I have told my ear story as I lectured at basketball camps over the years. I talked about having over 10 major inner ear surgeries and what I had to go through, what I did and what lessons I learned. I had a very rare and aggressive type of growth called a cholesteatoma. The cholesteatoma crushed all of the bones in my middle ear and was so big it almost got to the right side of my face.
What I had to go through……
Non surgery time I would deal with chronic ear infections, a lot of antibiotics and trips to the ear specialist. Nothing was worse than the visits to the specialist where they would stick metal utensils in my ear the length of a kitchen knife and vacuum out debris and fluid from the infection. The pain from these visits would get so bad that as an adult I had asked for a surgery so that whatever was being worked on each visit wouldn’t have to take place anymore. I would get major dizzy spells and had a hard time hearing what people had to say to me in public settings.
I can remember playing in the pre-season NIT with a major ear infection with fluid draining out of it during the whole game. We were playing for the first time that season on the road in a hostile environment and I was off-balance and dizzy. Not a great combination for a high level athlete involved in competition. I can remember Coach yelling to get my attention and teammates hitting me and pointing in his direction. A few times I was asked if I was alright and what was wrong with me? No one ever knew the extent of discomfort I was feeling or the secondary opponent I was facing while I was playing. I would yell at my teammates to call the screen out only to find out later that they were calling out the screen the whole time. The same thing happened during my second amateur muay thai fight. Another infection! I had prepared so hard, I lost over 30lbs and I had my team, family and friends all in attendance to watch me perform. Fortunately I won and can tell the story now with no harm caused. I would never suggest going into any competition let alone a fight with an ear infection and your equilibrium being off. Competing in this condition is something I had overcome before so I went ahead with it. Maybe it added to my unorthodox style haha.
Surgery time was normally waited on until after basketball season. The first stage was to remove the cholesteatoma. I couldn’t go to school for a month and I couldn’t play basketball for 3 months. The following year was the same recuperation time but the surgery was to try and restore the hearing. After surgery my head was bandaged very tightly and the right side of my head was throbbing. I would get really sick from the anesthesia and would have problems walking on my own for about a week. I had a drainage tube that would have to be taken out and cleaned up and stitches behind my ear where they opened me up to get to the middle ear. Packing would eventually come out from the ear canal and again those office visits were not pleasant.
What I did……
During the recovery I remember coming up with drills that I would do when I was ready. I remember watching videos of my favorite players and studying their moves and movements. Visualization and imagination were my best friends at this time and kept my my mind sharp. The major story I tell is of me going into my basement when I was ready before I got cleared to run and I would work on my stationary ball handling drills. I would normally put on a mix tape filled with my favorite songs. I would average 3 songs straight where I would freestyle with my handles and then take a break for a song and then do it again for 2 more sets. It was tiring and it was fun. I pushed myself because I knew it would keep my skills tight.
Appreciation-One time I was paired with another child while I was in the hospital. My parents got to talking to his parents and were informed he had been in the hospital for months, he was very sick and on an IV to get his nutrients. I remember thinking at that moment that I would have the chance to go back and compete again without restrictions. I vowed that whenever I could compete that I would be the hardest working player on the court. I knew that if that kid had the chance to run and play until exhaustion that he would. It motivated me to not take anything for granted. I wanted anyone who was not in the position I was in to enjoy watching me play with passion and heart the way I know they would have if they had the opportunity. To this day one of my favorite quotes was coined from this experience.
“Appreciation for what you have will make you fight harder to keep it.”
Compassion-My self esteem would be affected at times. I would get made fun of because one of my ears stuck out while the other was pinned close to my head after surgery. Head on pictures would show the big disparity. I learned how to roll with the punches and be quick with some of my responses. From this experience I learned how to treat people. I learned to accept others differences as gifts they had to offer the world from being boring and plain. Even with my insecurities and difficulties I was still considered a cool kid because of my ability to play basketball but I never thought I was better than anyone else.
To this day I still have issues with my ear but not as bad. I still don’t hear very well on my right side. The phone will always be on my left ear and I won’t hear you in a public place if you are to my right. As a father, husband, son, friend, coach and trainer I have found the value of appreciation and compassion. These two lessons I learned can be added to how you go about things in your daily life or professional life that will drastically change the way you approach people and situations. Ultimately, finding other ways to grow when you are held back will only help you expand your game even more. I hope this blog rings loud and clear to you the same way it did to me.