Wednesday, January 5, 2011

OT: Post-Op Story and Milestones

First, some history. I had surgery on December 8th to repair what was figured to be a torn rotator cuff muscle, figure out why it tore, and make my left arm able to be lifted pain-free over my head eventually. I had never had a surgery before, save for when my wisdom teeth were taken out. Not having a clue what to expect, I made small plans for the worse (letters typed up to be passed out to loved ones in I didn't make it through the surgery), but generally felt like the two months on Temporary Disability would be like a lovely vacation, spent typing, crocheting, visits and daycations with family, and packing for my upcoming move.

I was, literally, to be sorely mistaken.

Wanting the surgery to be well worth it, my surgeon actually found two tears, one on muscle and one on cartilage, plus the bone spur culprit. We were fortunate, he told me at my post-op check up a week later, the tears had been small enough for one stitch each and were in the best areas possible to have tears. I felt fortunate that aside from two days of massive nausea, mild pain meds and cold pack treatments had been keeping my pain to a relative zero. I was instructed to wear my arm sling/wedge contraption for 6 weeks total. Always when going out to protect my shoulder from sudden movements or bumps, but less when at home. While six weeks sounded far longer than I felt I would need it, I nodded and told him I would follow all orders and see him again in 6 weeks.

The first couple of weeks, were decently medicated. It's all a blur of comfy pillows, my mum making me grilled cheese sandwiches whenever I asked, and lots of television. Lots and lots of television. My sling was comfortable usually and I wore it at all times, no problem. As week 3 hit, I was getting antsy. Life was less medicated and being mobile was easier than in week 2, but having my arm out of the sling was uncomfortable usually, my sleep pattern was all over the place, and when I did take my arm out of the sling, I had to still be careful to either support it in some way or let it hang like dead weight. On top of all that, I was still not to use it at all. This usually left me having to support it with my right arm - meaning whenever I had been attempting to do was then moot since that brought me to having no free hands. I began to daily thank all the deities and saints I could think of that this was temporary, and marvel at the competency of people who have lost an arm completely.

The end of week 3/start of week 4 has hit me the worst. The weather has been fridge and the week started in storms. I have been increasingly frustrated with how slowly my progress towards full use has been. Still on physical therapists orders to only use my arm passively, I've had to mentally erase every single thing I thought I would be able to do with my left arm at this point and instead have been making a mental list of the things I've discovered I can do with my right arm. (My handwriting with my right hand is pretty legible at this point and I can easily make pancakes again.) Monday night my arm hurt deep inside, as if something was kinked and could not flatten itself back out. I began to take the pain meds again. Yesterday was worse. I woke up aching, and felt like my shoulder ball joint was sliding on the edge of the socket. This had happened here and there in the last few weeks, but only for a hair of a second and all was fine. Not yesterday. All was not feeling fine, and I had a physical therapy appointment that day too. Therapy was uncomfortable to the point of my eyes tearing up. My physical therapist (John) kept me as distracted as possible, discussing various cartoons of our youth versus what our kids watch now as he pulled and rotated my rm into positions I can not achieve on my own. Most of the rest of the day was spent gasping for air when my arm would suddenly tense into shooting blasts of pain, then trying to move it in to an angle that didn't feel like my arm was about to rip out of socket. The sling was not a help, having it out of the sling was not a help. Painkillers barely took the edge off. I wanted to just cry, admit defeat, not do anything, and give up for a while.

But this is a new year. I have vowed to be a new Ashley.

Sure, I went easy on myself the second half of the day. I let others do more for me. But I also sat up with better posture and stood up with my shoulders back, forcing my left arm to consciously relax. I did the at-home exercises the best I could instead of skipping them. By evening, the pain wasn't as awful and I even slept without the sling. That might have simply been possible because of exhaustion, but it still was a relief. Waking up this morning, my arm was aching like usual. But, it wasn't the sharp, bite-down-on-something pain of the last two days. I kept the sling off as I made breakfast. I sat my arm against the counter and was able to whisk eggs for an omelette. Then I sat down at my desk to read emails.

Inspired by the slack in pain, I let my fingers walk up the desk drawers as high as I could - an at home exercise that I usual fail. Usually I make it from the middle of the second drawer (waist level) to the handle on the top drawer. It felt fine. But again, today something felt different too and I kept my fingers creeping up the desk, pushing myself to be better than fine. My finger tips got to the top of my desk, curled them over the edge and I paused at the slight ache that was developing. I sat my shoulders back, breathed. Focused on relaxing every single muscle in my left arm, except for my fingers, and used them to pull my arm onto my desk. Tears came to my eyes as I crept my fingers to a point where my arm was resting up to my elbow on my desk. They were not tears of pain - this was accomplishment. For the first time since surgery, I was resting my arm on my desk. I sat and just looked at it, watching it unfeeling, as if it was led there by Thing, the famous Addams family relative, not part of my own body. I wanted to call people, send them cell phone photos of my arm on my desk, and would probably would have if my phone had not been sitting on a table on the other side of the room. At that point, I didn't want to get up, for fear that I would not be able to do it again. Then that thought repeated.

Do it again.

Because I did it. I pushed myself and did it. It ached, but I did it.

And I feel renewed. Inspired.

Welcome to the new Ashley. The Ashley who can do it. The self who pushes even when uncomfortable, and celebrates even minor victories.

I did it.

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