My Arm

A medical and musical journey in 5 movements

(With a happy ending)

By Ted Rosenthal

© 2016 

5th Movement


Post surgery I spent over 7 hours in the recovery room including frequent visits from Lesley, a thoughtful visit from my in-laws, and later a dinner of Chilean Sea Bass (hospital style). Finally, a little before 9 PM the surgeon’s resident team visited me.  They decided that since the wound had stopped draining that I could go home if I felt my pain was manageable.  I told them it was and that I would prefer to sleep in my own bed.  As they unplugged me and (re) dressed the wound, I believe I heard them mention (in my post-op stupor) “atypical lipoma.” With Lesley’s help I got dressed and we made it home by 11 PM.  I took one oxycodone (the only one I’ve needed) and slept through the night.


The discharge instructions included no showering until my follow up visit 11 days later, no lifting, no driving, keeping the arm in a sling, pain meds as necessary, etc.  Clearly I needed a caretaker and fortunately I had the best.  Lesley, who never fails to amaze me with her seemingly endless list of accomplishments, is also the best “nurse.”  With love, support, and sensitivity she took wonderful care of me post op.  Lesley and I spent a quiet 5-day long weekend hanging out, listening to music, watching movies, lighting a fire and imagining that this would be how it would feel in our retirement together (if that ever happens).


With more time on my hands, and Lesley not allowed in my arms, I began doing some internet medical research and looked up Atypical Lipoma.  This proved to be unfortunate.  The sites I found (and they seemed to be legit) made no distinction between “atypical lipoma” and “liposarcoma,” the cancerous kind.  I hoped that between my medical ignorance and the vagaries of internet medicine that I was missing something, but I began to be concerned, very concerned.  And my follow up visit with the doctor, when I’d receive the lab report wasn’t for another week.



In that next week I suppose I could have called the doctor to find about the lab results but he had indicated they would do sophisticated testing to analyze the tumor and it could take up to 2 weeks. So I decided to “tough it out” and wait.  My anxiety heightened over the final weekend and I decided that rather than a 10% chance of a sarcoma it was more like 50%.  (Why, I’m not sure).  Finally the long 11 day wait was over and I would see the surgeon and learn the results of the lab report.


Dr. A walked in and said “It was an atypical lipoma just like I thought.”  I could tell by his tone of voice that this was a good thing and that despite my internet research, there must be a distinction between atypical lipoma and liposarcoma.  I mentioned my internet research and he told me that science has further classified those 2 types and the atypical type was not equivalent to liposarcoma and not cancerous.  He told me the downside with the atypical kind (vs. non-atypical) is that there is a 20-30% chance of recurrence.  So I would continue being his patient while he monitored me for any signs of recurrence.  He did say after 3 years without recurrence, the chances are significantly better it won’t recur.  He took off the bandage, took out the stitches, and scheduled a follow-up in 4 weeks. To my displeasure he reiterated his estimated 3 month recovery period.  But…Wow!  No Cancer!  I can take a shower!  Let the celebrating begin!   Lesley and I went out for a celebratory lunch and I even drank a beer with my left hand!


The euphoria of Monday was replaced with the reality of Tuesday. No driving, cancel my gigs for March and April… not fun…It was a strange juxtaposition of a new perspective on the appreciation of life and health, contrasted with dealing with the vagaries of the music business, and temporarily not being able to make music at the piano – the thing I love to do most (or maybe tied for first).  I began to think about the different life I would have for the next few months during recuperation.  New possibilities started to occur to me:  composing new music (writing would be tough for a lefty, but doable), spending more time with family and friends, reading more books, listening to and studying new music, and more.  This different paced life struck me as strangely appealing.  I think my body was telling my mind to allow the time to heal.




After 12 weeks off, I’m excited to be getting back to performing.  I still notice things physically but not to the point of preventing me from playing confidently.  Initially, I think endurance will be a factor and the doctor did tell me it might take up to a year to not notice physical symptoms and to forget about the surgery. I’ve gotten back to composing and have written “a pile” of new music including the seeds of a jazz opera I’ve conceived. Getting back to composing has been one of the “silver linings” of this experience.  Of course I’ll never forget these events, but I’m sure they will start to fade into the background as I notice the physical sensations less and less and get back into my full musical life.


Nonetheless, this whole experience has had quite an impact on my life. Here are the highlights of what I’ve learned from all this.  Or, to paraphrase my swimming instructor, things I now feel “more stronger” and “more deeper.”  The internet seems to be full of lists.  These are my lucky 13 – plus 1 “bonus track.”

  1. Don’t take good health for granted.
  2. Listen to what your body is telling you (and look too).
  3. If it’s important, always get a 2nd opinion.
  4. Don’t over-practice.
  5. Value family and friends, and take the time to savor them.
  6. Reach out and nurture friendships.
  7. Have empathy for other people.
  8. Let yourself slow down.
  9. Make time to focus on what is really important to you.
  10. Think creatively and be creative.
  11. Be open and accepting of new possibilities and new directions.
  12. Be good to yourself and others.
  13. Express appreciation and gratitude often.
  14. Time is not unlimited, Carpe Diem – seize the moment, and enjoy life!






  1. A most welcome ending to an unsettling experience. I really appreciated your honesty and depth in telling your story. Good list….one for all of us to embrace. Thank goodness you’re ok and we’ll all face the coming years together. Love, Holli

  2. Dear Ted,
    Thanks for the article on your surgery. My husband and I are both musicians (I’m a pianist, my husband’s a saxophonist) and we both have major thumb pain issues. He’s been told he needs surgery and I just put off seeing a doctor in fear that he’ll tell me the same. We both can’t figure out how we’re supposed to be able to take months off from playing and still support ourselves.

    Any thoughts?

    Wishes to you for continuing healing and congratulations for getting back to performing!!

  3. Hello Ted, Your essay is inspirational. I am certain you will be backin your top form in good time. My husband is going through a difficult experience being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and I am the best companion I can be. Life throws us these curve balls and we are challenged to deal with them. The very best wishes to you and Lesley . Nancy

  4. Ted! I am so shocked to see this amazing story and so glad everything worked out so well – what a journey; unbelievable. This was all going on in January when we were on the cruise! Congratulations on all your success and thank you for sharing your story in such an honest and compelling way. Looking forward to seeing you soon and best as always old friend, Walt

  5. Just finished reading — in one whole gulp. I am so glad for the happy ending! You write — as you play — with style and class. Next time, pick a less scary topic, Ted 😉

  6. Wow! This is all news to me…I’m so out if the loop. So glad to hear you’re on the mend. Interestingly ( I guess ), while I was sick, I couldn’t play the bass, so I spend a great deal of time at the piano. I have no illusions of ever being a pianist, but I did learn a lot during this time.

    Hoping we’ ll see one another soon. We have some war stories to swap.

    Keep on keepin’ on,

  7. Ted, it is indeed an honor to have been one of your teachers. God puts people together for unknowable reasons. It is wonderfully reaffirming to read your story and experience, with you, His infinite wisdom. You could not have planned, (nor would you probably want to!!) the journey you have just completed. All of the dark spots along the way were obviously daunting. But you…and your wonderful partner Lesley…never lost your confidence that behind all of the clouds, lay something beautiful. I look forward to the new dimension your music will take not despite, but THANKS to the adversity you have just experienced. As you know from my extended history…been there, done that. Now, as you and Lesley so generously shared with me in that concert at Friends several years ago. I Play for Peace. Where your music will take you now? God knows. I know it will be wonderful and wonder filled. You were my best pupil then (writing jingles!!), You are now a shining light for the world in infinite ways. Just keep it shining.

  8. I just finished reading the 5 Movements..and am so happy for the HAPPY ENDING !! Besides playing beautifully…you write beautifully as well !!Learning to take the time to heal..and being kind to yourself is a very important lesson. I loved the coda,too !!

  9. Ted, so glad the journey has had a happy ending personally and musically. Is great that along the way you were able to learn and appreciate a few things.
    But one question: should you have been doing all this typing while recuperating :)?

  10. Binge read all 5 movements. Delighted with the happy ending,

    I too have atypical lipomas- but on both arms. Does this make us brothers in arms?

    Looking forward to tonight’s concert.

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