Monday, March 24, 2014

90 Degrees

I've been through some painful things in my 40 years:

Childbirth. A bone marrow biopsy. A chemo drug that made my veins burn. Mantle-field radiation.  Being required to read A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court in 10th grade.

And I feel I can say, with no exaggeration or hyperbole, that physical therapy following rotator cuff surgery is, if not at the top of the list, a very very close second. To A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

The first two weeks of therapy were splendid. Honestly. After being warned by at least a half dozen people, who had either had the surgery or heard about their best friend's cousin's neighbor going through it, that it makes grown men cry and call out for their mothers, I was pleasantly surprised by how good it felt to have my shoulder stretched and exercised.

"You are a pain champion!" I told myself. "You are going to rock and roll this therapy and show everyone that you are a tough little warrior princess capable of leaping orthopedic centers in a single bound with one arm!"

That was before the pulleys. If me prior to the third week of therapy was rainbows and unicorns and Pharrell's "Happy", me this week has been more thunderclouds and porcupines and Samuel Barber's "Adagio For Strings."

If the pulleys weren't bad enough, my physical therapist followed that up with 15 minutes of manual stretching so intense I was pretty sure I started to go into shock. It didn't feel like she was just working muscle and tendon. It felt like she was stretching my bone marrow. Possibly my soul. I got cold, developed the shakes, and began to mildly hyperventilate.

"We doing okay?" she asked.

"Yes," I said with my mouth.


Not really, for she is a sweet young lady and she means well and this is all for the greater good and all that horseshit.

I am usually not at a loss for describing anything, but I cannot fully capture what having a surgically repaired tendon stretched feels like and why it hurts so very badly. You wouldn't thing such a thing could cause so much pain. Childbirth pain makes sense because in labor a woman's cervix and a baby's bony head meet and pass and it all nearly defies the laws of physics. Gunshot wounds make sense. Crushed bones make sense. The near-blinding pain caused the first time you raise your operated arm with your non-operated arm with a pulley? It should not make me weep in my car after. But it did. And probably will again. Ad nauseum. I would have preferred five minutes of labor to five minutes of pulleys. Maybe. Probably. I don't know, maybe I should think on this one. Can I get five minutes of sitting-on-a-white-sand-beach-with-a-margarita instead?

The goal with the pulleys, so I was told, was 90 degrees of motion. I haven't had geometry in a while, but I know that's a lot of degrees for a freshly repaired tendon to handle. I got to 85 and begged for mercy, was told unenthusiastically that I'm doing great, and had a bunch of stuff hurriedly typed into my permanent medical records.

I'm guessing my file now says, "Underachiever," "Wimp", and "Low pain threshold." Seeing as how I was always a straight-A rule-follower and game-player, this is hard to accept. But accept it I must. For I feel at this point the only other options available are:

1. Be okay with my physical therapist making like Chewbacca and ripping my arm out of its socket (I know we never see this on screen, but Han says Wookies do this when they lose, and since Greedo shot first we know for sure that Han Solo is a good guy and never, ever tells a lie.) (Sigh.)

2. Take enough Percocet before each appointment to lapse into a hazy halcyon hallucination where pain doesn't exist and HOLY CRAP! Ninjas! (This is lost on you if you haven't been keeping up and don't know that narcotics make me fight ninjas in my sleep.)

So I don't really know what to do except show up, do the best I can, and cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you.

Because shoulders are bitches.

Monday, March 17, 2014


It was a big weekend for the kid. In fact, after this weekend's various beautification rituals, it may not be appropriate to call her "the kid." She may have done gone and raised herself into "young lady" territory.

Nah. She'll always be the kid to me.

Friday was haircut day, a ritual for us the first free Friday afternoon between swim seasons. After receiving her standard cut, my normally shy daughter, who can barely order her own food in restaurants and generally doesn't speak to adults unless spoken to (and sometimes not even when spoken to, if she's in a mood) piped up and asked our stylist for curls for a birthday party she was attending later that evening.

Our hairdresser worked her magic, twisting adolescent hair expertly around a curling iron and applying enough hairspray to give the planet an asthma attack. The end result were glamorous, voluptuous waves cascading down the back of a girl who looked red-carpet ready. When she glimpsed her finished 'do in the mirror, Ainsley's smile said it all:

I am beautiful. And I'm maybe just now realizing that.

There was no reflective surface left unloved on the drive home, and as we saw her off for a sleepover with her fellow swim girls, she radiated a confidence and grown-up aura that made her mother's eyes get a little misty.

Cinderella had exchanged her soot for glass slippers. It won't be long before the princes (and the frogs) come knocking.

As these things generally do, the temporary curls longed for a more permanent companion. After a traumatic ear-piercing attempt when Ainsley was four, a mistake that promptly led her to swear off earrings for seven years, the kid decided to take me up on an offer I made last year:

Whenever you decide you want your ears pierced, we'll do it. Just say the word and I'll take you before you have a chance to chicken out.

Saturday afternoon, she said the word.

This time, there were no tears. Just joy at another rite of passage. And just like with the curls, the transformation was bigger than the act--my pre-teen looked several years older just with the addition of a tiny bit of bling.

I shudder to think of what the first visit to the Clinique counter will do.

When she spends long hours cuddling with Lumpy, her favorite stuffed animal, or making endless arrays of rubber band bracelets with her Rainbow Loom, I can forget that she's on the cusp of womanhood. One foot, wearing a pair of Day-Glo flip-flops, is firmly in the world of children. The other, wearing tasteful but fashionable Sperry loafers, is in the world of women. She still plays the part of "girl" really well. But more and more frequently, the young woman she's going to be peeps out from behind the rainbows, peace signs, and glitter. It's a beautiful and terrifying transformation to watch; once she steps over that threshold, a part of her is lost to her father and me forever. She'll always be our daughter, but there's only a fleeting moment of her life when she's our little girl. It's a sweetness that only lasts long enough to break your heart.

Oh, dear. These next few years are going to be tough.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ninjas In the Bedroom: Why Percocet Is, Actually, a Bad Thing

I'm back.

In case you were wondering, shoulder surgery is made of suck. It's painful. It's inconvenient, due to the ever-present sling. And it's very, very humbling.

Once you've been dressed and undressed by your spouse in a decidedly un-sexy-times way while your upper body is still doused in iodine and covered with a thick white bandage that strongly resembles a 1960s maxi pad, it's hard to pretend to be the strong one in the relationship.

The procedure itself was not the difficult part. And yet I still had every intention in the minutes leading up to the surgery of backing out. It was a little worry stone I kept smoothing in the corner of my pre-sedated mind--You still can run away from this. But then the blue mask came over my face, and I found myself next in a recovery room with my left arm numb and heavy.

My first words, when I woke and found my voice?

"Holy shit. I can't believe I let that happen."

The nurse was not as amused as you might be and showed concern for my mental status, checking my vitals thoroughly before helping me into my clothes and sling.

According to the surgeon in post-op, I really needed this surgery. Once the fancy little arthroscopic cameras got in there, they found that a second tendon was torn all to hell. I was a bigger mess on the inside than I appeared on the outside.

Which is pretty true of me in general, actually.

The nerve block, which made my left arm feel intriguingly like it had been transplanted from a larger, clumsier alien being, made the first 12 hours bearable. And then, as they are wont to do, the nerve block wore off. Spectacularly. Leaving me immobile on my couch for most of the day after surgery, understanding why people in pain pray for death.

And I didn't have too many options in fighting the pain. For I learned that Percocet makes me bat-shit crazy.

I'm already a little crazy in that I have some paranoid tendencies and want to control everything and have an overactive imagination that already sometimes hears the not-there footsteps of  intruders in our home at 3am. Narcotics take all these fun qualities and magnify and concentrate them into one sharp laser beam of crazy. Condensed crazy that my brain plays with destructively like a child who has just discovered how to burn ants with a magnifying glass and the sun.

In the haze of post-nerve-block pain, I took a heavy dose of my prescribed painkillers. Minutes later, I closed my eyes. But instead of dreaming of unicorns and rainbows, I launched into a half-dreaming hallucination that men in dark clothing were descending from wires in the ceiling to do me harm. I came up out of the haze swinging to fight them off. Unfortunately my limb of choice was the left one. The sling kept me from doing too much damage, at least I hope. But the resulting pain was blinding and instructive. Ninjas, it turns out, are tough to beat.

I vowed to let ice and rest do the bulk of my painkilling for the duration of my recovery and have, mostly, kept this vow. Sometimes you just have to choose "sane" over "comfortable." Though occasionally "comfortable" is too appealing to pass up, in which case you warn your significant other that you have taken your crazy pill and to keep an eye out for unusual muttering and behavior. And traveling bands of ninjas. Because you just never know.

I'm working again now, and driving, and more or less self-sufficient. Except that I can't cook or clean. So friends and co-workers have come through with food and I have, for the first time in my life, hired someone to clean my house every other week. I am not proud of this. I am a woman raised in a lower-middle-class family and I feel I have suddenly and undeservedly gone above my raising in a way my mother and grandmothers would not approve.

But that little bit of crazy we talked about earlier includes some OCD, and I need a clean house, so...there you go. I feel bougie beyond words.

Each day will allegedly get easier. Most days I feel improvement; occasionally, I do too much and a day feels like a setback. It can be depressing. But I've gotten through worse.

Much worse.

Spring will come and with it warm sunshine, blooming flowers, and freedom from my sling. I can hardly wait.

In the meantime, I'll just keep surviving. And fighting off the imaginary ninjas as best I can.