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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Humpday Listday: T5 Things I Learned (or Remembered) From Having Shoulder Surgery

Friday will mark 5 months since I had surgery to repair my rotator cuff.  It feels like a lifetime ago.  As I "graduated" from the first phase of physical therapy this week, I have been reflecting on how far my shoulder has come and everything that has changed since October 27th.  Much has been learned, or re-learned, over the past 5 months.  Here are a few things that stick out...


5) Shoulder surgery is not for wimps.


I knew going in that many medical professionals consider shoulder surgery to be one of the most painful operations.  I was thankful for this insider's knowledge as I felt like it helped me set proper post-operative expectations.  I was prepared for it to be painful.  I was NOT prepared for the inaccuracy of my idea of "painful."  My previous concept of pain did not even include the reality of what I experienced the first few days after surgery.  Oy.  The kind of pain, the intensity of the pain and the consistency of the pain were all new (unpleasant) experiences for me. 


Not. For. Wimps.


Thankfully the most intense pain was fairly well controlled after the first 72 hours.  However, the other aspect of the process that is not for wimps is the recovery.  It is a slooooooooooow process that requires a lot of dedication and hard work.  The first six weeks were a breeze as I mostly just sat in a recliner and let my body do its natural healing work.  But once the sling came off, I had to get a little more "involved."  My daily routine for the last 3 months included two 1-hour physical therapy sessions which were not only time-consuming but often uncomfortable as well.  And at any given moment, it is SO hard to see progress.  I would usually gain somewhere between 0-5 degrees in my range of motion on a weekly basis.  But now, looking back on the whole process, I can see what huge gains I have made.  (There is a spiritual lesson here regarding the slow process of sanctification that I will let you work through on your own).  The pain, the patience, the time demands, the dedication, the need to push yourself past certain limits....it's simply not for wimps.


4) You use your shoulder more than you think.


I had no idea how much I engaged my shoulder muscles.  For raising my arm - obviously.  For pushing and pulling - yes.  But for sitting up?  For laughing?  For bending over to raise the toilet lid?  I would have never guessed.  Basically anytime you move any part of your body above the waist, your shoulder engages.  It either engages to bring your arm along with the rest of your body (such as when sitting forward in a chair) or to hold it in place while the rest of your torso moves (such as when laughing).  When you raise your left arm, the right shoulder engages to help give you the proper counter-balance.  But you NEVER notice (until it hurts) because it just happens naturally.  Our bodies are FASCINATING.


3) You should be careful how you react the first time you see someone naked.


One weekend, when my mom had to be away, my non-medical sister came to Long Prairie to help take care of me, make me food, do my physical therapy, etc.  My mom was showing her our morning routine which consisted of doing physical therapy followed by the opportunity to get washed up and put on clean clothes.  I was standing in the bathroom with Hannah just outside of my peripheral vision as Mom showed her how to help me get my shirt off.  Before my shirt even hit the floor, I heard a guttural sound of disgust coming from the bathroom doorway which is....well....not exactly what you want to hear the first time someone sees you topless, even if it is just your sister.  What did NOT cross my mind was the fact that my nasty, bloody steri-strips were still covering my incision.  This also did not cross my (squeamish) sister's mind until she saw them.  Hence her reaction.


But still.  Even though she meant no harm, and no harm was done (in fact, it's one of my favorite humorous moments from those six weeks at home), the brief moment of misunderstanding still served as a reminder to gracious to the human bodies around us in all of their beauty and unique imperfections.


2) I have the. best. family. (and pseudo-family).


Where do I start.  Oy.


My sisters (and my pseudo-sibs) put together an "anti-boredom package" which was a saving grace during my time at home.  It had everything I could need in it.  Books they knew I would like.  A puzzle which was the perfect combination of "something to get me out of my chair" and "something that didn't require a lot of brain power."  Movies.  Lotion.  Chapstick.  A Humans of New York book.  Puzzle books.  And so much more.  So, so, so, thoughtful.


My mom.....you guys.  My mom.  My mom waited on me hand and foot for SIX WEEKS.  She fed me.  Did my physical therapy twice a day.  Managed my pills.  Pulled up my pants every time I went to the bathroom.  Refilled my water.  Fed my dog.  Paid for me to have my hair washed and braided twice a week so I could feel somewhat human.  Drove me wherever I needed to go.  Put on my deodorant.  Scratched my back when I couldn't reach.  Unpacked my suitcase.  Closed my door every time I got in the car.  Adjusted my pillows.  Sent my mail.  Washed my clothes.  She did ev.er.y.thing. for me.  And never once complained or acted inconvenienced (despite the fact that she was simultaneously moving to Long Prairie, initiating her plan to work from home and getting ready to run her annual craft fair that happens over Thanksgiving weekend...stressful).  That woman is an incredible example of unconditional love in the way she loves and serves her girls and she deserves to be hear praise every day for the way she treats us.  I think I received a whole lifetime of love in those six weeks.  And yet even now she just keeps sending it my way. 


Mom also scrambled to put together an outfit to keep me warm at the outdoor Vikings/Packer game (an event I didn't happen to think about when I was packing clothes for my time at home and therefore did not have the proper items with me).  It was very kind and thoughtful of her to help me find something to wear.  And then my sisters re-dressed me in their own clothes in the parking lot because I looked ri.dic.u.lous.  Also kind and thoughtful of them.


Speaking of my sisters....they called or texted nearly every day.  They willingly drove up north to keep me company over the weekends (my Hanson and Oostra sisters also spent some weekends sitting in my corner of the house with me....I love them for spending that time with me).  They learned the physical therapy routines so they could take care of me on the few occasions when my mom had to be gone.  They watched movies with me, made me laugh (which wasn't always super helpful....but was still fun even when it hurt), and made me feel like I still had some connection with the outside world.  They brainstormed Netflix shows they thought I might like so I would have some options to choose from.  They drove me back and forth from quilt retreat so that I could still spend the day with everyone but could also sleep at home where I was most comfortable.  And they continue to accommodate me, planning sleeping arrangements around where I will be most comfortable when we travel together, carrying suitcases for me, and just generally being thoughtful about what I can and can't do. 


As if that wasn't enough love and support, my dad chimed in, too.  He and my mom had a LONG, patient conversation with me pre-surgery, listening to me talk through all of the implications of each option and helping me make a well-considered decision about how to proceed.  He called often to see how I was doing.  Visited on weekends.  Watched football with me.  Listened to me cry when I was getting frustrated with my physical therapy.  Encouraged me to be patient.  And so much more.


I have always known my family is great.  But the love and support they have shown me over the past 5 months has been an overwhelming reminder of how blessed I am to have each one of them in my life.  I owe them each a lifetime (or more) of thanks.


1) God has a good (and often painful) plan.


I believe God is good no matter our circumstances.  It is easy for me to say He is good right now when things seem to be falling into place and the future looks a little clearer than it did 5 months ago.  But I truly felt His goodness even in those moments when I was sitting in the recliner, tears streaming down my cheeks from the pain, with no clue what the nature of my job would be when I returned to Rochester...only knowing I had lost the schedule that I loved.  Beyond that....things were uncertain.   


I have grown more in faith, trust, and a true sight of the beauty of God in the last 5 months than I have in several years prior to my surgery.  I believe this is a direct result of being challenged, weakened and thrown to my knees in need.  My independent, competent, single self has had to rely on Him and His Body in ways I never imagined going into this process.  And I know Him - and His love for me - better because of it.


It is amazing to me how God meets us in our pain.  Pain (both physical and emotional) is a consequence of sin.  I don't believe I injured my shoulder as a punishment for any specific sin in my life, but I do believe I injured it because there is sin in our lives.  This world is fallen and, as a result, our bodies are not what they were intended to be.  They break.  They fail. (And, amazingly, they also heal).  Yet even in that breaking, which we are responsible for - both through specific personal sins and our communal sin nature - even there in the breaking, He meets us with so much grace.  Even as we suffer the rightful consequences of sin, He uses those very consequences as another avenue of grace in our lives.  He does not abandon us to the consequences.  He takes our brokenness and turns it to good.  It's mind blowing.


I believe God is good to His children when things are "going well," (which usually just means we're getting whatever we want - it's the mindset of a 2-year-old, really) but I think He is especially good to His children when they suffer, not because suffering is fun, but because suffering often drives us to Him and there is nothing better for us than being closer to Him.  There is a joy found in Him that is deeper than anything that can be found merely through pleasant circumstances (not to say joy can't be found in pleasant circumstance....just that pleasant circumstance alone can not bring that depth of joy....it comes through Him regardless of circumstance).    This truth is well supported in Scripture and, the longer I live, the more it is supported by my own life experience as well.  This shoulder surgery experience being one huge example.


So I continue to learn and re-learn this basic truth.  That God's plan is good.  Not always free of pain or uncertainty.  But always, always good.

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