For the past two months, I’ve been in a sling recovering from shoulder surgery. The sling itself invokes conversation. Everyone I encounter has empathy and wants to know what happened. (I wish I had $100 for every time I’ve recounted the story the past eight weeks.) Here goes for another $100.
In my early twenties, I returned home one icy night from a business social. It wasn’t that late, but being wintertime, it was pitch black at about 7:00 p.m. The driveway had a modest slope then leveled out at the top. I managed to get my car to the top of the drive and hopped out. I walked around the back of the vehicle when – boom! Down I went slipping on a patch of ice. The pain from falling on my left arm was almost unbearable. (Years later, I would compare this pain to childbirth.) Having never broken a bone in my life, I assumed that’s what had happened. No one else was home, and it was freezing cold. I surmised I might just die there in my driveway if I couldn’t figure out how to stand up. Somehow I managed to sit up and lift the injured arm up onto the car bumper by placing my right arm underneath. I then used the good arm to leverage my body up. As I did that, the most amazing thing occurred. The injured arm popped, cracked, and jerked and instantly the pain was gone. Obviously I had dislocated my left shoulder, not broken the arm. Other than the arm being a bit weak for a few months, I was pain free and grateful that the shoulder somehow “fixed” itself.
I learned a few years later that it wasn’t really “fixed.” By this time I was a mother of three little boys enjoying a family Christmas weekend at a nice hotel. The oldest boy and I were having fun swimming in the indoor/outdoor pool. While going underwater to swim from the outside to the inside, it happened again. As I stroked underwater, that horrible pain returned. I managed to get to the side of the pool when I came up. Honestly, I thought I might pass out from the pain. But while holding onto the concrete edge and resting the dislocated arm on the ledge, the same thing happened as the first time I injured it … pop, crack, jerk … and then it was back in place. This happened a few more times over the next decade, always when swimming. I learned what NOT to do. I could not let the arm get behind me or flounder. So if I jumped or dove off the diving board, I had to hold the left arm in place with the other arm and had to stop swimming under water. I also became quite attuned as to what to do when it dislocated, somehow elevate the arm on a firm surface and wait for the muscles, ligaments, or whatever was messed up to work their way back into place. Over the next many years, it popped out more frequently with routine activities – any quick motion with the arm slightly behind me was a deal breaker. Ballroom dancing presented many opportunities for dislocations until I modified patterns and positions. The only time I considered going to an emergency room or doctor during all these years was after getting plowed over on the dance floor and waiting 30 minutes for it to work its way back into place. Elevating and waiting didn’t work this one time. So I agreed to let someone take me to an emergency room, about a 20-minute drive. I rested the arm on the console; and just as we pulled into the parking lot, the arm did it’s magic and went into place. I commanded, “TAKE ME HOME!!”
I was amused by athletes when I saw them on the sidelines in a sling with a supposed “dislocation.” I wanted to say, “Do you want me to show you how to fix that, you little wimp?” (Well, that’s what I thought but never said.)
Then there was the time I stepped up on the bottom shelf of a frozen food compartment at the local grocery store to reach an item on the top shelf. On the stepdown, I swung the arm out and went all the way down on the floor in pain. People gathered around and called 911 thinking I had a heart attack (oh brother, that was embarrassing). I convinced them to hang up and leave me alone to tend to my shoulder. I managed to check out and push the cart to my car in this deformed state and wait for the arm to relocate after elevating. I’ll end this string of examples with the final straw that forced me to find out the problem and consider surgery – a dislocation in the Dominican Republic. Good grief, I was simply walking into a coffee shop with one of my sisters. The thought of having to go to an emergency room in a foreign country was not appealing. Once again, I managed to “fix” it, but the boss sister witnessed this and convinced me it was time to see about a permanent fix. After all, we’re not spring chickens now – some forty years later.
So what was the cause of the instability? An MRI revealed a torn rotator cuff in two places, torn labrum, and a poor overworked bicep muscle trying to compensate for the rotator cuff for forty years. Then add arthritis to all of that. So I succumbed to the dreaded surgery, endured the sling and immobilizer for a few weeks, and am now enduring pain from a physical terrorist (not my term, but I like it and a pretty accurate description at that). I have learned he really is very good at his profession, although I thought for the first two weeks he was trying to kill me, or at least break my arm. I received little compassion from the surgeon’s office, however, who assured me the terrorist is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing (causing me severe pain). Even my youngest sister (also a physical terrorist) chuckled and said to take something for pain. I’m told the discomfort will eventually go away, and someday I’ll be able to lift my arm to style my hair which I have chopped off twice and now really do have little-boy hair. So I will keep seeing that terrorist a while longer.
So – you want to know the real story behind this story? One week after my surgery when I was still on pain meds, sisters all gathered at my house to celebrate the boss sister’s birthday. The other middle sister asked how this first happened. (Since we were all young adults and not living in the same town at the time, she didn’t know.) I went into storytelling mode and informed her about slipping on the ice all those years ago. I added the most important part about the fall that night was what I was wearing. Underneath my long winter coat was a silky blue dress accessorized with the coolest black 4″-spiked, strappy, peekaboo-toe heels. (I think she did an eye roll.) Those shoes even made it into a music video back in the day. A little skeptical, she asked about the video. “Toto – Rosanna,” I said. She promptly found it.
It was the ice that caused the lifelong injury, not those innocent shoes. Don’t you agree? Watch the video and let me know what you think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmOLtTGvsbM