Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

A pop, a cough and a trip to the DL

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 2010

As you read this -- well, at least if you're reading this Thursday morning -- I am going under the knife, or at least the scope, at Sibley Hospital, having surgery for a torn rotator cuff. If rehab goes well, I should be ready to go by spring training 2011.

I knew something was wrong when I could no longer hold up my right arm long enough to wash my hair or hold the steering wheel. More tragically, it hurts the most when I'm sitting in my recliner.

Oh, the humanity!

I was hoping for Tommy John surgery -- well, I was hoping for Angelina Jolie surgery, but that's not available. Anyway, I'm told Jordan Zimmermann got the last of Tommy John's tendons. The poor guy has been stripped bare of ligaments and connective tissue, and they're starting to eye his organs and bones. I signed up for a hip; might as well plan ahead.

You're probably wondering how a sedentary columnist managed to get an injury normally associated with hard-throwing hurlers. Good question. It probably started with a golf injury suffered in 1997. Did I overextend on a drive? Slam a wedge into the side of a sand trap? No. I was riding a shuttle bus to the final day of the U.S. Open at Congressional, trying to hold on to one of those hanging straps -- for which I am much too short -- while the bus took hairpin turns at high speeds and much taller men sat, watching me swing like I was a science experiment. At one point, I heard what I thought was a pop, followed by what I was sure was a scream, because it was mine.

Physical therapy seemed to solve the problem for a while, but every now and then, it would flare up. When that happened again this April, right after a three-week bout of pneumonia, I got a cortisone shot, which normally helps. Not this time. Although we don't know for sure, the long-suffering Dr. Marc Connell thinks a small tear might have become a large one from sleeping in the La-Z-Boy for three weeks combined with rampant coughing.

So to review: I got injured riding a bus and aggravated it in a recliner. You can understand why I call it a golf injury.

Although there are no slow times on the sports calendar these days, I decided that it was better to be out of action in July than, say, October. So we scheduled the surgery between the Redskins' mandatory minicamp -- I was under the impression mandatory meant "must attend;" silly me -- and the start of training camp. I'll be wearing a yellow blouse, so no one will tackle me.

First, though, I had to go on vacation. I've learned this from more than a quarter-century of following sports: Never have surgery during the offseason. Hence the number of baseball players deciding to have knee surgery around Feb. 10, so they can miss all of spring training. I didn't want to do Kansas with one arm -- it's really a two-arm state. Plus, I can't use just one dousing rod; I would only have found half a body and that would be very disconcerting, to say the least.

I'm told it's a six-month recovery, but I think Dr. Connell was referring to athletes when he said that. I'm sure with my tremendous will and determination, I can stretch that into 12 months, no problem.

I decided to consult the Nats' pitching staff to find out about rehab. After all, with all their arm injuries, surely one of them had torn a rotator cuff. Surprisingly, the closest I came was pitching coach Steve McCatty, who had a torn labrum. He got his the old-fashioned way: strenuous throwing. No shuttle bus/recliner injury for him!

I assume the worst part will probably be wearing a sling for a month (well, next to the pain, which I assume will be the very worst part). Apparently I will have to spend four weeks typing with only my left hand. This will mean a return to my e.e. cummings phase -- no capital letters! -- and my James Joyce phase -- endless sentences because it hurts too much to stretch for the period key. (Little-known fact: Joyce lost his right pinky finger when it was bitten off by an English player during a game of rugby, and that's how "Ulysses" was born. cummings was just lazy.)

It will also mean that a column on the July 4 Nats game will appear in the July 7 paper. New marketing campaign: If you don't get it, it's because I can't type fast enough.

I know what you are probably thinking: Am I using this alleged shoulder injury as an excuse to hide my abuse of human growth hormones and steroids and to avoid discussing the rapid disintegration of my personal life that culminated in that embarrassing auto accident over Thanksgiving weekend?


On the bright side, this experience should make me more sympathetic toward injured athletes. Heck, my bout of plantar fasciitis made me more tolerant of Ron Artest, if you can imagine that. Then I will develop an addiction to painkillers, which will help me understand a whole new group of athletes. And if I don't come back at full strength, the Post can turn me into a closer. Boz can write the first 30 inches and I'll handle the last paragraph.

This also means I need a new La-Z-Boy. And that may be the brightest side of all.

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