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Nursing School on Steroids – Part Two: Right Shoulder Surgery

Posted Feb 01 2010 6:05pm

The first semester of nursing school was over and rather than vacation somewhere or work, I was getting ready for right shoulder surgery. I had learned from others experienced with shoulder surgeries that there were many things my doctor hadn’t told me.

First, the pain after shoulder surgery is so severe that you can’t lie down – for weeks. The best idea would be to have an adjustable hospital bed waiting for you at home after surgery. If that isn’t an option, the second most popular suggestion was to have a comfortable recliner available in which to spend the next 3-6 weeks.

The problem was that my recliner at home had the lever on the right side – the side in which my arm would be unusable. I thought a great idea would be to purchase an electric recliner in which I could just push a button to go up and down. Have you ever priced these things? They are about twice the cost of a non-electric recliner, and half as comfortable. The seat feels like a piece of heavy cloth was stapled over a concrete slab. Well, I found a good deal on one and bought it anyways with a plan to put lots of foam and pillows on it.

Another thing I wasn’t warned about was that my right arm, my dominant arm, would be totally good for nothing. This meant that anything I did with my right hand, I mean ANYTHING, would have to be done with my left. You may think that is not a big deal unless you try putting your dominant hand behind your back, and do everything with the other hand, such as: Brushing your teeth, putting deodorant on, styling your hair, putting your clothes on, and going to the bathroom, etc. Another problem would be the inability to successfully take a shower. Plastic protective covering can now be purchased in drug stores to keep body parts dry, but in 2004 such things didn’t exist. You had to make do with sponge baths, or cover the whole side of your body with plastic wrap and hope for the best.

So the date of my surgery finally came around and I took my regular dose of prednisone with an allowed “one swallow of water” and checked in. It had never occurred to me to tell my endocrinologist about the surgery, after all, why would I? What did shoulder surgery have to do with Cushing’s disease? I was about to get another hard lesson on the intricacies of glandular disorders.

After the surgery I learned that half-way into being cut into, my blood pressure had bottomed out and surgery was halted. The fast drop in blood pressure would warrant the anesthesiologist to administer an injection of 100 mg. of Solu-Cortef, an injectable high-dose version of steroid similar to the prednisone I took daily. The stress of the surgery had been too much for my adrenal glands to handle. However, after the steroid kicked in, surgery was resumed. I later woke up nicely in the recovery room.

Once home, I was real happy to have my recliner awaiting me, all fluffed up with cushions and pillows. It took less than a week to get sick of sleeping in a recliner, but the alternative was impossible. The surgery and postop pain had also caused a setback in my prednisone withdrawal, and I actually had to slightly increase my daily dose. At my three-week postop appointment, I was allowed to shower without a sling and given a couple of pages of exercises and diagrams, but no physical rehabilitation was ordered. This would not serve me well later. The surgery would also leave me with a permanent itch in the spot where the anesthesiologist had injected a pain block. (For years I have talked to doctors about this, and attempts to cure this condition have proven unsuccessful).

Four weeks later, with Christmas break ending and still slightly in pain, I resumed classes as the second semester of nursing school began.

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