Wide load

I really was trying to be upbeat about it all. Sitting there on a hospital bed waiting to be prepped for rotator cuff surgery, I was very thankful to be getting the attention I needed to have. I had to fight my way in to see the orthopedic surgeon because of clinic and insurance rigmarole that require waiting and waiting for someone more medical than myself to rule that there was indeed reason to get an MRI. I explained very clearly to the physician assistant and nurses that I knew it was a torn rotator cuff because I had torn the right one several years before. I knew what was wrong. And I didn’t want to wait to get it addressed because my other cuff was misdiagnosed and when it came time to repair it, it was beyond overhaul. So I don’t even have a rotator cuff on the right side. Instead, I was told it was just a sprain and I was sent home with a prescription, I think it was supposed to be for pain, that turned out to be worthless. My own primary physician had left the practice just days before so I couldn’t see a “real” doctor. Finally, I got the ear of a nurse with whom I had some history and found my way into the tunnel of the MRI machine.

They gave me headphones and asked what kind of music I’d like to hear. “Smooth jazz,” I told them with a smile. But once I got squeezed into that passageway I discovered that the sound only worked on the left side. Too late to do anything about it, when they asked if all was well, I told them I wanted a glass of wine and a cigarette to go along with the smooth jazz. They did laugh. I squeezed my eyes closed to avoid the onset of claustrophobia and lay as still as possible for the next 45 minutes while the machine groaned and clanked around me. It did cross my mind that I could be wrong about my diagnosis and I supposed someone would make me pay for that, but, alas, I was right. A massive tear in the left rotator cuff.

The surgeon said he “thought” he could fix it, but, later, when I saw the pictures that were taken while he was stitching away on me, I could see that the muscles or tendons or whatever composes a rotator cuff were literally in shreds. Good thing he’s a really good surgeon.

The nurse who was there to induct me into the hospital hall of fame that morning had been working over 12 hours and wasn’t up for my brand of humor. When she couldn’t find a vein to stick the needle into, I suggested while smiling, “I’ll bet if you give me a big glass of water, one will pop right up for you.” Next thing I knew she was gone without a word and replaced with a new nurse who, oddly enough, had no problem getting that needle into position.

Next thing I remember, Terry was kissing me good-by and I was wheeled into the operating room. Just before they put my lights out, I said to the team, “Who’s praying?” Silence. Dead silence. I always ask that question in ORs and following the inevitable silence, I usually get some kind of positive response. This time, I don’t remember getting one at all. I do know I was praying as I went to sleep.

Not just any sling for me, but an “UltraSling.” It had a bolster on the back side to hold my arm away from my body and a strap that curled around my backside to hold it all in place. I got really tired of this thing.

As these things go, I woke up after it was all done and found myself bandaged to the hilt. The staff was anxious to get me out of there and I was ready to go, but they first had to make certain I could walk. Now, I’m no skinny-mini and with an arm in a sling and bandages and cushioning enveloping it all, my girth was just that much greater. It took two of the staff to get me on my feet and begin to usher me out into the hall. But because I wasn’t quite with the program, I was allowing them to guide my steps so when we hit the door, we literally hit the door – the door frame – with my just-surgically-repaired shoulder. The immediate response from the male nurse was, “Whoa. Watch it. Wide load.”

I know I shot him a dirty look and Terry said the other nurse glared at him and said his name. He mumbled an apology, we took about four steps down the hallway and back, and then I was in a wheelchair heading for the car.

In the months that followed, I became one with my recliner. We bought that a long time ago and it was so comfortable I had already proclaimed that it would be going with me to “The Home” when the time came. For well over a month, I slept in that chair because I couldn’t sleep in the bed. I had been told that recovery from rotator cuff surgery is one of the most difficult, but I don’t think I had fully realized it until it all played out. After all, I had a total knee replacement and I was up walking around in a week and that was no picnic. But I’ll take a knee replacement any day over rotator cuff repair.

The chair and I became one during my recovery. Not sure it will be much good by the time I go to “The Home,” as I intend that occurrence to be a long way in the future.

In those months of healing, I learned quickly that I couldn’t even get my hands up to a keyboard, let along write an entry for my blog. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was reading. I read 50 books in the space of four months. That felt good. I was accomplishing something.

When I was cleared to drive, I had to lift my left arm up and onto the steering wheel. Once it was there, I had no problems hanging on and allowing my right arm to do the work. I felt real independence again, even if I were only driving to my physical therapy appointments.

Eventually, I found myself reaching up with that arm to wash my hair or reach up into the kitchen cabinet to get a plate, doing all kinds of things I had taken for granted.

This week, I had my six-month-out appointment with the surgeon. He was pleased to know I am swinging a golf club for the first time in many years (previously, he had told me he was giving me the “bone spur of the month award” because of the pointy piece that was projecting from my shoulder down my arm, twanging away at the tendon as if it were a banjo). He released me to the continued care of the physical therapist and told me he expected that I would only get stronger and be limited only by my own lack of desire.

My rotator cuff is still recovering and it reminds me every so often that I need to do those exercises and swing that club. Maybe, just maybe, I can get past all these things like fractured ankle, arthritic knees, and torn rotator cuffs that have held me back for too many years and then manage to lose some weight.

Without the huge sling and packaging around it, I don’t have much excuse for being a “wide load.”



“              O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.” – Psalm 30:2


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