By Robin Jean Marie Conte

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: it’s not because I’m old.

That was the first thing the doctor said when reviewing the MRI of my torn rotator cuff, “There are no signs of degeneration.” So I wrote in my trusty notepad, “Not because I’m old,” and I recorded the date and the doctor’s name and had him initial it, just for good measure.

I asked the doctor about getting it repaired. The tendon had ripped from the bone and would need to be anchored back to it. Was it worth it to go through the surgery and the notoriously brutal recovery?

“Well, you’re young and active…” he began.

That’s all I heard. I wrote in my trusty notepad, “I’m young and active.” And I had him initial that again.

A rotator cuff tear is the injury that baseball pitchers and tennis players often get… even young baseball pitchers and tennis players. And because I’m not in either one of those categories, people want to know how I tore mine.

The short answer is, I don’t know.

I think it started as an old yoga injury. Many years ago, a substitute instructor was running our class through the Sun Salutations and we were practically jumping from Table-top to Downward Dog to Upheaval and Backlash. Somewhere between Dandasana and Vasisthasana, my rotator cuff said “Youllpayforthislatersana.” I heard it, plain as day.

My shoulder has never been quite the same since then, and I’ve been careful not to stress it. I continued weight-lifting, exercising and welterweight gardening. I did shoulder exercises religiously, but evidently I was not working all the proper muscles (which doesn’t seem fair at all). But then the automatic sliding doors on my minivan broke, so I started opening and closing them manually…and those things are heavy.

I was told that the muscle had been injured but that I had “pushed through the pain.”

Yeah, that’s me. I’m an animal. People will see me weeding furiously and ask, “Who’s that brute over there? The one who’s pushing through the pain?”

“Oh that’s Robin. She’s not old.”

So it could have been the yoga or the minivan, or it could have been a full thickness tear waiting to happen. It’s a mystery to me. But somehow it tore, and I decided to have it repaired.

I ended up having the surgery in mid-December because that’s such a slow time of year in my house.

Ha! There’s nothing like adding shoulder surgery to the mix of the holiday flurry to really amp up the stress level.

But there were advantages: 1. I had the entire house decorated by Thanksgiving, something I have never, ever, in my entire life, done before. 2. I spent a marathon Christmas shopping day with my daughter and had all the presents purchased by Dec. 4, something I have never, ever, in my entire life, done before, and 3. My doctor is really cute.

Best of all, my friends and neighbors were wonderful, setting up a meal calendar and visiting me regularly with food, tea and sympathy. My mother kept me supplied with her homemade soups, and my family pampered me for weeks. Meanwhile, I spent my initial post-op days sprawled on the couch with an ice pack on my shoulder, playing with my ring tones.

Now I’m out of the padded sling and going full force with the daily physical therapy. I’m happy to report that I can once again pull a shirt over my head while standing up straight. Within the year, they say, I’ll be back to 100 percent.

I’ll tell my grandchildren all about the experience one day… when I’m old.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see

One reply on “Robin’s Nest: Injury is not because I’m ‘old’”

  1. Great article and I can SO relate. I hurt my knee and like you, I was not sure how I did it. Lots of friends speculated about the diagnosis ( torn ligament, cracked patella, dislocation, etc.).
    I did not move through the pain, but I didn’t pamper it either. Finally, I found a Physical Therapist whose manipulations and series of exercises worked wonders, and the knee is nearly 100% back to normal now. My first reaction was, “oh no, I really am old…” The problem with that assumption is, that there is no cure. I will continue to be old, and more old, until I die. Then I discovered I had a torn meniscus and the whole world brightened: I was just an injured ATHLETE! That felt so much better.
    In case I get ‘wounded’ again however, I believe I will request “initialing” by my doctor too. Someone
    signing-off on damage via workout, rather than disintegration via time, means the world to this 70 year old! Happy healing to us both;see you in the locker room!!

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