts.  I went to a recommended sports therapy guy that several lifting buddies recommended. I liked him, PT seems to be helping, but he wasn’t covered by my insurance. Then my troubles got worse mid-winter, with my bicep tendon hurting a LOT and my shoulder still not feeling 100%.

I decided to change my approach and start with my primary care doctor. I followed her regimen for a week, still had issues, so got referred to an orthopedic surgeon.

By now, this was the third health care professional I had seen and all three of them did not think I had a tear in my rotator cuff – based on my range of motion, strength, movement patterns, and my limited amount of pain or discomfort. However, as my ortho pointed out – there’s only one way to know for sure – get an MRI.

You all know the gist of what happened.  LOL… All three medical professionals were incorrect and no one was more surprised than me…although my orthopedic surgeon came close.  Ha!  I remember getting the call back from him after the MRI while I was at a scrapbook weekend with my girlfriends.  Pretty sure I actually said, “Well shit! That’s not what I expected.” He laughed and then admitted this was not what he had anticipated either. Basically I had a torn rotator cuff tendon that was “retracted from the bone” or in my words, no longer attached, and several tears in my bicep tendon. Ummm…

What!??!?!  How could this be?!?!  I’m still lifting and functional and have limited pain and full range of motion?!?!  Yes, well, it can happen as it turns out. We discussed options; however, the reality was that a tendon that is retracted from the bone (or not attached) cannot magically just fix itself with physical therapy.  Surgery was the best option for optimal results. My orthopedic surgeon said really it made the most sense – he said I was young (bless his heart) and that I should be back to 100% if I had the surgery. The only catch…it’s a long recovery.  The short story is that he felt it would be a year until I was back to where I started with regard to my lifting (both freqency, intensity and weight wise).  The “smaller” details included outpatient surgery, 6 weeks in a sling with minimal use and no driving, and 12 weeks total to heal enough to start building strength again. Then the months following to build the muscle back and get back to “normal.”

The sad news is that it was my right shoulder and I am right-handed.  So right away I knew this was going to take a good deal of patience, humor and support to get through. Take just a moment to think about all the things you do throughout a given day with your dominant hand and arm or with two hands…pause here….really…

  • Taking a shower
  • Opening doors
  • Getting food, dishes, things out of cabinets, the refrigerator, etc.
  • Opening bottled water or any other bottle/jar with a lid
  • Going to the bathroom (yep…wiping your tushie…LOL…)
  • Typing on the computer
  • Taking the dogs out on a leash
  • Eating anything

Okay, so NOW you are starting to grasp an understanding of what was going through my head.  I’m like…dude…this is going to suck…and Brian is going to be so sick of me…  Ha!

I’m not going to lie…there was crying…  😦

However, I also knew that the sooner I had surgery, the sooner I could begin healing and get back to being functional enough.  I have a lot of big plans this year because after all – it’s my 50th year – so I had celebrations and vacations and fun stuff happening!! In a way, the timing was actually as good as it gets for the plans I had already made.  I scheduled surgery for the beginning of May, with 12 weeks out putting me at the beginning of August – hopefully “functional enough” to go to the photography class I had scheduled in Minnesota mid-August with my friend Sarah. By the way…I had underestimated just how much up and down you do lifting the camera/tripod when taking photos.  Ha!  But we made it work.

Prior to surgery I practiced doing some things one-handed/one-arm to see if I could figure it out.  I also knew that I wanted to try and remain positive and find the humor in trying to do things with a bum arm. Thankfully I have a supportive husband and a small gaggle of amazing friends that literally saved my sanity during the first 6 weeks especially.

In my next post I’m going to actually talk about what recovery looked like – including the ups and downs. Partially I want to document it for my own memory, but I also hope that if someone I know ends up in the same predicament, that in some small way it might help.

Stay tuned for The Road to Recovery…





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