A Shoulder To Cry On

Loyal readers are no doubt sputtering at that headline, wondering how on earth I am going to segue from “A Shoulder To Cry On” into a discussion on pretzel-thoughts, which I promised last time I would discuss this time.

Well, I’m not going to. You’re going to have to wait a week for that scintillating discussion, maybe even longer.

Depends on how good the anesthesia is.

See, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, the bone doc, Doc Z., is going to pin my tendon back on to my rotator cuff so I can use my right arm again without rattling the roof rafters with my screaming. And that little bit of surgery is all that’s on my mind right now.

“Pin” is not the correct medical term, of course. I believe he will actually sew it back on, a technique I never quite mastered, despite two terms of home economics classes in seventh and eighth grades at Grover Cleveland Junior High School, the same school where I was taught to dance the hula and square dance.

Along with Vicky L. and Kathy R., I was quickly identified as a H.E.H. (home economics hopeless) and forced to sit in the kitchenette closest to the teacher, where we scorched the toast, burnt the broiled grapefruit, spilled the tea, and generally lived up to our potential.

When it came time to switch over to the sewing half of the course, we were faced with the task of making a wrap-around skirt. I chose a trendy denim fabric, and stared at it helplessly for several class sessions, measuring out my pattern pieces again and again. Even Vicky L. was ahead of me. I never did sew the buttonhole; I just punched it through with the scissors and let it go at that.

It was worse in eighth grade, where the normally shy and sedate Sandy B. led the rebellion to make an A-line skirt and weskit (very trendy) rather than the normal jumper (very fifties), leaving all us H.E.H. in a panic. I didn’t even try. I gave my fabric to my first-cousin-once-removed, who gave it back all sewn up. I didn’t care. I managed to hold my head up high when forced to trot across the stage in the mandatory home economics fashion show. I wore the hated stockings but refused the makeup. I have my limits.

So I can’t blame M.S. or the stroke for my inability to sew, sad to say. But I can blame both for the shoulder surgery. Without M.S., I never would have been taking BrainScar, the drug we all (tacitly or not) blame for the stroke I had in August 2011. And it was either M.S. or the stroke that caused me to stumble and fall up the stairs that night in September that tore apart my rotator cuff.

Rotator cuffs can fall apart all on their own, because they are used for so much. They lie deep inside your shoulders, underneath all the muscles and bones and tendons. They’re kind of like Grand Central Station for your arms. Move your thumb? Gotta go through the rotator cuff.

One of the last things I did this week was have a tooth fixed. I found out that my dental hygienist is recovering from rotator cuff surgery, caused by years and years of cleaning people’s teeth. Poor Laurie!

It takes months to recover, lots of physical therapy, with and without physical therapists. Fortunately I already have found some good P.T.’s. I was working with them on this shoulder until we decided that the pain wasn’t getting any better and an MRI was needed to see if the rotator cuff was in fact torn.

Answer: Yep.

So a week after the surgery (just long enough for all the anesthesia to have worn off), I’ll return to the physical therapists to start the recovery process.

I’ve been trying to picture what sort of bandaging they’ll wrap me in after this surgery. The doctor was a bit vague about what sort of incision he was going to do: arthroscopic, he said, but then opening it up a bit, waving his fingers around in the air as if that explained it all, assuring me that he would also remove the arthritic matter that was in there. Seventy minutes, tops.

So I figure either a little Band-Aid, like you can get at the supermarket, or a two-by-four strapped across my shoulders with a roll of duct tape. I’ll have to go through doors sideways and carry a beeper for when I back up.

In either event, it won’t be me rattling the rafters anymore. And for that I am very happy.

Coming in from the Cold

I have survived a stroke. I have survived a series of grand mal seizures. I have lain inert in a medically-induced coma for 13 days. I have survived three or four or five or six exacerbations of multiple sclerosis, unable to walk or hoist myself out of bed.

But what brought me to my knees, what made me unable to function, what made my world stop spinning….was the common cold.

I don’t know where I got it. I don’t know who gave it to me. I just know that it announced itself one evening as a little tickle at the back of my throat that trumpeted to my entire body, “Uh, oh.”

And my entire body moaned back, “Holy crap.”

I’m a bit superstitious about colds. It’s part of the reason I’m glad I’m not out there in the general workforce, breathing all that germ-laden air all day long.

It’s pretty well established that M.S. is related to an overactive immune system. And what is a cold? Your body’s overactive immune system’s response to a viral invader. Ipso facto I give colds wide berth.

I must admit that I do not know of any research pointing to a relationship between onset of colds and onset of M.S. exacerbations, but I’m not taking any chances. I will continue to wash my hands every chance I get, carry extra tissues with me, and spritz anyone who approaches me with Clorox. Not really. Just a little Lysol. Not really. Baking soda, I swear. Dissolved in club soda, that’s all. Really.

This cold walloped me right in the nose and then stuffed sawdust down my lungs. The combination reduced me to a slack-jawed whimpering tissue addict, knocking back large slugs of cough medicine every four hours. I set my alarm clock so I would wake up for the next dose. I had to reintroduce myself to my son after six days.

When the cold symptoms finally began to fade, I tested myself for the dreaded M.S. symptoms that might indicate an exacerbation. Did my toes tingle more than they usually did? Was I dizzier than I usually was? Could I even walk?

Living with M.S. is lots of fun. I have the kind of M.S. called relapsing/remitting. That means that it comes and goes, but every time it comes, it leaves you a little worse off when it goes. So my toes are always numb, and I am always dizzy, and always tired, and I can never walk in a straight line.

Then, if I get an exacerbation, all of that gets worse for a while. I can’t feel my feet at all, or my legs. I look like I’m drunk when I walk, if I can walk at all, and I’m so exhausted I mostly stay in bed. The cure, if you can call it that, is to stick a needle into my arm and pump me full of steroids. Those of course just plump me up like a Thanksgiving turkey, which, to be frank (and I’m a vegetarian), I’m rather thankful for, because eventually I am able to walk again and feel my feet and carry on a conversation.

And, oh yeah, before the steroids kick in, my eyes might crap out on me, too. That’s one of the signature symptoms of M.S., called optic neuritis, where the nerve that carries images from the eye to the brain swells up and you can’t see anymore.

I am happy to report that so far, so good. Just a cold. Just the normal numbness and dizziness and tiredness and zig-zagginess. Looks like we got through this cold spell unexacerbated.

Except I can’t get rid of this little nagging cough. I stopped taking the cough medicine when the sawdust went away, because there wasn’t enough of a cough left to justify the medicine, as tasty as it was (I could get addicted to Nyquil if I wanted) and as soundly as I slept (ditto).

It took me a few days to realize what the nagging cough was: the stroke-cough. It was the cough left over from the tubes that were jammed down my throat when I was unconscious in the hospital after the seizures and the stroke in August 2011. That little nagging cough was still hanging around.

Recognizing the stroke-cough was my first realization of a post-stroke marker. I had already checked in with my M.S. markers: numb toes, dizziness, fatigue, zig-zagginess, all my usual markers of how my M.S. was doing.

Realizing my relative dullness of mind and witlessness took a bit longer, of course. There are more layers of inert gray matter to pound through before active thought forms. Snap, crackle, fizz. Oh, yeah. A thought. Huh.

Speaking of which, that is another post-stroke marker: pretzel-thoughts. As its name implies, it’s a knotty one, or perhaps I should say naughty, as it tends to get me in trouble, or rather it tends to get my relationship in trouble, nothing that can’t be fixed, I hasten to add, because CF and I have 30 years of experience in getting ourselves out of trouble, dating way back to our favorite escapade when we nearly broke up over a can of black olives (I am not making this up) while sitting in our car at the side of the road.

It was very dramatic. I was wearing a filthy dirty softball uniform and it was a hot summer evening in Massachusetts and we barely made it through that fight but we still love black olives not to mention each other and I think I will wait until next time to talk about pretzel-thoughts because my M.S. markers are calling.