Throughout Until It Hurts, I share the story of my son Ben, an elbow injury, and the events that followed, in and out of the operating room. In the book, I tell the story in my voice and from my perspective. Here, Ben gets his turn.
The photos on this page show Ben in good and challenging times in 2006 and 2007.
(As a high school senior in May 2006,
a few weeks before Ben's injury)
I tore the ulnar collateral ligament in my right elbow on May 22, 2006. I was a senior in high school and finishing a successful year on the mound and at the plate.
I was mentally prepared for the last pitching assignment of my high school career. We were only one game away from the championship, and as a senior captain, I knew it was my duty to step up.
I helped my team to victory in that semifinal game, scattering five hits in seven shutout innings. No opposing hitter had an extra-base hit. I averaged only 11 pitches per inning. But nothing about that start was comfortable.
In the fourth inning, I felt fatigue in my elbow. Any pitcher who has pitched regularly in high school or even little league understands the soreness that goes with the routine of throwing a baseball. But this pain was different. It screamed at me during every pitch. Between innings, I couldn’t hold my arm above my head. There was no way I was coming out of this game. I could never live with myself if we had blown the game because of my injury.
My velocity suffered and my coach was concerned. But I was still throwing strikes and the opposing hitters hadn’t touched my stuff. I’ll never forget our celebration after that win. Yet when the euphoria dissipated, the pain was even stronger.
Two days later, we lost the championship game. I played third base and, with my elbow still sore, could barely get the ball across the infield.
Pain in my throwing arm was not new. When I was 13, I was diagnosed with tendonitis as a result of an overuse injury from pitching for my club team. After a few months of rehabbing, I was fine. I figured that this process would be the same. I took a few weeks off and then resumed throwing, gradually increased the distance and frequency of my throwing sessions.
But unlike my bout of tendonitis, I hit a wall. I could not step up my throwing without enduring the same pain as before. The injury robbed me of my summer club season. I was worried it would take a far greater casualty – the chance to play college baseball, or at least try out for the team, at the school I would be attending, George Washington University.
(Ben has his stitches removed,
In June, Dr. Charles Silberstein, a family friend and my orthopedic surgeon, examined me and broke some bad news: The injury likely was more serious that I imagined – a rupture of the UCL ligament in my elbow.
Dr. Silberstein suggested that I begin an eight-week throwing program to try to strengthen other muscles in my arm. This wouldn’t repair the damaged UCL, but sometimes it was enough to relieve the pain and get a player back on the field. If that didn’t work, I had a tough decision ahead of me. I could undergo ligament replacement surgery—also known as Tommy John surgery. That would permanently remedy the problem but put me out of competition for a full year.
Or I could decide not to have the operation and hang up my cleats forever.
The 18 years of my short life to that point had been defined by baseball. I had played every summer practically since I could walk. It was a sport meant for me: a tall, slow kid who wasn’t good enough to play on any other team in high school. With practice, I could be just as good as the more athletic kids at the skills of hitting and throwing a baseball. Sure, my dad encouraged me to play, but I wanted to play. The prospect of giving up baseball entirely was not conceivable. If I had the surgery and failed (a result that the doctors reminded me was possible), I would be in the same place as if I had never gone under the knife. I knew that rehab would be long and painful and I detested the idea of sitting out an entire year. But it was the only acceptable option. I knew that I could master the skill of rehabbing like I had already done with hitting and pitching.
The surgery was as good and as bad as I had been told. Surgery day was scary and the rehab was long and physically and emotionally draining. It took me nearly a year to get back in baseball shape and longer than that to throw pain free. But I returned and, although I never made the varsity team at GW, I am happily playing for the club team in Foggy Bottom.