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A joyous hearing challenge

Editor’s Note: We’re delighted to share the news that Ruth Bernstein will be honored with the Spirit of HLAA Award June 22nd at the 2019 HLAA Convention in Rochester. Congratulations, Ruth, on this well-deserved honor.

Sound Advice by Ruth D. Bernstein

My oldest grandson was married at the Russian Tea Room in New York City on New Year’s Eve, 2018. I was thrilled Zachary found Olivia, the love of his life, and looked forward with pleasure to celebrating this very special occasion with them, family and friends. I anticipated attending the wedding would create challenges for me as someone with a hearing loss. Long before the big day, I took steps to learn about the venue and plan the accommodations I would need.

I had not been to the Russian Tea Room in more than forty years and wasn’t aware it had become a wedding venue. When I Googled it, I saw four floors of relatively narrow, elegant rooms, one block in depth, from 57th to 56th Street. There is still an upscale restaurant on the first floor. The beautiful second floor ballroom, where the ceremony and dinner would take place, has a glass ceiling and mirrored walls, as does the third floor reception hall. I have a profound hearing loss and knew this was going to be a very difficult hearing environment. I would be dealing with the fatigue factor.

Many years ago, a speaker at a Hearing Loss Association of America Convention, said the brain of someone with hearing loss has to work ten-times harder than normal to decipher the sounds it is hearing. That rang a bell with me because I recognize the extra energy my brain uses to keep me communicating can leave me physically exhausted.

I made all the necessary personal arrangements – dress, shoes, hair, nails, makeup and assistive listening device. Then, I reviewed articles for dealing with noisy situations written by me and fellow advocates whose work I admire.

We suggest arriving or leaving early, finding quiet places to converse and rest our brains and using assistive devices, techniques I use all the time. The ceremony was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. I arrived, as requested by the groom, at 5:30 p.m. for the photo op. That gave me time to locate a ladies room on the fourth floor, which provided me with the quiet space I needed during the evening when my hearing aids and assistive listening device were overwhelmed by the noise of 110 guests dancing to a lively band and the wait staff serving dinner in the mirrored room with the glass ceiling.

As the grandmother of the groom, I did not want to leave until dessert was served, even though my head hurt from the noise and I was getting more exhausted by the minute. My hearing aids became useful earplugs when I turned them off. During the scrumptious dinner, I used my iPhone mic to transcribe the conversations I had with people near me, with some success. We celebrated the arrival of 2019 with noisemakers, confetti, music and dancing. Dessert was served – an assortment of delectable cookies. I thanked my son and daughter-in-law, said goodnight and took the subway home. When I walked in the door, I took my hearing aids out and went straight to bed. The next day, I stayed home, unplugged, read and recovered.  My tired brain and body were grateful for the respite.

It was a beautiful wedding! I’m glad I was there. The joy in the room was palpable. I look forward to celebrating the future weddings of my three other grandchildren, all of whom are in their late twenties. Two of them are in significant relationships and will probably marry in the next couple of years.

I’ve learned that sometimes I have to accept I won’t be able to hear no matter how hard I try. Jeff Wax, Director of CHC’s Baker Family Emotional Health and Wellness Center, shares this meaningful perspective:

It is good to remember that emotional reactions involving levels of stress are feelings that are full of tensions. When we breathe and live through the feeling instead of trying to get rid of it (which ironically creates more tension) and when we are able to live in the moment and try not to get tangled in the stress – and do this with acceptance and without judgments – we find the joy in moments.

I’ll remember that at the next wedding.  Meanwhile, I’m keeping my dancing shoes ready!

Warm regards,

Ruth D. Bernstein Consumer Advocate

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