Apparently, Mark Riccetti wasn’t looking when his teammate passed him the ball during a pickup basketball game outside his mother-in-law’s house 25 years ago. But he clearly remembers getting hit with the ball on the left side of his head.
“It hit directly on my ear, and I immediately felt a pop,” says the 57-year-old Riccetti from Plains, Pa. “It was like the impact of the ball created a vacuum. It was something like the popping in your ears you get when you’re changing altitude going up a mountain. It was that kind of pop.”
At the time, there was more embarrassment over a botched basketball play than any pain involved. Riccetti didn’t see it as any cause for concern. In fact, he didn’t think anything of it until days later when he went to clean out his ears and realized there was a hole in his eardrum.
“I took a cotton swab to clean out my left ear,” Riccetti says. “You know how you can go only so far with the cotton swab? Well, it just kept going.”
Turning up the volume
Riccetti’s initial reaction was just to live with it. If his hearing had declined any, he didn’t really notice it often. Over time though, he realized others were noticing.
“Let’s just say when I was watching football on TV at my house, everyone in town probably knew it,” he says.
There were other problems too. “I really couldn’t go swimming,” he says. “When I would get that area wet, that’s when there was pain and it was phenomenal. I couldn’t take a shower unless I put cotton in my ear.”
Then there was the ringing. “It would be a long, constant ear ringing, especially at night,” Riccetti says. “I had to make sure I was really, really tired just to sleep sometimes.”
And then there were the ear infections. “I’d get maybe five or six infections there a year,” Riccetti says. “I’d get discharge running out of my ear like people have stuff running out of their nose with a cold.”
An eardrum fix without a hearing aid
Still, Riccetti never considered seeking treatment for a quarter century. Early on he was told that nothing would correct the ringing in his ears. However, one day his family doctor told him it was possible to make the ringing go away – without a hearing aid. A short time later, Riccetti met Lehigh Valley Health Network otolaryngologic surgeon Kevin Kriesel, MD, of LVPG Ear, Nose and Throat.
“It’s not unusual that people will put off problems with hearing loss,” Kriesel says. “But once Mark came to us, realized we could take care of his problem quickly and he’d have his eardrum intact again without any issues, he couldn’t wait to have it done.”
Riccetti says the procedure was short and painless. Kriesel took a skin graft from behind his ear and essentially built a new eardrum membrane. It didn’t take long after the procedure for Riccetti to hear what he was missing.
“It changed everything overnight,” he says. “I don’t have to say ‘what?’ and make people repeat things anymore. I don’t have my phone set on ‘scream’ anymore. If the girls are whistling at me, now I know it.”
Kriesel has heard such reactions before. “I’ve had patients cry when they come back for the first checkup and tell me how clearly they hear birds chirping again,” Kriesel says. “Some people are happy to get annoyed enough to have to ask somebody to turn down the volume on the radio. It’s like a new lease on life in a way.”
Riccetti has advice for anyone with a similar problem.
“Get it done, don’t wait,” he says. “Like my son told me after I had it done, it is money well-spent.”
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