Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Okay, this post will be a shameless whine. So if you don't want to listen to me bitch, moan, complain, gripe, and whinge, then you should either skip down to the next post or move on to the next feed in your reader. Fair warning given, let the curmudgeonliness begin!

So. Back in December/January, I started having pain in my shoulders. It was worse in my right shoulder. At first, only certain motions made it hurt, but before too long, I was in pain just sitting still. Since regular home care and OTC meds weren't touching it, I went to the doctor. The orthopedist injected me with cortisone, with a warning that it would probably feel worse for the first few days, and then may or may not feel better. It did feel worse for about five days, after which, it did not feel better. Meanwhile, I started physical therapy twice a week. In March, after my third visit to the orthopedist, with no improvement and a definite increase in pain, he sent me to a different physical therapy practice that has a very different approach. This therapist's first words to me were, "Congratulations! You have a very impressive diagnosis!"

Uh oh.

The diagnosis was tendinitis, bursitis, a very small tear in my rotator cuff, and best of all, a multidirectional instability. We worked on strengthening the muscles in the shoulder, so that the weakness would not allow it to dislocate itself at will. But the pain was not relieved. In May, my physical therapist broke the news to me. You really need to get that rotator cuff surgery done. He explained how leaving that to rest had complications down the line that I really didn't want to face. So I went back to the orthopedist, resigned, and got the surgery scheduled.

On July 16, this summer, I had the arthroscopic shoulder surgery. The bursa sac was very swollen and inflamed, and he removed this completely. He did not have to go into the muscles and work on them, which was a blessing. The nerve block in the neck was wonderful, but there was pain after the surgery, as expected. I came home with the cryo-pack, which is far colder than anything I ever expected to take out of my own freezer, and my sling and a bottle of double-strength percoset. I started physical therapy that Friday - four days after the operation - though it was purely passive range-of-motion stuff for the first month.

I've been doing really well. At my two month post-op checkup, the orthopedist told me to schedule a follow-up in two months, but only if I was having problems. And until last week, I was confident that I had no need of this follow-up. But last Wednesday afternoon, I started having a muscle spasm in my neck. My shoulders - both of them! - were sore. Not terrible, but sore and achey. Thursday, this was worse, and I stayed home to telecommute, take painkillers, and apply ice (to the shoulders) and heat (to the neck). Friday morning I had PT again, and I almost didn't say anything to my therapist, because I'd had a good night's sleep and was feeling less stiff and sore. But I did tell him about the neck muscle, and he said, "Good!"

Um, pardon me, but I just told you I'm in pain. WTF is this good nonsense?

He told me that he hadn't gotten to do a lot of work on me lately, so now I was giving him something to do. Yeah, that sounds good. So he worked on my trigger points, loosening everything up, and then put me on the hand bike. When I finished my six minutes, I was this close to tears. I bit them back, though. I don't like to show when I'm in pain. (I'm used to being mocked for being in pain, called a drama queen (!), told that I'm defective, or just told to suck it up and get back to whatever I'm supposed to be working on.) I pulled out my exercise sheet to see what I thought I could do, in this much pain, without hurting myself worse. I decided to try the ones where I hold a playground ball (you know - the ones they sell for $1.49 in the grocery store all summer) against the wall, lean against it, and make circles in both directions, then plus signs, and then Xs. With these, I could control how much weight I put on the ball as I leaned in, and perform small motions that didn't make me move too much. When I finished, I was in tears.

I went back over to the desk to look at my exercise sheet. Just then, one of the assistants came back into the gym area, took one look at me, and said, "What's wrong?" (Inside, I said to myself, it's so nice that they know me here!) I told her what was going on, and she said, just stop your exercises, and I'll go grab your therapist and be right back. So I waited, and he returned, looked at me, and said, "What did you do?"

Sheesh! I smiled and said, "Exactly what you told me to do!" He worked on the trigger points again, trying to release all the muscles, had me do one passive stretch, and then put me on the ice machine. He told me not to do anything this weekend - riiiiiiiiight! - and sent me home with two stretches to do a couple times a day, and orders to put ice on the shoulders and heat on the neck.

Now it's Tuesday. I had PT yesterday morning, and it was pretty awful. I haven't had PT be this painful since before I started working with this therapist. And I haven't had pain this consistently bad since before my surgery. I'm taking ultram, prescribed by my orthopedist after I complained about the percoset at my first follow-up, and it helps, but really just takes the edge off. And when I get to that four to six hour window after taking it, I am feeling it. The problem is, I don't like to take it in the morning before I go to work. And if I'm going to be out driving, I try to wait until I get home.

I have eight pills left (to be taken every four to six hours as needed for pain), and an appointment with my orthopedist on Friday. I expect to take two more today, and I guess I can take two each tomorrow and Thursday.

Meanwhile, I started having problems in both thumb joints in late September. I had one appointment with my orthopedist, who referred me to a hand specialist, but I haven't been able to see him yet. I fear that he will tell me I shouldn't play my flute any more. But that... that would be awful. It was so hard this summer to go so long without being able to play. At least I have my voice lessons and choir, so I'm still able to make music.

So the upshot is, I'm hurting. And I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'm going to need surgery on my left shoulder, too. I'm afraid my doctor and physical therapist are going to recommend the series of operations to help with the instability... in both shoulders. I'm afraid that I'll have to stop playing my flute. I'm afraid that there may be something bigger going on, affecting my body as a whole. I'm afraid I'll be in pain forever.

But the good news is, even though it doesn't sound like it here -- but remember, this was my designated whining post! -- I really am in pretty good spirits. My life is going well, and I know there are hiccups in any recovery, and I am enjoying who I am and what I am doing. So it's not all dark scary stuff.

Here ends the whining. :-)