For most of us, it’s the unofficial start to summer. A time for family and friends. BBQs, pool parties, and beach weekends. One of those moments – or series of moments – when we cherish our connections and our relationships. We laugh, we have fun, we enjoy each other’s company. Without each other, we wouldn’t have these moments. We would not be able to make these memories. Memorial Day weekend gives us some time off to relax, recharge and connect with those around us whose role in our lives hold meaning. Connections are values, communication is important, and we try our hardest to accommodate any communication loss because the revelry is so appreciated.
At New York Speech and Hearing, Memorial Day means something else. Many of the people we work with have been in the military and have chosen to risk their lives for the betterment of our country. We work with people from all walks of life – men and women – from the Greatest Generation, fighting in World War II and the Korean War, through the Baby Boomers in Vietnam. We share an era with Generation X and their role in Operation Desert Storm through Generation Y/Millennials who fought through the War on Terror, Operation Iraqi Freedom and the current War on Isis. I have seen these fearless men and women walk through our door, in an effort on their part to help find a treatment that will help to compensate for the communication loss caused by their role in protecting our country and our freedom. I listen to each story with pride and reverence in an effort to obtain a case history and gain a sense of their experiences. Some of the stories have been so graphic, so real, that it offers the sensation of actually being there. Gunshots. Exposure to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) yielding hearing loss, loss of limbs, loss of part of the face. I have listened to the stories of the men who worked on planes, who flew planes and the noise to which they were exposed-what was seen, what was heard, what was felt. I live through each story with every veteran and current service man or woman, and I empathize. I started hearing these stories as a young child, told to me by my Grandpa. He was a Bombardier-Navigator who serviced during World War II as an officer in the Army Air Corps. I listened as he would tell me of how he had to listen carefully, over the noises of the wind and the plane, to time his actions accurately. I heard about the explosions and about that time his life was spared when his plane went up in flames at a time he was not in it. Through his stories – through everyone’s stories – I live it vicariously and gain a true understanding of the risks involved.
I have heard the tinnitus through my patient’s ears and heads. The constant reminder of that moment when they watched their Army brother or sister die. The trauma that persists that make tinnitus management a more challenging path. I have seen the tears, I have felt the wounds – physical, auditory, visual and emotional.
I hear the love stories – the men who left their new wives as they flew across the world. Those were my Grandparents – my Grandfather, fighting in the Pacific as my Grandmother waited patiently for his return to New York. Waiting…and worrying. I have seen in my office – the couple that fell in love during their experience together in Afghanistan. They have a child now and, when he was fit with new hearing aids because of a service-related hearing loss, the veteran showed them to his daughter and described them as a badge of honor. Both parents explained them as a necessity because of Dad’s strength and bravery.
The sacrifices are very great. The rewards are immense and can be appreciated by all of us. Freedom. Opportunity. Faith. Growth.
We have had many periods of political unrest in the United States, periods of economic decline and socioeconomic difficulties. Sociological changes that are challenged by the masses. Times have been difficult. Positive change is often preceded by difficult times. During these challenging periods, not once does any serviceman, servicewoman or veteran waver from their devotion to America. Not once do you hear of any of these people threatening to move elsewhere if something economic or political was against what they thought was right. True to form, every single individual who sacrificed their lives for our country has devoted their lives to our nation.
Our servicemen/servicewomen and veterans are loyal. They are true. They are leaders. They are proud.
We are proud of them–for their sacrifice, for their risk, for their fearlessness and for their steadfast nature which is a lesson to all of us. A deep hearted gratitude and reverence for all those who have sacrificed their lives in order to progress our great nation. Much honor towards those who lost their lives fighting. It is a privilege to know you, to hear your stories, to live the experiences through you, and to help you in any way I can contribute. You are held in the highest regard.
Dr. Melissa E. Heche