From Where I Sit – Shoulder Saga Part 1

In February 1999, I slipped and fell in an icy parking lot outside an Edmonton flea market. Unseasonable weather had covered the ice with puddles of water. Instinctively I stuck out my right arm to break my fall. While I didn’t break any bones, I believe I’m still living with the consequences of the impact to my wrist-elbow-shoulder-neck and a hard landing on my right hip. I was embarrassed and thoroughly soaked all the while clutching my new purchase — a lucky Buddha!

I’ve spent countless amounts of time and money on chiropractic, massage, acupuncture and physio-therapy ever since. The price I’ve paid in pain, discomfort and adapting my lifestyle has been significant.

While I have no definitive proof (but no expert has disagreed either) I believe that fall contributed to more grievous shoulder problems that surfaced in early 2003. What finally drove me to a doctor was the fact I couldn’t lift my arm (without picking it up with my sleeve) while lying down. I had no strength and a great deal of pain while trying to do anything. The pain was particularly noticeable with a lateral, backward motion or an above my head motion.

Shoulders when healthy and functioning are a marvellous thing. They are the one area of the body offering an incredible range of motion. Up and down, round and round, back and forth : allowing us to use our hands and arms for all the tasks of daily life. The downside or reality of that flexibility is the inherent instability of the joint.

Heaven help you if you have a shoulder problem. A referral for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) took ten months. The verdict was a torn rotator cuff. Most people experience a tear through some acute incident or accident. Mine seems to be the result of chronic overuse and I believe damage done during the fall years earlier. After months of physio-therapy, the result was improved mobility, increased strength, and lessening of the pain. I’ve also adapted, modified and eliminated some activities because of this injury.

Picture yourself as a right-handed person trying to brush your teeth, vacuum, rake, dig, iron, type, lift, paint, drive, etcetera with an injured shoulder. It ain’t pretty. While I’ve been going about my life, and frankly accepting this is as good as it gets, I’ve been waiting for a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon. Three years later, I’m in.

The MRI and in-office questions and exam led the doctor to conclude that surgery was the only answer for me. He explained, “because I can’t give you anything else that will give you the 30 or so years you need to use this shoulder.” I was, frankly, stunned. I was sure I would be told to go home and live with it.

An overnight hospital stay, six weeks in a sling (first two weeks spent sleeping in a recliner), six weeks to regain mobility and six weeks to regain strength (if all goes well) is now what faces me. Stay tuned, this is just the first instalment in the shoulder saga, from where I sit.