One Bad Wing

All through May and half of June I knew I was about to have the famously painful rotator cuff surgery, and what I pictured was so bad it practically scared the hair coloring right off my head. Day and night I lived in the kingdom of panic.

HOW, for example, would I go about the so-called Activities of Daily Life with my dominant arm immobilized in the large contraption I would have to wear day and night for six or eight or even (gad!) ten weeks? What about bathroom tasks? Should I be fashioning hundreds of little ‘corsages’ out of toilet paper like the ones we made from Kleenex for our moms when we were kids? I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach over that big sling/brace to reach the ol’ Charmin roll, affixed to the wall on my dead side as it is. 

toilet paper carnations

And what about feeding myself? How would I one-handedly slide a baking-panful of heavy raw chicken into the oven, much less heave a pot of water onto the stove for pasta? How would I even SEE, since I wouldn’t be able to reach my eyes to put in my contacts?

“You can lift a coffee cup and a fork and that’s it,” the surgeon’s assistant had told me a month before Scalpel Time. “You cannot send your arm out to the side. You cannot  lift it to the front. And you, cannot, under any circumstances, reach it behind you. BUT HEY YOU’LL BE FINE!” he crowed gaily. “Just think of yourself as half a T-Rex with one tiny arm!”

As warnings go, these were dire but they were honest too. And once the knives and saws and drills came out on June 14th at two o’clock in the afternoon, I set aside all feelings of dread and got down to the business of getting through.

The surgeon did too. He and his team yanked the two ends of my severed tendon together and stitched it over with what I picture as the kind of indestructible packing tape you use when you’re mailing packages. He drilled and sawed and sewed for two-plus hours and sent me home three hours after that with the admonition that I was not to lie down for eight weeks but rather sleep sitting up, either propped with a million pillows in the bed or else in a reclining ‘lift’ chair.

That was almost seven weeks ago and during all this time I haven’t been able to write with a pen. Even keyboarding hurts like the devil. Oh but there have been  so many things I have wanted to say here, most of them not even about this procedure! I just wanted to get this grisly tale told first.

post rotator cuff 'graffiti'a week post-op

So yes, I’m severely limited still. Flossing too is about impossible, I can’t drive and I couldn’t chop an onion if I wanted to. But just thinking here about those toilet paper corsages has me smiling, and that’s something all by itself. 🙂


40 thoughts on “One Bad Wing

  1. Glad your back & it wasn’t a life threatening surgery. Your past the worst now. The ladies in my rehab all said natural child birth was peace of cake compared to rotator cuff physical therapy. Until that PT the only 10 in my life was my wife Kathy.

    1. I have been meaning to thank you for your card that was so kind. Even photographed it so you would know that I had received it – then of course I never sent it even by text. I get up in the morning and do the physical therapy and endure the shower and the jujitsu of dressing with this brace on and then I’m ready to … lie down again! I don’t though; I know I need to keep moving. What you say about Kathy ! Bo Derek’

  2. Dear Terry,
    Your words both opened and broke my heart. That you are experiencing this daily struggle makes me sad. And that you are dealing with it with such grace and genuine humor makes me happy and hopeful about facing hardships when they are present. Thank you for another inspiring essay. I’ve missed you!


    1. Oh Ann you give me too much credit here. 🙂 It did take almost 7 weeks before I could summon the high spirits that allowed for this post! Thank you so much dearie..

  3. You have more courage than I. I didn’t know I had a torn rotator cuff – done about 20 years ago – until my shoulder really started getting painful. Maybe the x-rays today are better than they were, or maybe my employer didn’t want to pay for the surgery. I don’t know. I am not about to have it fixed now in my “golden years”.

    1. Well in my case they didn’t do an MRI until a year and a half later. X-rays don’t necessarily reveal soft tissue damage. Are your years really that “Golden? “ I don’t think of you as old enough not to have a surgery that will help you stay mobile! 🙂

      1. I’m not suffering from frozen shoulder or unable to do daily activities. There are a few things I can’t do but who is going to climb trees at almost 80?

  4. How callous the surgeon’s assistant! Similarly, having broken my leg a week before my daughter’s wedding, I was told I was going to find out “how unimportant the mother of the bride really is.”

    I’m glad the worst is over for you, and from now it’s sunny skies, hearts and flowers, and things you should never be without. (Diamonds, lipsticks all in the same shade, earrings, and the good will of old flames from the past.)

    1. Talk about a callous remarks from the medical community! I guess it’s the corollary to the timeworn advice to all mothers of the bride: “shut up and wear beige.” Girl so not much in the way of make up and lipstick. I do have some dear friends that once were beaus however. Easy enough accomplishment since I took myself off the boyfriend market at age 19. 🙂

  5. Glad you’ve made it this far! Mine wasn’t rotator cuff; I shattered my right humerus and it separated from the shoulder. I can’t lift my right arm straight up anymore, but that’s OK … don’t need to to put on anti-perspirant.
    PT was hell for about the first month or so after surgery; I cried every day because it hurt so much, but I still considered myself profoundly lucky compared to some of the other patients. It was slow-going for a few months (I think I finally was able to sleep on my right side again after about six months), but nine years later I’m doing fine … not so much sanity-wise some days, but as far as the arm goes …

    1. Well this is an adorable reply and funny too! It must be nice not to have to put on anti-perspirant anymore I’ll say that. and yes I AM noticing the hell of PT now that you mention it. I can’t BELIEVE what bone pain feels like but you’re right to look on the bright side and count ourselves lucky. True I would do anything to sleep on my tummy but even that is out. The surgeon told me last week it would be nine months before I didn’t hate him. Anyway thanks for this. I need humor like yours. 🙂

      1. You are so very welcome. ❤

        I think I stopped hating my surgeon after a couple of months. My therapist, on the other hand …
        Best of luck in your recovery. Humor does help ease the pain, so ya got that going for you. 👍🏻

  6. I’m so sorry to hear it. The Unindicted Co-Conspirator is doing physical therapy right now for what was described as a mild rotator cuff tear, and it’s miserable. I can only imagine what yours must be like. Hoping you’ll recover quickly.

      1. The Unindicted Co-Conspirator is indeed the one person who cannot be compelled to testify against me. In fact, her next PT session is in 45 minutes.

  7. Terry, you always make me smile and I am glad that you have the ability to make that happen for yourself. I think your courage and humor are enormous, and I also think there is a great opportunity with all those one-shoulder outfits to feature the dots and writing (I think) that the good surgeon left with you. Better than a tattoo. Be diligent with the exercises, and it will pay off, and if I were you, I’d milk being a one-armed bandit for all it’s worth! Thank goodness we read the plays in Penguin paperbacks 🙂

    1. I love your phrase, “milk the one armed bandit”! I fear my husband is getting tired of all the care he’s had to keep giving me. He certainly is a genius and a fast worker at cleaning up the kitchen night after night after night. Some mornings he starts to leave for work and I have to run after him crying “But my bra!” In fact I bought a couple of those one-strap bathing suits and had them cut down to hip length so they function as super tight camisoles. I will take a picture and send it to you my friend. 🙂 Thank you so much

  8. Oh my sweet friend!! I really hate to hear of your pain, but I am amazed that you are ready to write again!! Why didn’t we come with a warning about the shoulder problems as we age?!! I mean, you sort of expect to have knee or hip trouble after years of pounding wear, but shoulders??!! I hope you are healing nicely, and will soon be able to use both arms again! I know you have some sweet grandbabies that you are itching to hold!!

  9. I’m sending you “healing vibes” Terry and hoping that they do the trick. It sounds like you have been through a great deal.

    1. Thank you so much Cynny and it’s lovely to hear from you. This was the first operation of my life which makes me one lucky girl so I really can’t complain. It feels funny though having to be a blank wall for all this graffiti. 🙂

  10. My Susie is healing from anterior cervical discectomy / fusion and removal of bone spurs, stenosis and whatever else shouldn’t have been growing there. After 3 weeks the pain has just started to subside. It was horrific!. So I know what you have been through. Every day will get better, for sure!
    Loved seeing you and Sheil together in that photo she sent out!

    1. That certainly sounds like a horrifying procedure Gwen!. I hope she does feel better every day. I’ve been told to court patience. You do learn that as you get older don’t you.? Love to you both 💕

  11. Brave lady! But I guess you won’t be pitching for the Sox this year?
    My knee replacement is going well,
    but I won’t be playing this year either.
    Terry, do what they tell you to do and continue the rehab, no matter how long it takes you! One of the problems is that people stop rehab after a few weeks. Make this a mission, focus on it and stay with it even if they say it will take 6 mos plus of rehab. Malcolm had his rotator cuff done several years ago and rehab was 6 mos plus. You can do it! 💐🌸🌷🌾

    1. Thank you for this wise advice Bill. I intend to do every part of the therapy and I know it will take six months plus. I was told that I couldn’t extend my arm to the side until January at best. I mean to DO what they say! a young man like Malcolm huh? I guess we are all slightly crooked, slightly broken, kites. I’ve been wondering about you and your knee and I’m glad to hear you are progressing. Thank you friend.

    2. I thought I responded to this bill but I don’t see what I wrote at the time. I Went to the surgeon yesterday and he said I wouldn’t be thanking him for some time. Nine months he actually said … so by April maybe I can do yoga again. 🙂

  12. I’m glad you’re on the road to recovery Terry and can write a note, or hunt-and-peck at least … I’ve known others who have undergone this painful surgery, and, in the end they said it was worth it for the range of motion they now experience, and most of all,no pain. But, what amazes me the most is this surgery, with the restrictions and extended recuperation time, was done as an in-patient. I’m really shaking my head over this. Heal up and you are excused from hefting any shovelfuls of snow this year. 🙂

    1. What a kind and helpful response Linda! Yes they do all kinds of things outpatient these days. I was terrified to sleep all by myself the night of the surgery and the next morning I threw up all over my brace/sling and the special recliner chair I had rented. The surgeon said it was because I had taken the Oxycodone that HE had prescribed for me – I stress that part – but my wise nurse friends told me it was a result of the anesthesia. At least I’m not throwing up anymore but the pain is significant and I must learn that even slicing onions is a big mistake For the pain it serves up in the night. I love knowing you’re out there. Thank you so much Dearie!

      1. You’re so welcome Terry. My mom was hit by a car at age 11 and had over 40 orthopedic operations in her lifetime. She could not tolerate the anesthesia either and was sick for days afterward. Compounding that issue, was the Tylenol 3 which made her equally nauseous. She had to resort to the strongest dose of Motrin instead. I’m glad you are on the road to recovery. Next year you’ll be on another whirlwind vacation and this will be all in the past.

      2. Your poor mother! I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have so many surgeries and have such a difficult time conquering nausea. I’m about to find four Advil myself right now. 🙂 Can’t seem to conquer pain with the mind over body method today!

      3. She was quite a trooper Terry, but she resorted to high-potency Motrin which caused stomach problems as it was so strong. Advil might not conquer the pain as well as stronger meds, but at least it has no harmful side effects. Good thing you had the surgery before you need a coat because that extra weight on your shoulder might be painful as well. You might have to resort to a poncho if you’re not healed up 100% by the time Fall arrives (a very good reason to treat yourself to a colorful and warm, hand-knit woolen poncho).

  13. Hello
    My sweet friend Linda Schaub shared this post with me as I am preparing for a surgery that will also be outpatient. My surgery seems so
    much easier post-op (removal of several cysts on my breasts) than you. My goodness, why did they not keep you in the hospital at least the first night?!?! That’s insane!!
    I’m sorry your in so much pain.
    One day at a time!!!!
    In the meantime I wish you good friends to visit, audio books, a good window to look out of, some good movies and a fabulously comfortable chair!!!! 💐

    1. Thank you so much for this nice message. I just love the Recommended RX of good friends, audio books, a good window, good movies and a comfortable chair!” And I certainly wish you luck in your upcoming surgery. You must keep me posted – or I would look at your blog. 🙂

  14. you are one tough gal!! i wish we lived closer so i could bring the gang to provide some entertainment. ;0)

    1. wouldn’t I love that! The pictures you post on FB of your whole family make me feel as though you are right next door – at Fenway rather than Yankee Stadium! Thanks Nik. xxoo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s