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BRAD DOKKEN COLUMN: Baby steps to recovery

The photo popped up as a memory on Facebook the other day, and it reminded me how much I take for granted when it comes to the simple act of just getting outside on a nice day.

I suspect I'm no different than anyone else.

The day had been one of those perfect late January affairs, sunny but not oppressively cold, and I was taking the scenic route home after spending the weekend fishing with a Canadian friend on Lake Winnipeg.

Instead of heading straight south to Grand Forks, I drove east and south through Steinbach, Man., and down to the border station at Pinecreek, Minn., in Roseau County.

Our family owns property nearby, and the scenic route offered an opportunity to get out and enjoy it, if only for a couple of hours.

Snowshoeing and snowmobiling were on the agenda that afternoon. I took the photos that appeared in the recent Facebook memory during my snowshoe trek, the highlight being a sharp-tailed grouse that exploded out of the snow between my feet as it rocketed to a nearby patch of brush.

That snowshoe hike provided both exercise and entertainment.

The simple act of strapping on those snowshoes and heading into the afternoon to see what I could see seemed like the easiest, most natural thing in the world on that January afternoon.


Not. Physically. Possible.

For a few more weeks, at least.

Not with my right arm in a sling.

Some of you have noticed that local outdoors content has been a bit on the skimpy side the past few weeks. The reason for that is the same reason going for an afternoon snowshoe hike—or any other outdoor activity I've taken for granted all my life—isn't an option these days.

Strapping on a pair of snowshoes isn't possible with only one good arm. Not with my bindings, at least.

Fortunately, it will be possible again in a few weeks, but for now, I'm relegated to memories or getting my outdoors fix vicariously through the experiences of others.

As someone who likes to be on the go, that's a tough pill to swallow.

In early January, I had arthroscopic surgery to repair a damaged rotator cuff in my right shoulder. The incisions aren't very big, but the work that went into repairing the damage—"you had quite a lot of damage," is how the doctor put it—is notoriously slow to heal.

As part of the recovery protocol, the shoulder isn't supposed to move for the first several weeks except for physical therapy and passive, low impact exercises. As a result, I'll have my arm in a sling for at least a couple of more weeks. There's light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm not there yet.

I'm back at work, but I won't be getting out for any adventurous excursions for several more weeks. For now, the focus is on continuing to heal, adhering to my physical therapy regimen and regaining my range of motion.

The Minnesota Walleye Opener in mid-May is the golden carrot dangling on my outdoors horizon.

I can't pinpoint a specific incident that led to the need for rotator cuff repair. I didn't fall, and I didn't suffer any kind of sports-related injury. It was more of a gradual thing. But that October afternoon when I pulled a chainsaw starter rope and felt like someone had shot me in the shoulder told me it was time to finally get things checked out.

An MRI the opening day of North Dakota's deer gun season revealed some repair work was in my future.

And no, it didn't happen from reeling in too many big fish.

If I only had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question.

Based on the doctor's explanation and the experience of friends who've had the surgery, I knew I was in for a long, slow ride. Recovering from shoulder surgery is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow and steady definitely wins the race.

And so, instead of enjoying afternoon snowshoe hikes, firing up the snowmobile or pulling fish through the ice, I'm getting my satisfaction in smaller ways that I never would have thought about even a few months ago.

Putting on a pair of socks left-handed (trust me, that took a lot of practice) is a victory.

Buttoning up a pair of pants (a definite two-handed procedure) also is an accomplishment.

Donning a long-sleeved shirt that's two sizes too big because baggy clothes are the only way to get in and out of the sleeves with one bad arm is a necessity.

Tying shoes? Yeah right.

Suddenly, simple things such as taking a shower or driving to the grocery store can be downright scary because so much can go wrong. I'm doing both, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous the first few times.

Life in recent weeks has been a series of baby steps.

Steps down the road back to doing the things I took for granted.

I won't be taking them for granted again any time soon.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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