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The First Month of Limited Use

The title is misleading; it's been over a month, five weeks now, but "month" sounds better as a title.


On the 23rd of February, I had surgery on my right shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff (and of course I am right-handed). The first three days were very difficult, but I had pain killers and I had some natural pain relieving methods to get me through the first week. The early days were about survival, trying to do the most mundane things with the least amount of movement. I couldn't do anything for myself. It was humbling and scary. My right hand was swollen and mostly numb. Pain management was key.


As more time went by things got a little easier, but was still moving slowly somewhere on a scale from completely dependent to moderately independent. I wore the "Super Sling" 23 out of 24 hours a day, like I was supposed to, and I did my "dangle exercises." There was more feeling and a little less swelling in my hand, and I could do a few things with my fingers if I was careful. I tried writing, and it looked like someone else's primitive handwriting. Everything was awkward.


At my four week checkup, the doctor basically said I was right were I was supposed to be.

The extreme fatigue? Normal.

The lack of stamina? Normal.

The sharp pain in my shoulder sometimes, the aching on the outside of my arm, and the almost muscle spasm pain in my bicep? Normal.

The remaining difficulty with fine motor skills and inability to raise my arm up? Also normal.

I was tight where I was supposed to be, but I wasn't anywhere near where I wanted to be.


He reminded me that I went through major surgery and the healing is going to take a long time. I asked when I could ride my bike again and he said TWO MORE MONTHS. He agreed I could start driving, short distances in the neighborhood to start. When I'm in bed I should stay propped up until it feels comfortable to lay flat (still not there).


Doctor told me I could wear the sling only as much as I needed to (and I got to take off the huge cushion thing that kept my arm a distance from my body), but it was no longer mandatory for all day/night wearing. Doctor gave me another exercise to do, and wrote an order for physical therapy.


I clearly did not take a lot into consideration when I signed up for this! I kinda thought I'd be almost back to normal by now, but 100% recovery takes about a YEAR. Every few months it gets better, and physical therapy will help (I promise, today I'll call, okay?).


Now, in the second month post surgery, I find this month, in some ways, harder than the first. The first month I had no choices. The first two weeks, especially, with the leg compressor machine and the ice pad machine and the big bulky sling... when I was hooked up to it all, I wasn't going anywhere until I really had to pee. The next two weeks I still had the ice machine but no longer needed the leg compression, so I felt a little more mobile, but with the sling on there was still only so much I could actually do. My movement was limited by the sling.


Now that I don't have a constant reminder of the surgery attached to my body, I have to be very conscious of what I do; actually even more conscious of what not to do. I have to keep reminding myself not to use my right arm to hold myself up, a fact that was made all too clearly yesterday while trying to clean and organize my studio. I was up on the second step of a three-stepladder, and I lost my balance (which is weird, since I used to climb up the ladder all the time with no issues). I began to fall and so started to try and catch myself while simultaneously dropping the piece of artwork I was holding and knocking a second piece of artwork off the shelf at the same time. I was fine, but both of my pieces broke. Later, while moving those and a third art piece into the house for safety I dropped all three pieces (I guess I don't have grip or arm holding strength back yet), and the two broken artworks broke MORE, and the third art piece shattered.


I spent a good chunk of time trying to clean and organize, being frustrated by how not-as-good-as-I-used-to-be I was at the simplest things, like holding things or lifting or moving or just not falling over. Or how easily I could be in pain. I ended up making more of a mess than I had cleaned.


In the midst of the tornado that hit my studio, my son showed up to chat with me and so he offered to help. I knew he was still recovering from a fun food poisoning incident the day before so I hadn't wanted to bother him to ask for help when I started. Besides, I figured, I had already broken three pieces of my art and fallen once and continually dropped other items... what else could possibly happen (right up there with, "what's the worse that could happen?"). Luckily, his showing up meant I didn't need to find out. He helped me move a lot of things I probably still would have tried to move if he wasn't there. He helped me the next day, too.


I really am an "all or nothing" kind of gal sometimes. In fact, I used to say, "If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing!" The stage I'm at right now in my recovery is very "gray area." I'm not completely unable to do anything, and I'm not where I can do everything, I am limited. I have limitations. I can't spend hours on ANYTHING, let alone creating art. I need to build up strength in my arm slowly (in fact I'm not even supposed to build strength for many months yet, I'm only supposed to be building mobility), and try to build up my stamina while simultaneously getting plenty of rest. This is the part of self-care that's about pacing myself, not pushing myself, about taking breaks and resting, and about asking for help. This is the part of self-care that's about accepting I have LIMITED USE of my arm, of my energy, and of my tolerance for pain. This is the part of healing where I have to lower my expectations of myself, to not apply to every single submission, to be okay not making a deadline, to just be happy for other prolific artists creating and showing and selling, and to accept leaving unfinished pieces unfinished, at least for a while.


This is the part of healing where I have to imagine I'm wearing an emotional sling, supporting myself in the healing, and avoiding what causes me pain. I need to accept that although on the outside I look like nothing is wrong, I'm still operating under the guise of "limited use."


I think I'll go take a nap.



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