The Joys of Shoulder Surgery 

I had shoulder surgery last Friday for a fully torn rotator cuff. The ortho surgeon  had gleefully told me, “Your rotator cuff has disintegrated and your muscles are dead.” He told me that he would reconstruct my torn rotator cuff with cadaver derma.

But at the pre-op, the staff had me sign off on either a repair or a Superior Capsule Reconstruction. I didn’t think they could do a repair, but apparently, that’s what was done.

I also was told by doctors and by those who have had this surgery that the rehab is worse than for a hip or knee replacement surgery and that the pain would be considerable.

Needless to say, I was not eagerly anticipating having surgery, especially as it was on my dominant arm. You try being told that your right arm will be in a sling for six weeks and that recovery will take from six months to a year. Hah!

Surgery came in three’s for my friends and me. Turns out, an old friend of mine also had outpatient surgery on the same morning as mine… in fact, we were at two different hospitals located down the street from each other.

Another old friend’s husband had a minor procedure done at a doctor’s office—on the same day! So funny. Well, maybe it’s not exactly funny… But misery loves company, right? 😉

My sister and her hubby picked me up from my house, and we checked into the hospital around 8 a.m. Surgery was supposed to take place at 10 a.m. We waited in the crowded lobby for 90 minutes before I was called into a tiny office for further processing. By that time, my poor beleaguered body was thoroughly stiff, so it was no problem getting me a wheelchair for the long trek to Same Day Surgery. My sis accompanied me.

Since I had been hearing stories about how my rotator cuff surgery would be exceedingly painful from doctors and from many patients that had the surgery, I was highly interested in getting a nerve block.

Well, a nerve block was offered to me, but then I was told I’d have to be awake for it. The anesthesiologist, Dr. Do, explained how he would administer it while I was in recovery. He’d stick a needle in my neck, using ultrasound for guidance. You know, in case the doctor hit a nerve. Because then I’d jerk away and he’d pull the needle out. There was also a tiny chance that he could hit my carotid artery.

Unfortunately, Dr. Do, explained all this to me while the scared toddler in the next bay was screaming at the top of her lungs and the nurse was trying to start my IV. Again, haven’t I already stated in other blog posts how much I hate needles?

So you can imagine how difficult it was for me to process all this information in my head. But the thought of sticking a needle in my neck while I was awake sounded horrendous to me.

So at first, I said no to the nerve block. But my sis advised me to not let fear prevent me from making the best choice. I knew she was right.

The surgeon, Dr. Ninh, made a brief appearance and marked my right shoulder. That was pretty much it. But at least that made me feel a bit more confident that he’d operate on the correct limb!

My surgery started over an hour late. I recall looking around the OR when they wheeled me in… it was full of people… nurses and techs. I gazed at the ceiling, wondering if this OR was the last thing I’d ever see.

Any surgery is a risk. I know that quite well. Heck, I used to worry every time one of my cats used to get a dental.

So even though I had come through my meniscus surgery just fine, I knew this one was more problematic. A family member had had the same surgery and had to be admitted to the hospital because they couldn’t get his O2 sat levels high enough afterwards. He was younger and healthier at the time of his surgery than I am, so it was concerning. And the anesthesiologist also said that any problems that arose would likely occur after surgery. I was understandably apprehensive.

There were several machines near the table. One of the nurses kept insisting that a certain machine wasn’t working right. That did not fill me with confidence, I can tell you. But she was assured that it was a new machine. She seemed satisfied by the news, so I shoved the negative thoughts to the back of my mind.

The OR staff turned me on my left side. My left arm was placed in a support for comfort.

Finally Dr. Do came in and I spoke to him about changing my mind about the nerve block. I OK’d the nerve block, but Dr. Do said he’d give me the nerve block right then, before they put me under. Heck, no! Do it only after the surgery and while I was in recovery, I replied. I said I sure didn’t want him to stick a needle in my neck while I was stone cold sober. That made the OR staff laugh.

Oddly enough, Dr. Do never did show up in recovery to give me the nerve block, even though I kept asking for it. My neck and shoulder were so tight that it hurt. The nurse gave me multiple doses of dilaudid and morphine instead. Finally, I began to feel some relief.

I was in recovery for a long time. I’m not sure how long. I surmise I was in there for three hours instead of two. They couldn’t get my O2 sat levels up. Alarms kept going off. Then my nurses would yell at me to take deep breaths. I didn’t put it together for quite some time that the alarm bells dinging meant that my O2 levels were dangerously low. They ended up giving me oxygen as it was a bit of a struggle for me to take deep breaths.

Interestingly enough, my O2 sat levels were at 100 prior to surgery, which was perfect. Jan, my nurse, remarked that she’d only seen that a couple of times in all her years as a nurse. In fact, my O2 sat levels results have never been that high before.

This experience was a little different from last January’s knee surgery. Jan left NO bruising from the IV this time. Last year, the bruise on my arm from the IV was huge and dark, was much worse than the bruises on my knee, and didn’t fade completely for many months.

By the time I left the hospital, I was feeling pretty happy. Oh yeah! I was feeling no pain anywhere. I was lucid and felt great. But I also knew that my decision-making skills were off. That’s why you never want to take pain meds and drive. Your thinking process is just all wrong.

We picked up strong pain pills for me (Percocet) and I ice frequently. My family was amazed how great I felt on Friday. And that’s without a nerve block! I’m so glad I didn’t go through the trauma of getting one. I didn’t need it.

In fact, I had considerable energy late Friday afternoon and would have gladly taken a walk except I couldn’t risk jarring my shoulder. I was also rather talkative. My poor sister. Haha!

But I started to feel worse by Saturday afternoon. I lost my balance and jarred my arm slightly, plus I bet the dilaudid and morphine wore off. Sunday was the worst day. I basically had little interest in doing much. Didn’t feel like talking… slept a bit… I had started writing this recap Friday afternoon but had no interest in finishing it until today.

I have to sleep sitting up for quite some time. Laying flat is uncomfortable and doesn’t promote healing. I wasn’t sitting up enough last night, so I kept waking up. It’s a big pain in the butt.

Thrillingly enough, I get to wear an arm sling for six weeks (see the photo for a look at a similar sling). Yesterday was the first time I took off my arm sling in order to let my arm hang passively by my side for awhile so I don’t get frozen shoulder. Today, I took off the thick bandage. Couldn’t wait to get that itchy thing off!

But in no way do I have the excruciating pain that most people have with this surgery. I suspect I have a high tolerance to pain. Today’s the first day that I skipped a dose of the Percocet. 

My follow-up doctor appointment is next Tuesday. That’s when they’ll tell me what exactly they did during the surgery and when I should start PT.