No, I didn’t lose my wallet, and no one hacked my Social Security number. But five weeks ago I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and, in the aftermath, I began to feel like my identity had been stolen away, bit by bit. I didn’t expect to do much the first week or so, besides going through bags of ice and learning to navigate life with my right arm in a sling. But getting out of the sling was the light at the end of my tunnel. I thought that surely, once I was freed of this arm-prison, life would start getting back to normal.
How wrong I was. Many people had warned me that rehab would be worse than surgery, and they weren’t kidding. Physical therapy three times a week is grueling, as are the exercises I must force myself to do at home. My range of motion is pathetic for anyone, much less a yoga teacher. And while the post-operative pain was minor, my newly freed arm now hangs from my shoulder like a piece of wood – feeling dead and disconnected from my body, except for it’s near-constant ache.
But worse than these inconveniences, I began to feel old and downtrodden. Without the ability to get around by bike or car, I either walked or used public transit, learning many of Arlington’s bus routes, which I’d previously scorned. On Sundays, buses run once an hour, if at all. Shivering at cold at bus stops, I learned that “schedules” are more of an idea than a reality. And going anywhere took advance planning – checking bus routes and schedules (however inaccurate they were) – and required calculating how far I would have to carry any heavy purchases. A half-gallon of soymilk and a bag of fruit get heavy after a few blocks, especially when you can only use one of your arms for carrying.
Who was I anymore? I felt like I just trudged to and from PT and work by bus and metro, got home in the dark, ate dinner, and spent 9-10 hours in bed, trying to sleep, the arm pain worse at night. Watching movies while I rode the stationary bike in my basement was my “fun.” And then, on top of everything, I developed a sensitive blister on the sole of my left heel. Now I couldn’t even walk more than a block or two without pain.
So this morning I experimented with where I could hold my right arm in front of me and decided to see if it could reach the handlebar of my bike. My motivation was getting to the Falls Church farmer’s market – a vision of my favorite Gold Rush apples spurring me into action. I was not deterred by the 40-degree weather and figured the 2-mile trip, which had only mild hills, would be a good maiden voyage.
Reaching the handlebar wasn’t too much of a stretch, though I did have to periodically let my arm dangle at my side. I rode with extra caution, as sudden movements send a searing pain through my arm that reverberates for minutes afterwards.
I made it to the market without a hitch, loaded 6 pounds of apples into my pannier, and headed home with a smile on my face, the joy of normalcy restored, at least somewhat, to my life. I don’t think I’m ready for big hills or traffic-filled streets, but I’m starting to feel like myself again. I bit into my apple, tart and crisp, just the way I like them. The sweet part was the feeling of liberation I felt by getting back on my bike.