Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Adventures in ambidexterity

“You may have torn your rotator cuff,” my doctor said.

Um. No. Not possible. That sort of thing happens to people who are athletic and do sporty stuff. I am not athletic. I am the antithesis of athletic. I am 48 years old and have never had anything that even remotely resembled a sports injury. While my friends were jamming their fingers playing basketball and spraining their ankles running track, I was in the library getting paper cuts.

But the fact remained that I had done Something Bad to my right arm. It hurt from elbow to shoulder to the point of being dysfunctional.

So I went to the doctor.

Actually, I did not go to the doctor because of my arm. I went to the doctor for my annual well woman exam. That’s what they call it now. Since my surgery last September pretty much eliminated the standard operating procedure of these exams, I was curious to see what it would involve now. (That is material for another post.) When my doctor asked me that critical question, “Is there anything you’re having trouble with?” I jumped at the chance to get the conversation away from my nether regions.

“I know this isn’t what I’m here for,” I blurted, “but my arm really hurts.”

If you ever ask your gynecologist to look at your arm, well, you probably deserve the look you get.

Dr. R. is a nice man. An amazingly nice man. An amazingly patient man. He made the transfer from my hoo-ha to my arm without missing a beat. Worked for me. My hoo-ha was just fine. My arm was not.

After pulling, pushing, twisting and asking “Does this hurt?” about a dozen times, he pronounced that he really had no idea what was wrong with it but I was exhibiting the classic symptoms of a torn rotator cuff and he would be happy to refer me to an orthopedist who would schedule an MRI and then discuss surgical options.

If I hadn’t been naked under that stupid little gown I might have run screaming out of the office and right down 1st Avenue.

I’m seven months out from last fall’s surgery. I have never felt better in my life, arm not withstanding. I have Important Things To Do this year. Rotator cuff surgery is not on my to-do list for 2014. It’s not on my to-do list for any year. Ever.

I must have looked completely terrified because Dr. R. quickly said, “Or you can go home and take anti-inflammatories and ice it and see if it gets better.”

I chose Door #2.

The day of that appointment and the two days afterward were the peak of the pain. Thankfully, it has gotten much better. I have eaten most of a bottle of ibuprofen and can now add  “Driving with ice pack on shoulder” to my resumé of odd skills, along with cooking bacon and eggs in a paper sack over a campfire and keeping contestants in a county fair 4-H dog show from killing each other.

I am right handed so I decided to become a leftie for awhile to take the pressure off my right arm. Well, that and I couldn't use my right arm for much of anything anyway. This was not as simple as it might sound. Straight forward in theory. Not so much in practice.

Ever try to brush your teeth left handed? It’s even worse to watch yourself in the mirror trying to brush your teeth left handed. Nothing seems to move in the appropriate direction and the harder you try, the worse it gets. Toothpaste goes everywhere, including up your nose. Comb your hair left handed. Better yet, try blow-drying your hair left handed. My hair was distinctly tousled for a few days. And not in that sexy, windblown, beach goddess way. More like a rabid weasel fell out of a tree and made a nest in it.

Getting dressed was a whole new experience in frustration. Try getting dressed without using your dominant hand at all. This includes putting on “small clothes” with only one hand. At one point, I thought, “I am not going to work today because I can’t get my clothes on.” Then I thought, “I am going to have to call The Farmer and have him help me get dressed.” Then I thought, “I am not going to work today because I can’t get my clothes on.”

In the end, I managed to get dressed all by myself like a big girl. A button-down shirt might have been a wiser choice from the initial ease of getting dressed standpoint but then there was the whole follow-up buttoning thing. I settled for a baggy sweatshirt that could be hauled on with a minimum of resistance from my arm.

For a week, I drove left-handed, "moused" left-handed, drank left-handed and ate left-handed. I got pretty good at left-handed computer work but if this had gone on much longer, I would have dropped some serious poundage. Manipulating a fork with my left hand was nearly as bad as the toothbrush scenario and getting containers open with one hand nearly negated the whole eating process.

By last weekend, I had regained enough range of motion that I could show Phoenix in Utility without looking totally impaired. By some stroke of genius I had not entered Open (group stay demons have reared their ugly head again) because I am pretty sure I could not have thrown a dumbbell more than two feet with my right hand and throwing it left handed . . . well . . . I tried that in training. There’s a learning curve. Yeah. Clocking my dog on the head with his dumbbell is not going to fix any of our problems.

So what was wrong with my arm?

Apparently, it found most of April to be disagreeable. The  month started with the mistake of being one of a small handful of women who showed up to set up for my club’s obedience trial. Yep, four fully-matted rings and all the subsequent gating, multiple sets of jumps and all the miscellany that had to be unloaded, carried, hauled, toted, moved, unrolled, adjusted and tweaked. This was followed by multiple sessions of garage un-cluttering, yard raking, flower bed cleaning and miscellaneous garden prep. After two weeks of such abuse, my arm revolted.

There you have it. If you needed confirmation that I am a genuine weenie, I suspect this is it.


  1. I so feel your pain, literally. I have calcium deposits in both shoulders, and when the right one is upset it's like I can't do ANYTHING.

  2. Any possibility it might be bursitis? You could go to the orthopedic doctor and get an xray. I had a MRI on my knee a couple years ago. It is expensive! Showed I have arthritis. Knew that. Xray I had two days ago shows I still have arthritis in both knees. :-). I get cortizone shots once or twice a year and they keep me going. Maybe yours is easier to fix than you're thinking. Fingers crossed!!

  3. I do all those things with my left hand! ;)

  4. That was a close one! Your doctor is a true professional. Even though it may have been awkward for him to test on your arm, he was able to come up with a diagnosis and even give proper medication. Even if you can't remember doing anything strenous that could've merited a torn rotator cuff, laying low on your right arm usage was a correct choice.

    Penelop Bonnet @ US HealthWorks