Although this is a bit off-topic from quilting and sewing, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of our discoveries in the recovery process (especially since one of my listeners has this surgery coming up!). My husband (DH for the sake of brevity) had the surgery almost two weeks ago, so he has one more week of immobility left. He had a 35% tear in his rotator cuff, which is quite large, but the doctor was able to make the repair arthroscopically. He has 6 small puncture wounds in shoulder, and got the stitches removed from those in his post op visit about 5 days after surgery (by day 4 they were itchy). He has this sling for his recovery.
These tips are not for the mechanics of getting your shoulder working again- spoiler alert! I’m not a doctor – but they might help life run more smoothly afterwards.
Hygiene is by far one of the biggest issues in terms of small annoyances after the surgery. Until his post-op visit to remove his stitches, DH did not take a shower. He sat in the bathtub to wash his bottom half, and washed his face, and largely left his torso unwashed to avoid getting the sling wet. After the stitches were out, we modified some old canvas belts (it took two to get the right length) for him to use as a sling in the shower.
Without the ability to lift one of his arms, he’s not able to clean under his good arm, so I lend a helping hand to clean that armpit. If he’s feeling adventurous, I’ll try to slide the washcloth under the recovering arm too, but it is rather painful still. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, and that ain’t nothing compared to what I put him through during childbirth!
He wasn’t able to use his regular solid deodorant (without me helping), so we bought a can of spray deodorant. Not our favorite environmental impact to make, but this one time it helps him feel more independent. I will use it to spray a shot under the recovering arm as well.
Just to add insult to literal injury, we’ve found that a week and a half after surgery, his sling is starting to stink. While he has it off to take a shower, I blast it with Lysol and Febreze and that’s helped.
Although the recommendation was for a button down shirt during this time of immobility, he was only able to button one or two buttons around the sling so his stomach ended up hanging out. To solve this problem, we took an old t-shirt of his and cut it all the way up the side and under the sleeve for the arm the sling is on. This meant he could put the t-shirt on normally on his left arm and over his head, and the right sleeve could be tucked (gingerly) around his arm inside the sling. The sides of the shirt were then tucked between the foam pad on the slide and the side of his body to prevent them from gaping too much.
With only one hand, he had difficulty with his regular khakis so he’s worn sweatpants with an elasticized waist, or his pajama pants while we wash his sweatpants. We’ve got a total of two modified t-shirts and two pairs of sweatpants.
He also wasn’t able to wear a normal jacket, so we modified an old zip-up vest. The problem was the gaping of fabric from t-shirt on the side, so for the vest I cut open the shoulder seam and sewed on velcro. This way he can put his left arm through the vest like normal and slide the open shoulder on the right side up under the sling. Then he zips it closed like normal, and then closes the velcro over the right shoulder so he’s got some article of clothing covering every part of his torso.
DH has switched back and forth on a couple sleeping positions. The first few weeks of immobility he needs to sleep sitting up. He tried just sleeping in the recliner in the living room, but had better success the first few days by piling up 3 pillows on the arm of the recliner on his left side (the good side), and face planting on them so his recovering arm was hanging in the sling. Something about having it hanging made it not tense up so much and was less painful.
Since those first days, he’s stuck with either laying back in the recliner, or laying somewhat on his good side in the couch. In either case he’s still semi-upright, but the quality and duration of sleep is aggravating.
What to Have Ready After the Surgery
- Waterproof bandages (for an arthroscopic surgery)
- Ice packs – we made these of equal parts rubbing alcohol, water, and crushed ice in a ziploc.
- Spray deodorant
- Modified shirts
- Elastic waist pants
- Lysol or Febreze to de-funk the sling
- Stool softener, aka Colace, if you are taking narcotic. NOTE: this is NOT the same as taking fiber caplets; extra fiber will only compound the problem.
- Old belt(s) or fabric to use as temporary sling in the shower- test out the length BEFORE the surgery (which is something we didn’t do).
- A spare empty cup in the car for the ride home from surgery. DH’s was done as outpatient surgery, and he was still feeling nauseous from the anesthetic on the drive home. He didn’t actually barf, but it was comforting to have it just in case.
UPDATE, 3 Years Later:
My husband has his surgery three years and a half ago, and he has full function back. It aches when it’s storming, but that’s not unusual for this type of injury. Looking back, yes, I’m glad he did the surgery, but I’m not sure he is. It took about a year for full recovery. The severe pain receded within a month or two of surgery itself, but there was a constant ache as he worked the physical therapy to gain back his range of motion.
About 18 months after surgery, he was pretty frustrated that it was still aching with one “catch” when he tried to reach over his head (particularly frustrating since his job is physical and requires this motion frequently). He was playing in the pool with our kids when one of them jumped on him and he reached up to catch our son and felt a giant ripping sensation in his shoulder. After a moment of panic, which I could see on his face, he rolled his arm around and said, “Wow! It doesn’t catch anymore!” As best we can guess, the ripping was the final bit of scar tissue from the surgery tearing free. Since that time, he’s had full range of motion with only an ache when it’s raining.