Blog Entries

Surgery and Vulnerability

I probably should let everyone know how I’m doing.  I had surgery on September 3, when it was discovered I had a “massive” tear in my right rotator cuff (see my previous post for more info on what THAT is… ugh)  My husband had this done 6 years ago, so he knew I was in for a long haul.  His job required using his rotator cuff for heavy lifting, and it was four months before he could go back to work. It is these kinds of events that cause reflection on one’s life, and test marriages.  I’m not writing about “wellness” today, but instead about emotional wellness, and being vulnerable.

So the lowdown is I’m fine, had a MASSIVE tear. (Imagine my surprise when my actual operative consent read “Repair of Massive Right Rotator Cuff Tear”).  Oh yippee, I’ll sign up for this!  Part of my brain was screaming, “Leave, Run! This is gonna really hurt! Danger Will Robinson, Danger!”  If I had really known what the loss of my right hand for a month would do….  well, I mighta run out.  But, it’s all worth it to get my strength back.  And, as I will share, I learned some life lessons in the process.

So, if you are a woman, and you lose your dominant hand, this is what it means (although much would also apply to a man):

  1. You eat left handed.  Try eating an entire meal with your left hand, sitting on your right hand.  It isn’t fun.  Can you say “have your husband cut up your meat?”
  2. You cannot put your hair up in a rubber band.  I might have pulled that off if I’d been able to use only my right, but my left?  No way.
  3. You cannot pull up undies easily.  I wish I could wear thongs, but let’s just not go there.
  4. You cannot zip up jeans.  How to accessorize sweats?  Not a pretty sight.  At 3½ weeks when I got a zipper up on my jeans, I felt like I’d learned a new language.  Party time.
  5. You cannot put on makeup with your left hand, unless you are left handed.
  6. You cannot easily take out contacts.  Putting them back in left handed is even harder, and getting them out requires (the way I do it) two hands.  Ok, sweats go really well with my glasses and no makeup.  What a glamor puss.
  7. You cannot put deodorant on with one hand.  The operative arm is even hard to reach with the good hand.  ‘Nuff said. Thank God for helpers.
  8. You cannot put a zipper together (like on a hoodie) without two hands.  Ok, I’ll wear it open.
  9. You cannot, in the first two weeks, get dressed by yourself, or undressed by yourself.  UGH.  And the bad arm has to go in first.  Tight shirts are off limits, even now, at 6 weeks.  If you go looking for a new dress for an event, your husband has to go into the fitting room with you.  This creates quite a stir, but the salesladies, seeing my sling, were quite sympathetic.
  10. You cannot drive easily.  Yes, I can drive, but it is harder. And I go much slower, and long trips are simply off limits.
  11. Finally, and for me, the big one:  YOU CANNOT USE A CURLING IRON, OR WIND A HOT ROLLER.  Oh great.  My bangs are either going to poke me for a month in my eye, or Steve has to learn how to curl them.  More on that later.

So, you’ve lost the ability to wear what you want, or change when you get warm/cold unless your helpers are around.  The sling’s velcro eats your new sweater.  You have a love-hate relationship with the sling.  I alternately want to put it on or throw it across the room.  Total dependence on someone else.  In this case it is my partner, my husband.  And here’s what I learned about myself and my marriage:

Being vulnerable is concurrently hard and rewarding.  And I am very good at being self sufficient. Being totally dependent on someone to help you eat, pull up your pants, get you undressed at night, dressed again in the morning, cut your food, comb your hair and take care of you is humbling.  And, as someone who’s never been satisfied with my body, and did a lot of self hatred talk, it was difficult to surrender so much privacy, even though let’s admit it, after 38 years the guy knows what I look like!

And what I saw was his ability to totally take care of me both emotionally and physically.  Fill my ice machine four times a day, do all the laundry, fold it, bring it up, do ALL the cooking, (and follow, by his choice, all my food plan limits and quirks), dishwasher loading and emptying, help me get situated in bed at night, (which was like a scene out of Downton Abbey:  three pillows to prop me up, one to the left so I didn’t fall over, one to the right to hold up my bad arm, and one under my knees so I didn’t slide).  Ok, repeat that 3 times/night for the first two weeks any time I had to pee at night or take a pain pill.  That is LOVE.  Telling me he understood how much it hurt.  Anticipating my needs.  I didn’t have to ask, because he asked before I needed it!  And he told me it was ok for me to be helpless and non-productive.

But, I didn’t know the extent he’d go to to show me.  This guy learned to use the curling iron.  Yes, he did my hair.  Now, I admit, this is a skill.  But, he uses his hands at his job and when he creates art, so I had hope.  But, after the first hairdo looked like I was waiting for a Screamo band to start banging heads with me, I wasn’t sure.  No, you cannot start rolling the hair until you get ALL of it in the iron going the right way.  Even my girl friends who came and helped had a few do-overs. Last weekend we had our first trip since the surgery.  For my 40th High School Reunion.  He did my hair, not once, but four times that weekend.  And it looked good!  (I combed it with my left hand, there are limits….)

I’m not writing this to brag about how great he is, but instead to point out that Love shows up in the strangest places.  And it has been so comforting to be cared for.  I was watching one of my favorite authors Brene Brown on TV this week, and she had a great quote:

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”


“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

So Steven, know I am totally connected to you.  And thank you to my friends who have curled my hair, brought me food, driven me to PT, sent cards, flowers or visited.  You know who you are, and I am connected to all of you too.  And in the end, connection is all we want.  In the end it’s all that matters.

Reading: Dr. Brene Brown is a best selling author and researcher.  Read more about her here.

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I'm a 18 year breast cancer survivor, RN, certified functional medicine health coach, graphic designer, wife, mother and grandmother. This blog is my story, and the result of a difficult and complicated struggle to regain my health. I hope by sharing my story and what I've learned, I can help others thrive the way I have been able to. Thanks for visiting.