Day-to-Day Life after Surgery
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 🙂 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
- 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
- Cooking on the grill
- 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.
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).
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).
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.
By two weeks, I was in a lot less pain at rest.
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.
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.
8 weeks post op: FREEDOM!
Finally able to drive! And make snowballs…
I also got my puppy at 7 1/2 weeks post-op!! Talk about motivation to do my R.O.M. exercises!
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!
AND Space mountain at Disney land.
15 weeks post op: Did I ever have surgery?
Hiked to Maiden Pools in Ventana Canyon (in gorgeous Tucson).
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!