Post-Surgery: Diabetic With One Functional Arm


Thanks for the great feedback on my last post about how to cope with diabtetes during surgery. I’m glad it was useful — I, too, hadn’t realized just how much I’d need to do ahead of time. 

But now I’m three weeks out, and thought it might be a good time to answer a question posed by a commenter on my last post: how to cope with diabetes after surgery. Since my operation was on my right shoulder — and I’m right-handed — it’s been an adjustment, to say the least. And even though I’m no longer wearing my sling full time (just when I go to bed), I am by no means back to normal. Here are some suggestions and observations: 

1. Your shoulders are important. 

2. After your surgery, do not expect to be able to do anything behind your back or on the side of your body that had the surgery. For example, I quickly realized that I could not reach the toilet paper in the bathroom, since it was hanging on the wall behind me on my right side. We had to put out a separate roll for me on the left. Between the toilet paper and the fact that I couldn’t get my pants up, peeing was more difficult than you’d think.

3. If you are a woman and like to wear bras (as, you know, many of us do), then get yourself a front-closure model before your surgery. Trust me: it will be a while before you are able to fasten anything behind your back. It will also be a while before you are able to fasten a normal bra in front of your chest and then swivel it around to the back. The front close has been essential. 

4. Bring loose-fitting, comfortable clothes to the hospital. Think pants with an elastic waist, and a loose shirt (ideally button-down, that can accomodate a large bandage). 

5. Follow your doctor’s instructions, and ice your surgical site regularly. 

6. As for diabetes stuff, the first couple times I had to switch my pump site, I asked for my husband’s help (ditto putting my hair in a ponytail — it continues to be extremely difficult!). Regardless of your marital status, consider asking a friend to stay on call at least until your nerve block wears off so that they can help you test your blood sugar and give yourself shots. Also, in the weeks beforehand, consider exclusively using the side that your’e not going to be able to access after your surgery for injections and pump sites (for example, I should have worn my pump on my left hip more, because there’s no way in hell I’m reaching it now). That way you won’t have to worry as much about overuse.

7. Be sure to ask your doctor when you can resume physical activity, and what type. If you’re like me and use exercise to control your glucose levels, this is extremely important (in my case, I’m not going to be able to do a push up for a full five months!). I’ve started walking on the treadmill — not too fast, but on enough of an incline to get me sweaty without jostling my shoulder too much. 

8. Here is how to get a pullover shirt on: after making sure it’s made of stretchy cotton, carefully ease it up your injured arm. Then lean your head to the side and stick your head through it. Then slip in your uninjured arm. To take it off, repeat the process backwards. Be warned that if you do not heed the “stretchy fabric” advice, you can get stuck halfway with the shirt still on your head and your good arm bent into an awkward position behind your neck, chest bared to the world. This can be an awkward position in which to have to ask your neighbors for help.

9. Speaking of which, the more help you can get, the better. I am simultaneously amazed at how much I am able to do, and at how much remains difficult. But try to use this to your advantage: it is very difficult for me to fold lanudry, for example, or vacuum. Or chop vegetables. Or carry bags. Instead, I just empty the dishwasher and make one-armed attempts to “tidy.” I also let my husband cook me dinner. 

The weirdest part, at this point, is not pain — it’s immobility. My arm literally cannot lift itself beyond a certain point (though if I lift it with my other arm, I can move it much farther — it’s a matter of muscular issues, not stiffness). I gues there’s probably some damage done any time someone sticks a camera through your muscle. But still: I’m looking forward to officially starting PT. 

Any other suggestions or questions? Or reports from the field of how long full recovery takes? 

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11 years ago

Hope you heal quickly!

11 years ago

Hi Elaine, 
I live downtown, so I actually don’t need to drive. I’d say that I probably could at this point if I needed to, but due to the limited mobility of my right arm, I’m grateful for the bus! (This probably goes without saying, but for someone who has had surgery on her right arm, stick is a lot tougher than automatic).

good luck!

11 years ago

Thank you! That is exactly what I needed to hear. I have had several other arm and hand surgeries, but I’m afraid this is going to be more difficult. How long before you could drive?

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