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Last October, I was taking an aerial yoga class when I dislocated my shoulder for the 15th time.
Picture this: I was lying on the floor with my butt in the air and my thighs floating in one of those silk things. My back and shoulders were on the floor and, as the yoga teacher tried to help me reposition for the next pose, POP! Out went my shoulder, and the class was over for me.
It wasn’t the yoga teacher’s fault, though. My shoulder has been dislocating roughly once a year since I turned 18 years old. In fact, my first shoulder dislocation happened at my 18th birthday party. It was a pool party (since I grew up in Florida) and we were all having fun, until a friend threw me off a floating device in the shallow end of the pool and… Well, it was basically either I crack my head open on the underwater stairs or I stop myself. But in stopping myself, I dislocated my shoulder for the first time and the rest, as they say, is history.
Here is what most people do not know about shoulder dislocations: They don’t happen the way they do in the movies.
In the movies, it’s usually some crazy action scene where the star dislocates their shoulder during some life-saving stunt. Then they simply pop it back in place as if it’s no big deal. Sure, it usually looks like it hurts a little but that’s about it. Well, let me tell you, it is not like that at all.
When my shoulder dislocates, it is SUPER visible. In the movies, you can barely see anything! Not to mention that it hurts. A LOT. And you can’t really do it yourself because you could fracture or shatter your bone. So, when my shoulder dislocates like it did last October during yoga class, I go straight to the emergency room, where they patch me back up — a process that usually takes several hours.
My dislocated bone hands below my shoulder and there is definitely a gap you can see (it’s gross, sorry). Every little movement I do hurts, so I can only really walk by holding my arm up and moving veeeeeeeery slowly. As soon as I can, I ask for pain medication and it usually takes something strong to get my shoulder back into its socket.
Lately, the doctors do what is called a “Twilight Sedation”. I’m basically knocked the F out for about 10 minutes, during which they maneuver the shoulder back into place. This also requires X-rays (to confirm my shoulder is indeed dislocated and then to make sure it’s safely back) and lots of doctors. After they patch me up, I’m sent on my way. Sometimes they give me additional pain medication but usually it’s just a sling and off on my merry way.
The one thing that also always happens whenever I end up in the ER with a dislocated shoulder is that I am given a recommendation to see an orthopedist as soon as possible.
That’s a shoulder doctor, basically. (Well, they do a lot more than that, of course).
In December 2009, I saw one and had surgery to repair my torn labrum. This was a surgery that was supposed to prevent me from ever dislocating my shoulder again… But then I had a big accident the next December (falling down the subway steps in NYC, where I lived) and it dislocated again. And another 10 times after that, bringing me to the grand total of 15.
When my shoulder dislocated for the 14th time back in May 2016, I had just moved from NYC to FL and met my now-husband Adam. He took me to the hospital and took care of me, which was really nice. When it happened again in October 2017, he came to get me at the yoga class and took me to the ER. It felt like the same old, same old to me.
I’ve been so used to my shoulder popping out and the doctors popping it back in that I was no longer looking at the bigger picture: My overall health.
Well, that changed with my 15th shoulder dislocation. Adam and I were engaged now and talking about possibly moving up our wedding date to get married before the end of 2017 (which we did). One of the reasons we wanted to move up our wedding date is because of health insurance concerns… and, to be honest, we started to talk about what it would mean for me to have better health insurance and the possibility of me getting surgery to permanently repair my shoulder. Again.
When I had a busy career and kind of shitty insurance and was dealing with my recovery and was generally just… not wanting to deal with it, to be honest. My shoulder dislocation had become an inconvenience that I was fine dealing with once in a while. It was something that I knew happened once a year or so and that was fine. I wasn’t worrying about it too much because it hadn’t gotten worse, but it hadn’t gotten better either.
What my 15th shoulder dislocation did for me, though, is that it forced me to think (and talk to Adam about) what it means to have this problem for the rest of my life. How is it going to affect my work? How is it going to affect me when we decide to have kids? How much is this problem going to cost us, as a family, if I have to continuously go to the ER and, well, pay those medical bills?
These were all big concerns and big questions that I finally had to face, all thanks to this shoulder dislocation…
And, let me tell you: It was really good that I finally faced them. Yesterday, I finally had a consultation with a doctor about my shoulder. He figured out that I have weak collagen and am too flexible, which is probably why I have such a problem with my shoulder dislocating (and why I was born with a dislocated hip). Then he recommended I get an MRI, which I am doing later today, and we may even have a plan in place to do something about this whole continuous shoulder dislocation issue.
For that, I am excited… and, to be honest, grateful that I dislocated my shoulder for the 15th time last fall.
It’s not every day that hurting yourself actually does something good for you. For me, it was all about recognizing that I can’t stop ignoring a health problem and hope it goes away. This will never go away. At least not without me actually doing something about it. And, well, now I am.