Hey. How’s the pandemic going for you?
My short answer to that is “fine.” Here’s my longer answer. It’s a little less about Dar and a little more about consequences of parenting.
Dar’s special school, like all other California schools, ceased in-person operations in March, ending Dar’s daily walks to Aquatic Park and/or local stores. Dar is a kinetic kind of kid who really appreciates going places, but during the pandemic, his mom and I have not been able to take him on walks as often as we’d like. One reason is that he refuses to wear a mask for more than a moment.
Instead, in the house, we partied. I gave him a lot more tickles than I had in 2019. And spins. And one time, I spun him and let him land on our biggest couch. And he figured out a way to use his iPad to ask for just that – just to be thrown onto the couch. If you’ve ever had a kid want to be thrown into a pool, it’s a little like that.
But Dar weighs something like 75 pounds. And his appetite for being thrown onto the couch is unquenchable. He would have me throw him twenty times in a row – if I would. And stupid me, I thought I could.
I spent most of my teenagerhood as an archetypal nerd, with terrible posture and disinterest in most sports. But I spent almost every week of my 20s and 30s biking, frisbee-ing, and/or basketball-ing in some way, shape, or form. This slowed down in my 40s with two needy kids in the house, but I nevertheless considered myself in reasonably good shape.
At some point, maybe in late April, I noticed that my right shoulder was pinching as I threw Dar. I kept doing the throws because he kept asking for it and because I’m stupid. At a certain point, the couch broke. That may have been a blessing in disguise, because we took a break from the couch throws.
How do you sleep? I can’t sleep on my back or stomach; I need to sleep on one side or the other. I switch sides in my sleep, more or less, maybe after a couple of hours. But…not this May. As the nights grew shorter, I felt an increasing shoulder pain that made it harder and harder to sleep.
Anyone who has played twenty years of basketball can tell you about innumerable injuries. But prior to this pandemic, with the exception of one bad back muscle bruise, every injury in my life had maybe hurt badly for a week (at most), but gradually improved after that. This baffled me because it wasn’t improving.
There hadn’t been a trauma (as when I hurt my back). There hadn’t been a fall or a car accident. This had come on so gradually, I just assumed it would go away. Well, it wouldn’t. I spent half of May in denial.
Finally, I made a (tele) appointment with my doctor. She heard me describe my symptoms and sent me to a physical therapist. The first month, June, went pretty well. I did a few exercises that he taught me to do. I certainly didn’t throw Dar or sleep on my right side.
But it turned out that my PT was flaky. He kept missing our appointments in July. And because I began to see a little improvement, I did fewer exercises at home. Big mistake.
In August, my PT was fired for missing work, and the woman who fired him took over my case. She was great. She was also horrified by my shoulder when she started. She was furious that her former employee had let it get to a point where I could barely lift my right arm. She got me doing new exercises and sleeping with this foam cylinder under my pillow and with my arm in a position where my shoulder stays back all night. Maintaining good posture is a HUGE part of all this.
Gradually, very gradually, she and I began to make my shoulder better. But sleep was still very difficult. In two consecutive nights in August, I barely slept more than ten minutes. I “woke” on the second morning with a loud ringing in my ear. I assumed it would go away after a day, as when one attends a rock concert. It didn’t. VERY long story short: I now have tinnitus. Maybe it was always latent. It sounds a lot like a constant, never-ending refrigerator hum, though maybe a little higher/hotter in register. My ear doctor talks about reducing the loudness by removing logs from the fire. One of them is the medication I was taking for the shoulder pain. Other stresses include the pandemic, Dar, schools, my job(s), and the general political situation. So I removed the logs, but it was a tricky balance, because I was still the main thing to calm down Dar…and the shoulder pain persisted.
Finally my awesome new PT and I agreed that the pain hadn’t improved enough in a couple of months and it was time for me to get my first-ever MRI. I had rolled tiny Dar into a machine before he was even two years old so that we could see an x-ray of his brain. (His brain looks fine; the MRI didn’t help.) But this was my first time!
The note I got back looked a LITTLE bit like this:
Here is the results of your MRI of the right shoulder:
#1. Moderate tendinosis of the supraspinatus tendon with bursal sided fraying and interstitial delaminating tearing at the intersection which measures 1.4 x 0.5 cm
#2 Mild tendinosis of the infraspinatus tendon without clear tear
#3 Mild osteoarthritis of the acromioclavicular joint, mild lateral downsloping acromium, thickening of the coracoacromial ligament and small amount of subacromial/subdeltoid bursal fluid with associated synovitis.
#4 Moderate tendinosis of the subscapularis tendon with low-grade partial articular sided tearing at the intersection
#5 synovitis in the rotator cuff interval, obscuration of the retro-coracoid fat, and thickening/increased T2 signal intensity of the inferior glenohumeral ligament can be seen in the setting of adhesive capsulitis. Recommend correlation with clinical signs and symptoms.
#6 minimal tendinosis of the intra-articular portion of the bicep tendon and mild tenosynovitis of the extra articular portion of the bicep tendon
#7 mild degenerative changes of the glenoid labrum without evidence of focal tear or para labral cyst formation
#8 minimal osteophytosis of the glenohumeral joint. Signal heterogeneity and thinning of the articulating glenohumeral cartilage without evidence of focal chondral defect.
#9 Small glenohumeral joint effusion with associated synovitis.
Three professionals looked at this and immediately knew which one to treat first. Can you do that? (I cannot.) All you have to do is go to correct line item and focus on the 31st and 32nd words. Turns out that those are “adhesive capsulitis” in #5, or what some call frozen shoulder.
We knew that. We kept working on it. Nice to know that after we solve that, I have a dozen other things to worry about…in ONE shoulder! God knows what’s going on in the other shoulder or the rest of my back. I pray to Saint Bette of Davis, who said “getting old ain’t for sissies.”
My doctor saw the MRI and sent me straight to an orthopedist who happens to be an absolutely lovely person who gets ravey raves online. She mentioned the scar tissue that will take a long time to fully clear out. When I went to her office, I had no idea she would even suggest a cortisone shot – aren’t those only for athletes? Yet she suggested it and did it right there and then. That whole afternoon I felt like my arm had been run over by a truck. But…it got better. A LOT better. Suddenly my PT could work my shoulder in ways it had never been worked.
And…doing home physical therapy sometimes works! I wasn’t going to tell you this story until I could give it some kind of happy ending, and sure enough, as of this week, I can do the Statue of Liberty again with almost no pain. I’m not about to play ultimate or hoops tomorrow, but I also no longer live in fear of falling.
I’m sleeping better, thank you. I’m not quite sleeping on my right shoulder again, but it’s no longer awful when I lie that way for a few minutes. These days, I don’t need any drugs to sleep six solid hours. And that, in turn, means the tinnitus is better.
I know what you’re gonna say: Yep, Getting Old. To which I answer: Yep, but part of me still believes none of this would have happened without the pandemic and Dar.
Damn 2020. Who’s ready for 2021? (Me! Me!)