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Updated Wednesday June 21, 2017 by Ashley Pais.

July 23, 2011 was the day my life was changed forever. The sun was beaming down on the softball fields in Harrisburg, PA. I was in Pennsylvania for a tournament; two weekends left was all I had. I found out I was not going to pitch the first game; I was relieved. But then I heard I was going to pitch the second game; the relief quickly left. You see, the second game was during the hottest part of the day. The weather was already scorching a hundred degrees, so during my time on the mound the temperature will be at least five degrees higher. The first game came and went. Nobody wanted to play anymore. Everyone just wanted to end the season so we can enjoy the rest of our summer.

As the second game was approaching, I started to walk towards the rest of the team. We found out the game before us was delayed, so we did not have to start warming up right away. I was with my catcher, Frankie, and we walked over to the shady bench. We were accompanied by a few other girls from our team. We were all talking about random topics. A good resting period was needed to get our minds off of the game. Game time was getting closer, so Frankie and I decided to start warming up. I was pitching, and my thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) started to act up. I shook it off, and continued to throw a few more pitches until I just could not to handle the pain anymore.

TOS is an injury I developed over the years of pitching. My nerves that run from my neck to my hand are involved. The nerves compress each one which then cuts off circulation throughout my arm. Eventually over time the muscles around the nerves become inflamed. My hand becomes all red and has a tingly sensation that will not go away until I put numbing cream on it. There is no cure for it; the doctor just tells me to get a massage and stop when I cannot handle the pain anymore.

Before every game I am about to pitch, I have to get my mind set. After each action or complete thought mentioned, I have the words “Game Time” shouted throughout my mind. The time was approaching. It was time: Game Time. I was sitting on the bench, getting my usual feelings: nervous and sick to my stomach: Game Time. First inning: Game Time. Alyssa went out to home plate with our coach, Joe. They were greeted by the other team’s player, coach, and also the umpires: Game Time. The rules were mentioned. “Sportsmanship! Have fun! No foul play! This is for the kids! Work hard!” Game Time. Coin flips in the air. We won the coin toss: Game Time. We are home: Game Time. We are on the field first: Game Time. I am on the mound, warming up a few pitches. GOING DOWN! Frankie throws the ball down the second base. Infield joins to the mound as I high five each one: Game Time. PLAY BALL! First batter hit the ball to short stop; she makes the play, one out.

Second batter was up; I do not remember if I had a count going on with her. Frankie calls a curve. I get ready to pitch; taking a breath in and out, slow and crisp. I start my movement, feeling the wind against my arm as it flows into a circular motion. The ball finally leaves my hand as I snap my wrist to finish off this act that has become like second nature to me. The ball releasing from my hand was the last memory I remembered because everything went blank from there. I do not remember what happened next. I was on the ground apparently, and I was conscious. My coach said I was talking to them and responded to the questions. The batter hit a line drive straight to my face. Apparently I had my glove up to catch the ball, but the ball was hit so hard that I did not have a chance. I was on the floor for about five minutes. All I remember is someone picking me up, a lady holding my neck, and I see my mom’s reaction. They put me on the bench; the lady continues to hold my neck. Vision began to go. I just started to see blurry and foggy. Everyone began to sound like an echo. Everything began to sound muffled. I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted to close my eyes. Every time I tried to shut my eyes, someone would yell to get my attention and for me to wake up. Caitlin, another teammate of mine, has a rag or a towel on my nose because my nose was bleeding so much.

Ambulance came, and put a neck brace on me. They quickly laid me on a flat board, on to the stretcher, and into the ambulance. The lights were bright as I began to freak out. Apparently I was going into shock, so the medic put an IV in me. Once I arrived to the hospital, doctors begin to question and look at me. Fogginess continued to worsen. I just wanted to sleep. Nobody would let me shut my eyes. All I remember is that I wanted the neck brace off, because it was giving me massive amount of pain. They did a CAT scan and I had to continue to wait to take the neck brace off.

I had two different doctors come to see me. I had the ears, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor and an eye doctor. Each time, they would come in look at me and leave. They were constantly on the phone asking questions about me.

“Surgery today?” “No.” “Surgery tomorrow? Does she even need surgery? Can we please get this patient a date for surgery? Can she go in now?” “No, no. She has too much swelling.” “Bleeding in the brain?” “No.”

The ENT doctor told me that my c-spine was fine and that I have a concussion. He also told me I broke my check bone, orbital bone, nose, above my mouth, and dislodged my jaw. The eye doctor told me I had trauma to the eye and that it was bruised in the back. She also told me I would eventually have to go to an eye doctor because I might have done more. We continued to wait for the CAT scan pictures so they can release me. I just wanted the day to end.

When they gave me the okay to leave, I had to wait for some medication and a wheel chair. When I sat up, I had the worst feeling shoot to my head. The feeling felt like a thousand needles stabbing each part of my skull, face, and brain. I felt so dizzy. I just wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep. The hospital told my mom to continuously wake me up in the middle of the night to make sure I would wake up. When I finally arrived to back to the hotel, I was accompanied by a few teammates. They were saying how strong I was because I did not shed a tear and how calm I was. I still could not believe what happened to me. Even to this day, I cannot believe this happened.

My first surgery took longer than expected. The surgeon realized that my orbital bone and the bones above my mouth were so much worse. I have two plates that were supposed to forever stay under my eye. In December, I had my second surgery to take out the plate holding up my eye because the plate was bending and pinching into my muscles. The plates also moved out of place because there was not enough of a complete bone to screw in the plates. He replaced the plate with a very thin mesh material to add extra support so my eye will not sink into the socket.

The doctor says I was lucky. They were surprised I was not in worse condition. They said I could have died. Crazy. I could have died. My brain could have started to bleed. I could have died. If I turned my head a little, I would have been gone especially if it hit my temple. I could have died, but I didn’t.

I did go through depression. Some days I would just break down. I did not want to see anyone. I just wanted to sleep and not eat. I just thought that this was not supposed to happen. I should not be in this position. I should not be hurt. I did not do anything wrong. Why am I the one in pain? Why am I the one here hurting? I had my days when I thought none of this was worth going through. I had my days when I would just rock back and forth, crying, coughing, not being able to breathe. Everything was unbelievable. Even now, some days I am ok. But other days, it is just hard. Especially being woken up because of a nightmare. I continuously have nightmares about a ball getting hit to me. One day I woke up screaming “WATCH OUT!” because I was sitting in the stands and saw a ball get hit to a pitcher. Even when I close my eyes I see it coming. I do not know when I will be fully ok. I try and try each day. I do not know if I will ever be fully ok. I just do not know…

I played this sport for twelve years. I have been pitching for ten years. I have been playing club for seven years. I had two weekends left. It was my last season. Unbelievable, bad luck. Not the way I wanted to end this. I cannot even look at a softball field without thinking about what happened. I cannot even look at my glove or the rest of my equipment without the memory reoccurring; unbelievable.

Many of my friends and family say that the surgeon did a remarkable job. They continue to repeat that my injury seems like it never happened because of no scarring or any other deformity. I cringe every time I hear that my injury is unnoticeable. I wish my injury was “unnoticeable”. I wish the pain still did not exist. I wish that every time I look at myself in the mirror, I do not see the different shaped eyes or the semi paralyzed top lip. I wish the memories disappeared along with the swelling and discoloration. I wish my injury was unnoticeable, so unnoticeable that it would be as if it never occurred. Unfortunately, my injury did happen. Instead of only thinking about the negatives, I must think about the positives. I am able to educate younger pitches about the importance of wearing a softball facemask. Because of this injury, the Elmwood Park Board of Education made it mandatory for the whole infield to wear a face mask on the High School and Middle School level. I am able to take this event and relate it to my future career as an Athletic Trainer. I am able to say that I went through a traumatic experience and came up on top. I am able to take on any other obstacle because I took on the biggest one thus far. I am able to stay strong.

“This is a very harsh gift… it’s perspective.” I survived.

Ashley Pais

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