From Where I Sit – Shoulder Saga IV

The time that has elapsed since my shoulder surgery in early November has given me some perspective. Make no mistake, there’s still considerable pain with the physiotherapy exercises I need to do daily. I do not yet have full range of motion or strength back in that arm. Nor will I for several more months. But my level of freedom and ability is growing by the day.

The worst part of this whole process, for me at least, was the six weeks I spent in a sling. Immobilizing the shoulder was crucial to offering support and protection to the area and preventing any unintentional movements that could have re-injured it. Unfortunately, it also created a host of problems including pain in my fingers, wrist and elbow. I can’t explain the relief (painful, but still relief) in simply straightening my arm. I did exercises two or three times a day, starting right after surgery, to keep the joints from freezing.

To say I was uncomfortable is an understatement. My routine, appearance and hygiene standards took a beating. Picture, if you dare, a fifty-two-year-old woman who was just spot washing for the first couple of weeks. I wore straight, flat hair; no makeup; no bra; pyjama-type lounge clothes and a painful grimace. I was forced to wear only button-front or zip-front tops and elastic waist bottoms. Have you ever tried to pull down panties and pants with one hand? It isn’t pretty. Not to mention doing the paperwork! Before long, I switched to Roy’s boxers. It took me a few weeks to figure out why I had a constant wedgie. Panties have a gusset. Boxers do not. There are also some anatomical differences that come into play.

It wasn’t until well after my stitches and dressing were removed that I attempted to put on a bra. Luckily, I had a bra converted to a front closure before my surgery. It damn near takes the jaws-of-life to get into it, but it has allowed me to be seen in public. With so few clothes that worked for me during this phase of my recovery, I was reminded of being pregnant, oh so long ago. Back in the day, pregnant bellies were camouflaged and hidden. Women had a few ugly, but precious outfits. You basically took things off, laundered them, and put them back on. So too it was for me. I grew to hate these clothing items. The wool swing coat was roomy enough to accommodate my sling and still almost close. I donated it days after I was released from bondage. I took especial delight in having Roy burn an ugly, synthetic sea-foam green garment that back in the 1950s and 60s would have been called a duster. Depending on your age, either you or your mother wore one. With its full-length zipper and pockets, the housecoat was practical in some ways. But, its fake fabric meant it didn’t breathe and my poor arm got all sweaty. The Velcro on the two sling straps snagged the hell out of it and filled the grippy little teeth with fibres.

I was housebound for the worst of the really cold weather and the dump of about 18 inches of snow. Roy stayed home with me for the first week or so of my recovery and was invaluable in seeing me through this ordeal. I think he gained an appreciation for life as a caregiver, something women know instinctively. I tried to accept his way of doing things and not be too much of a critical, demanding bitch.

Eventually, I needed and wanted to get out amongst people. This raised a whole new set of challenges. Vanity prevented me from being seen at my worst. I need to augment my eyebrows. Penciling them in with my left hand and not looking like Groucho Marx became my goal. Applying mascara left-handed without scratching my corneas was equally important. It is damn near impossible to shake a can of mousse, get it out of the can and into your hair with one hand. It is impossible to dry your hair with one hand. When I didn’t have someone to help me, I eventually figured out a technique. I laid the hair dryer down on top of a bookcase and then sort of bobbed and weaved in the flow of the warm air, trying to work the hair with my left hand.

It is also almost impossible to blow your nose with one hand. Or wash your left arm with your left hand. Or floss. Or clean your glasses. Putting in pierced earrings with backs is also a two-handed job. Getting ready to go out took hours, lots of planning and countless rest breaks.

The household thing wasn’t much better. I opened the big peanut butter jar by gripping it between my knees and twisting the lid with one hand. I couldn’t decant laundry soap into the measuring cup. Changing bedding was impossible. You can’t get a pillowcase on with one hand and forget about the strength to lift a mattress corner. Roy filled an old shampoo bottle with dishwasher soap so I could squeeze soap into the machine. Even taking care of the floral arrangements I received was a challenge. I couldn’t re-cut stems without help.

Christmas ended up being very simple with no cards, no tree, no baking, and no hosting. So, now you know what we survived.

My printing rivaled that of any kindergarten kid. Eventually, I was able to peck at a keyboard with my left hand, but it threw my body into some sort of twisted posture that caused other problems. I found my old friend, tennis elbow, was making a re-appearance. I had hoped to use my convalescence to catch up on some reading. Not only was it hard to juggle the book, I also kept falling asleep sitting up, especially in the beginning. I played Scrabble to keep myself amused and keep those old synapses firing. Scrabble was played by myself and with two trays of letters. I didn’t keep score, because I knew one of me was bound to win!

Sleeping was a challenge. I was able to lie in bed by about day three after my surgery, if I propped myself up with enough pillows. The sling was a real pain in the butt at night. Sleeping on my back was the only position that was even remotely comfortable.

It ticks me off to no end that the one thing the sling didn’t really hamper was my ability to shovel in the food. Oh, sure I draped my front with a tea towel bib, but I was surprisingly good with my left hand and fast too. Only occasionally did someone have to cut my food. So, dear reader you’ll be relieved to note that my surgery and convalescence did not cause me to fade away into a svelte shadow of my former self. Au contraire, if anything my weight and conditioning have suffered, because I’ve taken a medical leave from Curves.

But, hey other than all that, the last few weeks have been great. I expect that, like delivery labour, the pain and intensity of this experience will fade with time. At least that’s what I’m counting on, from where I sit.