My son, Bryce, played his first tee ball game at age three. For the next fourteen years, his fondness for the sport and love of the game flourished. Even now, at seventeen, baseball is still his favorite sport and quite possibly his greatest love. On March 29, 2019, the thing Bryce loves the most became the thing that could have ended his life.
The incident happened early in the game. Bryce’s team was batting; I was conversing with my son’s best friend, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the game when I heard that sharp, collective gasp that a crowd makes only when something bad happens. Suddenly, parents on our side were running down the bleachers toward the dugout. My stomach sank as I joined the other parents to see who had been injured. A player from our team was lying on the ground, but I couldn’t see who it was. Bryce’s best friend made it to the dugout ahead of me, and I will never forget the look on his face. He told me, “It’s Bryce.” At first, I didn’t process his words, but then, I realized that my son had been injured. Bryce had been struck in the head. Thoughts raced through my mind. “How did this happen? Our team wasn’t even on the field! Please God, let him be okay.”
One of Bryce’s teammates had fouled a line drive (estimated at 120+ mph) into the dugout, striking the side of Bryce’s head. His ear looked swollen and purple, and there were marks from the baseball laces imprinted between the top of his ear and his temple. It terrified me to know that he had been hit in such a sensitive area at that rate of speed. I was encouraged by the fact that Bryce was awake, alert, and appeared to be aware of his surroundings, but his ear was ringing badly. On the advice of Bryce’s athletic trainer, we proceeded to a local emergency room (ER).
On the 10 minute drive to the ER, my daughter tried to keep Bryce talking, but he began vomiting and became very sleepy. Bryce was evaluated immediately upon arrival. A CT scan revealed a small brain bleed. With that, an ambulance was en route to transfer Bryce to Texas Children’s Hospital. Initially, I thought we would be headed home in an hour or so, but this was a game changer. I had to stay calm for Bryce’s sake, and I did, but I was scared.
Bryce spent three nights in neuro-ICU. During his hospital stay, Bryce struggled with balance issues, horrific headaches, dizziness, and some memory loss. He wasn’t certain of where he was the day after his injury or what year it was. He didn’t remember anything about the game or the injury except being on the ground after it happened. He couldn’t remember everyone who had come to visit him in the hospital. He was evaluated by multiple teams of doctors, including his pediatrician; neurosurgeons; ear, nose and throat specialists; and physical and occupational therapists. Bryce’s injuries included a hole in 10% of his left eardrum, partial hearing loss in his left ear, and a severe concussion. We were told by about 18 different medical professionals how lucky he was to be alive, that if the ball had hit him just a fraction of an inch higher, it most likely would have killed him. Fortunately for Bryce, all of his injuries were expected to heal on their own without permanent damage.
When Bryce was discharged from the hospital, his doctor instructed us that Bryce should return to school gradually. It would be a couple of hours a day “as tolerated” before gradually moving up to half-days and eventually, full days. This was just the beginning of how drastically daily life was going to change.
We had been home from the hospital a week—a week filled with horrible headaches, lots of sleeping, and upon Bryce’s insistence, an hour or two of school, even though it absolutely wiped him out—when Bryce came into the room clutching his head, complaining of the worst headache he had had since his injury. Then, the vomiting started. This shook me to my very core. I imagined the worst—that the bleed had begun again. We rushed him to the ER, and a CT scan showed all was good. That night, we learned that things could get much worse before Bryce got “better.” We learned this could happen again and that he may be plagued with headaches for a very, very long time. I think that was the moment I realized that we really had no idea what we were dealing with in terms of recovery. That was the moment that almost broke me. My heart just hurt for my child, and I was afraid that the worst might still be yet to come, despite the reassurance that Bryce would eventually be just fine.
Please visit our Updates tab next week to read more about Bryce's injury and recovery.