Update: (for those just finding my blog, although my blog is primarily about my pursuit of historical fiction writing, I also blog significantly on rotator cuff repair. The reason is that the medical community does a very poor job of preparing rotator cuff surgery candidates for what they will face on a day to day basis after surgery. Therefore patients have no alternative but to search the internet for tips and tricks on surviving rotator cuff surgery. And the best information comes from other patients who've been through it. I'm just thankful we live in an age where we have the internet and have the OPTION to be in contact with other patients.
So a few collective thoughts on the full rotator cuff repair (non-dominant left arm) experience thus far, in no particular order:
* The easiest day is surgery day. Someone else has to do the work and you are pleasantly comfortable until 12-16 hours after surgery, ice is your friend.
* The first 3 weeks post rotator cuff is hard, but not unbearable. You actually have a reasonable (but of course reduced) amount of energy to take walks and do other mildly active things. You're in pain but the doctors provide for it. Ice remains your friend. Physical therapy is not too bad at this point.
* Weeks 4-8 are very painful, the fatigue and lack of stamina deplorable. Rehab keeps ratcheting up notch by notch and the pain simply never leaves. My doctor also did not cover me pain wise weeks 6-8 which made the experience unnecessarily painful. When I do my right shoulder, I am NOT putting up with that. By far, thus far weeks 4-8 were the absolute most miserable experience of my life. I got a taste of what chronic pain sufferers go through. In addition to being extremely painful, the fatigue and sleeplessness nearly brought me to the end of my rope. The only bright spot is that your arm does get stronger over this time and you reach several little milestones, such as:
- Being able to wash both hands together
- Being able to shave under your arms
- Being able to (painfully) put your hair up in a ponytail
- At long last able to fasten a real bra
- You can begin driving at about 7-8 weeks--not comfortably, but you can drive.
* At 8.5 weeks, while still painful, the level of pain has reduced to the point OTC pain management is sufficient. Physical therapy takes only 2-2.5 hours a day now (doing PT twice a day) whereas in the early weeks it was more like 4-5 hours a day because it was so difficult to move the joint. The big negative is that lack of energy and stamina continues to be a problem. Prior to surgery I kickboxed, weight trained, and walked several miles per week. Yesterday I took a friend out to breakfast and went to the bookstore, gone only for a few hours, and I was exhausted and had to come home and take a nap. The continuous discomfort, lack of good sleep and ratcheting up of PT keeps your body worn to a frazzle.
* Be prepared to have your sleep cycle completely disrupted. Before surgery, I was a rock solid sleeper. Routinely slept 6-7 hours per night (not 8 simply because there wasn't enough time in my schedule to allow for 8 hours sleep). The first 5-6 weeks post surgery, I could only sleep 3.5-4.5 hours a night. Weeks 6-8 that has only upped to an average of about 4.5-5.5 hours per night, with some occasional 6 hour nights thrown in. Only on a few nights where I took rx sleep aids was I able to sleep 7-7.5 hours per night. Still waiting to return to normal sleep patterns.
* Fear and anxiety, for me, were a significant issue, especially in the first 4 weeks, being fearful of doing anything that would undo the surgery and placement of the anchors in the shoulder. But even in weeks 4-8, it is so terribly painful that you can't help but worry that something went wrong with the shoulder. Even though both doctor and PT assure me it is normal pain, you have to trust that they truly know what they are doing. Physical Therapist will tell you that after 6 weeks, it's pretty hard to damage the shoulder surgery unless you do something extreme---but that's hard to see when you're in pain 24/7.
*I was out of work for just shy of 6 weeks. THAT IS NOT ENOUGH TIME FOR FULL REPAIR RECOVERY! When I have my right shoulder fixed, I will be out a MINIMUM of 8 weeks. As long as you have the ability to do so, give yourself plenty of rehab time. You need it.
* Last but not least, even as I desire to provide information for someone else who may at some point face rotator cuff surgery, be aware, every patient's case is different. Mine has been a long and painful road thus far, but I've talked to other patients who had full repairs and hardly any pain whatsoever (waving to Jim), and they were able to drive pretty quickly after surgery. Perhaps it's a combination of age, genetics, pain tolerance, and other factors. So my experiences are meant to be just that--what I went through. That does NOT mean someone else will go through the same thing.
But I will say I'm very thankful to have a good surgeon and an outstanding physical therapy team. That is truly a blessing. A good physical therapy team is worth a zillion dollars. You need someone who knows what they're doing in the months following surgery.
My PT tells me the significant discomfort will last throughout the first 12 weeks post op, which means I still have a month to go to live through the worst of it. But at least there's light at the end of the tunnel. And it will all be worth it to have a fully functioning shoulder once again, and a life filled with the activities I love to do.