My first surgery since childhood: left rotator cuff tendon repair

Over the past year or so, I’ve been getting shoulder problems, and it got to the stage where I got referred to a specialist, who, having taken an MRI scan, recommended arthroscopic (keyhole) rotator cuff repair surgery. Having had the options explained, I agreed, with some trepidation.

How I caused the injury was related to a major improvement in my health; having lost 26kg by Intermittent Fasting, I bought a weight vest, and loaded it to take me up to my old weight (for doing squats and pull-ups); it was practising hefting it up to get it over my shoulders that probably caused the tear, and learning gun disarms in Krav Maga brought it to the level where I asked for referral to a specialist (the gross movement of a gun disarm is like a punch, although at an unfamiliar angle, and with nothing to absorb the energy at the end of the travel). However, the consultant said it’s general ageing-related wear and tear, and if it hadn’t gone then, it would have gone soon anyway. Apparently 50% of people of age 50 (e.g. me) have at least one shoulder tendon tear, 60% of people aged 60, and so on.

The previous time I had anything done under general anaesthetic was when I had a blocked lung lobe when I was about 9, and it wasn’t pleasant, as back then bronchoscopes were rigid tubes that they manoeuvred down your throat and into the appropriate branch of the bronchi; I had a very rough throat after that. (Modern bronchoscopes are flexible, although rigid ones are still used for retrieving obstructions.) It did get me written into a research paper, as one of the first five children they’d found to have a lung blocked with something other than a peanut; mine was blocked with phlegm following bronchitis.

So, I didn’t feel keen on the idea, but it clearly made sense, from the logical point of view, and so I signed the consent form, and they induced the anaesthesia while still asking whether I wanted the nerve block to be administered before or after the anaesthetic. (They clearly reckoned “after” was the sensible choice, and perhaps the insensible one too, as that’s how I was by then.)

I don’t really remember the recovery room (I guess the amnesia-inducing parts of the medication were working) and my shoulder was pretty sore as the nerve block wore off, but I had just enough painkillers. The procedure took a bit longer than planned, but when he did his ward round afterwards, the surgeon told me I should only need the sling for four weeks (it could have been up to six weeks). I was kept in overnight, and given vancomycin intravenously (which seems to be largely a precaution against MRSA) — I looked it up, and it seems it’s quite caustic, hence injecting it slowly; a doctor friend described it as “intravenous [bleach brand name]”!

Now, a bit over a week later, I’m pretty much off the painkillers, and doing the physiotherapy exercises that are an inherent part of the treatment. I should expect to be able to return to work around four weeks after the surgery; I suspect that car gearchanges may take longer, but I should probably be able to ride the recumbent (trike) pretty much one-handedly; fortunately, the main gearchange and two of the three brakes of the trike are on my un-operated side. I suspect locking the trike one-handedly may be harder than riding it that way.


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