I had my right shoulder replaced. If I understand what happened, the surgeon took the joint apart, cut off the ball part of arm bone, hauled out the bone reamer and made a hole in that long bone, jammed a piece of metal with a ball on it into the opening, repaired damage to the socket part of the joint, and then reassembled everything. After a few days in the hospital, I went home to confront many lessons.

This was my fourth shoulder surgery, and I learned yet again how difficult it is to sleep with my arm in a sling and how hard it is to sleep when any weight on the right shoulder would wake me up. I was reminded yet again about pain, and how thankful I was that the pain I had was not going to be a chronic condition. I knew my pain would continually lessen. I can’t imagine what it is like for those who have pain that never leaves. I learned that my pain and discomfort can bring on self-pity even though for reasons that I don’t understand, I try not to show the pain to others or ask for assistance unless it can’t be helped. I learned that the pain in rehabilitation can be seen as a challenge. As long as I can see progress that I can measure in movement or strength, the pain becomes more tolerable.

Knee surgeries had brought similar reactions to pain, but the shoulder replacement had me confront some new experiences since it restricted the use of my dominant arm. I was ordered not to raise my hand above my waist for a month or to carry anything in my right hand that weighed more than a few ounces. I did not instinctively comply, and I learned how much I normally use my right hand and how little my left for even the most mundane of tasks. I found myself routinely starting to reach for a kitchen drawer or cabinet with my dominant hand. I found that I had almost never used my left hand for something as quotidian as drinking coffee. I found I had to readjust how I dried myself off after a shower. I found that my teeth did not feel as well-brushed with my left hand. Not surprisingly I did not feel clean and refreshed using my left hand after visiting the bathroom. (I think I put that delicately enough, and I know that in some cultures you are not supposed to use your right hand for this function, but I don’t live in one of those cultures.) I saw no point in shaving with my left hand and grew a beard.

And then there was another biological function that I found hard to do with my nondominant hand. I finally talked to the doctor about it. I said, “I find it basically impossible to masturbate with my left.” The doctor almost shouted, “Stop doing it!” I replied, “I know that it is not entirely usual at my age, but it is still normal.” “You have got to stop!” “Why?” She replied, “Because I am trying to examine you!”

(Yes, I am embarrassed by that joke. Not because of its subject matter, but because it is not original, and I have tried to have everything my own in this blog that I don’t explicitly say is from another source. I have broken that rule this time, but perhaps it is ok because even though the joke is recycled, it applied. After all, my surgeon was a woman.)

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