A busted shoulder taught me fear is the key to exercise

By Harveena Herr

Was it the yoga class? Did I haul something out of the loft? Did I pick up the dog? Did I…? Nope, nope, none of that.I had niggling pain in my shoulder and upper arm and thought I’d over-stretched ‘something’. Two nights later, I found myself in so much pain I was reduced to tears. The husband woke up with a start, and went, “Why didn’t you wake me up?” Somewhat incoherently, I wailed, “I didn’t want to.” The nightmare had just begun. My arm hurt so much it felt like it had been sawed in several places. A saw with dull teeth, I might add.

The orthopaedic, a bullet-headed and cheerful Dr Khaled assessed the range of motion. I could move my arm just a tiny bit forward and back but absolutely couldn’t move an inch sideways. The x-ray technician asked me to put my arm over my head — what, like a pin-up model, I thought sourly to myself — then proceeded with a few feeble attempts. It took over an hour to take two x-rays — I tried to vacate my mind of pain, which was alive, like a serpent licking my brain. The point being, the doctor could not identify a clear link between a specific action and the ghastly reaction.

To even get to the doctor — the basics of looking after myself and going out into the world — was an enormous challenge. Think about it: how do you dress? ‘What do I wear’ suddenly took on an entirely new meaning.

Trousers — too difficult, leggings would have to do. A top, blouse to pull over my head… Are you KIDDING me? Much whimpering later, I raided my husband’s shirt collection, and attempted to slip the sleeve over my starkly immobilised arm. Couldn’t comb my hair — had a wild thought of cutting it off entirely. My Indonesian helper Nanik kindly (and cleverly) countered that the scissors at home were not sharp enough and so hacking my tresses was probably a bad idea. Flip-flops completed the ensemble.

There aren’t any potholes in the road leading to the clinic but I identified every dip and angle on that stretch. The husband who was driving, was frazzled and probably equally in need of attention by the time we got there.

There was no help for it, the doctor judged by the severity of what he identified as tendinitis, I would need corticosteroid injections in the shoulder, and every shade of painkiller in town, oral, injected, emergency only, as well as fomentation, physiotherapy, et al. I protested, “Not steroids, please, Doc.” He reached over and placed a light finger-tip on my left shoulder. I folded and attempted to give up the ghost.

Many, many lessons from this one. I learnt that I’m not as self-sufficient as I imagine I am. A little (major eye-roll, here) thing like this completely upended my life. I couldn’t sit, stand, lie down without a red hot fury whipping through me. The pain seemed to spread to every part of my body.

When you can’t towel your back dry by yourself, you had better not have attitude. A little humility will go a long way.

Clothes, appearances, your things — nothing means a thing when you don’t have health.

I learnt how grateful I could be for the smallest kindness offered to me.

And how completely terrifying that place was, when I was literally helpless with pain.

And how, with absolute certainty, I now know that looking after my health and maintaining basic fitness levels is entirely up to me. This is not something I can postpone because I had a late night, extra heavy day at office, or that I don’t feel like it today.

There are no cheat days. It’s today, it’s now. There is clearly no better time to take charge.

Here’s some of what I learnt along the way: when you’re really in need of care is not the ideal time to see which clinic, or insurance facility works for you. Your HR folks should get you clued-in.

Based on notes from the orthopaedic/ physiotherapist/ research, anybody could have an attack like mine. I returned to the editorial floor in office, and looked at about 100 people, all hunched in front of their screens. Never noticed the postures before. How many are dedicated to maintaining at least basic fitness levels? Move every joint, rest your eyes, take a deep breath? A handful, if that. How many people in office get up, stretch, go walkabout? Every 45 minutes? No-one. The dictum ‘Use it or lose it’ is a familiar one, but I had thought it applied to ageing. Clearly, I can’t allow myself to be so lax about my basic health that I place it last in my list of priorities.

I’m not going to jump up and become a gymbo overnight. But looking after my self is a promise I have to make to myself. Can’t shirk it any longer. The humiliation of depending on someone else for every single, little thing through the day  — to wait to be served, to be unable to do simple things like answer the phone, pick up a book to read, or even sit down where I choose — that was hard. I have to do everything in my power to make myself well. I should be grateful I caught a glimpse of what could be.

This is one fear that I need to keep alive.


Harveena has gone walkabout and will be back after lunch. If that



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