PDA | Love in the Time of Shoulder Surgery

To the general reader: I am really not sure how to begin to tell you how lucky I am. So I’ll start by telling you about a bit of bad luck.

January 30th, 2012
I’m not wise beyond my years, but I’m certainly old beyond my years. When my shoulder pain hit a level where rest and cortisone shots weren’t helping, it was time to investigate further. Hearing doctor after doctor say things like “How did something like this happen to you” or “We usually don’t see this in patients under 50” kinda sucks. Perhaps the doctors thought they could alleviate my physical pain by focusing on psychological torture? If so, very innovative. Kudos.

On Monday, January 30th I went in for surgery on my right shoulder, my dominant hand. Orthopedists have told me this is one of the most painful procedures they perform, not because of the surgery itself, but because of the recovery:

  • In a sling for 4-6 weeks
  • Not able to be on a treadmill/elliptical for 6-8 weeks
  • Full strength at 6 months
  • PT 3x a week all the way through

This was going to require commitment. As I learned, the real commitment was not going to come from me.

Little/Big Things
What is love? Does it ever peak? Does it morph and transform? Is it like an old, favorite book? One that is beautiful at first because of its substance, but grows more beautiful over time because of everything else? Because it’s been your favorite for so long? Because the lines and creases give it character that’s uniquely yours? Because the words haven’t changed, but what they mean has changed with you?

I don’t know how to define it. I’m 36. Cut me a break.

I don’t know how to define it but I have borne witness to it, delivered fully, placed at my feet, swaddling me through the past few weeks—all at the hands of my amazing and extraordinary wife.

This story needs no embellishment, no creative license, no artistic flair. It merely needs accurate and honest context, and documentation of facts.

First, it is important for you to know about my wife’s work life. She is an investment banker. Except for the two weeks we were traveling through India and the UAE, from before Thanksgiving through this very week, she has worked 100+ hours a week. That’s at least 15 hours a day, 7-days a week. We expect it to continue. Awesome.

Next, you need to understand my circumstances post-surgery. Imagine what you’d do with the temporary loss of your dominant hand. I tried to simulate the experience before my surgery so I could troubleshoot what I may need to have in order to exist post-surgery. I failed because I overestimated my abilities and underestimated my limitations.

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things she did for me…in the first 24 hours:

She did these while taking work calls and lugging around her laptop looking for hotspots. These are some of the little/big things she did. Little for her because she thinks nothing of it. Big for me because without them I would have been, in-order: blind, hurt, disconnected, and naked.

My Guardian Angel
I never really thought about the phrase “Guardian Angel” before. I thought of the term “Dark Angel” before, but mostly because it is how the world met Jessica Alba. But “Guardian Angel”, what an apropos term for my wife. She’s both my “guardian”, someone who has protected me and cared for me through my recovery, and my “angel”, a benevolent, attending spirit.

As I’ve watched my wife care for me with grace, sincerity, and such instinct and intuition, I am infinitely proud and happy to share that more than once she has moved me to tears.

….She refused to sleep in our bed. I have to sleep on a recliner to protect my shoulder. So she slept on the couch next to me. Every time I shifted in my seat, adjusted my strap, coughed…my wife’s upper body would pop-up from the pillow and a feathery, luminous, graceful voice would elevate slightly higher “Hi Baby”. She acknowledged me and supported me in the way I prefer to be supported. Every. Single. Time.

….She insists on taking me to Physical Therapy. So we wake up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:30 am so she can drive me to PT, sit with me there for 90 minutes, drive me back home, get ready for work, and then head out the door as soon as she possibly can. In the beginning, when I was taking meds, she would wake up earlier and make me some sort of breakfast so my stomach could, well, stomach the meds.

….She makes me presentable. I couldn’t think of a way to say it better. She showers me. She gets my toothbrush ready. She has to put on my deodorant. She has to dress me since I still have a wicked hard time even getting a T-shirt on. She has to do this at 5:30 when we head to PT, and then again before she leaves for work. In the midst of getting herself ready, she has me to take care of as well.

….She smiles the entire time. If you’re reading this you know my wife, and if you know my wife you know her smile. Whether 2am for a Percocet fix (usually accompanied by some food or beverage as outlined above), 7am while she’s watching me struggle through lifting my shoulder, Noon, whenever possible, when she tries to bring me lunch…whenever, whatever, however…she smiles. Even when her eyes have been open for an unreasonable streak of consecutive hours…her face smiles at me.

She makes me feel, every single day, that everything is going to be ok. And you know what, it is. My life is so very much better than ok. Because of her.

Luck Be My Lady
It’s been a tough couple of weeks purely related to my ability to function, day-to-day, independently. I’ve never experienced it before. Yet over that same period, I saw the most beautiful and amazing woman in the world taking care of me in a way I did not think was possible. In return, and surprising to me, I found myself willing to give in completely.

We all take our mom’s and sister’s for granted because they have always been there, they have always done for us, and they are our family—they are us, they did not choose us. With my wife, however, it is something different. On June 1st 2010 we finished navigating years of living, masses of people, expanses of land, millions of experiences … and we picked each other, forever.

There’s no self-deprecating comment for me to make here. She chose me, she loves me, and because of her choice I feel like the luckiest man alive (“feel like”, lest I diminish the sentiments of others who are lucky enough to feel the same.)

Priya, you are extraordinary.

9:40am(-ish), 2/1/2012
You were exhausted. You had worked late the night before. You had no sleep that night. You woke up at 5:45am to wake me up at 6am so you could feed me, dress me, medicate me before we got on the road at 6:45am for my first PT appointment. You also had a critical 10am meeting you needed to get into the office for.

I, of course, slept through the night.

You got everything ready. You helped me undress. You bathed me, taking extra care to avoid all the gadgets, drips, bandages, and wounds on my neck and shoulder. You dressed me. You did all of the same for yourself, alternating fluidly between me and you, you and me.

You might remember what happened next, you might not. I do. I watched it all with wonder.

You had just spent about a minute helping me put a T-shirt on. A full minute. You then watched me put my sling on. Trying to pull one loop over my head, strap the other around my waist, and make sure the padding attached to my sling that is used to keep my forearm straight hadn’t decided to go rogue. You knew I wanted to do this myself, I felt like I had to do this myself. So you stood right by me with your hand on my other shoulder, just encouraging.

Time.
Ticking.
Away.

I made it work and you patiently supported me through, even though my efforts led to a 2-inch velcro driven scratch down the middle of my forehead (it’s finally disappearing). After I put the sling on, I turned to you…

…and I broke down for a moment in your arms.

I broke down because you were shouldering our burdens—not just yours, and not just mine, but ours. You were doing all of the work. You were meeting me all-the-way. You were my wife, my nurse, my cook, my therapist, my eyes, my hands; you were literally my everything and you made me realize how lucky I was to have someone to lean on so fully and completely.

Tuesdays
Have you read Tuesdays with Morrie? I have, and I thought it was great. I’m not sure how many people one meets in heaven. And I remember rooting against the Fab Five when I was growing up. But in “Tuesday’s with Morrie”, Mitch Albom wrote a simple, emotional, beautiful book. I’m pretty sure most of the people in my life read it because Oprah told them to. I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

I read TwM years ago, when I was even less of an adult and less of a man. My reflections and memories of the book are now a random snippet of still shots, words and phrases, and even self-produced video clips based on the images and senses conjured by the words on paper. Of those memories, the single most powerful revolves around this quote:

“Take my condition. The things I am supposed to be embarrassed about now — not being able to walk, not being able to wipe my ass, waking up some mornings wanting to cry — there is nothing innately embarrassing about them. It’s the same for women not being thin enough, or men not being rich enough. It’s just what our culture would have you believe. Don’t believe it.”

Let me explain. For all intents and purposes I am fully capable of wiping my own backside. As some members of Fuqua’s Class of 2006 can attest, I am also the only person who has ever done this (entertaining story). But this quote resonated with me because it reminded me of my Ba (paternal grandmother), who lived with us for 17+ years, fully bedridden.

I read TwM a few years after my Ba had passed. TwM was anchored in my memory of her, her condition, her experience. Morrie was my Ba. TwM triggered sympathetic emotions because of this association, and my relationship with this book has continued as such for most of the past decade. I viewed Morrie’s lack of embarrassment as a concession, something he had to do because he had no other choice. I thought it was an amazing man simply finding a way to deal.

A couple of weeks ago, things changed.

Thank You
I’ve reflected on Morrie’s quote over the past few weeks and find myself relating to his words in a very new way. There were so many moments when you were doing all of the little things for me, where I felt like an absolute child. I was completely in your hands.

And the entire thing felt completely natural. Utterly comfortable. The furthest thing from embarrassment. With each new thing that I could not do and that I needed you to do for me, I realized that I was luckier than even I had imagined on our wedding day. I had found that person who would shield me from pain, doubt, and embarrassment for the rest of our lives together. In you, I found the contentment that Morrie discussed in his final days.

Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Birthday, Baby. But more importantly, thank you. Thank you for helping me feel capable at my weakest, privileged at my neediest, and loved all the way through.

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