Category Archives: Anything Goes

Things I’ve learned from Shoulder Surgery

Five Things I’ve Learned While Recovering From Shoulder Surgery

1.  Stay away from shoulder surgery forums.

I did NOT follow my own advice here.  My intention was to educate myself on mobility and ice machines, which slings were the most comfortable, etc.   What I got was horror story after horror story leaving me thinking that instead of surgery, a better option might be to gnaw off my own arm. I was left filled with anxiety and stress weeks before surgery and I learned absolutely nothing that was useful to my situation.

There are many people who use forums as a dumping ground so they can let the world know their opinion on why their surgery went horribly, terribly wrong. Topics include anything from ‘This surgery almost killed me’ to, ‘I opted for the spinal block and it ruined my life!’  Granted, there are some threads that contain helpful advice – tips on how to find the most relief from the ice machine to advice on clothing choices that will allow you to dress yourself using one arm.  Unfortunately, you have to read through all of the terrorizing titles in order to find the few useful ones that might help.

If you DO decide to read through the forums (because, obviously, you want to be 100% prepared for anything, right?) just remember that a) you don’t know know the health background of the people writing, b) you are assuming that every person sharing their story is 100% telling the truth (yes, people do lie on the Internet) and c) those who have successful recoveries generally aren’t the ones who come back to write about it.  They simply get better and move on with their lives, which generally makes for a boring story.

So, keep those things in mind when you find yourself thinking that what has happened to one person might happen to you.  Just like every person is unique, so is their situation.


2.  Don’t hold onto expectations during your recovery.

Before my surgery I asked when I would be able to paint again.  My surgeon said, ‘Oh, I’d say within a week you’ll be picking up your paintbrush again.’ Fantastic, I thought.  That’s my target goal. However, when he left the room his nurse promptly said, ‘I’m going to have to disagree with that. You are not going to be in any position to use your arm that soon and shouldn’t expect to return to painting for a good month.’  Okay – well, a month isn’t so bad…THAT’S my new target goal!

It was nearly two months before I could hold a small brush in my hand and even then, my arm was so weak I could only manage painting for a few minutes at a time.

I was unaware of this fact, but once the shoulder is open and the surgeon can see what he/she is dealing with, it’s not uncommon to find something else that needs tended to such as old tissue or other minor tears.  In my case the surgeon found that my shoulder was dislocated, partially frozen, and I had a shoulder blade that for some unknown reason had begun tipping upward, putting pressure on the muscles above and causing them to atrophy.  When I awoke I was stunned to learn this new information, but what I was even more concerned with was the fact that I had three fingers that were numb to the touch.  This was definitely NOT what I had signed up for.  It took awhile, but learned that my recovery had made a deal with my body, not my mind.  No matter what I wanted, I could only do what my body was capable of doing – no more, no less, and that had to be good enough.

3.  Have a plan in place for these three things:  where you’ll sleep, what you’ll wear, how you’ll compensate with your opposite arm while you recover.

Sleep:  my doctor casually mentioned that I might want to sleep in a recliner for the first few weeks.  I didn’t fully appreciate the meaning of that suggestion so I will share my opinion on this first.  You will NEED to have a comfortable recliner to sleep in for at least the first four weeks post-op simply because no other position will be comfortable.  I tried stacking pillows in my bed to resemble that of a recliner but it is NOT the same.  Your shoulder needs the support of a firm back; it hurts less when the shoulder is elevated.   Borrow one, buy one, rent one.  You will not regret it.

Clothing: Prepare to look like a hot mess for the first couple of weeks.  Embrace it – you’ve just had major surgery. Men will have it easier – just go shirtless for the first couple of weeks, or slip on a tank top or loose t-shirt and pants with elastic.  Women will have it a bit more challenging.  Bras are not an option, so prepare to wear loose tops that you can slip over your head (search YouTube for videos on how to put shirts on using only one arm) and wear pants that require no zippers or buttons.  If you’ve got cute hats, wear them.  Showering won’t be an option for the first several days and styling your hair with one arm will be a challenge.  It can be done, but you’ll have more important concerns than trying to look pretty.

Using your opposite arm:  a few weeks before surgery, start practicing daily tasks with your good arm – brushing your teeth, combing your hair, shaving your face/legs, eating, etc. Mastering those few things will just give you less to worry about post-surgery.

4.  Be very careful when using prescription pain medication.

Opioid narcotics (Vicodin, Percocet, Codeine, etc) are excellent pain management drugs, and trust me – you will need a pain management plan.  However, these medications are known for causing constipation.  I’m not talking ‘mild discomfort’ constipation, but severe ‘everything literally stops moving’ type of constipation.  These drugs are a major player for the perfect storm.  You’re trying to rid your body from the anesthesia, you’re in pain and you’re not moving very much- three things that, together, will cause constipation anyway.  Top that off with Opioid narcotics and a small annoyance can quickly turn into a visit to the Emergency Room.  If you had ANY issues with constipation before your surgery, you will most certainly have them after.  Talk with your doctor, have a plan in place and make SURE that plan is working effectively.

5.  You DESERVE the most amazing, outstanding, kick-ass physical therapist in your town.  Find him/her – DO NOT SETTLE for anything less.

This surgery has caused more complications than I ever could have imagined.  I had to face the brutality of physical therapy without the use of any pain medication because my body couldn’t tolerate them.  Those first several weeks my therapist had to manipulate my shoulder in ways that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and he remained steadfast when I swore at the top of my lungs.

Six weeks post-op I was told that my shoulder was building up excessive scar tissue, making recovery more difficult. My therapist was there when I broke down; he was compassionate but refused to allow me to feel sorry for myself and reminded me that this was MY path.  I had to play the cards I was dealt and just keep fighting.

Eight weeks post-op my shoulder had re-frozen – a terribly heartbreaking blow for me.  With each lousy setback, my therapist was right there to pick me up, convince me that I was tough enough to handle it and set me back on course.

You will spend a good deal of time with your physical therapist after your surgery; therapy is CRUCIAL to your recovery.  Find a good provider.  It is THAT important.

…….so, where am I now?

I’m currently 3 months post-op.  My shoulder is still re-frozen and I am learning to deal with the chronic pain that still accompanies my recovery but I AM recovering.  I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a husband that understands me and friends that give me the gift of patience as I ease my way back into Living.  I am painting again, creating some of the best works of my career.  I spend a lot of time reminding myself what it means to be in the present moment.  Change is inevitable – I am not the same that I was yesterday and tomorrow I will be different than I am today.  Accepting what currently ‘is’ is what’s getting me through.

I’ll wrap things up with a share of one of my latest paintings from my Power Animals of the Planet series.  Thanks for your thoughts as I continue to recover.  :)

panther~~Black Panther symbolizes determination, will, and tremendous patience. She teaches us to be comfortable with darkness, for within darkness, light can be found. Trust that all will be well. Confront your fears. Embrace your inner strength.
Be Like Panther.~~










Shoulder surgery update

I have meant to post an update (several progress reports, actually) since surgery.  Unfortunately, I have had complications which has, at times, brought me to my knees.  It has been difficult.  Due to my inability to tolerate any prescribed pain medication, I’ve had to grit my teeth and push through physical therapy on my own.

I have been trying to distract myself as much as I am able by painting with my left hand as I can tolerate.  I posted an update via my Instagram account this afternoon which sums up the last few weeks and my current state of mind (which, at times, changes by the hour):


“Progress on Squirrel.  It has been five weeks now since shoulder surgery, and although I am grateful that I’ve been able to make use of my left hand I am eager to get back to normal and move forward from this chapter of my life. Rehab has been the most painful and challenging thing I have ever been through. Pain is an evil temptress – it begs you to quit; it taunts and misleads you into thinking you can’t take any more – but then you realize what you’re working for and the end goal is suddenly all that matters – quitting is not an option.”

Thank you for your thoughts.  Until next time….

Off I go.

This will be my last post before heading off to surgery to fix my shoulder. The wait has been long but I have managed to remain calm for the most part, even though I have shown slivers of craziness on occasion. I take pride in the fact that I am self-aware most of the time and know when I am being unreasonable.

My biggest shortcoming while waiting for a stressful event to take place – especially one that I cannot control, is to try and control things immediately surrounding me. My husband unfortunately gets the best micromanager around – ME – and he doesn't even have to ask. The other day I found myself planning his entire day, deciding for him when he would walk the dogs and eat breakfast; being the good manager I am, I was gracious enough to carve out some time for him in the afternoon to take a little break before finishing the remaining tasks I had in store for him. Only when I found myself moving the dog leashes closer and closer to him did I realize what I was doing. I waited for him to look up from reading with a confused look on his face but he didn't; he only smiled very slightly and shook his head. I apologized and immediately recognized the fact that since I was unable to control anything revolving around my surgery the next best thing was to control everyone in my universe. Thank goodness he understands me; since that revelation I have been doing much better and spending a lot of time meditating. I even went to my first Reiki treatment a couple of days ago. A repeat buyer of my artwork has become a dear friend and she generously offered me a complementary session with her which I graciously accepted. I had no idea what to expect and refrained from reading very much about it beforehand because I didn't want my thoughts about it to influence what I might feel.

I was pleasantly surprised, feeling calm and at peace afterward. On my drive home I found myself with a significant amount of energy – something I have been lacking for the last couple of weeks due to the combination of stress and inability to sleep at night due to shoulder pain. Is no downside to this type of treatment and if you have never had a session before I recommend going in without any preconceived notion; you will likely reflect positively on the outcome.

… So, off I go. Thanks to each of you for your comments of well wishes and positive thoughts – I appreciate every single one. The next time you hear from me I hope to be back painting and successfully tending to my left arm which unfortunately, also has a tear. It is my hope that I will not have to repeat the surgery in another six months when my right shoulder heals. Remaining positive is the key.

Surrender and release.



Setting forth good intentions before shoulder surgery

You’ve made it through Thanksgiving, Christmas parties, family get-togethers, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. That’s a lot of socializing in two short months, so I hope you are getting your selves a break and patting herself on the back for a job well done on this New Year’s day, 2015. I for one have had one of the busiest and most fun schedules of my adult life over the past six months and it is all due to having the best set of friends a girl could ever ask for, a husband who still gets me and makes me laugh after nearly 15 years together, and the ability to continue working on my art full-time. Yes, 2014 was a wonderful year.

This is not to say that I had no major setbacks in 2014 – Life is not perfect, after all; but when the Good outweighs the Bad and I continue to wake up feeling incredibly blessed and grateful for the life I have, then life is pretty fantastic indeed.

I have gained a little over 6 pounds in the last six months which I have been halfheartedly attempting to lose; it is now time to put that thought into a plan of action because I need to prepare myself for another major surgery. I spent the better part of 2014 trying to nurse a shoulder injury back to health. I received acupuncture, electromagnetic stimulation and other various therapies to no avail. My diagnosis recently came back as a sobering realization that I have a rotator cuff and labral tear in my shoulder. The cherry on top of this train wreck of an injury is an unidentifiable mass on my scapula that is pressing on underline nerves and muscle. At least I will be making the surgeons job worthwhile by getting my moneys worth, right? Three surgeries for the price of one! Never underestimate the rationale of a frugal woman :-)

If you happened to be following my blog as I was recovering from my abdominal hysterectomy back in 2012 then you will understand my bit of anxiety about having another surgery. I spent the first day and a half emotionally exhausted and in complete freak out mode. A few obsessive-compulsive thoughts started rearing their ugly heads in the middle of the night as I try to sleep. I always been very honest and open on this blog and considered sharing all of my rational as well as irrational thoughts with you but my I have decided that I am not going to do that. One of my personal power words for 2015 is this:


My concerns over this surgery will not change what has already been decided. Therefore, I am making it my job to put forth all of the good that will come from it, and make every attempt to leave all negative thoughts in their place. I feel as though I am about to enter a very thick, lush forest of trees. There is a solid path ahead that will be long and challenging but there is no way around it; no shortcut. I either take that first step forward and begin the journey or I just stand there, stagnant and afraid. At this point fear is no longer an option for me; without the surgery the best case scenario will most certainly be a dislocated shoulder, rendering my painting arm useless. If that’s not enough of a motivator for me, nothing will be.

Because my time spent painting will be altered significantly, it is my hope that through the miracle of verbal dictation I will be blogging a bit more during my recovery, and I look forward to reconnecting with those of you who have hung on as faithful followers of this site.

It’s been a while since I have posted any new artwork here. I assure you my neglect of this site has not been in vain. My series for 2015 will be titled: Power Animals of the Planet. Here is a peek of my first few pieces–



I apologize for the lack of clarity as these were taken directly from my camera, sans any editing.


A Happy New Year to you all– one that is filled with health and happiness.

Until next time…

Color Run, Recipe and Recap

Yes, well – ahem…..I’m still here, just not – ‘here’. The truth is, my computer time has been extremely limited as it agitates certain muscles that I’m still trying to heal, but I simply HAD to check in and fill you in on what’s been happening in life since my last post.

Most recently, I participated in my first 5K on Saturday, yes I did!  The Color Run to be exact, and here are a couple of pics to prove it:


colorrun3Our place at the Starting Line

colorrun1Craig and I at the Finish Line

The race happened to be on the same day as our wedding anniversary.  What a great time, and the best part – participating with a great group of friends that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.  If you’ve never done a 5K before (and you aren’t worried about your time) I highly recommend this as a first race.

The rest of my summer has gone equally well, even though I’m still nursing my shoulder back to health.  I finally let go of my need to paint and focused on the things I actually ‘could’ do instead of thinking about what I couldn’t.  The last few months have been a huge learning experience for me; had this injury not have happened, I would have missed out on experiences and friendships that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  Not always do we see lessons in hindsight, but when we do it makes us much more compassionate about those rough times, doesn’t it?

Right now I’m easing back into my painting and should be finishing up my first mixed media piece since June at some point tomorrow!  When I’m not painting, I’m enjoying my new group of friends and finding creative ways to use sweet potatoes in nearly everything I bake since they are in season right now – I have a sweet potato bread recipe that I’ll be sharing soon, but first: Sweet Potato Pudding which has only 5 ingredients.  Better yet, It’s vegan, has no added sugar and is absolutely amazing.  I have no photos to share (you can go onto Pinterest and find a slew of them) but the recipe follows:

Mix the following in a blender, food processor or Magic Bullet:

2 ripe bananas, 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk, 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 cup of cooked and cooled sweet potato flesh.

Spoon into a bowl and enjoy.

Glacier National Park Road Trip

I am feeling somewhat recovered from my trip to Glacier National Park.  I was going to type up an intro to just how special this place is, but then I decided that there isn’t anything I can say that will compare with the beauty of the photos that follow, so I’ll let them speak for themselves:


Heading into Montana we came across several of these canola fields.  Not many people like the color chartreuse, but against this brilliant blue sky it was pure magic.



Montana horses!



Once inside the park, this is the kind of scenery that you’ll see from nearly every angle.


Wildflowers were in bloom on several of the trails we hiked.


A photo of Lynn and I (taken by my husband) during our hike at Beaver Pond Loop Trail.





At the end of the trail to Avalanche Lake.


Mountain Goats with their young.

2014-07-26 09.17.18


Kintla Lake


We literally ran into this mama moose.  Her baby was nestled on the other side of her.



Taking in the beauty of it all.

photo(12)Photo courtesy of Jennifer Nealy


If you ever get the chance to visit this unspoiled, breathtaking place, do.  I promise you will not regret it.  We drove over 1600 miles to get there and even though I’m still recovering from the 4 day journey back, I’d return again and again without the slightest hesitation.  It is worth every mile spent on gas, every moment in the car – for when you arrive you’ll think of nothing else about your life other than how grateful you are to be surrounded by such unspoiled beauty.

For more photos of our trip and the perspective of another blogger that we met while in Glacier, head over to read this post by Nealys on Wheels.

Road Trippin’

The breathtaking, untouched beauty of Glacier National Park was bestowed upon me and my husband for 7 full days in mid-July.  On his bucket list for well over a decade, we decided that this was our year to go.  My father, before he died, reminded me to refrain from making the same mistake he made.  A few months before he passed away he said, ‘Don’t be like me. If there is something you want to do, do it before it’s too late and you’re too sick or too old to enjoy it.  Work isn’t everything; memories are what you’ll be talking about when you’ve got nothing left.’

Okay, so it may be a bit sullen to put on a T-Shirt, but his words were meant to be sobering.  He’d worked his entire life, first to keep himself fed and clothed after he left home at a young age due to major conflicts between he and his father; then working two jobs in order to support a quickly growing family that consisted of a wife and 4 children whom were nearly all in diapers at the same time (they were to receive a 9 year break before I came along).

Still, Glacier National Park seemed as fantasy a vacation as Hawaii or Alaska (both of which happen to be on MY bucket list) but kudos to us for saving our pennies and keeping our eyes on the prize.  This was our year.

Since we were meeting up with Lynn and Clark from Tales from the Mutiny we decided that renting an RV would be the most convenient and comfortable way to get from Indiana to Montana.  I haven’t had much (if any) trouble with my back in months so I was pretty confident that I could make the 1,620 miles there – no doubt.  But doing it by car over three days? That sounded downright miserable.  So, an RV rental it was.  We were to become temporary nomads, driving as far as we wanted and setting up camp when we couldn’t go any further.

As you can imagine, the drive there was much more fun than the drive back.  This was for many reasons.  First, our little RV felt like a cozy little treehouse on wheels.  It was fun being able to stand up and stretch or open the refrigerator for a container of yogurt while my husband drove through Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota on Saturday.  What was most fun about the way there however, was laying eyes on this sweet face – Laura from The Gluten-Free Treadmill.

EllenLauraWhen Craig and I found out that we’d be driving right through Fargo, North Dakota I checked the map and realized that we would be less than 2 hours from where Laura lives.  She and I have a special bond that simply cannot be explained and I just love her to pieces.  After a few failed attempts we both basically drove toward each other until we became close enough to pull over at the nearest exit to us.  We visited for nearly an hour and talked about everything from art to life as a student in North Dakota to her BIG decision to run for sexual violence awareness next May from New York to San Francisco (which you can read about by clicking the link above or donate by clicking here).  Sadly it wasn’t enough time, but we had to part ways so Craig and I could continue on our journey westward.

We left Indiana Saturday morning and arrived in Glacier National Park on Monday around 6 PM. In my next post I’ll share some of the many, many photos I took while there but right now this gal is dog-tired, so stay tuned…..


And off we go

As of Saturday I will be away from my computer for a couple of weeks, sans a few photos posted to my FB art page and Instagram accounts (find me at either space at Ellen Brenneman Studio). I am taking a much needed vacation – my first road trip in nearly a decade, as a matter of fact. Me, my husband, my camera and my paintbrush are heading to Glacier National Park to see some of this:


And this:


I am looking forward to connecting with a part of the US that I’ve never seen and am MOST excited to be meeting up with Lynn from Learning Curves and her husband Clark while these two…


…..remain home where they will be pampered and loved on by my fantastic nephew SO MUCH that they will hopefully forgive us fairly quickly for not taking them along.

I expect to be back with a fully-functioning arm and enough inspiring photos to paint my way through Fall and Winter.

Pics when I return :) xo


The Good Outweighs the Bad

This past Saturday I had my first art fair of the season.  Today I was scheduled to have a suspected melanoma removed from my eyelid.

First the good news – cause the good news certainly outweighs the bad, by far: several days ago I noticed that the spot on my eye was improving.  I watched it very carefully and it had improved SO much that I called my doctor’s office to let them know that I didn’t think I was going to need to keep my surgical appointment.  My dermatologist – being the fine guy he is, wanted to see me anyway.  When I arrived for my appointment and he looked at my eye he was just as surprised to see that my eye had pretty much returned to normal.  I asked him what could have happened to cause this chain of events.  He believed what was likely to have happened was that I’d suffered some sort of trauma to my eye and developed a hematoma under the lid which pooled at the site of the freckle, causing it to darken in color and become raised.

For as upset as I was about having to wait to get a proper appointment to have the surgery, I’m now so grateful that I did because it gave my body time to heal itself and kept me from having an unnecessary surgery.  Relief – sweet, sweet relief.

As for the fair, well – it was less than stellar, let’s put it that way.  I can sum up the entire day using the one sentence I said to my husband as we began our drive back home:

“I don’t understand how I can receive such encouraging, positive feedback online yet feel so utterly invisible in the real world.”

There was also a snafu regarding my work being shown in an area of high humidity and sunlight.  Turns out, it can’t.  I have two more shows yet this summer and will have no original paintings to show; I simply cannot afford to take the risk of damaging them in an unstable environmental setting.   Live and learn.

…to end on a good note, my left handed studies are vastly improving. I have just finished a watercolor of a Great Horned Owl:



He is now up for auction on my Facebook page until Sunday night.  He’ll always remind me that no matter where I am in my career – no matter what new paths lie ahead, the fact that I could paint something so special using a skill I never before realized I had, well – it just fills me with gratitude.


Fairs, Funding, and an Update

Summer is in full swing around here which, for me means that art fair season has begun.  This Saturday, July 5 will be my first show. If any of you are in the Saugatuck, Michigan area please stop by and pay me a visit as I will be at the Waterfront Invitational from 10 AM to 5 PM.  And if you do stop by and I don’t recognize you, please forgive me. Because I am on so many different social media sites and because some of you use different profile names, it can get a bit confusing, so make sure you tell me that you are a reader of my blog or follow me on Facebook, etc.   This way I can give you the appreciation you deserve for making your way through hordes of people to stop and say hello! :)

In other news, my shoulder/arm is slowly getting better (and I do mean slowly).  As long as I don’t do any fine motor activities with my right hand I sense an improvement. Unfortunately it takes both hands to prepare for my show on Saturday so I am still having a bit of trouble with it.  Still, any improvement is a good thing.  I have finished three left-handed studies so far and am improving my photography skills in order to keep my mind busy during this time. My latest two non-dominant hand paintings are below.  I’m seeing a marked improvement in my left hand, which is nice.

giraffe IMG_2231

As I complete these I’ve been selling them on Facebook. It’s funny, but these are as well received as the work I do with my dominant hand.  Funny.

On to other news: my dermatology appointment is still set for July 10, however there is been an interesting development. I have been watching the freckle/mole on my eyelid and it appears to be changing once again – this time for the better.  Last week I noticed when removing my makeup that the surface was no longer raised like it had been.  Neither was it as dark as it was.  I have no idea what this means as I’ve never had this happen before. I will be keeping my appointment so that my doctor can determine what, if anything, needs to be done at this time but overall I am beyond thrilled with this turn of events. :)

Lastly, many of you may know my friend Laura who blogs over at the Gluten-free Treadmill. If you don’t know Laura, she is a long-term weight loss maintainer as well, and is also a long distance runner.  Laura has decided to take on a huge challenge beginning in May, 2015.  She is going to run across the United States from New York to San Francisco for sexual violence awareness.  She’ll also attempt to break the female record for a TransAmerica run. I have added a widget to the right side of my blog which supports Laura’s cause.  Right now she is trying to fund this run and could use our support. Please check it out and help if you can.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far – have a Happy Fourth of July weekend :)