Shoulder Surgery Part 3: Post-Op

Day-to-Day Life after Surgery

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So what happens after surgery?

Well, the day of surgery most people sleep the majority of the day. As you probably read in my Surgery part 2 post, I was awake most of the day ūüôā It’s helpful to have people in the morning and the evening when you’re getting dressed and bathing. Here are some subject-specific ideas that will hopefully give you an idea of what to expect!

Bathing:

I took baths in my swimsuit and my mom helped wash my hair. If you haven’t already at this point, definitely invest in a long handled bathing brush like this. I was so worried about bathing and it really makes a huge difference when you are able to get clean… you just feel so much better. There were several times that my mom left town and I made an appointment at the hair salon¬†down the street. I talked to a¬†gentle¬†hairdresser who was very accommodating. Laying in the chair while she washed my hair, while not¬†comfortable,¬†actually was not painful. You can get a shampoo/ blow dry for under $30 most places (they even have blo dry bars), and if you can afford this, it can last 4-5 days – it¬†really lifted my spirits! You start feeling really unattractive when putting on makeup is too much work, your clothes are comfortable loose-fitting options, and you have a giant black sling with pillow sticking out in front of you. Keep in mind- I had the sling on for over a month… longer than the typical recovery for typical¬†shoulder surgeries.

Dressing:

Hopefully you were able to create some good clothing options to make getting dressed easier (like I did here), but it helps to have someone there to velcro or pin your shirts. I was alone in the mornings and figured out how to dress myself, but whenever I planned to leave the house, I would just have that person pin my shirt for me where I couldn’t reach. You definitely will not be driving while still in the sling!

Sleeping:

Blah! It can be so hard to fall asleep with your arm in a sling (especially while in pain). I highly highly recommend sleeping in a reclining chair. If you don’t have one, just use tons of pillows to prop yourself up because laying flat is not really an option. During the day, you’ll be spending a lot of time on the couch/ reclining chair, so to help separate day and night, I put sheets on my Lazy-Boy every evening before bed (two flat sheets, one tucked in to the chair and one on top for a cover sheet). At night, I used a thin pillow behind my head and also one under¬†my feet because my chair has a slight disconnect between the feet and main chair – this made it so much more comfortable and my feet didn’t hang off. I slept in the living room, so I woke pretty early when the sun came through the windows. I used a loud fan for white noise to help drown out road noise and also my mom when she left for work. In the morning I would take the sheets off and throw them in another room. I always changed into pajamas at night, even though my day clothes were comfy too. These things helped me fall asleep at night and stay awake during the day. After the first week post-op, I tried not to sit in the chair unless I was going to sleep.

Food Prep:


Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 9.35.05 PM

I was also able to teach myself how to cook one handed. Some of the attempts weren’t so great and I definitely pushed myself too hard at first.

 

Post-op day 3 I really wanted risotto. My family was out to dinner without me and I was getting hungrier by the minute so I started chopping veggies and sautéing garlic in some olive oil. I reached for the bag of arborio rice when the coconut oil jar slid out and came crashing to the ground. Now I had broken glass all over the floor. Needless to say, I pushed myself too hard. As time went on, I found it fairly simple to cut fruit and softer veggies (or have someone cut them up before hand and store in the fridge). For breakfast, since I was alone every day, oatmeal was my go-to. I measured the oats, water and milk and stirred it on the stove and dropped in the (often pre-cut from the grocery store) fruit. One really helpful piece of equipment is a food processor or a blender.

The food processor can help you cut up all kinds of vegetables and other food items that you may not have otherwise thought to use it for. The Dycem material helps a lot when preparing food and they also have a jar opener. Yes, you can open a jar with one arm! I stick the jar between my legs and use the Dycem to twist the jar off (if you don’t have Dycem, other jar grippers¬†will still really help). Since it grips so well, it makes it much¬†much¬†easier to open. This opens up a whole world of canned soups, vegetables, sauces, and more. Crockpots are also a very helpful tool.

Food Ideas:

  • Bananas and peanut butter are a fairly easy snack with some protein – if you can’t spread it, just dip it in the jar (or those single serving cups).
  • Overnight oats in a jar are a great option (here are some ideas).
  • Boil-in-a-bag rice
  • Microwaveable frozen vegetables
  • Smoothies
  • Cooking on the grill
  • Oatmeal
  • Cereal with granola and fresh fruit (pre-cut fruit from grocery is much easier!)
  • Waffles (if you have a waffle maker), although having someone prepare the batter ahead of time would be easier. I did manage to mix the batter on my own though!
  • Toast and Bagels would be easy –¬†maybe just try using the Dycem material so the bread doesn’t slide when spreading topping
  • Eggs are a little harder but still possible
  • Canned soups

Obviously microwave meals are easy as well, although not the healthiest. If you happen to be reading this before surgery (good thinking!) making some frozen meals at home and portioning into small Tupperware’s will really pay off (chili, soups, crockpot meal mix-ins,¬†here are some ideas)! I did not think ahead this far, so don’t feel helpless if you didn’t either. I had fun with¬†it! Try not to get frustrated thinking about what you¬†can’t¬†make and just focus on the ideas listed here.¬†Think of it as a time to¬†get creative and¬†see what you can cook with only one arm. I challenge you to try feeding your body nutritious foods (like frozen vegetables and fresh fruits) whenever possible after surgery. It will give you more energy and make your recovery a healthier one. On instagram, I used the hashtag #onearmedchef so you may find some good ideas on there from other users as well. Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 9.35.34 PM

Day-to-Day Life

Netflix, Hulu Plus, TiVo, whatever you can do to entertain yourself while staying down is a good idea. At the same time, try to push yourself to do things with some degree of physical activity or mental stimulation. Working with your hands… not the easiest thing after shoulder surgery! Not being able to drive can really bring you down after several days to a week. It’s really hard to depend on everyone else and lose that independence! For me, not being able to leave the house was one of the most difficult parts of recovery. I felt awful sitting around all day watching TV and not getting much sunlight or exercise. I had to force myself to get out of the house and take the dog for a walk. At the same time, this has to be a careful process so you don’t find yourself getting dizzy (this was especially important for me with POTS). IMG_9260

Pain:

The first few days are by far the worst. The day I came home I was¬†pretty great because of the combination of the nerve block (which wore off around 6 pm) and the leftover anesthesia/pain meds. That evening and the next few days were the most painful. I did not respond well to narcotics and ended up not taking them past day 3 due to nausea and dizziness. Don’t let this scare you – most people do fine with the pain meds so you will probably be fine. But how cool is it that by day 4 I was able to just get by with extra strength tylenol? That should tell you something about the pain (granted, I would have preferred a stronger medication, but the side-affects outweighed the extra pain relief so I stuck with the OTC).

Timeline:

Keep in mind that everyone’s timeline will look different. I had a capsular tightening – this means my recovery was much slower than, say, a rotator cuff procedure. But, here’s an idea of what it looked like for me.

1-2 days post op: Ice Ice Baby

I was told to take my bandage off (I’m forgetting how many days¬†but I want to say it was only about 48 hours after). I was icing my shoulder very, very consistently to keep the pain down. (For ice- I used the little round ice packs they sell at drug stores and ziplock¬†bags of ice with paper towels wrapped around them).

3 days post op: Stir-Crazy and Nauseous

First hair wash. I also propped with pillows and took the velcro off and slid my arm out of the sling. Note: (with surgeons permission) work on trying to stretch/extend your elbow straight from around day 5-7. Try not to wait too long like I did because it will get really stiff very fast (aka: contracture).

1 week post op: Keep your arm propped

My neck and back were pretty agitated from the sling and I could not stand for long periods of time with my shoulder just hanging in the sling. I still very much preferred to be in a chair or on the couch propped up. Decent amount of pain still, but again, I did forgo the narcotics and just took extra strength tylenol. I had gotten pretty stir-crazy already after about 5 days of being home alone.

That weekend, I was begging my boyfriend to take me out! Around 7-10 days I really started to be able to do more things and even went to a dog halloween festival on post-op Day 10. Granted, I didn’t stay long and was definitely feeling spent¬†after standing for an hour or two. I was still using pillows propped up in the car and very much protecting it when I went places. Make sure you are extending¬†that elbow throughout the day (propped up and supported).

2 weeks post op: Goodbye stitches!

My first post-op appointment. I had not stretched my elbow until today and wow was it stiff. I definitely recommend trying to take your arm out and passively (using your other arm) straightening/stretching the elbow joint earlier than this. He took the stitched out at this appointment.

First day wearing a normal shirt. I wore a loose flow-y shirt similar to this one or this one (a loose fitting (crop) top).

By two weeks, I was in a lot less pain at rest.

Post-op day 16

Post-op day 16

At 2 1/2 weeks post op I ran around (literally running it) at the Gluten Free Expo all day, sitting and propping up often, but definitely walked upright a lot. Note: The t-shirt in the picture above had to be cut down the side, as was the tie-dye one below.

no pillow!

no pillow!

3-4 Weeks post op: Bye bye box!

I took the pillow/box off around 3-4 weeks and just used it when I left the house or was standing for a long time. I also got my hair cut around this time. My mom was sick of washing it, so we made an appointment spur the moment and chopped 10 inches to donate. That was a dramatic change… I don’t recommend it. Talk about a self-image disruption!

6 weeks post op: So long sling!

I took the sling off completely. First bath completely independently.

Began physical therapy (with my PT who is very well-versed in ehlers-danlos/ joint hypermobility and did not push me too hard or have me start doing too much too soon – this is so important!). You can tell in the picture below, I’m still holding my right (see, left) arm in a¬†protected posture. I often¬†walked with it at a 90* angle bent up against my stomach because it had been that way for so long.

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6 1/2 weeks post op

8 weeks post op: FREEDOM!

Finally able to drive! And make snowballs…

9 weeks post-op, making snowballs

9 weeks post-op, making snowballs

I also got my puppy at 7 1/2 weeks post-op!! Talk about motivation to do my R.O.M. exercises!

Puppy!

Puppy!

13 weeks post op: Getting my life back!

Rode my horse for the first time again (with someone else saddling and lifting me up). Note: It took me several months before I was able to saddle on my own again and even now, I am using a step stool to prevent damage to the shoulder. Activity adaptation is a good thing!

13 weeks = RIDING!

13 weeks = RIDING!

AND Space mountain at Disney land.

13 weeks post op = DISNEY

13 weeks post op = DISNEY

15 weeks post op: Did I ever have surgery?

Hiked to Maiden Pools in Ventana Canyon (in gorgeous Tucson).

15 weeks = hiking!

15 weeks = hiking! (and hands on hips!)

So, the joke about “did I ever even have surgery?!” is definitely just that – a joke. I still do not have full range of motion and I’m limited in sports such as bowling, golf, tennis, throwing a ball, etc. However, I just try and avoid these activities and find other things that are better suited to my body. I hope this guide helps give you and idea of what the recovery time looks like for this type of shoulder surgery. Just try and take it slow, and know that you will get your life back soon! Take care of your body first and foremost… after all, we’re only given¬†one!

I am guessing you, or someone you know is having surgery and that is what lead you to my site. Please check out parts 1, & 2, plus how to make your own t-shirts on the rest of the blog! Thank you for stopping by, and best wishes on your surgery and road to recovery. The journey is an adventure, and an incredible learning opportunity!

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57 thoughts on “Shoulder Surgery Part 3: Post-Op

  1. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery: What to Wear | Rich with Life

  2. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery Part 2: Day of Surgery | Rich with Life

  3. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery Part 1: Preparing for Surgery | Rich with Life

      • So glad to have found your blog. I’m 10 days from rotator cuff surgery and all I can think about is not shaving…any best advice? Nair? What did you do?

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      • Hi Jen,
        Hmm, nair might be a good idea. I wanna say I shaved on my own in the bathtub by the 2nd or 3rd week (really supported in there to ensure I didn’t slide or disrupt the shoulder which was propped with pillows). The first week I was mostly home anyway and you could always wear pants too if you wanted to go out and felt self-conscious. I hope this helps!

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  4. Very helpful. Thank you!!!! I’m having rotator cuff surgery and bone spurs removed from my acromium bone on right shoulder ūüėĖ. I’m not looking forward to being so dependent on others. But your tips are great!!!
    I’m glad you recovered well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, I have read and re-read all three posts about shoulder surgery and your road to recovery. In fact, I re-read every day, I have now reached to the point where I know all the facts and info, but I come back for the positive feeling I get each time. I am so happy your surgery paid off. You truly deserve it!

    4 day post op, my surgery still hurts like hell and I take my courage from reading that you have been alone for breakfast or managed to wash your hair after a week. Typing this message badly hurts although I am not using the sick arm, indeed certainly pain is personal! I wanted to say THANKS for your gesture of support, it means allot to me, and I am sure, to many others.

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    • Kitt, I’m so sorry to hear you’re in pain ūüėĒ it will get better! You’re in the hardest part. Try to minimize using your other arm by using the voice to text or type feature on your computer or phone if you have one. Sometimes it gets annoying to use but you’ll get better at it and it gives you a little bit of a break. I hope you find a great new TV show or some movies to distract you from the pain! Distraction really is the best natural painkiller. Sending hugs and healing thoughts your way.

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  6. Hi Em, what a beautiful note you left for me! I did notice the healing vibes helping, especially that I still look up to your recovery success and I feel I am much slower. 2 1/2 weeks post op, the pain is worse (because of the attempts to move the arm during what the PT calls ‘exercises’ ? which is essentially straightening the arm and lift it millimetrically with the help of the other arm). I really want to ask, how did you manage to revert from the bent arm posture? This seems the most annoying part, it comes with physical and mental pain already…Other than the pain, there is some beauty in this, the kids find me home each and every day, and I for the first time in my life spend so much time admiring the Christmas tree. I wish you and your readers lots of health and joy! Kitt

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    • Hi Kitt,
      I’m sorry to hear your pain is worse. That is definitely discouraging I am sure. Has your physician or PT mentioned taking pain medication before physical therapy? I tried to time mine in that way. As far as the bent elbow- I really tried to prop it up on pillows and straighten and bend as often as I could when sitting on the couch. It’s definitely a one of the harder aspects that I had not thought about, but you really want to prevent contracture/shortening of your arm because it will make strengthening of those muscles more difficult. Just keep pushing yourself to stretch it… Every day will get a little easier if you keep up with it. Try to think of each stretch as a step (however small) closer to recovery.

      I did hold mine kinda funny for a while even after taking the sling off, because it just becomes habit (plus there’s a certain amount of guarding that takes place afterward), but I would try and put my thumb in my pocket (as a reminder) and ask others to tell me if I was carrying it in a bent position.

      I’m so happy you’re enjoying your Christmas tree. That is a wonderful part of having surgery this time of year. Lay low and take care of YOU!

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  7. Oh my goodness!! I honestly thought I was the only one! I have POTS with joint hypermobility. August of 2012 I had the same surgery (I’m assuming you had a capsular shift?) and now I’m possibly facing another surgery. The whole, don’t push too hard too soon definitely sums up my recovery haha. This is seriously crazy, it’s so hard to explain the whole “pass out when I stand up too fast or stand up for too long” and then the whole “my joints like to fall out of place but it’s not painful” thing too. So glad to hear you’re doing better!

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    • Kirsten, I just realized I never responded to this! So nice to hear that you can relate to the post, although I’m sorry to hear about your surgery. Will it be on the same joint and same side? Thank you for commenting!

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  8. Hey girl! I am preparing for shoulder surgery which sounds exactly like yours! I have my surgery on the 29th! Less than two weeks away.. AH! These tips are amazing! I will be saving these and also sending to family members for my benefits! Thanks!!

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  9. Having rotator cuff surgery in 9 days. Try to get prepared. Your site was helpful . 40 years of doing hair & lifting to much threw the years , yikes .

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  10. Really nice blog. Honest and well written, thanks for taking the time help others like me. Being a male, I won’t tie dye, or worry about the bra, but I am glad I read the article.

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  11. I am so glad I came across your shoulder surgery blog posts! My 16-year-old daughter is having surgery tomorrow and I am trying to prepare as much as possible.
    I’ve gathered a bunch of great info online from various sources, but, nothing has come close to the insight & information you have provided!! Thank you so much for continuing to be of great help to those going through similar experiences.

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    • Jennifer, your comment just made me so happy ūüôā I love hearing that the information I provided helped someone, so thank you for commenting! Best wishes to your daughter tomorrow and in the weeks ahead, she will come out strong!

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  12. Thank you so much for writing this series! In going in for shoulder surgery on Tuesday (synovial chondromatosis, and potential rotator cuff tear). I wish I had found your blog earlier. ūüôā
    My main challenge will be my kids! 4yo and 1yo, and not the most helpful yet. But! I’ll be able to put my own bra on, so that’s a win!

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    • Hi Lisa, Having kids would really be an added challenge. I hope you have support and as your surgery date has now passed, I do hope you are on the road to recovery and in a better place. Hugs!

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  13. My daughter found your site for me, thank for telling it like it is. I fell and broke my shoulder, so I have a sling and an immobilizer, and I live alone and just had my 75 birthday. I will read this often to make me realize I not alone in my frustration, not driving will be the hardest. Again, thanks.

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  14. Very happy too read all your posts!! So helpful. Will be having shoulder surgery for a torn Rotator, Impingment syndrome with Bursitis and Biceps tendinois in the next few months and have been dreading it after reading so many horrible reports from people who have had it, so your blogs have given me hope and helped me see that even though I’m alone I will be ok and although painful I won’t die! Haha! My sister will probably come and be with me for the first couple of weeks so that is good. I am a young 70 year old and a retired RN but have not known what to expect as their are so many differing views out there. I will be using your reports and help as I approach having surgery and post surgery care and physio. Blessings and thanks so much!
    Maureen

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  15. Hi…. my surgery is scheduled for march 8 th…. loved your story and helpful hints. I will be heading to michaels tomorrow to get my shirts to prepare. Thanks again!!!!!

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  16. Thank you so much for your helpful tips- I am having rotator cuff surgery next week and was trying to work out what I could wear afterwards. I am going to have all my tee shirts ready now. Looking forward to dyeing them this week. I have a few strapless elastic bandeau dresses which will come in handy too. I have booked the hairdressers the day before and thanks for the heads up re deodorant and underarm shaving. I am trying to use my left arm for tasks now- cleaning my teeth, combing hair in preparation. Very happy to have found your site. Thank you for being so thoughtful and putting it together.

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    • Leanne, thank you for this kind & thoughtful post. I will be sending positive thoughts to you next week and I do hope these preparatory things will be helpful in your healing. Thanks again & gentle hugs!

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      • One day post op-last night in hospital no pain as I had nerve block but tonight at home very painful. Meds and ice not doing much. I lay down before and could feel the tears. Much better sitting and think I will sleep in chair. Physio said to sleep as normal but she obviously has not had the surgery! I cut all my tee shirts and prepared with press studs and she said I must wear button shirts-I am more comfy in tees. Happy to have had the surgery as lead up is stressful-surgeon and hospital great. This first week is going to be a challenge! Thanks and big sigh x

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    • I bought a few printed t shirts 2 sizes larger than I wear. Then I didn’t have to cut them. I take my arm out of the sling, let it hang and sort of thread it up my arm to my shoulder, them put my head through and my goo arm. I am large breasted and certainly couldn’t wear a bra so I bought a few bandeau’s or tube tops and put them on by stepping in it. Sleeping in bed is still not in the picture for me, I sleep on a recliner and stand a bed pill on the chair and have it go a bit around the corner so it helps support my shoulder. I also use spray deodorant which I really like and is very helpful in our situation.
      My surgery was march 8 and I was to start therapy 2 days later, but the dr found I have osteoporosis and the anchors would hold so he had to use a different bone , he said np therapy till after my 6 week check up . Too much motion could pull out the anchors. I do the passive pendulum circles twice a day. Good luck to you on your surgery this week…..

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  17. I echo all the other comments above – your posts are so helpful as I prepare for rotator cuff surgery. These are the practical hints the surgeon’s office doesn’t seem able to share!! Thanks again for preparing many of us to deal with the indignities and hassles of daily life following surgery. Much appreciated…

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  18. I am so glad that I found your blog just 2 days before my shoulder surgery! It just so happens to be about 2 years since yours! How is your shoulder doing? Better range of motion by now, I hope! I’m having a rotator cuff repair, subacromial decompression, bone spur/dead tendon tissue shaved, bicep tendon reattachment, supraspinatus/subscapularis repair. I’m looking at 8weeks in my big black sling and I’m NOT looking forward to that at all. I can honestly say I’m nervous as all get out! Lol!! My husband will be in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico so it’s just going to me and our 2 kiddos (10 & 6) until the end of July. YIKES! I can’t thank you enough for all the info and tips you’ve shared! I never would have thought about spray deodorant, pillows for the ride home, or the mesh sling for the shower! Such small things, yet such big things! You’re so awesome for giving such detailed, real life advice for those of us that have no idea about what to expect!! You have definitely given me a little assurance that I’m not completely unprepared! Priceless!

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  19. Thank yo u so much for all your helpful info. I’m having a complete shoulder replacement Au29 find your list of must haves spot on. I also live alone but will be spending th e first few wks in rehab, also in Tucson . OT and OT right away. So glad to have this assistance, but thank yo u so much for sharing your experience, especially th e emotional side of it. Bless yo u and wish yo u continued success in your recovery!

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    • Hi Susie! Thanks for commenting. Best wishes to you in your recovery, fellow Tucson-an. It will be a hot one, but I think it’s easier not worrying about long sleeves and jackets. Hugs!

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      • Thanks for responding so quickly. May I ask where yo u had your surgery and who was your surgeon? I’ve been going to TOO for th e last 4 yrs 2,hand/thumb surgeries. Dr Goode is my surgeon and I trust him 100%.

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  20. Thank you so much for the blog about what to do before and after the surgery. I am having rotator cuff repair on Nov 20th so no Thanksgiving and Christmas for me. It’s really something preparing for this with the little extra things to buy. Lord’s willing I’ll be fine but this is taking so much preparation. Guess u can’t out a coat on? I live in cold Michigan.

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    • Geri, you should do well without lots of these extra tools- it just may help to make things easier. In terms of a coat, it will be tricky, but at the very least you can put an oversized one on your unaffected side and pull it over the surgical side on top of your arm without threading your arm through. I‚Äôm sorry I doll don‚Äôt have a better idea for you! But I am sending you healing thoughts and know that you will be much more prepared with how early you‚Äôve begun to prepare!

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  21. I’m only 14, and I am having the same procedure done as you. I was so nervous about having surgery and then I came across your site. It made me happy to really see what was going to happen on my day of surgery. Thank you for having such a positive and uplifting things to say!

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