Post-Surgery Prognosis, Part Deux

      32 Comments on Post-Surgery Prognosis, Part Deux

I’m working on a longer post that’s related to my previous post about the real Inuit diet. That’ll come later. A chunk of my time today was taken up with a follow-up visit with the surgeon. Since some of you asked for an update, here it is:

According to both the surgeon and the physical therapist, I’m healing as expected. The day-to-day pain level has dropped almost off the charts. I get an ache in the shoulder or bicep now and then, but it’s nothing an ibuprofen and a cold pack can’t handle.

There are exceptions.  Twice in the previous week I woke up with a stronger, throbbing pain around the bicep and had to pop a Percocet to go back to sleep. I suspect that’s just the result of me struggling against the sling while I sleep. The surgeon wasn’t at all concerned when I mentioned it.

The good news is that I can start removing the sling when I’m working at home. I just have to remember not to actually lift anything with my left arm. He suggested I still wear the sling when I leave the house, partly to restrain my own movements and partly to signal other people not to bump into me.

The really good news is that I no longer have to wear the damned thing while sleeping. Hallelujah. Trying to get a decent night’s sleep has been one of the worst parts of the whole experience. If you videotaped me sleeping normally and sped it up for playback, I’d look something like a fish tossed ashore. I turn and roll and flop into different positions. (Chareva’s worse. She also kicks and steals blankets.)

Turning and rolling and flopping was apparently a real threat to the reattached bicep tendon at first, so for the 30-plus nights since surgery, I’ve had to sleep sitting up, surrounded by pillows to keep me in that position, with my arm pinned to my side in the sling.

I didn’t have any trouble sleeping like that when I was still knocking myself out with Percocet before bed, but it’s a different story now that I’m off the painkillers. I sleep for a few hours, wake up feeling stiff and cramped and wanting to just roll the hell over already, get out of bed, utter a few curses known only to weekend hobby farmers who’ve had surgery, crawl back into bed, re-assume the sitting position, then try to sleep again.  I’m usually awake for at least an hour.

No sling tonight. No sitting up in a pillow throne. I don’t remember the last time I looked forward to crawling into bed this much.  There was probably lingerie involved.

I already feel a bit like the Pillsbury Dough Boy from the lack of exercise, so I asked the surgeon what I can and can’t do at this point. I’ve got the green light to work my legs at the gym, but that’s it. No upper-body exercise at all.

Dangit. That’s what I expected, but dangit anyway. The physical therapist told me that after surgery for a torn bicep, it’s a very slow buildup to exercise. It usually takes about a year to return to full strength.

Sheesh. I’ll be turning 60 in just under a year. I guess that will be my birthday gift: a return to full strength.

I went through this with the last shoulder surgery 15 years ago. By the time I could really start working out again, I had the muscles of an adolescent boy. If I remember correctly, I even started laughing at booger jokes again.

The difference between now and then (besides being almost 60 vs. being almost 45) is that I know a helluva lot more about what constitutes a good diet. I can’t avoid getting weak, but I can avoid getting fat and weak.

In the meantime, since outdoor work on weekends is a no-go, I’ve been focusing more on composing music for the Fat Head Kids film, which is one of the last remaining creative tasks before post-production work.

Composing and recording tools these days are, to put it mildly, simply awesome. With all the digital stuff, it’s gotten to the point where if you can hear it in your head, you can get it into your song. I haven’t been able to play guitar for obvious reasons, so I had my iPad strum the chords for one of the songs I’m recording. Blows my mind.

I wish I’d had these toys back when I was writing songs for my band in my twenties. We spent a lot of money to record in a studio that had a mere fraction of the tracks and effects and processors that now live inside the Logic Pro software on my Mac. I can even export a song-in-progress to my iPad, go sit in my comfortable recliner to do more composing, then pull the new tracks into Logic Pro. Again, it blows my mind.

So despite being physically sidelined and missing the joys of working myself into a state of Dog Tired Satisfied on the farm, I’m feeling just fine. For a time at least, my brain will have to do the heavy lifting.


32 thoughts on “Post-Surgery Prognosis, Part Deux

  1. Dianne

    Good news! After my 2 hip replacements and 1 knee replacement (need another) I had to sleep in my recliner for a while, and oh, did it feel GOOD to get back into bed, so you have my sympathy there. Have a great night’s sleep! Just don’t turn, roll and flop too athletically. You make your version sound like an Olympic event.

  2. Kathy in OK

    So, how’d it go? Was sleeping freely sheer bliss?

    I’m one to try just about anything I’ve been told I can’t do, so don’t’ take this as medical advice. But you could work the healthy upper body if you’re really careful and pay attention. You have to wear the sling away from home anyway, so it would remind you of your limitations. You couldn’t get any leverage from the repaired side, but you could definitely work the healthy bicep and shoulder. It won’t be the same, but no need to let both sides atrophy.

    Happy healing……and sleeping. 🙂

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      My right arm is getting some work from day-to-day activities, but the real strength-building exercises — chest press, rowing, etc. — are off the table. Working my legs will at least help.

      Sleeping freely was blissful enough, although I woke up after rolling onto my left shoulder. No damage done, but it did hurt to put weight on the area. Like pressing on a big ol’ bruise.

  3. Renee

    I had surgery for a deviated septum and I had to sleep sitting up and with my nose packed for 48 hours. I was literally counting down the hours until the packing was removed, apparently it’s done differently now. I can’t even imagine doing for as long as you have.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      It’s my second go-around with having to sleep sitting up for several weeks. It doesn’t get better the second time.

  4. Nick S

    If you hit your lower body hard, you should be able to keep yourself feeling pretty fit even without working your upper – I had a shoulder impingement that kept me from doing anything heavy with that arm for months but still made a lot of progress in the gym doing lower body movements like weighted step-ups, air squats, etc. I can’t prove it, but I think my upper body actually benefited somewhat even though it was left out of most of the action.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’ve seen evidence to support that. I believe it may have been in one of Jonathan Bailor’s books. One group of young men only did squats, another only did bicep curls. The squat group had equal or better gains in bicep strength, reason being that the squats produced more growth hormone.

      1. Walter

        Coming back from the Chesapeake Bay area, I would hear every time,
        the song “Walking Around in Woman’s Underwear”. (tune “Walking in a Winter Wonder Land) Not a lot of radio stations and it was appreciated as antidotal to Xmas music.

      2. Dianne

        I should know better by now — never read a Tom Naughton comment when taking a mouthful of anything liquid unless you want whatever it is all over your screen.

  5. juan dyluski

    I’ve read that if you workout only with your healthy arm, strength gains will carry over to your bad arm/side. Have you discussed this with your doctor? In addition does your doctor know you eat low carb? Does he approve?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I haven’t discussed either with the doctor. My guess is that whenever you work out and produce growth hormone as a result, it helps all the muscles maintain strength.

      1. Firebird7478

        I’ve seen videos where chiropractors will treat the injured part of the body by working on the opposing side. Here is a sample regarding tennis elbow.

  6. chris c


    Although my shoulder problems weren’t a patch on yours, I can tell you than when you are nearly healed is the worst time, you can forget for just long enough to rick things all over again.

    Currently I’m also back to being able to sleep in any position, except sometimes when I roll onto the shoulder for long enough to cause enough pain to wake me up.

    “Chareva’s worse. She also kicks and steals blankets.” My ex did that, isn’t it part of the job description? I’m sure it’s in the Wedding Vows, written in invisible ink. However, I got my own back by farting.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, it’s occurred to me that as the bicep begins to feel better, it would be easy to forget and overdo it. I sure as shootin’ don’t want to tear it again.

  7. Jay Bohling

    I feel your pain; I had surgery on my left shoulder last week. Had to reattach my bicep and have to wear this $&@:# sling. Any advice for me? It’s driving me nuts. As for diet to prevent fat gain and maybe drop a few lbs while I’m at it, any pro tips you could share with me; fat/protein/carb ratios, specific foods, etc? Take care Tom!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I feel your pain as well. I wish I could tell you how to be comfortable in the sling, but I’m not sure it’s possible. I can only tell you the weeks will go by and you’ll be able to go without it — which will feel awesome.

      I made no effort at all to lose weight for the first few weeks because I didn’t want to put my body in a catabolic state while it’s trying to rebuild. In fact, I probably gained a pound or two. Now that it’s been nearly six weeks, I’m just making sure I get plenty of protein while restricting my carbs a bit more than usual … after all, I’m not hitting the gym or doing heavy-duty outdoor work, so I’m not exactly forcing my muscles to suck up glucose and burn it. I’ve also taken to walking on the treadmill for hour-long sessions a few times per week.

  8. The Older Brother

    Totally OT, but our hero Morgan Spurlock just called out his own number for latest square in #DirtbagBingo!

    It’s ok, though – after the confession, he vows to be “part of the solution.”

    Insert your own Super Size Me joke here:______________________



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