Hi Friends! It’s been FOREVER since I last wrote… over a month! (or just at a month?). I lose track. Here is what has been going on. I had surgery to repair my shoulder capsule (labrum) on October 17 and had a full 3 weeks off work, and have spent the past 3+ weeks getting re-adjusted to working the 8-5 in a sling. Of all of my surgeries (I’ve had a few, you can read about all of my arm surgeries here), this actually tops the charts for pain, tying for first with my tonsillectomy at at 24. **Shudders**
So, after 6 weeks, I finally have the ability to stick my hand out of the sling far enough to type AND have the energy after a week of work to write again! I’ve enjoyed being a lazy pile as I conserve my energy for the necessary tasks, but have also gotten to be involved in some pretty cool things, even with my throttle scaled back. It’s time I share some of my key tips and tricks that could help anyone who may also be facing a shoulder surgery.
10+ Things to Know About Shoulder Surgery: Fun Facts and Lessons Learned
1. This is going to hurt. Everything in your shoulder is going to hurt… badly. To get inside the joint, they actually fill the joint with saline to almost dislocate it, which allows them to get their tools in. The downside is that all of your shoulder structures will feel the effects, not just the surgical site. Then, there is the fact that they have drilled 5 metal anchors into the bones… which doesn’t exactly tickle.
2. GET THE PAIN PUMP! Seriously, don’t be a hero. When you get shoulder surgery, they give you the option to have a nerve block pain pump inserted into your neck to help control pain. This is essentially a small osmotic pump that hangs in a bag around your neck and has a tube that is inserted into your neck (yeesh) that continually numbs the nerves to your shoulder for 2-3ish days. I’m blown away that some people don’t want it, and I think they probably regretted it. Pulling it out at home when the pump is empty is awkward and gross, but doesn’t hurt, or really feel like anything at all. Its just nasty to think about is all. I recommend having someone you trust help. Damir was super sweet, and kept giving me kisses on the forehead as he took care of it (while I tried my hardest not to ugly cry from anxiety). It was adorable, if, you know, he hadn’t just pulled a tube out of my neck, you forget the ugly crying part, and ignore the fact that anyone who hasn’t showered in nearly 4 days is hardly “adorable.”
3. Showering. After about 4 days you are allowed to take your first shower and remove the dressing. Honest recommendation… have someone take the shower with you. If you have a significant other or family member, just put any reservations aside and both just jump right in…. its going to be so much easier. If it is a family member, maybe they could stand outside with the knowledge that they might get a bit wet by reaching in to hand you things… but the truth is you really cant do anything just yet. If someone can squeeze shampoo into your hand, you can wash your own hair with the opposite hand (even with long hair!) but turning and twisting to wash yourself is painful and difficult, as essentially half of your body is completely out of reach. I did manage to shave on my own, but didn’t bother trying to get into my armpit on that side for at least another couple of days with help.
4. Hair care. If you have long hair, this gets fun. Invest in a lot of claw clips so you can have them handy. By twisting your hair up as if you were going to wrap a bun, laying the twisted hair forward over your face towards your nose (leaning down) and quickly clipping it into a half pony of sorts, you can still get your hair up. This will really help keep a handle on the knots. Because of the sling and my inability to properly brush my hair on the right side, I ended up with some pretty epic snarls after the first few days. My mom lovingly brushed these massive rats nests out of my hair, and Damir has helped me tackle a few since.
5. Bras. I would have been content to sit at home and do nothing for the first two weeks, but it is very important to start physical therapy asap, between 5-10 days after surgery. As a busty gal, this posed a bit of a problem… it was SUPER obvious that I wasn’t wearing a bra which makes me very uncomfortable. I just wasn’t sure how to wear my current bras, as getting it on was a chore, as was removing it. I wanted something I could wear comfortably all day and night without hardly noticing, and something I could get on one handed. Enter True and Co. I had seen ads for awhile, and took the plunge for two of their True Body Lift Scoop neck bras… and I am hooked. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about a bra without wires… would it be enough to support a 36DDD? Yes. And they are the most comfortable bra I have ever worn. I can literally sleep in them, which I did often. Once they went on, they didn’t come off again until my next shower since it was too painful to keep changing clothes.
6. Leggings. I lived in LulaRoe leggings for the entire 3 weeks I was off work, specifically their Halloween leggings… because… why wouldn’t I? This made it possible to easily change, use the bathroom, take spontaneous naps, etc. while using one hand. I also invested in a few pairs of solid colored leggings and longer tops/dresses that I could wear to work once I went back, paired with zippered boots to make dressing as easy as possible. For men, sweatpants would be the best bet.
7. Toilet Paper. Find a place to put the TP roll you can reach. Ours is back on the wall on the right side of the toilet… this just doesn’t work when the sling is on your right arm. We installed a second TP holder on the wall right in front of the toilet to make things easier.
8. Coats. While the three weeks I was out of work were pleasantly in the 50s or even 60s, things got quite cold in my first week back, with a chilly 17 degrees. Wearing a coat would require taking off the sling, putting on the coat, putting the sling back on, then repeating the process to take it off at work. To make things easier, I bought a poncho coat. I never saw why you would wear a poncho when you had a perfectly fine coat, but I certainly appreciate it now! I can just flop it on over the sling and be ready to go in seconds.
9. Pets. If you have a dog, you may need to make some adjustments and get help, depending on the dog of course. I have a 50 lb pit bull who refuses to sleep anywhere except sandwiched between Damir and me on the bed. This would place her directly on my surgical side, and just wasn’t going to work. Damir slept on the couch for the first 2 weeks (he didn’t mind) and Mystic wasn’t allowed to come back into the bedroom at night either… she was suuuuper pissy about it. I couldn’t hold her, sleep with her, cuddle with or play with her. She started giving me the cold shoulder after the first day, and she even piddled on the carpet in protest. Sigh. We are getting back to being snuggle buddies again now, so all is forgiven.
Damir is still walking her though, because walking her with one arm is asking for disaster. She is good on the leash, but if there is another dog off leash, I wouldn’t be able to control the situation, and could easily hurt myself. Something to consider! I probably could start walking her soon, and if I had to, walk her from 3 weeks on, but that would still be taking an unnecessary chance.
10. Sleeping. Sleep is a disaster for the first few days. I am a side sleeper, and that was absolutely not possible. Plus, sleeping in a sling is painful! I would sometimes have the ice on my shoulder, and a heat pad under my low back/mid back to keep cramping at bay. After the first 2 weeks, Damir started sleeping in the bed with me again, but we switched sides so that my arm would not be in the center of the bed, keeping it safer from him and our snuggle bug Mystic. After 2 weeks, I started removing the top strap while sleeping to reduce the impact on my neck.
11. Sling induced pain. OMG, I am used to getting a chiropractic adjustment weekly… and I was completely unable to do so until nearly at 4 weeks post surgery. Even then, I just did my neck, as it just wasn’t really possibly to do anything else safely. I have been having a higher frequency of migraines, back cramps, poor sleep due to lower back pain, the whole shebang. I often would just lie on the floor with my legs up on the seat of a chair to help everything chill out.
I also did spring for a massage at 4 weeks, but even that was tough. The therapist was very careful to mostly focus on my neck with gentle stretching and using hot stones to lightly press into the traps on each side, making sure to be extra careful on my injured side. Still, it was a little painful, but mostly because of the stretching, not that I think anything was hurt at the surgical site. Still, I am going to hold off for another few weeks before going back, just to make sure I can really work out some of the kinks that have built up wearing this sling. (Update: since writing this, I did get a massage at 7 weeks, and it went very well! She was just careful around that shoulder and made sure I would tell her if it hurt).
12. Physical Therapy. You have to make sure you do your exercises! It definitely isn’t fun sometimes, but by doing them every day, I have actually exceeded where I should be, and am trending a week ahead in my therapy. Woot! I’m way too competitive with myself. The flip side is that if you don’t, you will never get your range of motion back, AND you could get frozen shoulder, where the whole thing seizes up, and they essentially will have to force you to move it. Its going to be exceptionally painful, and can compromise your overall ability to heal. You are committing to at least a 3-4 month minimum healing journey when you do this surgery… dont let 5-10 minutes a day of exercise sabotage all of the pain, limitations, missed work, and financial investment you are making in yourself!
13. Cooler. USE THE COOLER!!! My nurse said that I could stop using it after the first week or so, but I’m on week 6 and still using it daily! The “cooler” is an ice system with an ice pack that velcros onto your shoulder, then is connected by a hose to a cooler. The cooler pumps ice water through the ice pack to make sure it stays continuously cold. I use this every day after getting home from work, and usually fall asleep on it. I 100% attribute this to my success in rehab so far. When it is iced, it doesn’t hurt so I am more apt to move it, and it helps me fall asleep at night. It also counteracts the inflammation from general activity, work, and physical therapy, making each day easier and keeps me from “guarding” which is holding your shoulder stiff to prevent pain, whether you realize you are doing it or not!
14. Return to work. I was actually a bit surprised that my doctor said I would be out for 3-6 weeks, and absolutely no return before 3 weeks. Honestly, he was 100 right, and even though I just work at a desk and have my sling perfectly positioned to type while wearing it, I still kind of wish I would have waited one more week. If I had the savings, I 100% would have done so. Keep in mind, I am sitting all day, could still wear the sling, take breaks, not lift or do anything with either side, and wear icepacks all day (rotating from the freezer, not the cooler). If I had ANY type of job that wasn’t sitting at a desk all day, I would take the full 6 weeks, and highly recommend that for you too. Don’t rush back to work and compromise your healing!
15. Treat yourself! While the first weeks was a bit of a mess of pain and messed up sleep schedules, try to treat yourself to somethings that are fun! I ordered in something to eat when I felt like it and refused to feel guilty. I binged on pumpkin everything with Pumpkin Spice Life cereal, PS coffee creamer, PS pop tarts, PS oreos… basically pumpkin spice overdose. I stayed up until 6 in the morning reading a books on the couch, which is my ultimate level of luxury! I slept in every day, then would enjoy coffee while cruising through all kinds of Netflix shows. It was bliss.
Audio books are also my new guilty pleasure, since holding a book was a bit difficult, but I have still continued listening. I finally signed up for Audible, and have been listening to the Game of Thrones series, but also Girl in Space, which is an awesome audio novel released one chapter at a time as a podcast. The best thing, its free on iTunes and Spotify!
Just remember that you are doing this to improve your overall wellbeing, take time to enjoy your time off, and don’t hesitate to ask for help!