Sunday, September 03, 2006

Friendly Torture

Anyone who’s ever had physical therapy for a shoulder injury will feel a sense of déjà vu when they read what I am about to write.

I don’t wear my Danskos any more. They’re – sorry, Kath – butt-ugly and not even all that comfortable. In fact, for me they’re downright dangerous. Once, I twisted my ankle playing kickball out in the cul-de-sac with the grands (I know, operator error – no, make that absolute stupidity). The last time I wore them was just before last Christmas, when I slid down a couple of steps at a fashionable hotel in downtown Charleston, attempted to catch myself by grasping onto the polished brass handrail, and landed on my knee. I couldn’t tell which pain was the worst - my pulverized knee, my overflexed ankle, or my bruised ego.

It turns out that all of those were only temporary. My shoulder, however, was not so lucky. After that fateful day, my right shoulder grew alarmingly more painful. When I finally realized my shoulder was not going to heal on its on (but why not? I’ve always healed on my own before!), I tried Aleve and physical therapy – the Aleve had no effect and the physical therapy just about killed me. When I asked her for a little stronger pain med, my internist referred me to an orthopedist.

Having worked in healthcare for some time now, I know there are progressively more aggressive steps that a physician must take before arriving at the decision to operate on a patient. So I wasn’t surprised when the ortho guy stuck a screwdriver-sized needle filled with cortisone into my shoulder joint. Unbelievably, the shot didn’t hurt nearly as much as I expected, and the long-standing pain in my shoulder went away.

For a week, that is. While we were together in Alaska, the pain was pretty bad but Kathie warned me big time against shoulder surgery. On my return to Charleston, then, I tried acupuncture by a chiropractor, who only seemed to be interested in my bra size. The pain getting worse by the day and my shoulder starting to freeze up, I gave in and visited the orthopedist - who agreed it was time for surgery.

Tomorrow morning, it will be four weeks since my arthroscopy, which was done at an outpatient surgery center. The surgeon reattached the avulsed labrum to my glenoid using a scope and tools inserted into four small holes through my flesh, and he removed a lot of scar tissue (the freeze-up factor). Three and a half hours after start of surgery, daughter Jessie drove me home – loaded up with post-op instructions and prescriptions for Lortab and four weeks of physical therapy.

That very afternoon, I visited the physical therapist, Barbara*, who had treated me before. Thanks to the nerve block that caused my entire upper right quarter to feel as if it belonged to a marionette, Babs was able to manipulate my arm and shoulder like a Gumby’s. All the while, she chatted about schools and kids with Jessie. I listened to their chatter, happy as a clam, as my rubber band arm was stretched and folded every which way. After about forty five minutes, we scheduled a return visit for the next afternoon and left for home.

The next visit was much different. The nerve block had worn off and my shoulder had started to freeze up again. Daughter Kelly had driven me this time, and the two girls chatted about their mutual alma mater while Babs proceeded to attempt snapping my arm off at the shoulder. Of course, she let up if she noticed a sharp intake of air on my part, but this time I left the gym with a fierce resolve to avoid at all costs experiencing that kind of agony again.

So for the following two days, I lay on the floor in my bedroom and constantly stretched my shoulder and arm in every direction and as far as I could. The pain med helped a lot and I thought I made a lot of progress. Babs thought so too at my next appointment, but proceeded to torture me shamelessly anyway – all the while yakking merrily with Kelly.

After four weeks of hearing about Babs’ children, their school, their homework, her husband, her husband’s business, her family, her in-laws, her in-laws' farm, her intra-family Clemson-USC rivalry, and every recipe she’s ever tried in minute detail (seriously, I can tell you that she uses a third of a cup of sugar in her peach cobbler – or was that in her chocolate chip cookies?), I finished my course of therapy two days ago. Babs and I agreed that I would give her a ring if my shoulder started to freeze up again.

I have not stopped stretching since. Anyone need a used pair of Danskos?

* name changed to protect the not-so-innocent

12 comments:

Jessie said...

I can't believe you remembered every detail of that woman's life! May be she thought you needed a different kind of therapy than just the physical kind...may be she could use the therapy!!!

Pat said...

You were there - you heard her! I suppose I should be greatful she was such a talker...made the time go by faster. Wonder if they teach that in PT school?

Katharine said...

The pain from shoulder physical therapy is worse than childbirth, and they say that is the worst pain. More excruciating than a kidney stone. During my shoulder rehab I could truly understand how prisoners confess under torture.

Pat said...

The only pain I've had that is worse was the trigeminal neuralgia.

The good thing about physical therapy is that it only lasts 45-60 minutes, then you're good to go! Not so for childbirth and kidney stones, though...

Cindy said...

As a soon-to-be shoulder surgery patient, you're doing nothing to encourage me with this post! I'm trying desparately (foolishly??) to hold on the hope that I will breeze through this with little pain and be back to my normal life in as short a time as Pat.

Pat said...

Ah, but Cindy, pain is usually only short-lived when it's not your own!

Just remember to not push yourself too hard and make sure you let other people help you. All things pass!

John G. Nettleton said...

Who knew shoulder surgery might bind, at least symbolically, persons from the SE, SW and me, a NW guy? (Is it obvious I have a crush on the person from the SW?)
In late June I had a total shoulder joint replacement surgery in Seattle. I live now in Oregon, but this Dr first diagnosed my arthritis with an arthroscopy in 97 and stated then I'd probably be back for a new shoulder. In April I had a serious bicycle accident in Mexico, breaking ribs, dislocating shoulder plus ruining a previous shoulder surgery.
In terms of exericise and pain...out here they stress PAIN=REFRAIN. For the first six weeks I did nothing active, just a few passive arm swinging exercises. Now, past the second six weeks, I'm doing only isometric exercises. Hope to get cleared next week to start more proactive training...don't want to be cocky, but I think I can do a better job with myself than a PT. My comments only relate to pain with exercise. Lord knows there is mega-pain just going through the experience day by day.
Commiserating in Oregon,
John N

Pat said...

Good to hear from you again, John! It sounds as if your journey has been a rough one - much worse than mine. I'm inspired to work harder! :-)

Anonymous said...

Just back from last ortho check at 3 months after shoulder joint replacement surgery. I'm now cleared for any/all activities. Now I'm getting stronger each day. Physically stronger that is. Emotionally? Well, that's a whole other story. Why do I feel like 16 vice 66? Do Nute girls have that effect on gentlemen friends often? In turmoil in Oregon.

Pat said...

Anonymous wrote:

"Just back from last ortho check at 3 months after shoulder joint replacement surgery. I'm now cleared for any/all activities. Now I'm getting stronger each day. Physically stronger that is. Emotionally? Well, that's a whole other story. Why do I feel like 16 vice 66? Do (deleted by Pat) girls have that effect on gentlemen friends often? In turmoil in Oregon."

Sounds like you're making terrific progress! Keep up the good work... (To answer your question, only Kathie has that effect on men. She's quite special, really.)

Augustus said...

Hi Pat!

I'm having real shoulder issues at the moment. The left one is very tender and has been for some while. I'm toying with getting some therapy for it but am in the "it'll be OK tomorrow" stage at the moment.

A friend of mine died of liver cancer two years ago and one of the first things the specialist who diagnosed him asked was "Have you been having pain in your right shoulder?" Apparently western medicine has caught up with what the ancient Chinese knew five thousand years ago. There is a link between right shoulder pain and liver problems. Anyone know if this is a broadly agreed upon thing in western medicine or did my friend get a quack? He certainly didn't survive the cancer so maybe he did.

Pat said...

Hi Augustus,

The person to answer your question about a link between right shoulder pain and liver cancer is Kathie. She had a pretty bad problem with her shoulder some time ago - a skiing injury that didn't resolve until she visited a past life regression therapist, who told her she'd been wounded in the same shoulder in a past life as a Scottish noblewoman!

Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for her answer until she gets back from South America later this month, but Cindy and I will both strongly encourage you to not wait to get therapy. The longer you wait, the worse the treatment will be and the longer your recovery!

It's great to hear from you. Good luck with that shoulder, among other things. :)