For the last four weeks, our family has been counting down the days to June 19. The rest of our life felt like it was on hold as we waited for this one day to arrive.
My husband has been working his tail off — actually his arm off — in preparation for his four-month follow-up visit with the surgeon who worked on his shoulder back on March 8. After that gloomy visit with predictions of a second surgery, I have to admit we were expecting the worst.
We had gone through the four stages of grief as we thought about what it would mean to go back into the operating room for a second time, and we were starting to set up a tent in “acceptance.”
As I mentioned in my last post about this, my husband has regained a lot of movement in his right arm since the surgery. But he has one motion that is still only at about 65 percent of its range of motion. Our lives have revolved around physical therapy appointments four days a week, often 2.5 hours long right after his work day, as well as putting on his stretching contraption three times a day to slowly pull his arm and hold it in place 30 minutes at a time.
We resigned ourselves to no vacation this summer since we would need all of his remaining vacation days to recover from a potential surgery. Three of his therapists had a big debate Monday night about what would be his best course of action. He seems to be an anomaly even in their eyes, or at least some kind of fascinating case for someone’s future thesis, because of his inability to regain his full movement despite how hard he has worked the last four months.
Is it a scar tissue problem?
Did this all actually start 20 years ago after a bad car accident he had?
Could the problem have been building even before that? A bad football injury in high school? Hundreds of repetitive shoulder movements throwing a baseball during Little League?
An excruciatingly painful “dry needle” treatment last week seemed to show that the muscle in his arm was balled up so tight that it had basically stopped working since the injury seven months ago that sent him to the doctor.
Anyway, even the doctor said he was expecting the worst when he saw my husband’s name on the patient list Tuesday.
I was in a different meeting during the appointment, but wanted to jump out of my seat when Capable Dad sent me this text:
“The end is near.”
Could it be? The doctor was actually happy with his progress! He was NOT recommending a second surgery!
We couldn’t believe it! We are so thankful to the many, many people who have prayed for him the past four weeks and the past seven months. This truly was not the result we expected, so we know God has been working!
The plan now is to continue his therapy at home, but reduce his visits to the PT office to twice a week for about six more weeks. Even though he still has limited range of motion in one area, he seems to be regaining a lot of flexibility and strength in the other directions. The doctor will check him again in six weeks, but he was pleasantly surprised with his progress.
Most people don’t regain much more movement after the four-month mark. If that were the case, he might never regain his golf swing. Might not ever be able to pitch a baseball. He would be limited in his ability to shoots hoops with the boys.
Our prayer now is that he will regain that movement. Although those things are all very minor in the whole scheme of life, they are all things that he enjoys. And God has showed us that he can continue to work in ways that seem medically improbable.
It’s crazy when I stop to think that this whole journey began seven months ago when we were working on rearranging our basement to clean out a ton of junk and make a nice space for our 11-year-old to hang out. My husband was carrying an armload of big work manuals when he tripped and the books jammed into his shoulder.
During the last two weeks, I have spent most of my free time back in the basement working on that long-lost project. I have been clearing out junk, cleaning and painting. Last night, my husband joined me in the basement to help me put together some storage units as I FINALLY finished up the project.
For the first time in many months, he held a power tool in his right hand and helped me put together some shelves. It was something I had seen him do many, many times during our marriage. And yet this time it was so special.
We had come full circle. We could see life returning to how it used to be.
It’s been a long journey. But for the first time we could say it: The end is near.
… my husband’s would be in the Super Bowl.
I guess that’s the best way to sum up what we have learned the past four weeks about Capable Dad’s amazing superpower. His body works harder than the average person at trying to heal itself. His body forms scar tissue at an incredibly fast pace.
Now, this sounds like a great problem, right? In many cases, it probably would be. But when it comes to CD’s recovery from shoulder surgery, the goal is to break through the scar tissue as it forms so he can regain movement in his arm. Even a team of physical therapists, a very strong doctor, and a big stretching apparatus haven’t been powerful enough to conquer his scar tissue.
Capable Dad went in for his 10-week follow-up visit on Tuesday. It seems that each of his follow-up visits is a little more discouraging than the one before. At this one, we learned that he is part of a very small percentage of people who build up scar tissue thicker and faster than most. As a result, he has one motion that — even after faithfully stretching and pulling his arm three times a day and even after going to 2.5 hour PT sessions four times a week — is not coming back.
The doctor gave him three more cortisone shots and a warning that if he can’t regain his motion in four weeks, he will need a second surgery to go back in and cut out the scar tissue. We are closing in on the three-month mark since surgery day. Once he gets to the fourth month, the doctor says patients aren’t able to regain any more movement. At that point, the scar tissue has won. It forms a bond that is as strong as bone.
I’m going to be completely honest and tell you that the thought of a second surgery caused me to temporarily sink into a mini depression. OK, I know what’s true:
I know that God can intervene and help CD rip right through the blanket of scar tissue that is encapsulating the back of his shoulder.
I know that the doctor said this big, white, $2,000 contraption that CD straps on his body three times a day has had amazing results in other patients.
I know that the cortisone shots could help. I know the physical therapists can try new torture treatments.
I KNOW it’s possible to avoid a second surgery. And we’re praying like crazy that will happen.
But for about 12 hours, I felt like I was suffocating. It was the first time I felt hopeless about the situation. It was the first time I allowed myself to even consider he might not fully regain the motion he once had.
My mind started racing back through the sequence of events.
There was the initial surgery when the doctor said he was shocked to see how much scar tissue was already formed around my husband’s shoulder, basically creating a “frozen shoulder.” At the next visit, the doctor showed us the photos from inside my husband’s arm. He explained how he “aggressively” scraped out scar tissue, filed away the bone and “released the capsule” that surrounds his shoulder.
At the last visit, the doctor wasn’t happy about CD’s limited range of motion when it comes to pushing his arm downward. While he is doing great with lifting his arm up and backward, he hasn’t been able to push it all the way down. Imagine the motion you make when you throw a ball. It’s the follow-through motion at the end that he can’t complete.
Four weeks ago, the doctor increased his therapy sessions from three a week to four. He also prescribed the big white contraption in the photo that we lovingly refer to as a modern-day version of “the rack.” He slowly turns the cranks on the device to stretch his tendons and then hold them in that position for 30 minutes at a time.
During therapy, two and sometimes three therapists work together to try to push his arm down. One holds his shoulder in place to keep it from dislocating while the other two basically lay on his arm to try to push it to the table. It won’t move.
I think our whole family has accepted the “inconvenience” of Capable Dad’s inability to use his right arm. It’s been good for the kids to take on the duties of mowing the lawn, carrying out garbage and helping with lots of other chores. My husband would tell you that even his pain tolerance is so high now that what seemed unbearable a few months ago has now become an acceptable level of discomfort.
It’s become more personal for me.
I long for him to be able to help our son work on his pitching skills.
I am suddenly desperate to go on one of our family bike rides.
I can’t wait for him to be able to sweep up the toddler with both arms and spin her around in a big bear hug.
The doctor says a second surgery won’t be a major set back if it comes to that. He will resume therapy the same day and restart the race to regain movement before the scar tissue forms. But for me, it seems like we would be starting over. And that is not something my mind is ready to accept.
So, that’s the news. Thanks again for reading these updates. We truly appreciate everyone who has asked us how it’s going. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers!
CapableDad was almost ready for surgery. We had talked to nurses and the doctor’s assistant who reviewed his medical history, got his IV in place and recorded his blood pressure. All that was left was a visit from the anesthesiologist.
She was a female doctor who was probably close to 60. She explained to us that she was going to give CapableDad some pain medication in his IV and then she would insert a needle into his neck to administer a pain block to his right shoulder.
She rubbed her hand along the side of his neck to show us the area where she would insert the needle.
“Ohhhh, he has a niiiiiice neck,” she said with a big smile. She felt his neck again. “Yes. He has a very nice neck.”
She looked at me and laughed. “Oh, we’re all vampires,” she said jokingly.
After she left the room, my husband and I both cracked up. It seemed like her laugh was just a little too sinister. Could it be that she really WAS a vampire?
And if not, can you imagine a male doctor making the same remark about a female patient? I’m not sure my husband would have thought it was funny if the tables were turned.
After the surgery, CapableDad said he couldn’t remember a thing about having a needle injected in his neck. He couldn’t even remember counting to 10. He said the anesthesiologist told him to lie down on something like a bean bag chair and said, “This isn’t going to be very com…fort…a……”
And that was it.
I was in the waiting room by then, but I think I know the exact moment the needle went in. I felt a sudden pain in my back. It was the unmistakable pain right in the spot where my epidural went in for each of my four C-sections. Although I have felt that pain once in a while during the last 11 years since our first child was born, I haven’t felt it in more than a year.
I have had that pain in my back almost constantly since CapableDad’s surgery last Thursday. I’ve also been ridiculously tired. While his super-powered pain medication often gives him extra energy, it seems that with each pill he takes, my grogginess grows.
What was going on with my extreme exhaustion and this pain in the back? I looked on the Internet for answers, and that’s when I came up with one possible explanation.
It’s a scientific fact (studied by scientists and PROVEN by medical professionals) that when someone you love goes through an extremely painful situation, you can also feel their pain. It happens most often to a husband during his wife’s pregnancy. You’ve probably seen those guys who grow a gut as large as their wife’s pregnant belly? Sometimes they have fantom labor pains, too.
They even have a name for it. Couvade Syndrome. That must be it. I diagnosed myself with this medical condition. I would need to take frequent naps, eat extra chocolate and take hot baths. That would be my only hope for a cure.
But as I thought about it more, I realized there could be another possible cause.
My husband has been in so much pain that he’s only tried to take a shower one time. His shoulder is still covered in Sharpie marker where the doctor mapped out a diagram of his muscle structure on the outside of his arm. Just below that is the initial of the doctor and the anesthesiologist who both left their tattoos to make sure they operated on the correct side of his body.
Maybe she WAS a vampire after all. Or maybe it was voodoo. Was it just a coincidence that I felt that sharp pain at about the same moment she would have injected the needle in his neck? Could there be more to the fact I’ve been fighting illness and fatigue since we got home from the hospital?
I realized I needed to get rid of her markings.
I carefully took rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball and did my best to wipe away her initials still there in Sharpie marker.
My back is feeling better already.
Or maybe I just need a nap.
Today is Day 3 after Capable Dad’s surgery. We both woke up feeling worse for wear.
His shoulder is in immense pain. His back hurts from trying to sleep upright. His head is foggy from so much pain medication.
I woke up with a sore throat, runny nose and stuffed up head.
I also woke up so thankful for the people handling my Sunday morning responsibilities at church this morning. I looked at the clock and added an hour for the time change and realized there was no way we could have made it on time. I was so glad for the freedom to sleep this morning.
While I overslept, the boys were helping their dad fill up the ice machine that pumps freezing cold water into his ice pack. The 7-year-old has been busy all morning practicing her hand stand walk overs in the family room. And the 2-year-old runs around in circles singing a medley of her favorite songs: “Twinkle-star! Twinkle-star! I love Barney! I love Barney! Jesus Me!”
The most difficult part of yesterday was helping CapableDad do the physical therapy he is supposed to do at home before he goes back to his second torture session on Monday. We have a pulley system that hangs over the top of the door. He straps the injured arm to one handle and the goal is to pull it up to a 90-degree angle. He doesn’t move his arm at all the rest of the day, so the shock of doing this exercise is great.
He’s only supposed to do it for three minutes. We are both extremely relieved when he makes it that long. It’s really hard to watch him in so much pain as he slowly move his arm up and down again. But he’s a trouper and determined to do his exercises.
We learned at physical therapy that Day 7 is when the human body starts laying down scar tissue like crazy. Once in place, the scar tissue is as strong as bone, so it will be very difficult to regain movement if it settles. The goal is to get as much movement back as possible before the scar tissue forms.
After three minutes of physical therapy, we get the ice and pain killers ready. The physical and mental exhaustion set in, and he’s usually knocked out for a while.
Overall, we are so thankful. This week is supposed to include some 70-degree weather. We have been so blessed by people helping us out in every way. Thank you so much to everyone who has asked about us, brought a meal, sent a text or said a prayer. We appreciate it!