A bad rotator cuff: It’s not just for major league pitchers any more.
Even nonprofessional athletes such as my wife Carol and I can have bad rotator cuffs. A bad rotator cuff is kind of like an Acura or a downtown condo: All the cool baby boomers are getting one.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a “bum shoulder.” However, we aging nonprofessional athletes do not like to call it a “bum shoulder.” That sounds so mundane. We much prefer to call it a bad rotator cuff because it makes it sound like the kind of valiant injury that Roger Clemens or Brett Favre might sustain.
A bum shoulder, on the other hand, conjures up the kind of affliction that grandpa might get from the rheumatism.
Over at our house, we still don’t know exactly how we acquired our bad rotator cuffs. Carol thinks she got hers from weeding the columbines, or maybe from that time last week where she tried to walk two dogs at once.
I tend toward the dog explanation, because I tried to walk those dogs, too. I felt like Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, mushing my way to Whitehorse. I’m surprised my arm wasn’t yanked right out of the socket.
High Drive resident: (looking out of window): That’s funny. Those two dogs seem to be dragging an upper appendage along the roadway. And look, dear! A one-armed man is running behind them. What’s that he’s shouting?
Spouse: It sounds like, “Sit! Stay!”
But the strange thing about a bad rotator cuff is that you can’t always pinpoint the moment when it started to hurt. All you really know is that one morning you can brush your teeth like a regular human being and the next morning you can’t get your toothbrush all the way up to your mouth.
For Carol, it came when she realized that she couldn’t get, you know, dressed. She just stood there at the closet, staring at the sweater in her hand, totally unable to place an arm through the armhole. She finally had to shout downstairs, “Honey? A little help up here, please?”
A bad rotator cuff makes it impossible to lift your elbow above the level of your shoulder, or in some cases, above the level of your rib-cage. You have no idea how handy it is to be able raise your elbow above the level of your rib-cage. Back when I had a bad rotator cuff, I spent entire months without even trying to put on a sweatshirt. Suddenly, I developed a taste for cardigan sweaters, as if I had suddenly morphed into Mr. Rogers.
I think I earned my bad rotator cuff in a manly way, by playing softball. The odd thing is, I didn’t get it in the regular way, by throwing. My bad rotator cuff was in my left shoulder and I throw with my right. I think I got it by stretching my shoulder too far during a spectacular diving catch, or possibly by falling down while running to the dugout.
All I remember is that I spent the next few months unable to perform the simplest of tasks. I once went to one of those drive-in ATM machines, where the sign says “Insert card here.” I stared at that sign for about a minute, trying to pull my left arm up to the car window. I couldn’t get it above the door handle. Then I tried holding the card in my right hand, wrenching my body sideways and attempting the difficult cross-body-ATM-card-insert maneuver.
Finally, with cars honking behind me, I surrendered. I opened the door, stepped morosely out, stood at the machine, stuck my card in the slot with my right hand, got my money, got back in the car and peeled out. Motorists cheered as I receded into the distance.
The worse indignities are at night, however. No matter how you turn – left, right, face-down, face-up – that throbbing rotator cuff will not allow you to sleep. So pretty soon you become not just a person who can’t dress himself, but a sleep-deprived person who can’t dress himself. Do not cross that person. That person has been known to lash out with his good arm.
However, I have some good news for anybody who is presently on the D.L. for shoulder reasons. My friendly orthopedic surgeon gave me a cortisone shot which reduced the inflammation and made the pain disappear for six months. When it came back, I had another cortisone shot and another six months of relief.
Then, about two shots later, the pain never returned. I never had to undergo surgery and never had another shot. My rogue rotator cuff has been a model citizen for five years.
I hope the same thing happens to Carol and to anyone else so afflicted. In the meantime, I can only offer this advice: Use the walk-up ATM. You can switch-hit with either arm.
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