Sunday, July 18, 2010

Viral's Story

The first young adult I’d like to introduce to you is Viral Tejani. Viral is a leader in the HLAA D.C. chapter. This was his first convention and he was very much inspired, as the theme for the convention suggests. Like many of the young adults who attended, Viral was honored with a scholarship to the convention. He needs little other introduction as he has done such a wonderful job telling the world who he is through his blog. He originally posted his blog on the social networking site Hearing Loss Nation. I realize not everyone has an HLN account, so I have gotten permission to reproduce it here. Enjoy!

I never knew what I was missing....a perspective from a HLAA 2010 convention attendee...

I’ve never really been much for blogging, and never really exposed my private life on the internet, because it wouldn’t be so private. But, this is an exception, as this is an experience I want to share with everyone.

This really started out as a reflection of my first time at the HLAA convention, but eventually turned into a stream of consciousness prose where I discussed random hearing loss related issues that have affected me.

Growing up in a hearing world, it never really bothered me much that I had a hearing loss. Part of the reason is that I was mainstreamed pretty quickly in elementary school, and thus never really interacted with the other HOH students. I felt “normal” in a sense, and the hearing loss never crossed my mind. The only difference I could see between me and all of the other classmates was just purely ethnic; I was Indian in a white-dominated school - and that seemed to be the difference people noticed more (but that’s a whole another story though). Being hearing impaired in an all-hearing school didn’t strike me too odd. Putting on the HA’s seemed so routine and second-hand.

The only times where the hearing loss annoyed me was when I attended family / social gatherings where a lot of Indians were involved. Many of them would speak in our native language, and it was annoying that I couldn’t really follow conversations except for a few words here and there. I once asked my dad why he and my mom didn’t speak to me in both our native language and in English so that I would be bilingual. His reply: when I was identified (at age 2), the audiologist recommended that my parents speak English only, since I would be living in the U.S. It was so frustrating to hear that explanation, but who knows what would’ve happened if they tried to raise a hearing impaired child bilingual. Would it have worked, or would it have failed? Who knows?

Other than the family gatherings, I never got frustrated with having a hearing loss until college. I guess the stress of being an engineering major, as well as all the other extracurricular activities, sometimes got to me. Sometimes, I would wake up in the morning so damned tired that I didn’t want to wear the HAs, but really didn’t have a choice in the matter if I wanted to participate/fall asleep in class or chill with my friends or whatever. Looking back, the other issue was that I was starting to learn how to be on my own, and
I had to pay attention to caring for my health, including caring for the HAs.

Regardless, even though college was a great experience, the stress sometimes got to me, like it does to everyone. One goes though periods where little things start being very annoying. Sometimes, the hearing loss would be a topic I would ruminate over, and I would mainly think to myself, “This really isn’t fair. I did nothing to deserve this.” Even though I knew there was no point in complaining about it – it’s not like I’ll magically get cured (until hair cell regeneration actually works) – I still decided to complain. After some time, I would totally forget about it. After all, you really can’t spend your days complaining about circumstances you don’t have control over. I was still happy that I had some solid friends at Lehigh and at home. I was still happy that I was actually doing decent with the engineering major, even though sometimes my social life got disrupted. I was still happy being involved with extracurricular activities. In short, I was still happy.

Even though I graduated with an engineering degree, I had always wanted to do clinical work. However, I also knew medicine wouldn’t be a good fit for me. Long story short, I decided to get into Audiology. It seemed to make sense – it was the only profession that I could truly empathize with patients, given my own personal experiences. Everything was going fine with the Audiology classes, but I did run into a few roadblocks when I started seeing patients – but that’s also another topic for another day. I’ve already shared some of those stories with some of you. The biggest surprise: when I initially started seeing patients, I would occasionally resent people with normal hearing or patients with decent residual hearing. I was surprised at this new feeling of bitterness, but at the same time, some of these patents seemed hesitant in owning up to their hearing loss. This lack of ownership is likely why I experienced some bitterness / resentment, and I shouldn’t be so surprised that I’m taking it personally. After all, I knew first hand how helpful HA’s can be, and I really wanted patients to realize that.

The other source of my resentment was the concept of newborn hearing screening using OAE measures. This wasn’t around when I was born. I started wondering, what would’ve happened if I got identified at birth instead of at age 2. How would have my future changed with earlier identification? Again, I was ruminating over things I had no control over. It’s not worth stressing over.

There was a point where the bitterness / resentment faded, and my supervisors and I just simply tried our best to help the patients. I’ve already had a few memorable patients who loved probing me about my hearing loss, and I loved sharing my experiences with them. On the flip side, I’ve also had a few patients who still were worried about the stigma, who still took it as another one of those signs of aging, and who had many other little excuses that really mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. The only excuse that I can completely understand is the financial commitment required, which unfortunately bars some patients from getting the services they need. Regardless, my supervisors and I just tried our best to help all the patients we could.

During my first semester of clinic, I heard about HLAA through the Walk4Hearing. University of Maryland’s Student Academy of Audiology had a team organized for the Fall 2009 walk. I thought, why not, it’s for a good cause. Shortly after that, I met Zac LaFratta, who was starting a HLAA chapter for Washington D.C. So, again, I thought, why not? I started getting involved, and am now VP. Zac was persuading me to go to the HLAA convention, and to be honest, I was a little hesitant. I didn’t know what to expect, and didn’t know how beneficial it would be. I had looked at it as a networking experience, and I thought it would be a good way to meet people. I’m grateful that Zac nominated me for a scholarship, as the experience was just amazing.

The first day of the convention was quite overwhelming. I had never been in the presence of so many hard of hearing people. Literally, an army of us was dominating the Frontier Airline Center. I glanced around….hearing aid on that guy, cochlear implant on that girl, oh that person has both an HA and a CI, oh there’s an FM system,….ahhh, holy crap, there’s so many of us!!

That first night at the convention, I met some of the young HOH adults, and we all went down to the hotel bar and chilled. And it was Here’s a bunch of us chilling together, talking about our experiences with hearing loss, but also about other random stuff like Game 5 of the NBA finals happening that night. And clearly, since there are 5-6 breweries in a 10 mile radius, we all had to head to the bars every night, chill, and try the local beers. But more importantly, we all were SO comfortable with one another. I noticed simple things like, if Person A missed a joke while everyone was laughing, Person B would explain to Person A what just happened, so no one would be left out. Wait a minute… no one left out?? Really?? HOW COOL IS THAT? Seriously, there was no such thing as bluffing here. (And I remember totally calling one of you out when I noticed you were bluffing….but I won’t mention your name :-P). I don’t understand ASL well, so I did bug some of you to translate for me. But I didn’t feel embarrassed. Why? Again, because, there’s no such thing as bluffing here. We all had serious conversations about hearing loss, but we were all also pretty chill and goofing around. I also would not have had any of these serious conversations with my normal hearing friends, and I never knew what I was missing out on by not having other HOH friends to talk to.

During the actual conference, I met a lot of good people, including presenters and officers from other HLAA chapters. It was interesting to see how other chapters, the HLAA administration, and general HLAA members really look to us young people as future leaders. As future leaders, we can promote advocacy and spread awareness about hearing loss. At the same time, I also met a few HLAA members who were very scared about hearing loss and being alone. That really inspired me as well; there’s no reason one should feel alone! We all should be good-natured members of society and look out for one another.

I came back from Milwaukee feeling inspired and focused. Meeting the HOH young adults, other fellow chapter officers, presenters, and other random attendees, was a great experience. The experience inspired ideas of what I needed to do as a HLA-DC officer and future audiologist. I need to do more than just diagnostics and treatment. I need to advocate for people. I need to help people advocate for themselves. Not just I. WE ALL need to promote awareness about the effects of hearing loss, and we all need to be stick together and be strong!

I really had a great time meeting and being inspired by all of you. I am grateful to Zac for the scholarship nomination. Since the convention is in D.C. next year, I really have no excuse to not to come. Hopefully, I will see some of you again.

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