January 11, 2012 Notes: New Year’s Eve 2012: Our Auld Lang Syne, My Labrum
The ball dropped in Times Square, and that was the end of this very educational past year.
Holy cats, what a year it was.
The television screen showed confetti streaming onto the streets; people were embracing, kissing and dancing. But by 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day, none of that stuff (confetti, noise, dancing) was on my mind. I was already making plans for my first spring bike ride.
I put my coffee down on the coaster atop a nearby bureau, and blew into one of those expanding paper curlicue New year’s horn things. I took a pass on the noisemaker this year.
After a puff into the silent horn, I returned to conversation.
“Yes, D.C. is a great place to bicycle,” my friend Kathleen said. We gave one another the obligatory hug to ring in the year. Then all of us went around the room, hugging one another. Time stood still for a peaceful eternity that actually only lasted a few minutes.
On TV, people were gyrating, singing melodies that were certainly not music to my ears. I kept talking to Kathleen.
“So when do you get that sling off?” she asked. Kathleen was referring to a black Velcro monstrosity hung over my left shoulder and strapped around my torso. With a four-inch thick block wedged between my forearm and abdomen, my forearm jutted out from my chest. I looked like a blocking rugby player.
I’d been wearing the sling since three days before Thanksgiving, when I had rotator cuff surgery to reattach two tendons, suture the cartilage in my shoulder socket, and grind off a bone spur.
I told her that Epiphany (the real Christmas) was when I would be sling-free, but unable to bicycle until March. That’s okay, I guess.For me, a very active person, late March is an eternity away.
But on that night, it wasn’t the biking that was so much on my mind – It was the nylon-appearing thread and metal sutures that resided in my shoulder. It was my torn labrum that I was thinking of. Sharp pains reminded me of the nylon and metal residents in my upper arm.
And what is the labrum? Well, I can’t tell you much about it, except don’t tear it. I tore mine in two places.
A fibrocartilaginous entity, it lines the shoulder socket and serves as harbor and shock absorption site for the upper portion of the humerus, also sometimes referred to as the shoulder bone.
The labrum is like a washer, except washers don’t hurt when you tear them. I tore its upper region, in addition to its outer rim adjacent to my chest. The injuries were a SLAP lesion, and a Bankart’s Tear, respectively. Surgery, after a few postponements, was late last November.
My doctor was incredibly skilled, and quiet. His demeanor, at times, has been akin to that of Barry Bonds. But it wasn’t friendship I sought for my shoulder last autumn; it was surgical mastery.
While he showed me the MRIs in October to tell me of eminent surgery, I belched out a string of profanities in protest. He looked at me as though I were behaving like an indignant 15-year-old (which I was).
“Good luck,” he said, and walked out the door into the office hallway.
The first week (Thanksgiving) was a haze of sleep, Vicodin, pain, homemade Asian food from my house mates, Thanksgiving turkey and untied shoe laces. I don’t think I actually tied my shoes until the first week of December.
By day eight, I was off Vicodin and told my house mate upstairs to please place the vial in safe keeping, or the Potomac River. I didn’t mind all the sleeping, but I hated the god-awful slowness Vicodin afforded me.But the Vicodin got rid of the pain.
Imagine sandpaper, or two sheets of sharkskin rubbing in your upper arm, and screws holding the complex all together – that’s the post-operative condition of rotator cuff surgery.
I had a similar procedure in 2008 on the right shoulder, but this time around it was different, i.e., worse – because back then I didn’t tear any cartilage.
By day nine, I was watching DVDs again. A hardcore movie buff, Netflix can’t typically keep up with my film order cue. What I really wanted to do that first week was read; a movie was too demanding. And I wanted to sleep.
After the first week, I started physical therapy. And that will probably continue another two months; it’s a long road I we take to build up the muscles and strengthen their new anchor sites after surgery.
It was a blessing to make a trip to my hometown of St Louis. I was showered with gifts, food, and love.
But, perhaps the best gift I got this Christmas was from my brother. He is a very wise, accomplished man. He plays it safe. A large-animal veterinarian, he works alongside angry bulls, steers, and cows in dirty stalls. He gets hurt, but not as bad as I do. He knows when to walk away from the ledge. Now, I am finally ready to follow suit.
He shook my hand and hugged me with his Mark McGwire-sized arms as we said goodbye. “Be safe,” he told me.And that was our parting Christmas farewell.
I don’t go for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m gonna give up rockclimbing for this year, and this life. I think I’ll follow my brother’s advice this year. This is my four-leaf clover.
Happy New year, to all of us.