Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A New Shoulder to Cry On

I have told you until it’s coming out of your ears what an avid little athlete I was as a kid. Baseball was my favorite sport, and that at which I was best was throwing. I had a reasonably strong, accurate arm, but the wrong genes to revel in it. Throwing too much, I condemned myself to a frightful case of arthritis by my mid-40s. It got to the point at which I could barely walk. One swings his arms slightly while walking, and the slightest movement of my right arm made me yelp in pain. I consulted Dr. Curtis Kiest, the world’s nicest guy, and an eminent northern California orthopedic surgeon. He gave me a series of injections. None helped. He said the only remaining option was to replace the shoulder. I have had a titanium joint in there since July 1995.

My understanding — deeply flawed, it turned out — was that it would last me the rest of my days. But then, three years ago, intent on retaining the slim, subtly muscular physique that has long driven the gals wild, I had the bright idea of buying myself a weight bench. I did bench presses and — presto! — felt as though someone had stuck a knife in my shoulder.

Living, as I was, in the United Kingdom, I consulted the National Health Service. “Sorry,” the NHS said, albeit in a cute Brit accent, “we don’t do shoulders.” I returned to my semi-native Los Angeles and saw a guy at UCLA Health. He recommended physical therapy. It didn’t help in the slightest. The therapist thought I had a torn rotator cuff. This gave me very little comfort. I made an appointment with UCLA Health’s Shoulder Guy. He kept me waiting for nearly an hour, and swept into the examination room with a small entourage, but charmingly. He said I needed a new joint.

I foolishly switched to Kaiser Permanente, whose Shoulder Guy I hoped would say there was nothing wrong with the existing joint. He instead said I would require two operations. “Nope,” said the UCLA Health one. “I can do it in one.” The problem being that I wouldn’t be able to switch my insurance back for eight more months. Sometimes I went days without pain, and other days just raising my hand to my computer keyboard was enough to make me whimper and yelp. Trying to avoid pain, I began holding myself in such a way as to give myself lots of muscular pain. My UCLA GP was alarmed by the curvature of my spine, and I by her alarm.

As you read this, I hope I’m waking up in the recovery room with a new shoulder, a catheter precluding my bladder bursting, and a gigantic sense of relief. The last time, they had me on a morphine drip afterward, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. Dr. Kiest came in to see how my recovery was progressing and asked, “How you doing?” I, floating in a thick, warm cloud, replied, “I’ve never felt better,” without a trace of irony. I intend to implore the anesthesiologist to give me enough Versed to make me forget the past month or two. Why take chances? I have also asked Dr. Petrigliano to keep for me the joint that he replaces, as I hope to make of it an objet d'art, or perhaps a necklace. Orthopedic bling!

If I’m able to lift my hand to the keyboard, I’ll relate the whole story in numbing detail upon my return to Tower 46. You might want to pencil this in on your calendar.


  1. Fascinating. When I became 58 years old, I started to develop pain in or on my right shoulder. I'm married to a Japanese woman, and she and her (Japanese) friends told me that this always happens when you get older, and it will go away by itself. I had this pain for almost a year, and then suddenly one night, the pain left me. Once in awhile it feels stiff, but stretching it seems to help - Yours is a different issue, but I was intrigued by the Japanese side of the world with respect to the pain in the right shoulder.

  2. I envy you, Tosh. That said, my favorite nurse was Japanese.

  3. Nothing like a Japanese nurse. I lived in Japan and had shoulder problems, so I can report that my orthopedic doctor diagnosed it as 50 year old's shoulder.