At the start of almost every dance class I teach, I ask my students a question of the day. One of these days, the question was what is the worst injury you've had? The answers were typical for kids; sprained ankles, broken arms, etc.
To this day, I have never broken a bone, but my students (especially the younger ones) were always impressed that I have had surgery.
I was 15 when I had my first surgery; a tonsillectomy. After that came wisdom teeth, and then surgery to remove my stuck kidney stones (super fun). At 23, I had the surgery that I thought was going to greatly improve my life.
The Build Up
Since I was about 16, I had constant shoulder pain on my right side. This pain would get worse with dance and lifting, but I always just pushed through it. Throughout college, the pain continued to get worse, and I forced my pain tolerance to just increase with it. It wasn't until I literally could not lift my arm without shooting pain that I made myself go to the doctor (at this point in life, I had already been written off so many times, that I had a hard time believing a doctor would listen).
Though I do not advise it, I enlisted doctor Google and concluded that I thought I had torn my rotator cuff. I went to a doctor on campus, and he did different strength tests to see if my self-diagnosis made sense. As he pushed on my arms and told me to resist, I internally winced and fought through the shooting pain. After just a little time he said,
Well I'm sure your rotator cuff isn't torn because you would have been in a lot more pain. When I do these tests on people who's are torn, they want to punch me in the face.
Little did he know, how badly I wanted to do that. But I was naive, and assumed whatever a doctor told me had to be right. I left the office with the diagnosis of "probably just some tendonitis...rest and ice".
I included this picture so that you can see how clearly my right shoulder was atrophying. It lost muscle, and sunk much lower than my left.
College continued, as well as the pain, so I just bit my tongue and continued on. I never stopped dancing or teaching.
After I graduated, I started teaching full-time. I had been dancing 15+ hours since high school, but teaching this much was a whole new ball park.
Only a few months into teaching full time, my left shoulder started to have pain that was too familiar. My initial thought was to ignore it, but then something in me realized if I were to solve the issue earlier on, maybe I could stop the pain from getting as bad as my right side.
Off to the doctor I went. This orthopedist was the first to try cortisone on me, and after that didn't work, she sent me to Physical Therapy. As mentioned in my The Trials and Errors (With Mostly Errors) post, I have both hated and loved PT. This was one of the times that I absolutely loathed it. I paid a $40 copay to be seen for 20-30 minutes, be told to push through the pain, and never felt heard. After 6 months I went back to the orthopedist, who referred me to a surgeon.
By this time my right shoulder became the focus because it had continued to progressively worsen. I finally was given my first MRI.
The results showed:
1. Mild supraspinatus tendinosis without tear.
2. Focal subacromial spur compressing subjacent rotator cuff with
reactive subacromial/subdeltoid bursitis.
AKA no rotator cuff tear🤷🏼♀️
The surgeon was confident that my pain was due to the bone spur causing an impingement every time I lifted my arm.
His plan was to do arthroscopic surgery and shave the bone spur, remove the bursa, and clean up the tendons.
I have a clear memory of him saying, "After this surgery you will feel 120% better."
The surgery was March 1, 2019. As I lay in the pre-op hospital bed, arm numb from the nerve block, anxiously waiting to be rolled back to the operating room, my doctor comes to check in and initial my shoulder (I think to make sure they fix the correct one?). He said,
Alright, remember there is a small chance that I will find a tear, but we will only repair it if it's more than 50%. So if you wake up in a small sling; everything went as planned. If you wake up in a big sling; we found a tear. But I am confident you don't have one.
Tangent: I have always been very unaffected by surgery and anesthesia. I remember everything until the moment they put me to sleep, and everything from the moment I wake up. My dad has even tested this and tried to have me remember a song before surgery, and see if I remember after (and I do!).
After the Surgery
I opened my groggy eyes and immediately looked down. A big sling. One of the nurses say, "looks like you did end up having a tear." The nurses in post-op were the best. I remember telling them I was a dance teacher and getting them all to dance. Anesthesia side affects or just Sami being Sami... who can tell?
A 60% tear. The MRI missed it. And my surgeon almost did too. He said he was about to close, and did one last look around the joint and found it. I was so sad because this meant I had a much longer recovery, but so happy that this had to be the answer to my pain. In 6 months I would be able to dance pain-free.
One of my favorite quotes was from the surgeon's assistant who I had my follow-up appointment with. She told me everybody was so surprised by the tear and that my surgeon couldn't understand how I was dancing. "I don't know if it's a good thing to surprise your surgeon, but you sure did."
The surgery was follow up by more PT (which again I hated), 6 weeks in my big sling, two weeks in my little sling, and then just slow progression. I was so excited because I was processing quicker than average, which to me meant getting back to dance sooner.
The 6 months passed and I was still in pain. 7 months, 8 months... 1 year.... till now... and still in pain. I will say for a very short amount of time the pain was a bit better. I didn't have shooting pain as often. Now, it's back just as much.
Nothing is a guarantee fix. My journey is very much a trial and error. I had this surgery before I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos. Recently, I've had doctors tell me that they can't believe that doctor did surgery on me knowing that I had hypermobile joints. As I've been told, surgeons like to cut.
If given two options, I will always take the non-surgery route; especially since my last experience. HOWEVER, I will be having surgery in just two months. This surgery will be on my right forearm/hand, performed by the "EDS Guru" as my doctor puts him, and is very minimal compared to what I had done to my shoulder. Closer to the date I'll write more about it, but till now just crossing my fingers that I will have a positive result.
Be Brave. Stay Kind. Much Love.