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  1. #1
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    My recovery chronicles

    I originally planned to have a different theme for my first public log. A few weeks from today I was going to start a six-week mass-building program and share my experience in it. Alas, "man plans, God laughs" - a few weeks ago I started having serious pains in my shoulders, and MRI results came as a shock - two severe tears on one side, one smaller, but still serious, on another. My first operation is Friday morning - fixing my torn labrum and rotator cuff (supraspinatus tendon).

    Awaiting an operation is a scary experience. I don't know what to expect, except that it's going to hurt a lot once the anestesia wears off. I don't know how long I'll have to stay inactive and how long it will take me to recover fully. My doctor assures me that next year this time I'll be in perfect shape if everything goes right - but I don't know whether everything will go right either. At the same time I'm anxious to get it over with and start recovering.

    I found a number of medical sites that talk about my injury and have some statistics - most of them very encouraging. I found very little of personal stories, so I decided to close that gap to the extent of my modest ability.

    I want to say that I had an amazing winter. I made greater gains than ever before, I had huge plans, and this setback is not the end of it - it's a detour, not a dead end. I can't promise not failing, but I pledge to fight to the end. Whatever gains I'll have to give up I intend to reconquer by the same time this year - and tell my story as I'm doing it.

    If I'm up to it, I'll add a few lines on Friday after surgery, otherwise I'll post over the weekend. And while I'm out, keep me in mind - do one more rep for me!

    Addendum 02-18-2015. I try not to edit my post in order to keep them authentic. However, I decided to make an exception for this first post. For those who just start reading it, I'll post a bit of "lessons learned" here. I'll also make some notes on other posts, so that others wouldn't repeat my mistakes. Since big things are best seen in the distance, there will be a few months' delay between me completung a stage of my recovery and posting "lessons learned" about it. I'll start with the surgery - 7 months is long enough.

    Here's my advice:
    Pre-surgery, once you're disagnosed and decided to go ahead with the operation:
    1. While some exercises may be off-limits for you, keep working out. The speed and quality of your recovery depends on your pre-operation shape. My metabolism before the first surgery was at its peak, but it slowed down, naturally, before the second surgery. The result - slower recovery.
    2. Make sure you have a good surgeon. After my second surgery my therapist commented that people usually have swelling for a week or two, while mine was gone in three days.
    3. Physical therapy is instrumental. Surgery only starts the process, therapy is where the real work comes in. If you are not ready for therapy, you'd be better off without surgery. And yes, some of it will be painful. Very painful.
    4. Even more important than getting a good surgeon, make sure you have good physical therapist. Your surgeon will see you once after an operation, and then every 6-8 weeks. Your therapist will see you 2-3 times a week. If you can, get a specialist in sports therapy. My first therapist works mostly with office workers, most of them older people in mediocre shape. My last therapist specializes in sports medicine, and most of his clients (even office workers) are gym regulars. Both of them are excellent professionals, but the difference between the two is obvious.
    5. Don't set your recovery expectations based on what you see on the Internet - the recovery is very individual and the expectations confuse you at best. Also, don't look on the Internet for any therapy guidelines - it is very infdividual. I never did some of those YouTube exercises (in fact, we tried a few of them with my therapist and he told me NOT to do them), and some of the exercises that I was given are not found on the web, at least not as part of shoulder therapy.
    6. Prepare for a long haul. You may be away from the gym for several months. You'll experience lots of pain for a couple of weeks. Your movements will be constrained. When you come back, you'll be a lot weaker, and many of your favorite exercises will be off limits. It's been 7 months since my last surgery, and it will be probably another 2-3 months or more before I do anything with barbell, could be another 6-9 months before I can attempt bench press, and I have no idea when I can start overhead persses. Remember - you will be back where you were and better, but it will take time.
    7. Have a plan. Have a goal. Make sure you have to do something once your therapy is over, something that won't leave you hanging once your therapist says that you're done, while you're still too weak and stiff to get to you pre-surgery workouts.
    8. Shave your armpits. Seriously, unless your religion forbids it, shave under arms the day before the surgery, even if you've never done it, especuially if the weather is warm. There will be 4-6 weeks during which you won't be able to lift your arm. If you use spray-on deodorant, consider using gel for that time. Your family, friends, and coworkers will appreciate that.
    Last edited by is304; 02-18-2015 at 04:31 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    Home from surgery. Right arm numb from the neck down. Groggy. The operation went well, and the surgeon told me the MRI diagnosis was exaggerated. Details tomorrow.

    Edit: it was the left arm, of course. Apparently I was more groggy than I thought.
    Last edited by is304; 02-18-2015 at 02:45 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    Well, it's Saturday night, I'm typing with right hand, and feel well enough to recount what happened in the last two days.

    Coming to the operation was the hardest part. I got up early, dressed in loose clothes, as I was told, and took my bus to Midtown Manhattan. By the time I arrived I was a wreck. Every step of the way I wanted to turn back and go home, it took all I've got to enter the building, get into the elevator and present myself at the medical office. Pretty soon I've been handed a thick stack of papers to fill and sign. Soon enough a nurse led me inside, where I had to change into one of these ridiculous gowns. Then I had some time to myself, and started getting more and more nervous, almost ready to dash out (not sure how far I'd get in those hospital clothes, but if I had to wait a little longer it wouldn't matter).

    Fortunately, my surgeon came to talk to me before I got completely out of my mind. We spoke briefly of what he intends to do inside me, he autographed my shoulder and left, then came anesthesiologist with more talk about what I should expect, and ten minutes later a nurse led me inside.

    The first question the anesthesiologist asked when I took off the gown was: "Do you work out?" I guess the last couple of months in the gym were not a total waste of time - this was the first time anyone asked me that question. They got me on a bed, and put a warm blanket over me. The waiting room was pretty cold, and the blanket alone worked like a big sleeping pill. Early wake-up, anxiety, long wait, it all crashed in, and I think I fell asleep before they knocked me out.

    I woke up in a surprisingly good mood. In a few minutes I was able to sit up and have a small snack (I wasn't allowed to eat prior to the operation). My surgeon stopped by and told me very good news: my rotator cuff was not 75% torn, as MRI showed. It was only 20% torn, and once they removed the damaged area and a bone spur that caused the damage in the first place, it should grow back on its own. They did have to fix my labrum, but instead of 4-6 weeks in a sling, as projected prior to the operation, I'm now facing 3 weeks in a sling and much shorter recovery. Good news.

    My wife picked me up and we drove home. After general anesthesia I was very thirsty. The local anesthesia lasted through most of the night. I was numb on the left side: the ear, the cheek, the neck, and all the way from the shoulder to the fingertips. A few hours later my fingers started tingling and moving, but the rest of the arm was paralyzed until bedtime, although late at night I felt some tingling in the forearm.

    I felt much better in the morning, my arm moved well enough, so the biggest challenge of the day was to keep it steady. It's been only one day, and I'm already tired of the sling. I can grab and hold small objects (nothing heavy), can flex my arm, but the shoulder hurts, naturally. I do take painkillers, but less then prescribed - the pain is much less than I feared - it was far worse when I damaged my shoulder. I've been taking catnaps through the day, used ice on my shoulder, but compared to what I've heard I'm doing pretty well. The bandages are coming off tomorrow.

  4. #4
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    The weekend is over. I stopped taking painkillers today. Not that I intended to - I simply forgot to take the pill in the morning, and then decided that if I can forget about painkillers, then I don't really need them anymore.

    Everything is a challenge when you do it with one arm, however I managed to shower and dress (with some help). Bandages came off today. I have three cuts on my shoulder, as expected. The one behind seems to be closed. The one in front is still open, and the skin around it feels warm.

    Tomorrow is my first day at work. Half of my coworkers don't know about my operation. I wonder what would they say when they see me.

  5. #5
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    Trip to work and back were a chore. Can't wear backpack with an arm in a sling, and gym bag is not that comfortable either - wearing it on the healthy shoulder puts a strain on the sick one as I have to balance, wearing it on the sick one is plain painful. At least the bus had enough empty seats so I had enough room.

    My first therapy session was fine. I still have decent range of motion, although passive - my arm was relaxed while the therapist was moving it. It was a pretty long session - passive motion, then ultrasound to get the blood moving, then more passive motion and stretching, then electrical stimulation of the muscles. Then, of course, paperwork. Later this week I'll get some exercises, so far the only thing I am allowed to do is squeeze a rubber ball. Pretty soon my grip will be super-strong.

  6. #6
    I Am JEFIT Legend Deviation's Avatar
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    Well the bright side is less recovery time. "Patience and Perseverance" as my TKD master used to say. All that paperwork has to make your grip even stronger.
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  7. #7
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    Day 5. Started my exercises. Three for shoulder mobility that do not involve the joint, and one stretch. I used to do shrugs with 50 to 80 lbs dumbbells. Now I do it without weights - and it's an effort. Well, it's not about how much I can lift, it's about how hard I can work.

    The cuts started closing - they itch once a while. Shoulder hurts, as it should. At this time I just carry on and do what I'm supposed to do.

    The only training that's up to me is squeezing a rubber ball. I started with 20 squeezes at a time. Today I got up to 100. That's encouraging, somewhat.

  8. #8
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    Well, it's been a week since my surgery. Time to sit and reflect for a few minutes.

    I saw my doctor yesterday. He's pleased with the way I move my arm and said that the progress is good. The cuts are closing quickly, the one on the back is almost healed, and the other two are pushing dried blood out. The blood from the bone bruise finally soaked through the muscle, and my shoulder has this rich yellow hue like a week-old bruise.

    Pain is still there. The joint hutrs where they patched up the tear. The cuts hurt too, especially the one in front. The stretcing exercises hurt. On the brighter side - the pain seems to be less than earlier in the week and it's getting localized. On a coule of occasions I made an instinctive move with an arm (like trying to catch a book that I dropped) and once landed on my elbow. My shoulder started to hurt worse after these, but only time will show whether the damage is permanent. I also managed to stay away from the pain killers, but I put ice on my shoulder on a regular basis to control the swelling - that numbs the pain as well.

    Two days ago I started recovery routine - three exercises for shoulder motion and one gentle stretch. At times they hurt, and it's a fine balancing act to figure out when to stop - the time to work through pain will come later, now, while my labrum is still torn and not fully attached to the bone yet, the pain indicated danger zone - another reason to stay away from pain killers. At least I have something to do, even if it's only 15 minutes twice a day.

    My biggest fear now is that something will go wrong and my shoulder will not heal. I know it's a silly thing, but our fears are seldom rational. I confront it the best I can. My greatest weapon is patience, something I need to work on anyway.

    I statred taking some supplements - mostly green tea and chromium to burn fat and control sugar. My metabolism is in disarray - I feel fatigued at times and got acne all over - this, I fear, will go on until I start working out.

    The doctor said that I will lose the sling in two to three weeks. It sounds very unlikely at this moment, however last night I managed to make scrambled eggs. Not that big a deal, but it's something I couldn't do earlier in the week.

  9. #9
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    Ten days after the surgery. The cuts are healing, in a few days they'll be gone. The bruise on the shoulder is fading as well. The pain isn't getting better so far, but it's localizing at the point where my labrum was fixed.

    The arm is moving better, almost too well. If last week I needed the sling to protect me from the environment, now I need it also to protect me from myself - a wrong move could upset my progress. Sleeping is the hardest part. I got rid of extra pillows as soon as my arm got better - they were very uncomfortable - but now I keep rolling over, and the moment I do I wake up. I take daytime naps on weekends, but by Friday I'm way too sleepy.

    So far the exercises are the same - keeping the shoulder mobile and working on range of motion in front-vertical plane. One more week left for those, then we'll switch to more active program. I can feel my arm getting restless already - it still hurts, but it wants to move. I learn patience, and it's a tough lesson.

    The day-to-day changes are not as significant as they were last week, although I can see small steps in the right direction every day. I'll keep posting, but less frequently now.

  10. #10
    Senior Senior JEFIT Member is304's Avatar
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    Tomorrow will be two weeks since my operation. The shoulder aches less, and the cuts are healing well. The bruise is almost gone. Yet, there is a long way to go. The arm moves much better, and I really have to hold myself back so that I don't harm the shoulder. Being patient was easy last week, when the arm barely moved anyway, now it's getting much harder.

    My therapist was out today, and his replacement told me that I'm doing very well indeed, and will be on fast track to recovery, as long as I let my body heal (translation: I should sit tight and do nothing until I'm they say I can). Only one week left in the sling though, taking it off would be a relief.

    I squeeze rubber ball when I can and do short exercses twice a day. I no longer get jolts in the shoulder when I walk (at least not as much), next week, if the weather gets warmer, I'll start taking brief walks at lunchtime.

    My therapist works in our gym, and the hardest part of visits is when my peers see me coming or going and stop by to chat. They all try to encourage me, and they all mean well, but just seing them healthy, full of energy, and making great progress, while I'm falling back - that's very tough. I know I'll make my comeback, and my time will come sooner than it appears now, but at this point I just have to wait until my body completes the healing. Patience, patience, and then more of the damn patience!

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