Some time between the ages of five and ten I visited my Grandma and Grandpa Z at their home in South Dakota. Actually I’m pretty sure this was more than a one time occurrence, but in my head it just blends together into one visit.
I have a few blurred memories. A house right by a church. Walking into a dim basement to play with something. Someone pointing a video camera at me in the kitchen (and me ducking away). Buying something from a corner convenience store and being a nickel short (coming back and talking to my Grandma about the need of a nickel).
And a couple more poignant memories. Licking a frozen metal pole and freaking out as the adults tugged me free. Traumatic (there’s a story for another day). And racing my dad across a field to a fence. I remember my dad saying “go” and off we went across the grass. It was close at first and then I surged into the lead (a lead compelled I’m sure by the desire to watch a child succeed). Thrilled to be out in front I lunged for the fence, reaching out with my hand to grab the top railing. “I wi…”
Boom. It felt like I got hit by lightning, my arm wrenched from the socket. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling in my shoulder as the electric fence momentarily rerouted its current through my tiny frame. My dad expressed surprise (so I’m pretty sure it was accidental child abuse), but I also remember some exchanged stifled laughter from circle of gathering adults. Hey, after all, what’s funnier than watching a six-year-old in the throes of victory hurled back to reality with the force of a cattle prod. Lesson learned young man.
Anyway, there is point to all this. I went to the orthopedist today, who went through a series of shoulder tests and determined that I do have a rotator cuff injury. Because I was able to support the weight of her pressing on my raised arm (as agonizing as that effort was) among other reasons, she opted for the moment to treat the injury as a rotator cuff strain and not a tear. So no expensive MRI. Rest and physical therapy. No pull-ups for a while, just tiny arm circles and walking my fingers up a wall. If there’s no near-term improvement then other possibilities can be examined.
And this is the eclectic fence part. After my diagnosis, she also gave me a shot of cortisone (anti-inflammatory steroid) into my shoulder to take the swelling down around the injury. The doc gently numbed the injection site, had me take a couple of deep breaths while she described her concoction of drugs, and said “Ok, here comes the little bee-sting.” The needle slid in with the usual pricking sensation. And I was literally saying, “Hey, that wasn’t so b…” when she cut me off with “Ok, now here comes the intense pain.” She actually said those words. Nice bedside manner lady.
“…ad. Wait. Intense what? Hrrgnugh. Holy crap what did you do?!” It was burst of soul-crushing searing pain, squeezing and yanking at my shoulder like a six-year-old tugging on an electric fence. Every other thought disappeared in that flash while I tried to maintain some semblance of dignity. “Boy, he he, you weren’t kidding, that sure burns like a mother… ok that’s getting better.” Thankfully the pain was short-lived and happily replaced by a warming, slightly numbing sensation.
So I’ve been told to keep using my shoulder, but to avoid those activities that cause the sharp pains. Some discomfort is ok. This is reassuring. I can deal with discomfort I just don’t want to feel like that discomfort is gradually exacerbating some kind of tear. Already now, even as the shoulder still feels about the same, I feel my spirits raised about the prognosis. It’s kind like climbing an unknown mountain. The first time you go up, biting winds or tired legs seem worse because you don’t know what’s still to come. How much further you have to go. Whether what looks like a summit is actually the first in a series of false summits. “Hmm, I wonder if this is cold enough to get frostbite?” The next time though with more information at your disposal, you don’t notice discomforts as much. They just blur together as part of the journey and not some debilitating trip-ender. “I’m cold, but I’ve been here before and been fine.” So my shoulder still hurts, but getting a doctor’s opinion sure helps the confidence level.