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Pain Blockers during Surgery Helps with Pain Management and Recovery Time

Updated on August 3, 2012
Lego Operating Room
Lego Operating Room | Source

Getting a Proper Diagnosis from a Competent Doctor

A few years ago, I injured my left shoulder and fractured it. I was not aware that my shoulder was broken, so I did not seek medical attention as I should have. Since then, I have experienced a tremendous amount of pain, especially when the weather forecast called for rain and snow.

I finally decided to see my doctor, who ordered x-rays. The x-ray results showed that I had "mild arthritis", and there did not appear to be any other problems. This seemed like an odd diagnosis because I also had frozen shoulder, and when I would try to lift up my arm, for example, to do The Chicken Dance, I could not raise it far. The doctor recommended physical therapy, which made the problem much worse.

When a new doctor joined the health center, where I am patient, I was able to schedule an appointment to see her. She told me arthritis was not the problem and felt there was more going on inside my shoulder. I was given a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. Finally, a doctor who truly listened to her patients.

Planning for Surgery

An MRI of my shoulder revealed some interesting information. The orthopedic surgeon informed me that I had a large, hard mass in my shoulder that was blocking my bones, causing my range of motion to be limited. He was concerned that I might have torn the rotator cuff but could not tell because the mass was in the way in the MRI pictures, and he could not see past it. He informed me I needed to have surgery right away to remove the mass, and that he would do other repairs he felt needed to be done while he had me on the operating table.

The surgeon explained the surgical procedure, which included three small incisions, and he would be going in with a camera so he could see the mass as he was removing it. The surgeon sent me on my way and, "See you in one week for your surgery. Be sure to wear your sling for at least two days after surgery, and you may need to wear it for up to three weeks."

Great! One week? I had so many things to do at home, like catch up on dishes and laundry, and finish painting the bedrooms. I spent the week getting as much done as I could. My mother, a hospital trooper, was awesome and told me she would pick me up and stay with me at the hospital until the surgery was over, when she would return me to my home.

Types of Anesthesia for Surgery

Many people are aware that regional (also called local) anesthesia is available for certain minor surgeries such as tubal ligation, vasectomy, carpal tunnel, and even during Cesarean sections. With some surgeries, the patient is given a choice to either receive regional anesthesia or general anesthesia.

Regional anesthesia involves placing the anesthetic, locally, in the area of nerves that affect the part of the body being operated on. Some patients prefer this option over general anesthesia because their recovery time is quicker, and they will also have longer post-operative pain relief. Regional anesthesia is a good choice if the surgery will not last longer than an hour, as most people will become fidgety after that amount of time.

General anesthesia is more intense and causes the patient to be put into a deep sleep during surgery. Some patients prefer not being awake while someone is cutting them open, so they choose this option instead. Certain surgeries that are more invasive, such as open-heart surgery, gall bladder removal, or cancer surgeries, will require the patient to undergo general anesthesia. Some surgeries can last for hours, which would make general anesthesia a better option than regional.

I am someone who has underwent nine surgeries in my lifetime, so I already had a decent understanding regarding anesthesia.

One thing I did not know, though, was that a patient can choose both regional and general anesthesia for certain surgeries. When I was offered this option for my recent shoulder surgery (which took place on 8/1/12), I jumped at the chance of being able to wake up in recovery with no pain whatsoever. The surgeon referred to the regional anesthesia as a "pain blocker" and guaranteed 6 to 30 hours pain-free, after surgery, with the average being around 18 hours.

Surgery Day

Surgery was scheduled at noon, but I was required to arrive two hours early for pre-operative procedures. I dressed in comfortable clothing and wore a baggy t-shirt and sweatpants to the hospital because I knew dressing myself would be difficult afterwards.

After my vitals signs were recorded and my health history was evaluated, the nurse brought in the anesthesiologist, who wanted to talk to me about performing a "pain blocker" in my shoulder, which would allow me to remain pain free for several hours after surgery. I liked the idea but informed the anesthesiologist that I did not like needles. He winked and said not to worry because they would sedate me before he performed the procedure. I was awake when the pain blocker was injected into the side of my neck, near my shoulder.

My arm became numb quickly, and I was wheeled off to surgery. Once the surgeon had me in the proper position for the surgical procedure, the anesthesiologist then administered the medicine to put me to sleep, and off to La-La Land I went so the surgeon could perform the much needed Subacromial Decompression (the technical medical lingo the surgery).

I fully expected to wake up in some pain, but that was not the case. When I woke up, the nurse checked my vital signs again and asked how I was feeling. She brought me two pieces of toast and a soda, telling me that if I could keep them down, she would let me get ready to go home. My recovery time, once I woke up, was approximately 45 minutes.

Just as I was getting ready to depart, my surgeon came in and showed me the pictures they took of the inside of my shoulder. He told me I had broken my shoulder, and a floating bone chip had caused the mass to form and grow.

Have you ever had to have surgery?

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After reading this hub, which anesthesia method do you think you would prefer?

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Going Home with a Gimpy Arm

As I was being released from the hospital, the nurse reminded me to have my prescription for pain medications filled before I went home. She told me that the pain blocker would wear off because I would be in a great deal of pain, and that I was to wear my sling for the first couple days, at least.

I decided not to be alone the rest of the day, and a good friend picked me up to stay at his house for the evening. He laughed at me, hysterically, when he saw how the pain blockers had affected me. When I touched my arm, it felt like I was touching someone else's arm. I had no control of my arm. It was limp and I could not move it no matter how hard I tried. I took my sling off for awhile because we were sitting on the couch watching television. Every time I moved, my arm would flop off my lap and land next to me on the couch. I would have to pick it up with my good hand and set my numb arm back onto my lap.

Needless to say, I was on the receiving end of some very funny comments and jokes and was called "Gimpy" for the rest of the evening. But, I also remained pain free for almost 14 hours, giving me extra healing time.

The numbness in my arm is completely gone, and the pain is manageable.

So, if you are facing an upcoming surgery, talk to your anesthesiologist to determine of pain blockers is a viable option for you. It did help me tremendously.

Appearance after surgery from front
Appearance after surgery from front
My shoulder after surgery showing more of the back of it.
My shoulder after surgery showing more of the back of it.

© by Jennifer McLeod writing as jenjen0703, all rights reserved.


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    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 5 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      Yes, it was. But, having an arm that was totally numb was no fun either. I had no muscle control in any way for the first 14 hours, so it was hard to do things for myself. Thanks for reading!!

    • quildon profile image

      Angela Joseph 5 years ago from Florida

      I am amazed you were able to sit and watch TV without pain right after surgery. The nerve block seems to have been the right choice for that type of surgery.

    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 5 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      Thanks fpherj48 for reading my hub. Sorry for freaking you out with the pictures. I've been trying to use more of my own pictures on some of my hubs rather than free ones off the internet.

      I have three sons, and I understand what you are saying, totally. We have had our share of broken bones, lacerations, and surgeries in our home. This was my 9th surgery I have had, with at least one more to go in the future on my back.

      Amazingly, despite the looks of my shoulder, I am in some moderate pain, but not excruciating. And, it's not keeping me from getting some things done.

    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 5 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      Yes, TahoeDoc, an interscalene block is exactly what they gave me for the nerve block. They sedated me some first, did the block, and sent me straight to the operating room.

      Although, the block was irritating because my arm felt dead for about 14 hours, I was relieved to not be stuck in bed in severe pain right after surgery. I was able to get around and still enjoy some of my evening.

      Thanks for checking out my hub. Thanks for the information, too. I think I will do some editing at a later time and include the type of nerve blocks you are describing.

    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      I'm glad your nerve block helped you! You probably had what is called an interscalene block, the most common type of regional anesthetic used for shoulder surgery. (I'm an anesthesiologist who places these blocks :) ).

      Not everyone is a candidate for a peripheral nerve block like this (as you point out in your hub), but most people who do get them are happy they did. Interscalene blocks are used for shoulder surgery, and femoral nerve blocks are used for knee surgeries. These are probably the two most commonly placed nerve blocks (at least they are in my practice).

      Glad you did well with your block. Nice job describing your experience!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Hi Jen Jen......Whoa! I wish I'd have had a big ALERT! warning that the post-surgery shoulder pictures were coming up! This old Gramma doesn't have what it takes for sights like that......Bad memories and the stuff of nightmares.......Raised 4 boys....into all the Sports known to man. Ya think we spent a bit of time throwing our money into medical facilities?? So glad it's over!

      This is very valuable information here, Jen and I appreciate your work in bringing this to us.

      I myself have had a few surgical procedures......and actually, through trial and error...or maybe I should just say, with each subsequent surgery, I learned to communicate clearly and fully with my PCP/Surgeon, specifically about "anesthesia".....the first time or 2, it was obvious to me, post surgery, that far too high of a dose was administered to put me under.......

      We (the patient) need to take some responsibility in our health/medical needs..........Great HUB! UP++