Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Shouldering a heavy burden

For the past few months, I’ve been experiencing a new feeling: pain. So far, I’m not a fan.
To be fair, it’s not excruciating; but I hurt my shoulder this spring, and it’s still giving me trouble.
I’d like to say I wrenched it in heroic fashion — sweeping a toddler from the path of a charging bull, for instance. But no. The cause was a less exciting though still dangerous activity called “life after 50.”
Being in pain is, like eating olives (the worst!), something I’ve managed to avoid for most of my life. So when my shoulder first started bothering me, I assumed I should ignore it and “power through it,” as I imagine Megan Rapinoe would do. I now concede that I am no Megan Rapinoe.
I knew I had made the wrong decision — powering through it instead of wimping out — when one day, after a workout, I was unable to take off my sweaty sports bra. Home alone, I found I could not reach around to grab the side of the bra; my shoulder hurt too much. I feared I’d have to cut it off (the bra, or possibly my arm).
Looking around, I found a solution: the bedroom doorknob. With my back against the door, I slid down repeatedly until the knob hooked the bottom elastic.
Shimmying like a snake shedding its skin and whimpering in an unsportsmanlike manner, I managed to get the bra high enough on my body to wriggle out from under it, my bad shoulder shrieking in protest. In my memoirs, I will devote an entire chapter to this humbling incident (“My Spandex Nightmare”).
Although the doorknob trick worked, the resulting agony left me feeling surprised, and relieved, that my arm was still attached to my torso.
Resorting to such a bra-removal tactic told me something: I was, maybe for the first time ever, legitimately injured. I couldn’t raise my right arm above my shoulder or extend it across my body without true olive-level pain.
I finally went to the doctor, who diagnosed me with “shoulder impingement syndrome,” or, as I had suspected, a hurt shoulder. He prescribed strengthening exercises, ibuprofen and ice, and told me not to do anything useful with that arm for a month.
A month. In the middle of summer.
In the winter, this would have been easier. I use my arms for little besides wrapping blankets around myself and bringing well-buttered bread and chicken casserole to my mouth.
In the summer, inactivity is tough.
It’s not like I’m off wind-surfing. I don’t rock climb. I don’t rope cattle. I can’t remember the last time I went noodling for catfish under a riverbank. But I have things to do.
The potatoes need hilling. The firewood needs stacking. There is a pile of rocks in the backyard I want to move and arrange into a flower bed. I can’t do any of it.
Instead, I’ve been moping around the house, looking out at the rock pile and wondering when my shoulder will heal.
And honestly, most of the time it doesn’t even hurt. I don’t notice it until I make a move it finds offensive, such as yanking on the garden hose to loosen up a kink. Then I roll around on the grass and hate myself for hours.
The other day, as I was stuffing crap into the hall closet, a down comforter plummeted from the top shelf. I instinctively threw my arms up to prevent it from harming me (don’t laugh, I could have smothered) and felt a pang shoot through my shoulder, which then ached through the night.
So lately I’ve been concentrating on avoiding the things I usually do without thinking: hoisting a heavy bag of groceries onto the counter, snapping open the shower curtain or making that “raise the roof” motion at parties to indicate that I am very cool.
But so far, every time I start to think my shoulder is making progress, I do something reckless, like putting on my seatbelt, and the pain is back.
Now and then, I find myself dwelling on something the doctor said: If I don’t see steady improvement, it could be a sign that the shoulder is permanently damaged. The pain could be here to stay.
Normally, I’d recognize a negative thought like that as counterproductive and just brush it aside. But for the time being, brushing things aside — like any other side-to-side motion — is beyond my abilities.

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