Well, it has been exactly a week since my shoulder surgery and let me tell you how much I am NOT enjoying being a patient. I am also not a very good one. Things went pretty much as expected. After placing a ‘scalene block’ in the shoulder, the anesthesiologist had me asleep before I could worry too much about the surgery. As for the procedure itself, I am just as glad I wasn’t a fly on the wall in the O.R. listening to all that shaving, grinding, debridement, and reattachment of ligaments. It was bad enough looking at all the pretty pictures of the operation the orthopedist gave to my wife to show me afterwards. And, for awhile anyway, whenever I go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, I am going to avoid the aisles where my doctor does most of his shopping. That’s okay, he probably looks at what I do with the same jaundiced eye; and, I have to wonder what analogy he would use to describe where I buy the equipment for what I have to do every day! To each his own.
All I remember about the procedure is being wheeled into the O.R., having the mask placed over my face, and being told to “breathe the oxygen.” Yeah, right! The next thing I remember after my “oxygen therapy” is waking up in the recovery room after some unknown period of time (and who knows what I might have said) with a very different smelling oxygen on my face, my shoulder immobilized by a huge cushioned sling, and ice water flowing through the exoskeleton of the whole complex apparatus. All I could think about was what am I going to do if I have to go to the bathroom and is there anyone who would be able to help me out of this thing if I had to scratch my back. The recovery room nurse was very nice although it was clear she was working off a well-rehearsed script. “Breathe deeply, move your legs (also ensconced in waist high hose and compression boots), you are almost ready to go home, let’s review your discharge instructions…” All this was going on while my head was bouncing in and out of la-la land, and I kept wondering why they had to make the recovery room so ‘bright and cheery’, so I rudely interrupted by telling her “I think I am getting a little nauseated.” I guess the thought of me possibly throwing up on the new bionic me was more than she could handle, because she returned in about two seconds with BOTH Zofran and Reglan, for which I was eternally grateful. Mind you, I was feeling NO PAIN at that time.
When the initial wave of nausea passed, and my body had had a few more minutes to mobilize anesthetics from my subcutaneous fat stores and exhale them back into the ambient environment (geez, hope I wasn’t contributing to global warming or the dissolution of the ozone layer), my attention level returned to semi-conscious. At that point, the nurse was obligated to continue with my ‘discharge instructions’ none of which I remember to this moment. Guess that’s why they told my wife to be there with me the whole time. (I also clearly understood why they had forbidden me from riding my motorcycle to the outpatient surgery facility as well. That really would have been tricky! But, I also knew that that was one luxury I was going to have to forego for awhile). I do not remember anything about the ride home, or of getting tucked into bed with all my attachments still in place and pillows propped in cocoon-like fashion around my entire upper body. OMG how was I ever going to go to the bathroom – good thing I was so dehydrated (and constipated) I didn’t need to just then.
I do remember waking up at about 8:00 PM with excruciating pain. The scalene block had clearly worn off – and they had told me “it often works for 18 hours or more”- they had lied! Since I knew the inhalant anesthetics were not yet completely out of my body (and were still upsetting my empty stomach), I knew things were going to be rough for awhile. What I dreaded most was now an absolute necessity – the narcotic pain medication. The prescription bottle said to “take up to three tablets every 3 hours for pain.” Knowing my usual response to narcotics (sick stomach; dry mouth; odd dizziness), I choked down one tablet. Within 30 minutes, I knew that was NOT going to hack it. At that point, and without hesitation, I took two more tablets and an 800mg ibuprofen chaser as well. Thankfully, I drifted off to sleep within the next 30 minutes and had no real nausea related to my initial encounter with oxycodone. (Guess what we tell patients is true. If you’re really hurting and need pain medication, the other side-effects become less of an issue). About 4:00 AM, I woke up again and the pain was creeping back. This time I took just two tablets and was glad I didn’t take more because when I then woke up later in the morning, the uneasy feeling of queasiness was beginning to set in. However, desperate not to return to the “pain level of 10” from the night before, after my wife fed me some breakfast in bed (that ain’t gonna happen again anytime soon, mind you), I took two more tablets and another dose of ibuprofen and for the rest of the day, ibuprofen alone, coupled with my wife’s many changes of the ice water in my cryopreservation unit, got me through.
The next day, I woke up dying for a shower. My wife helped me out of my attachments and then came the hard part – removing my bandages. Let me tell you, my body mane is comparable to that found on Sasquatch and they had inconveniently not shaved the areas where the tape was supposed to be attached only to my body. To top it off, the adhesive qualities of the tape were akin to epoxy, strong enough for real athletes (with shaved bodies). Didn’t take long to get back to a “pain level of 10.” My wife didn’t know whether to laugh or perform a mercy killing. Grabbing a knife she could have easily used for the latter, she finally just ended up cutting the hair (stretched but still firmly attached) beneath the tape, thereby freeing me from my temporary bondage. With my left arm clutched to my side, I climbed into the shower and believe me, the warm water, shampoo, and soap never felt so good – until I made the mistake of trying to move my left arm!
Not to belabor all this, I went to see my doctor the same day. Sutures were removed from the four scope ports in my left shoulder and replaced with steristrips. My doctor gleefully showed me the digital photos of my operation that were stored on their central computer, to the mild chagrin of my, as yet, unsettled stomach, and gave me a prescription for a different pain medication. My wife told the doctor that she now understood why she was to remove my bandages at home BEFORE bringing me back to the office. Suppressing an all-knowing smile, he asked me (TOLD ME), “Are you ready to start your physical therapy – not that I would really have any say in that matter. “When is that?” I asked, “next week?” fearing and anticipating the immediate response. “How about right now,” he said. So, I went over to physical therapy to begin a routine with which I was all too familiar since I had had ample opportunity to test-drive their chamber of tortures for several months before my operation in the hope of avoiding surgery. (With all due respect and joking aside, the PT folks are absolutely spectacular and they will be the key to my getting aback to ‘normal’).
Now, a week later, I think the last of the anesthetic and narcotics are finally out of my body, I can type again with two fingers (well, one and a half because my left arm is still in the sling), my sense of humor is returning (although still somewhat off-base) and I am really looking forward to getting back to work (at least my wife is because I am starting to drive her crazy being at home). I know the greatest obstacle to my recovery is going to be myself, remembering to take my ibuprofen and making the time and sticking to the daily exercise routine. But, I have survived my encounter with the health care system and have lived to share my story with all of you, for which, by the way, I am very appreciative of your well-wishes and support.