Injury Prevention & Treatment
ThirdAge Health Close-Up: I Fell and Dislocated My Shoulder
From the moment my left shoulder hit the carpet with a THWACK, I knew it was bad. However, I didn’t immediately realize just how much of an over-achiever I was on the inane injury front.
The date was October 2nd 2013. I was at Gurney’s Resort and Spa in Montauk, New York. I had just recorded a segment on Ingrid Lemme’s talk show “American Dream” during which I discussed my work as a couples therapist and my book, “The Complete Marriage Counselor: Relationship-saving Advice from America’s Top 50+ Couples Therapists.”.
Shoulder met carpet a few moments after I left the makeshift set. Despite the searing pain, I got up and made it the few feet to the lobby but it was obvious the taxi that was waiting for me would leave sans passenger. My self-diagnosis: a dislocated shoulder. A hotel employee called 911.
During the 45-minute ambulance ride to Southampton Hospital, the two female paramedics tried to take my mind off the ceaseless, jamming pain by commenting that I was the most attractive injured person they’d ferried (courtesy of the makeup job I’d undergone a few hours earlier for the TV appearance).
Their joking helped ground me. This was an extended bad moment – not the entirety of my life. At the ER, after x-rays confirmed the dislocated shoulder, the doctor finally popped it back and gave me meds. Sweet relief!
I checked my phone. My sister had left a series of messages, Her pregnant daughter’s water had broken around the time of my unfortunate carpet encounter. Brittany gave birth approximately the same moment I was eating Percocets. As I later joked, my “labor” ended in a sling; hers with an infant.
Back home, a major NYC orthopedic specialist labeled me on the mend. A week later he wrote a scrip for physical therapy, assuring me I’d need just one or two sessions. Concern set in when two days after the first session the sensation of sparks flying out of my shoulder woke me in the middle of the night.
At my next PT session I mentioned the episode, saying, “Maybe we shouldn’t do this?” The physical therapist said she’d be gentle. An hour later I was in another ER with my shoulder dislocated for the second time in 10 days.
The next physician I went to, Dr. Andrew Rokito at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases, ordered an MRI. Together we looked over the film. I had a Bankart Lesion, an injury to a structure in the shoulder called the anterior glenoid labrum. The labral tears rendered my shoulder unstable and susceptible to repeated dislocations.
My hopes for a non-surgical recovery were dashed but my subsequent research confirmed Dr. Rokito’s advice. The surgery on January 22nd was outpatient and involved reattachment and tightening of the torn labrum and ligaments using sutures and bone anchors.
Recovery was difficult. News to no one: Pain is not fun. Nor is learning to negotiate daily tasks like showering and food shopping one-handed with my left arm in a sling. Fortunately, I’m right-handed so at least I had my dominant hand free to do the maneuvering. I spent winter essentially as a hermit. It was laughably torturous to fit my down coat over the bulky sling. I did heed a friend’s helpful suggestion to tie a shoelace to the bottom of my coat’s zipper and tug, tug, tug. I only went out for work, eschewing social invitations.
Still, I rarely became depressed. When self-pity loomed, I reminded myself I’d been through a much more serious injury years earlier when a car nearly severed my ankle as I crossed the street. My present predicament, in comparison, was a passing squall.
My daily “recovery” diet included heaping portions of gratitude – the Bankart Lesion and resulting surgery was an annoyance, a pit stop, teaching me how fortunate I am to have my health and people around me who care. When I had pain, again I reminded myself how much worse recovery from my ankle injury had been.
I grew to appreciate the solitude, hunkering down in my apartment watching the world go by. With fewer distractions, I embraced the opportunity to cherish my own company as well to savor small pleasures like a perfect cup of coffee and the sound of my thoughts.
The sling has long since been discarded. How lovely it is to lift my arm over my head, slide that arm into a sleeve, and pick up my eight-pound dog – all without pain.
I recently “graduated” from physical therapy, this time at NYU Langone, and I’m basically back to my normal routine. I am more fragile physically yet also stronger emotionally than before my accident.
Life can change in a moment so I want to fully be in the moments I am granted.
That’s why, four months after my accident while visiting the most beautiful spot on earth (just a minor exaggeration!), Gateway Canyons, I felt conflicted when well-meaning friends and family urged me not to go horseback riding. I might fall. But I could also miss an amazing experience. Did I want to live my life in fear?
I requested the gentlest mare in the stable. It was an easy trail ride – no galloping, not even a cantor. I gloried in the view, the feel of the wind, Mali’s silken flanks gliding under me. I felt whole, powerful, alive!