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The Road to Shoulder Replacement Surgery and Surgeon Selection

by Barry Shulman |  Published: Sep 08, '18

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Not my normal JetSetWay blog. 
Recently I had a total shoulder replacement aka total shoulder arthroplasty.  I am going to chronicle the steps that lead up to it, the procedure itself, the hospital experience, and the long tough recovery process. 
The steps leading up to the surgery were many and taken over several years. Arthritis in my left shoulder has caused my cartilage to disintegrate overtime and the pain increased in direct proportion. Picture a tire losing its tread and then losing the rubber itself and driving on the wheel itself against the road.  Ouch.  Every night the excruciating pain woke me up.  The day was worse depending on the activity.  
I must admit I had a built-in bias against going to an orthopedic surgeon from the beginning as I wanted to explore and eliminate all other possibilities before having surgery. And in total fairness to all four orthopedic surgeons that I ultimately spoke with, not one of them tried to push surgery; each one of them said it was a last step and even then, it was not mandatory. It is always an option in proportion to how much you want to deal with the existing pain.
Before I went to any surgeon I had been in close contact with my terrific concierge doctor, J. Corey Brown, and we tried so many alternatives.  Prior to the surgery decision, I tried using a chiropractor, then physical therapy, then acupuncture, then went to a local orthopedic surgeon who tried a Cortisone shot. That left the surgery option.
The issue was simple.  Was I willing to have temporary pain and discomfort in order to regain my mobility? For me it was an easy choice because the pain kept escalating.
Dr. Brown referred me to the Southern California Orthopedic Institute, a huge well-respected organization of orthopedic surgeon specialists who also do a considerable amount of the training for other orthopedic surgeons. We just don’t have those options in Las Vegas.
Fortunately, one of the gentlemen who started the institute actually was an intern with Dr. Brown. All the information I received from that doctor and my research came to the same conclusion; have surgery or simply deal with the pain.
He suggested I use Dr.  Joseph Burns who is the ultimate specialist on total shoulder replacement.
It turns out that there are about 900,000 knee replacements performed every year in the U.S. and only 50,000 shoulder replacements.  The shoulder replacement is a more difficult type surgery. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the orthopedic surgeons who perform shoulder replacement surgeries only do one or two a year. Dr. Burns does about 50 of these surgeries annually and often is called in as the person to repair previous surgical problems. That notwithstanding, I got a second opinion from a family friend who is also a very highly respected orthopedic surgeon. He knows the group well and gave a total thumbs up.
Dr. Burns said this is a relatively good time to have the surgery, if there is a great time, because I am at the age where it will last my entire life and there is new technology that allows him to know exactly where to put in all the replacement items rather than just in the general area because of recent CAT Scan advances.
I have a personal theory that a lot of orthopedic surgeons are sports fan. It turns out that Dr. Burns did his undergrad at Yale and was actually a ballplayer on two varsity teams.
I particularly like Dr. Burns. Not only does it seem that the operation was an entire success, but he spent time speaking to my wife, Allyn, after the surgery in a manner that made her feel I was in good hands and the surgery was a success. No CYA.
I did not feel like just a number.  When he came to the hospital the next day on his rounds and chatted with me, he spent an inordinate amount of time explaining things.   It was important to him to go over post-surgery requirements that will help with my recovery over and above just basic shoulder items. He even went so far as to put me on a special low sugar diet because of my diabetic tendencies. He cares about his patients not just about his narrow surgical area.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
 
 
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