Saturday, March 20, 2010

Trying to draw two weeks after shoulder surgery

I don't know how I injured my labrum, cartilage that lines and pads the shoulder joint, but sometime during the past 5 years, I did. Tore in three places, both shoulders. I'm told this type of injury is frequent among baseball pitchers and car accident victims. But I haven't been in any serious accidents — knock on wood — and baseball has never been a part of my vocabulary, other than occasional catch with my son.

On the morning of the surgery, the anesthesiologist explained the nerve block procedure he'd use to put me under. Then he told me, almost jokingly, how much pain I'd have afterward. "This won't be a walk through the park," he said, like I was silly to even consider having such a painful operation. "This is one of the most painful surgeries to have."

No doubt he was right. This surgery has been the most painful experience of my life. Had I known about the pain, I wouldn't have had the surgery. Before the surgery, the pain was nagging. But now it's fierce! I don't do pain well. Guess that explains why my surgeon never mentioned it.

The procedure itself was no big deal. After a hospital technician hooked me up to an IV, we discussed bodybuilding and powerlifting (yes, she was a powerlifter). Before I knew what was happening, I found myself waking up groggy, next to my wife and a nurse, who were trying to rig my arm into a sling.

The nerve block rendered my arm numb for 24 hours. My arm felt dead. I couldn't move my fingers or feel my wife's touch. After several hours, I grew impatient waiting to get my feeling back. But when that happened, my shoulder and arm burned like fire. My hand swelled so fat, my son kept giving me compliments on how "smooth and young" my fingers looked.

The night after the numbness wore off, I slept upright on a chair in the family room. But I couldn't fall asleep. I just couldn't get comfortable. The sling was awkward, but without it my arm felt like it was hanging from my shoulder by a hot nerve. Pain, pain, pain! And as each day passed, things got worse. The chair caused neck and back pain. Finally I started sleeping in the bed, but if I turned in my sleep and made the wrong movement, the pain caused me to awake myself — and my wife — to an involuntary yell.

The first couple of days following surgery, I was on Vicodin. But I stopped taking it because the stuff made me drunk. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind being intoxicated from time to time. In fact, against my wife's wishes, I oftentimes get myself that way intentionally. But Vicodin puts me to sleep, too. So finally, I started using over-the-counter Tylenol, and just tolerated the pain best I could.

My doctor prescribed a series of gentle exercises that would prevent my shoulder from getting stiff, but he warned not to lift my arm any higher than my waist. I wish. Thing is, 11 days after surgery, my arm still dangles from my shoulder, limp like a spaghetti noodle, when it's not in a sling. I couldn't lift it as high as my waist even if I wanted to.

On Friday, I started trying to draw again. It hurt like heck, and I couldn't do it for long, but I was able to make some legible chicken scratches. And I drew all day today, too. According to my doctor, it will be several weeks before the pain subsides, so he told me to get used to it and to "draw around it. "

It will be at least another 7 weeks before my shoulder is healed enough for me to draw normally, but my wife says, after looking at my sketches, "You draw better than me even with an injured arm."