Please hope me with post-shoulder surgery hacks
August 3, 2017 11:51 AM   Subscribe

I will be helping a person with general self-care after they have extensive shoulder surgery (basically a rebuild, with bone grafting). We have meds, the ice machine - all that stuff for when we get her home after outpatient surgery. I'm looking for tips on how to make the next few days more comfortable. Any pillow-propping tricks? Good sleeping positions? Sweatpants so getting pants on and off is easier? Things that I wouldn't think of, but that you found helpful? Thank you!
posted by Ink-stained wretch to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
My partner found that a front-clasp bra was a godsend after abdominal surgery that made putting her arms above her head painful. If your person is a bra-wearer, I highly recommend it.
posted by coppermoss at 12:10 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Both my parents have had rotator cuff surgery (not as extensive as your friend though). Get some oversized button down men's shirts...big enough to fit over the brace/sling they will certainly have. That was the easiest thing to cover the upper body without having to figure out how to get a shirt around that arm, which won't be happening the first few days anyways.

They both spent a lot of time in the recliner because laying flat was hard the first week and they could nap whenever they wanted to. Put a side table on their non surgical side so they can use their good arm to reach their drink, food, etc. Also, food that can be eaten with one hand was good (soup after surgery if needed, in a mug. My dad got sick with the anesthesia and soup was easy going down AND up until his stomach settled).

A handheld shower thing was a GODSEND. Both were able to spray water where they wanted it with one hand and it made showering easier. Also we had to wash my mom's hair for her so it helped with that too.

Think about how they will get up from the toilet (no, seriously). Is the cabinet on their non surgery side so they can use their good arm to push up with? Would some type of cane or sturdy chair or something placed strategically help? Balance will be off for a few days anyways and they won't be able to lift or move their arm to help balance themselves so before they get up and walk around as normal they need to kinda think about their path so they can catch themselves (dad could go on the right side of the kitchen island but not the left, for example).

Pull on pants were the easiest thing to wear. Comfy, non binding, and can be easily pulled up with or without help. After their followup appointment they will get directions on what they can and cannot do with that arm (dad could let it hang without the sling and could use his wrist to help move things but couldn't use shoulder muscles; mom was more immobile for a longer time but was on a passive exercise machine after the first week) so that helped. We also got into a routine that worked for us, although it was quite frustrating. Both got pretty depressed for a bit, convinced their arm was forever paralyzed because they couldn't move it so we had to be patient and encouraging. Expect some tears of frustration when they try to do something that used to be second nature to them, but it's OK. Remind them that all those muscles will heal and get stronger and they won't be helpless forever!

Best of luck to you and your friend! Memail me if you need to vent or have more questions!
posted by MultiFaceted at 12:33 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ice packs. Bags of frozen peas work well and can be re-frozen and reused, just don't re-freeze and then eat. A bell to summon you when you are out of the room and there's a problem. Netflix and other streaming media and a radio.
posted by theora55 at 12:33 PM on August 3, 2017

On bathroom needs - is the shoulder connected to their wiping or non wiping hand? Do they usually brace with one arm while they wipe? Will you need to help, either with balance or wiping?

I was recently hospitalized, with an IV going in right above my right armpit and absolutely miserable balance. I'm a fall risk, too, so I not only had to have someone help me to the bedside commode, I also had to have them wipe for me. I started joking after day 5 that I'd lost track of how many people had seen my @$$. But then, that's how I handle things: with jokes.

Are you or your person going to be embarrassed? Would one of the reaching sticks that both older and more obese people use be of any help? Or will it just have to be "suck it up" time for the both of you? If that's the case, just be matter of fact about it. If you think it would help, find a copy of the book Everybody Poops (no, seriously) to give them ahead of times; it could help knock out some of the embarrassment.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 1:29 PM on August 3, 2017

I had a severe injury and recovered well. This is how I handled the first month.

1. I slept on a big stuffed couch, with pillows at my back, my shoulder on the inside of the couch. With the ice water circulation shoulder cuff.

2. I used a lap top in my lap, with a platform with an extra fan, to prevent over heating. I watched all of Deadwood, Firefly, Star Trek, etc. A friend gave me a bunch of things to watch.

3. I had no help, triple rotator repair, and head of bicep repair, all completely torn off. I still made it.

4. Pain management. Percocet, taken thusly, for the first week or so. I had 50, used 32, flushed 18. But I percocet, 1/2 hour later 1 percocet. 4 hours later 1 percocet, 4.5 hours later 1 percocet. Then fall asleep for the night, and sleep 8 hours, start the juggernaut again, at no time was I completely unmedicated for the first 3 days. Then I dropped to one percocet every 3.5 hours, until sleep for a couple of days, maybe three. The I switched to ibuprofen. 600 mg, every 6 hours. I took glucosamine with condroitin and MSM, immediately and I could feel cellular level healing within 48 hours. I took no calcium for the duration, so I did not attract calcium ions to damaged nerve tissue, for several months. But then again, I had no bone involvement.

5. I just made do with getting in and out of the shower, and learned to use the back brush with the other hand.

6. I went to the grocery store within one week. It was near, and I could walk it.

7. I had help changing the ice, twice. After than I went to the store for it, when I ran out.

8. After one month I had enough recovery and went camping, in my van. It was then I realized how screwed up I was in several ways, including neurologically, and backed it down.

9. I used a tight fitting knit shirt with a shelf bra, the knit sleeves acted like a ted hose for my injured arm. That shirt was a winner.

10. The first four days are the worst, then you get used to it.

11. Take ibuprofen one hour before each PT session. Then do that PT, do not wuss out of it. DO IT. It took from mid July one year, until Jan 29 the next year in rigorous PT, twice a week, I have full range of motion, no discomfort to speak of, and paint and draw with that arm. It took time.
This was from injury, and surgical repair.
posted by Oyéah at 3:00 PM on August 3, 2017

P.S. They have stretchy dresses with empire top and shelf bra. That is the best. No underwear at all, no pants, no pulling stuff off and on all day, only changing after bathing. That can be every other day. The worst part is only two weeks, but the pain associated with bathing is unpleasant, the armpit aches, that is just how it is. Best to you.
posted by Oyéah at 3:02 PM on August 3, 2017

Been there, as has my female-type ex. If your patient is female, a tube-top might be comfortable and can be worn continuously, such as even for a few days. (Since the surgery's already taken place the tube-top will have to be donned upward over the legs. Better would be to wear it during the surgery, if medically permitted; that can save a whole lotta post-op awkwardness and embarrassment.)
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:05 PM on August 3, 2017

Was in a car accident. Injured non-dominant shoulder and dominant hand and couldn't use either for a while.

Recommend going to a hair cuttery or equivalent once a week to get hair washed. I explained what the situation was and they were happy to help for a very reasonable price. It was much easier for me to not worry about how to wash my hair.

My dad made some kind of foam contraption for me to elevate my arms in a resting position. Depending on the most comfortable position, you may want to make something for the person's arm to rest while sitting. One of those boyfriend pillows might be useful.

If this is the dominant side, the person may need help eating or likely won't be able to use utensils. Milkshakes, smoothies, finger foods.

Nothing with buttons or ties. I asked my coworkers to double knot my shoelaces and slipped my shoes on and off.

Things like opening jars and cans will be really hard for a bit. I relied on others if I needed this but there are also online shops that are geared towards people with arthritis that have a lot of helpful equipment.

Mindless books and/or TV. I read the Twilight series because I wanted something interesting but not too hard to plow through.
posted by melodykramer at 4:39 PM on August 3, 2017

My husband is on his third day post rotary cuff reconstruction. (This is his second one, he had his right shoulder done six months ago, now his left, he should be partially healed by Christmas and will have been out of action for the whole year.) I second everything everyone else has said. Keep on top of the meds, don't wait for the pain to come before popping the next pill because you'll be in real pain before it starts to work.

Also, acupuncture. This will promote healing and blood flow to the area. My husband's physio does it in conjunction with his treatment. Tell your patient to do their excercises religiously when the time comes and don't be a hero. No lifting up that small child or doing yard work until they've been given the all clear. There's no point going through a major operation just to set yourself back or worse yet, do damage and find yourself back getting new surgery to fix it.

Also, the long healing process and lack of ability to exercise made my husband quite depressed. Be prepared to deal with that psychologically too. I think for him that was the hardest part. He has gone to get the second one done though, so the results are clearly worth it.
posted by Jubey at 6:43 PM on August 3, 2017

I slept upright in a comfy chair for the first week.

I binge-watched the entire run of The Sopranos.

I got a remnant of some kind of soft, thin fabric to help the constant rubbing of the cast thing. My surgery was in July, in LA, and it was really, really hot. Grab a fan.

I was really lucky and found three tube top, knee length dresses at Old Navy for just a few dollars each, and got an XL men's button down shirt to throw over it when I went out.

Have you searched here yet? I know I've asked this question and also answered them myself. (How I learned about the ice machine.)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:19 PM on August 3, 2017

I had outpatient shoulder joint repair surgery a long time ago, and from what I remember of the initial days, I slept upright in a large soft chair. The first couple of days they had a pain pump attached, which meant I felt just fine, but didn't feel like moving from that spot, and mostly had to just focus on eating. The most important thing there was having someone to bring me food and water, queue up movies, and help me get back and forth to the bathroom.

After the third or fourth day, the pain pump was removed and I had more noticeable pain - but my stomach was back in order and I could move around more. I think getting off the couch and moving around in the sun as soon as possible afterwards was very important.

I bought a shower brush with a long handle to get my back and reach the side my hurt arm was on, that worked pretty well. I didn't have a cast, though, so my situation was probably much easier for showering.

Another thing to consider - for the months and years after surgery, is to make the most of any opportunities for physical therapy, and to take their recommendations for ongoing work like stretches or resistance work seriously. I was religious about this for a few years, but in the past ~10 years I haven't, and my repaired joint is noticeably weaker and less comfortable than it was when I was taking better care of it - for example, I can't sleep on my left side much anymore, when for several years after the surgery, that was no big deal.
posted by mmc at 10:59 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nightie and no knickers rather than sweatpants because any amount of having to disrobe to go to the toilet is best avoided. Long socks or slippers and legwarmers if they feel the cold.

I found a beanbag (the large type you use as a seat) to be really useful to prop myself up against. Had to take some of the filling out to get just the right amount of plump.

A pot to piss in, for emergencies. You can get bottles that have a funnel for ladies.

Wet wipes.
posted by Ness at 6:08 AM on August 4, 2017

Yes yes yes to the physical therapy.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:28 AM on August 4, 2017

« Older How to recover music from MiniDisc?   |   What's the science behind "vinyl safe" exterior... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.