The Aftermath

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on May 31, 2022 # Lifestyle

A month and a few days ago – April 13 – I had a reverse shoulder replacement surgery. The surgeon removed the ball and socket in my left shoulder, replaced them with a steel ball and plastic socket, and reversed their position, apparently to allow my deltoid muscle to take over from the trashed rotator cuff muscles. The surgery took four hours, but I didn’t care. I was in dreamland.

I awoke in my own room in the hospital. The pain, surprisingly, wasn’t the torture treatment I expected. They had inserted a small tube in my shoulder that carried a nerve block agent that continuously deadened the nerves around the incision. Technically, this is called a peripheral nerve catheter with an infusion pump. It lasts for four days and though it doesn’t eliminate all the pain, it sure makes a dent in it.

Things were going fine until I left the hospital after three days. I made a colossal mistake that colored the whole (still ongoing) recovery process. I opted to go home to manage the aftermath. I had rented a Hoyer lift to get in and out of bed, a trapeze bar for in-bed maneuvering, and a power-assist unit for my manual wheelchair. I had all the pain-killing meds and a loving wife to help with all other bodily activities. I even had an ice machine to circulate cold water through a nifty little shoulder harness. At some point, a PT would come to the house to get me back on the road to recovery.

I simply didn’t anticipate how immobilizing this surgery would be for a para like me – an old para like me – and consequently invited even more misery onto myself and my wife. Lying in bed with a steady drumbeat of intermittent pain, no matter the analgesic, my shoulder in a sling, I was completely incapacitated. I couldn’t scoot around on the bed because one arm doesn’t give you the leverage to do anything. I was so exhausted that when two people got me into the lift and then chair, I was back in bed, immobile, thirty minutes later. I still had the nerve agent bag hanging over my left shoulder and my wife even had to help me cath, a new and awkward experience for us both. Every small movement or gesture was so frustrating that it often led to tears. What was I doing at home?

It was pride, most likely, a delusional sense that I could handle this on my own. A caseworker at Cedars quickly arranged a spot at a local rehab facility, and an ambulance took me there. The place was as plain as a brown paper bag, but the nurses and CMAs were nice, and you could work your way around the tasteless food. All I wanted to do was sleep and get stronger. I was so relieved that professionals were in charge.

The most disturbing event on day one was a nurse asking me, “Is this your first time in a nursing home?” Those words were like a punch in the gonads. “I’m just here for PT,” I quickly said. “Yes,” she answered. “We do that, too.”

Everything was moving right along – the twice-a-day PT was the high point – until they rolled another fellow into my room. Small room – I had to whisper into the phone. It was two days later, when they rolled in a third roommate, that it got a little weird. Three prisoners in one cell meant no visitors; the lights were always on; and a steady stream of nurses and aides joined the party day and night. After eleven days, I figured I was ready to leave.

Shoulder replacement surgeries like mine take time and patience and lots of therapy and ice to heal. To this day, I can’t put any weight on the shoulder or use it to transfer, which is probably the long-term reason it got so messed up in the first place. My bedroom solution for this, a simple thing that I marvel at daily, is a hospital bed in which the entire bed goes down to three inches off the floor and high enough to effortlessly go from bed to chair. I put no strain or pressure on either shoulder.

I still have weeks, if not months, until I fully recover and am just as agile as I used to be, now with a much stronger, pain-free arm. Was it worth it to go through this maddening ordeal? Now that I’m on the mend, the answer is yes. If you’d ask me that question when I was stuffed into a small room with two other ailing oldsters, and it was the weekend when the PT crew was off and I had nothing to do but get hoisted into my chair and eat a tuna sandwich as I watched one of my roomies in his bare-ass hospital gown getting help with his walker to go to the bathroom three feet away, my answer would have been, “I’m thinking about it.” But right now, I’m happy as a clam.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.