Using the phone is a team sport for Sandy

Big band sound aids hearing fundraiser

Event is about enjoyment and education.

Beth Rogers seats me to her husband Sandy’s left, to coincide with the better hearing on the side with his cochlear implant. It’s one of many adjustments the 83-year-old has made since his ears started to fail him around age 65.

Maybe 60, suggests his wife Beth.

By age 70, he had enough difficulty hearing over the phone, that he retired.

“I was employed in an organization that I didn’t have direct association with clients except by telephone,” he says. “Eventually the deafness caught up with the phone calls.”

After examination by his doctor, and an ear nose and throat specialist, he came to audiologist Stacey Frank who, he declares, is “perfect.”

She didn’t hit him with a sales pitch, though hearing aid selection is vast, and expensive, he says, Frank provided some options, and he went on hearing better. But she also suggested what led to a new social life – a visit to the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre in Victoria.

“It’s a wonderful organization. … The best thing is the Monday group,” Sandy says. “When we meet up we spend an hour socializing, which is impossible in groups.”

On Monday mornings, the 15 or so people in the group take turns talking, someone provides captioning and background noise is kept to a minimum so everyone can follow the conversation.

“It’s designed for primarily people who have severe hearing loss. So most of the people in that group, their hearing loss is to the point where they might not be able to participate in another group situation,” says audiologist Janet Holland.

The goal is to provide interaction for people to make them “feel like they’re connected” to share experiences with each other and gain from hearing each other’s stories.

“It’s an opportunity for them to talk through some of the challenges they face,” Holland says. “It’s also a learning environment for them. Some of the mornings we work on speech reading skills.”

It also provides a venue to access other information, from ongoing technological advances to tools available to help those with hearing loss – among them cochlear implants.

“When the group started, a lot of them learned about cochlear implants and the benefits of cochlear implants from other people in the group,” Holland says.

Seven or eight of the group have the implants and help each other adapt.

“(Monday group has) given him a social life. He can participate,” Beth says. “During family dinners, by the time the family leaves he’s exhausted and has missed most of the conversation.”

“Deaf people do suffer isolation in group settings,” Sandy agrees.

The social aspect is precisely one of the targets of the sessions, says Holland, who leads the group.

“It’s wanting them to feel there’s a place where they belong, where they can connect easily with other people. A place where they’re understood and can carry on an easy conversation. A place where they can share a joke and they all laugh at the same time, because they all got it,” Holland says. “Hearing loss is very, very isolating, because it affects communication. Communication is huge (it keeps) us connected with people – our city, our culture.”

Beth likes that it’s an independent outing for Sandy, who essentially hangs out with friends every Monday.

“This little group stands the test of time,” Sandy says. “They represent a humanity that helps improve people’s lives.”

They have however, lost friends in the group, one being Roy Reynolds, a jazz musician who was good pals with Sandy.

He also left a fundraising legacy that celebrates seven years with joyful noise this year – The Big Band Bash.

“Roy was quite a well-known jazz player who had lost his hearing over time,” Robertson explains. Seven years ago, his contribution to the organization that gave him so much was to gather his buddies, the three Big Bands of the Island and get them to perform a charity benefit.

“Roy passed way two years ago now, but the bands continue to donate their time. To come out in his honour as part of his legacy,” Robertson said. “It was a really wonderful piece on Roy’s part to spread the word of the agency.”

In day-to-day life Sandy lives in silence, Beth says. He watches sports – hockey, football, tennis and golf – on television with the sound off.

“One of the biggest losses I had was music,” Sandy says, sharing an affinity for Hawaiian music. “I’m just slowly beginning to recapture the sound.”

Sound changes when it’s provided through one ear, aided by technology and one man-made cochlea. However, he enjoys simple music with little or no bass right now, and feels he’ll relearn his love of music.

As a friend of the late Reynolds, and a proponent of the centre, Sandy attended the Big Band Bash last year, and this year he plans to donate the price of a table.

“The Big Band Bash is a way of making the hearing public aware of the centre and what it does,” Beth says.

It’s about enjoyment and education.

“We do give out earplugs at the event, free, because we think it’s important people learn to enjoy music in a way that’s safe for them,” Robertson says. “You can go out and enjoy music without doing damage to your hearing.”

The 2014 Big Band Bash, a fundraiser for the IDHHC, is held Nov. 4 at Our Lady of Fatima Portuguese Hall, 4635 Elk Lake Dr. The bash features music of the Swiftsure Big Band, the Commodores Big Band and Island Big Band.

“It’s really about an evening of music and entertainment and dancing and live and silent auction. It’s a brilliant and wonderful legacy Mr. Reynolds left us,” Robertson says.

Tickets are $50 at the door or $40 in advance and are available at Larsen Music (1833 Cook St.), Long and McQuade (756 Hillside Ave.) and the IDHHC office (201-754 Broughton St.). Reserve a table by calling the IDHHC office at 250-592-8144.