10: Deja Vu (The Second Surgery)

There’s an uncertainty that comes with being on a route for the first time, that goes away upon a second try. Even if something is very hard, knowing what to expect takes the mental edge off, and removes a lot of the adventure.  Some climbers really like to work on hard moves repeatedly, or come back to routes they failed on, but many others prefer to climb ‘On Sight’, in a one-time battle that they win or lose. The logic is: there’s too much rock out there to be revisiting the same routes over and over.

The Fitz Roy group from the Torre Valley

For my part, I don’t get as excited about something if I’ve done it before. I know it’s not a good instinct to have, but in me it runs very deep, so I have to fight it very hard.

I had the surgery on my right arm this past Tuesday, 10 weeks after the left. It’s been a challenge to match the motivation level I had after the first surgery. I feel less excited to do the physio exercises, and it’s harder to take the breaks from work. I try to remind myself how important this recovery is for my happiness.

Feigning excitement for round 2. (photo Meghan Beamish)

My surgeon and I had hoped that the second surgery would be simpler than the first. The MRI showed a large tear at the top of my right labrum, but the front looked in better shape than the left had been, so we hoped he could just do a biceps tenodesis without the SLAP repair (i.e. Option 2 from The Plan).

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. My right labrum was badly damaged, and more than half of it was detached. My surgeon says it was an easy decision to go ahead with the SLAP repair and reattach it to my shoulder blade. He also repaired my frayed supraspinatus, did the biceps tenodesis, and removed some of my shoulder capsule, which had been stretched out from shoulder instability.

Vinny is a perfect recovery companion! (Meghan Beamish)

In the week or two before the surgery, my left shoulder felt good enough to get out and climb. I should have done a better job documenting it, but I was too busy having fun. I went bouldering to Cooper’s Rock, climbed routes at Great Falls, and spent a few days climbing comfortably in the gym. Now, sadly, I’m back to 3-times-a-day range of motion exercises on my bedroom floor, and dreaming of climbing. Here’s how I’m progressing, compare vs. Surgery 1:

Shoulder 2. Post Op day 5.

Exercise 1. Biceps range of motion. This was hard on day 1, and hurt a lot. I got to full range of motion on day 3, with effort. On day 5, there is still mild pain.

Exercise 2. Passive forward range of motion. Very different than the first time. I had 120 degrees on day 1, but it hurt enough to scream at the bottom of the range. The range has improved to about 150, and the pain is going down. On the left I was strong enough to raise my arm actively a few days in, but this time I’m just getting there on day 5.

Exercise 3. Hanging arm pendulums. This feels therapeutic. With this arm it feels less about exploring the edge of range of motion, and more about stretching out the shoulder to make it feel less tweaky.

Exercise 4. Grip training. This came back quick. I’m roughly at full strength.

Midway through our first attempt on La Medialuna, with Meghan in 2015. Unhappy clouds are hiding Cerro Torre, which looms above this spire. We tried to race to the top. The hurricane hit us at the start of that beautiful frilly chimney up top, and we had a scary retreat. (photo Meghan Beamish)

All in all, I have much more pain than after the first surgery, and the type of pain I have is strange and tweaky, but I think that’s normal. I haven’t had to take narcotics, so I think it went well. I still don’t know how quickly I’ll come back from round 2; it might take a long while for these repairs to be stable. I’m focusing on staying motivated: not using my arm too much, icing often, doing my physio exercises, and imagining the places I’ll get to go again one day.

Bluebird day on the Medialuna with Matt, 2018 (photo Matt Pech). Coming back was worth it.







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