Shoulder Surgery—Yep, Sometimes It’s Needed

By Paul Gipe

This may be more than you want to know. I had my doubts about my upcoming surgery for a torn rotator cuff. It had been six months since I injured myself and I was beginning to think that maybe I didn’t need surgery. After all, when asked about my pain I said it was zero. My shoulder seldom hurt except when I did something wrong. I made an effort not to do those things. You learn pretty quickly what not to do to avoid pain.

So I thought my surgery may not be necessary. Maybe it would heal on its own. Maybe all I needed was physical therapy. Maybe I was exaggerating. Maybe I was wasting the surgeon’s time. Maybe he would say there’s nothing wrong in here, you are wasting my time.

However, my surgeon made a video of the inside of my shoulder. This was a first. I had never seen the inside of my shoulder nor had I wanted to. I didn’t want to see the hole he had drilled through my shoulder nor did I want two see his forceps showing me my tendons and joints.

When they do this kind of surgery, they also check your bicep tendon. It tends to wear out from repetitive motion if you’re a carpenter, for example. My bicep tendon was in good shape he said in his narration. He showed me this by grabbing my tendon with his miniaturized forceps and moving the tendon back and forth. So far so good.

Then he showed me the rotator cuff tendon–or where it was supposed to be. There was nothing attached to the top of the humerus. But there was a mass of loose fibers floating in a fluid they pump into the joint. It looked like the frayed end of a rope. Yep, that was my rotator cuff tendon. Torn completely from the humerus.

So I was not a hypochondriac after all.

However, the best was yet to come. He then showed me where he had drilled holes in the bone and attached braided cords and where he had threaded the cords through the tendon. Next he showed me how he had tightened the cords to pull that tendon to the humerus and tied them off in a knot. Yes, a knot.

The movie more than made up for the doctor’s lack of bedside manner. His voice was confident and reassuring. That’s what you want to hear when you have seen a mass of torn fibers floating inside your own body. You want to believe him when he says “We’re going to fix that.”

This experience has taught me not to doubt my own body. I’ve also learned a new skill—how to dictate an essay, such as this one.