11/10/2010

Killing Mrs. Kimble -- life as a one-armed man

Three weeks since my rotator cuff surgery, and my left arm into a sling for almost 24/7 over the next few months.

The goal of keeping the arm immobilized is to let the torn end of the rotator cuff tissue grow a firm reattachment to the bone it's been screwed and tacked to. This takes a while, and putting stress on or trying to use those shoulder muscles too early runs the risk of tearing those fresh connections loose and resetting everything to zero.

In one regard, I'm glad for the sling. Its presence requires me to be aware of my surroundings, and try to NOT use that shoulder. Not just to let it heal, but because moving it too far friggin' hurts.

It's difficult to remember to just let the arm hang and be supported by the sling. My natural bent is to keep my arms slightly tensed and ready to move around. When the arm aches, it also tends to make me tense up the mucles on that side.

So I've been trying to keep pain meds balanced to where I don't ache too much, but also not so doped up that I'm fuzzy-headed. Mostly large doses of Tylenol, backed up with occasional Vicodan. Works fairly well, except for sleeping.

I've found that a Vicodan with the usual bedtime pills lets me get to sleep fairly easily, but that I tend to wake up after about four hours. Having laid flat on my back all that time (I usually shift around while sleeping,mostly on my side), the shoulder has stiffened up and is now really really aching. Even with extra pain meds, it's difficult to get back to sleep and I frequently lay there for hours, "squirrel-caging" in my head, before falling asleep again. (If I do at all.)

This is annoying. I had thought that being off work for several months would at least mean I'd be able to have a semi-normal sleep pattern, with sufficient hours, instead of the trainwreck (chunks and pieces of sleep scattered over the landscape of the day) sleep I can't seem to escape while working a graveyard-shift job.

I'm trying several things to improve my sleep. Different combos of meds, including anti-anxiety stuff to help stop the squirrel-caging, and arranging pillows to raise my upper body at an angle, instead of flat on the mattress. (This last seems to have helped.)

The sharp intense pain after surgery has mostly faded, except when the range of motion is being tested during physical therapy. Instead, deep and long-lasting aches, sometimes for hours, sometimes just in brief but intense occurences. Not necessarily around the shoulder, either; sometimes I'll get "referred pain" down my arm, or back on the shoulderblade, and once in a while I'll actually get an ache in my right arm, which is confusing.

I've been having physical therapy three times a week. This is currently passive therapy, where the therapist moves your arm around while you try and keep the arm completely limp and relaxed. Not easy to do.

Coping with day-to-day things: mixed. I'm not completely one-armed; I can use my left-hand fingers to help manipulate stuff. I just have to be careful to try and keep any hand movements from being strong enough to tighten up the shoulder muscles. Keeping the forearm snugged against my chest helps with that.

Pants: I can work the zipper up on jeans, but that waistband button? *ahem* So Ive been sticking to sweatpants and gym shorts, with elastic and/or drawstring waists.

Shirts: I mentioned in an earlier post that I picked up some snap-buttoned shirts at Good Will that can be buttoned up one-handed. What I didn't mention is that for some reason snap-buttoned shirts tend to be made from one particular style of fabric. So for the first time in my life I've been wearing plaid. PLAID! I'M WEARING PLAID! AIIIIEEEE!!! THE HORROR, THE HORROR!

Between the baggy old sweatpants, the dorkmeister plaid shirts, and the fact I've been letting my beard grow back in while off work, I've been doing a pretty good job of generating that "crazy old homeless guy" mystique that people find so fascinating and appealing.

Kitchen stuff. I can cope with a fair amount. One thing that caught me up was trying to use a can-opener; those almost all require two hands to operate. I found a OneTouch battery-powered can opener that can be used to open cans one-handed... once you've opened the battery compartment and put batteries in, a task that requires two hands.

Medication that comes in those blister packs that are so difficult to get into even two-handed? Jeezus. Prop and brace upright, then attack carefully with sharp scissors. Be prepared to curse.

So a lot of stuff I can kludge or improvise my way around, without having to ask anyone for help. That, asking for help, even when it's appropriate or necessary, is something I've always had trouble doing. So the most frustrating thing about this recovery period has been being unable to drive, and having to ask Tabbi to drive Hilde and me around. I also hadn't realized how often and casually, when out driving, I could add to or rearrange how many stops and errands I made.

I'm coping. But I'll be very glad when this is all over.

1 comment:

mjlayman said...

Plaid! How awful!

Do you have a recliner? That works better for me when I can't sleep on my side.