You have no idea how important your arm is until you can’t use it

Recently, I underwent surgery for what proved to be an extensive tear of my right rotator cuff.

I have never had a major operation before. Here is how it went down.

Back in July, I felt a sharp pain in my right shoulder while playing tennis. Of course, I continued to play that day and for two more weeks. When the pain finally prevented me from playing, I saw an orthopedist who agreed with my guess that it might be a rotator cuff injury. An MRI showed a partial tear of one of the tendons. I was given the option to try conservative treatment or have surgery. I chose the former.

I rested for three weeks and took ibuprofen. I started playing again and was feeling only occasional sharp pain until I fell on my outstretched arm. From that moment, I was unable to raise my right arm above my waist. The pain was intense and unrelieved by medication.

After a week, surgery was inevitable.

The procedure was done arthroscopically through five small incisions. Two completely disrupted tendons were repaired. The anesthesia method was a brachial plexus block which took place after I was sedated.

I woke up with the recovery room feeling fine because the block had not worn off. Even after it did, the pain was tolerable. I stopped taking Percocet after three days. At my first follow-up visit, the surgeon was pleased. That’s the good news.

The bad news is I will be in a sling for six weeks and under activity restrictions for 4 months in total.

You have no idea how important your right arm is until you can’t use it.

Here are just a few previously simple things that have become much more complicated — typing, shaving, brushing teeth, getting dressed, eating, opening a jar, and most of all, sleeping.

Because the sling must be worn at all times, I have to sleep on my back, which I have never done in my entire life. I have discovered that I am apparently resistant to Ambien. Words can’t describe how tired I was those first few days. It was like when I was a resident.

I understand that my situation could have been much worse. It’s not a fatal disease, and with physical therapy, I should be ok in a few months.

But my postoperative experience up to now is beginning to affect my usually sunny disposition.

My wife, who is a nurse, has had to call upon all of her skills to get me this far.

But the other day, she said to a friend that as part of the post-op care after rotator cuff surgery, the insurance company should include coverage for marriage counseling.

“Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.

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