Preparing Myself Physically…And Mentally…
Prior to surgery, of course, I heard lots of stories. People came out of nowhere to tell me their own experiences with rotator cuff surgery – some good, some bad, and thankfully some who sincerely wanted to share some of the challenges in an effort to make my journey less painful if possible. And, of course, everyone has an opinion. Some people agreed with my decision to have surgery, some did not, some encouraged me to get 2nd opinions, etc.
Ultimately, I made the choice that I felt was right for me, and figured others would fall in line and rally around me in support or perhaps they were never truly my friends to begin with. Adulting is hard; we don’t need people around us or in our lives that make it harder than it already is. Sad but true…as with all major decisions in life…most people will circle around you offering help, sending love, and unconditional support. Yet there are always at least one or two that fall to the side and you don’t hear from at all or who continue to question your choices. I had consciously thought about this and knew that in order to make it through this long recovery – the naysayers were not going to get any of my time or energy.
I already mentioned in Part I that I tried experimenting with doing a variety of things left-handed before surgery. Things like washing my hair, putting on a t-shirt by threading my “bad” arm through first, etc. I’m glad I messed with it a little because it ended up paying off. It also provided some humorous moments watching YouTube videos (never did manage to crack an egg left-handed…without the shell falling in…).
I only mention these things to give a frame of reference for how I was preparing. Surgery is always scary, there are no guarantees, and I wanted to be intentional about my approach to both surgery (“this is what I need to do to continue being healthy and active”) and to recovery (“I will do what I can, go to PT, do my exercises, spend time with encouraging friends, not be too proud to ask for help, cry when I need a good cry, be kind to myself, allow myself time to binge watch my favorite shows and read many books”).
Side note: I do have to mention, as luck would have it, the night before surgery, we found out that the outdoor faucet in our garage had been leaking inside the house and we had water puddles in about 1/3 of our basement. Brian and I moved what we could up and into the garage, but the reality is that we needed to just get a huge dumpster and clean house. Unfortunate timing for sure because poor hubby was going to be on his own as I would be totally out of comission to assist. Thankfully his twin brother was able to come and help get the big stuff out that weekend.
Surgery on May 3rd went very well and remarkably fast! Surgery was scheduled for 7am and I was home and relaxing in the lazy boy chair by 10:30am. The most notable part of surgery was getting a nerve block in advance. I was rather nervous about not being able to feel my arm, but it was all good; I could “sort of” feel it (slight tingling in fingers). Getting the nerve block was nerve wracking…LOL… They do an ultrasound so they can see exactly where the nerve is to put in the shot, which by the way, is like where your neck attached to your shoulders. Have I mentioned I don’t like needles??!?! Ugh…thankfully I had to turn the other way anyway for him to give me the shot. Yuck!
Recovery mode…the first 6 weeks…
I knew the first week would be a bit of a blur and the first 6 weeks in general would be the most challenging. I had to get used to not using my right arm and the big sling/pillow thing as well as not being able to drive. I didn’t mind it so much at first; I could get used to being chauffered around. 🙂 Recovery looked like this:
Week 1: focus was on resting, staying ahead of the pain to be cautious at first, then start doing “normal” things and getting off the pain medication (I don’t like how it makes me feel so wanted to try and wean myself off and just take ibuprofen within the first 1-2 weeks). This week’s left-handed accomplishments: successfully brushing my teeth (harder than you think!!), reheating my own food & eating with a fork instead of a spoon, making a pot of coffee all by myself! This week I took off work to focus on recovery and getting used to the new normal. And my friends rock…lots of cards, gifts, texts, etc.
Week 2: Time to work from home! Thankfully hubby had arranged to work from home also on the days I had physical therapy (PT) so he could take me. Brian is very tech savvy so I was pretty excited he found me a small mouse that I could hold in my right hand (with my arm still in the sling) and figured out that Windows has dictation. So like talk to text, I could talk to email. This was a life saver especially during the first few weeks as my right hand still didn’t really want to work properly (partially due to the bicep repair in addition to the shoulder). I was able to totally get off the pain meds, made my own breakfast, and started PT that Friday, May 17th.
Week 3: Most exciting thing this week…I can get dressed all by myself (I’m sure you can guess the trickest part as a female…). Woohoo!! I can now use my right hand to help do some things around the house or driving my computer/mouse, as long as there’s no lifting or pulling or pushing involved (arm still in sling). In PT this week my therapist, Todd, was able to stretch my arm above my head (passive movement). Yay!!! I was also able to get out of the house more…including getting a pedicure. Yay for pretty toes in the summer.
Week 4: This week I’m able to use my right hand to mouse & type on my computer!!! (Still in sling..no worries…but this is huge…), my PT measured my range of motion & I’m right on track (thank goodness), I did laundry (Brian carried it down) left-handed & loaded/unloaded the dishwasher (fun times!)…and best of all, I got to visit my lifting buddies at the gym! That was a huge motivator and helped lift my spirits as the weeks in the sling are getting long now; I’m starting to feel better and want to be doing something useful.
Week 5: This week I got to move on to some new exercises in PT which felt really good even though it was really tough. I now have a love/hate relationship with my trekking pole because I’m using it to do assisted range of motion PT…like using a PVC pipe in lifting only not nearly as graceful. Ha! I did a bench press with the pole and didn’t die (although there might have been a few tears…). I actually shaved in the shower this week with some minimal contortionist moves & I can *almost* lift my right hand to my mouth (praise the day I no longer need to eat left-handed). LOL…
Week 6: This is the week I’ve been waiting for…and in my mind, when the real work begins. I had my 6-week follow up visit at the ortho doc…they said I’m looking good and I’m cleared to ditch the sling and drive again! Although with a warning that I might want to wear the sling in crowds/out so folks don’t mess with my arm/shoulder…which I took seriously as that weekend I had a wedding to attend. Throughout the first six weeks part of my goal to keep me motivated and moving forward was the fact that right around my 7 week mark is when my grand baby was due.
Recovery mode…weeks 7 – 12…
Week 7: For the first time I had a moment in PT and I cried…it hurt, I was sore and emotional and just frustrated because it felt sometimes like things will never be normal again. At the time, I was embarrassed (my therapist is a guy after all…poor Todd) but couldn’t stop the tears from falling… Now that I’m further along I’m amazed I didn’t cry more than this one time in PT. Ha! Don’t get me wrong…I cried plenty at home, just not in public. The most exciting news this week was that Baby Fish arrived…Katie & Jake had our first grand baby. Jaxson Lee Fish was born right on his due date on June 20th at 3:59pm coming in at 8 lbs 5.7 oz and 21 inches long. He was perfect and adorable and I was so excited to be able to hold him (still with the left arm). 🙂
Week 8: OMG…I didn’t realize just how much I missed the gym until I went to visit my lifting buddies this week!!! It was great to see them plus I did my PT exercises & even a leg machine. I’m coming back baby!!
Week 9: As of July 1st I was actually able to get into and out of a sports bra – wahoo! LOL… I got to start using a resistance band and some light weights (1 lb, 2 lb, 5 lbs) to do exercises while laying down – yahoo! Man, that was hard…LOL… The most challenging new move though was making a star on the wall with my right arm (multiple planes of motion). Who knew?!?!?
Week 10: This was the first time I was totally on my own because Brian was working in Cedar Rapids all week. It was exhausting, mostly because this is the week I was determined to get used to sleeping in my bed again. The first 6 weeks while in the sling, I knew that I would sleep in our lazy boy chair (plus everyone had recommended it because it’s just hard to get comfortable). I had tried week 7 to sleep in bed – right after getting out of the sling – and it was an epic fail. I tossed and turned for 4 hours and decided good sleep was more important than being in bed, plus I didn’t want to keep Brian up all night because I couldn’t sleep. 😦 Now with Brian gone it was the perfect time to stick it out and figure out a way to get comfortable (I’ll sleep eventually right?!) – and so began the sleeping with like 4-5 pillows to try and get comfy on my back or left side. Of course, I used to always sleep on my right side which was the surgery shoulder. Ugh!!
I also wanted to figure it out because I was meeting my sister in Galena for the weekend once Brian was back. I was super excited for the getaway as I’d been a pretty big homebody for the past 10 weeks. LOL… I slept okay (not great the first night, better the second) while out of town and we had a fabulous weekend in one of my favorite places.
Week 11: At PT, tried a bunch of new stuff – Cross band system with multiple shoulder exercises – felt very much like a shoulder workout. Measured this week also (12-week follow up appointment next week with the ortho doc) and significant progress! Yippee!!
Week 12: Had my 12-week follow up with ortho surgeon today…overall things are looking good! Got the okay to work on strength training… So I consulted with my PT, Todd (he’s been amazing!!!) and had him look over my lifting workouts to help me know what I can do and how to modify things I’m not ready for. Woohoo!!
Also somewhat as a celebration of progress…I went scrapbooking this weekend (end of July) with several girlfriends. We rented a house in Woodward and had a blast. I had committed to going as they all promised they would help carry in my stuff or do whatever needed to assist me. It was a fun weekend and I was able to make a bunch of cards and smaller projects with only minimal discomfort in my shoulder. Yay!
Recovery mode…months 3 – 6….
3 Months Post-Surgery (August): In August I started back to lifting workouts…slowly and with light weights. I feel very lucky to have a coach (Able) that understands and didn’t push me too much when I said that I needed to stay at a lighter weight. He teases me mercilessly, but that’s okay because I return the favor. Ha!
This month was also my photography trip to Grand Marais, MN. I’m super thankful for my friend Sarah being willing to help me out (and listen to me whine) when needed. This was my first jaunt back into photography and you don’t realize how much you raise your arm up and down lifting your camera and composing pictures. My balance also seemed to be off during this time too – which I can only think was due to not working out for so long and have just got over a cold. I got some great pictures and Sarah and I had a blast. We had added on a few extra days and that was cool to go out shooting just the two of us.
4 Months Post-Surgery (September): I kicked off September going on vacation with hubby and another couple, Susan and Mike, to one of our favorite vacation places in MN. When we had originally booked the trip to the Cuyuna MTB Trails I didn’t know I’d be having surgery and not advised to be biking yet. Ha! Thankfully our friends like biking, hiking, fishing, etc. We went over Labor Day weekend and it was an absolute blast. As luck would have it, there was a chance that we might be able to see the Northern Lights the Saturday we got there, so we headed out with a local friend, Liz, at 9pm to a place outside of town. While it wasn’t a huge display, we were able to see them briefly around 10pm…so cool!! The other cool thing was hiking the trails. I hiked a couple trails I hadn’t been comfortable biking previously and thought, oh I could totally ride these except maybe this one section. 🙂
September was a busy month in general. Hubby was gone for a week so I was on dog duty once again (it only seemed fair since he took them out for 6 weeks while I was in a sling…). Our nephew got married and I had another weekend of scrapbooking fun toward the end of the month.
5 Months Post-Surgery (October): In September and October I was trying to do a lot of walking and hiking since it was still not advised to bike outside (the worry was if I fell off my bike/crashed). Plus I knew that my sister, Valerie, and I would be doing some hiking while in North Carolina. We had a sister trip planned for Oct 14 – 23rd that we both were really looking forward to; it was to celebrate our milestone birthdays (me turning 50 and her turning 45). I was anxious to have surgery right away so I was all healed up and relatively “normal” by the time our vacation rolled around.
Our trip was fantastic!! We had rented an adorable house in the woods in Swannanoa, just east of Asheville, NC. We did a little of everything: hiking trails in the area, toured Biltmore Estates including complimentary wine tasting, visited several of the local craft breweries (Valerie’s goal was at least one per day), drove on part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and spent time with my friend Lisa who lived just 4 hours away (she came to visit Sat-Sun). We typically ran around during the late morning and afternoon and had lazy mornings making breakfast and reading, while hanging out at night enjoying the hot tub!! It was awesome! Interestingly…my shoulder was actually more sore off and on during the trip then when I was home working out. Probably because we were doing so many different things (like playing pinball for 2 hours at the Pinball Museum) and I had been trying to sleep on my right side a little each night. That ended up not working so well…LOL…
6 Months Post-Surgery (November): Today as I write this I’m still working on building strength especially in my right shoulder/bicep, and overall fitness as well. Looking back now…I can see just how far I’ve come. I feel like my shoulder is fully functional from an everyday movement perspective – although odd things will still make me sore and catch me off guard. Like this past week when hubby was nursing a strained wrist and I needed to cut up a raw slab of pork. That was rather difficult on my shoulder/arm…but I had also just done an intense upper body workout that morning. Ha! I try not to get overly alarmed as there are good days and bad days and most days feel pretty “normal”.
When I went for my final appointment with my orthopedic surgery around 5 months (Sept 23rd); he was very happy and impressed with my range of motion and strength and said I was at the place most folks are at the 6-month mark. That made my day! So I’m released from seeing him and am now on the journey back to the fitness level I had pre-surgery.
They say that it typically takes a year to be back 100% so I figure I’ll just keep plugging along and doing what I do. Every once in a while, I still consult my PT via text to ensure I’m not messing anything up, but overall I’m happy with where I’m at. I can’t wait to be lifting the big weights again. My goal is to be back to my pre-surgery weights by the one year mark – which will be just in time for my next lifting competition with my lifting buddies on April 25th, 2020!!!