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Rainer Hersch reveals how hearing loss changed his life

Posted Jun 14 2010 2:49pm

Rainer Hersch.jpg
Always finding the best side of things, classically trained musician and stand-up comedian, Rainer Hersch, talks about his experience with hearing loss with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of hearing and the consequences of hearing loss.

Rainer Hersch is a stand-up comedian, pianist and conductor who has performed on every major comedy stage in Britain and abroad. He has appeared 12 times at the Edinburgh Festival; featured in comedy clubs all across Europe and in TV shows around the world. Being so well known for his classical music parody didn’t stop Rainer taking his hearing seriously.

In 1997, he contracted a virus resulting in what was described by the specialists as ‘sudden hearing loss’ and was associated with a slight cold and various ear aches. He recalls becoming suddenly extremely dizzy: “It happened in the space of a few minutes. I was so dizzy I was physically sick and couldn’t even stand up. I was taken home to bed where I stayed for a few days and in that time the normal hearing on my right side disappeared and was replaced with almost zero hearing and tinnitus. That’s pretty much where my hearing has remained to this day”. He is since ‘profoundly deaf’ in his right ear.

I felt as if a big part of it [my life] had been taken away
At first, Rainer was extremely distressed. “My life is performing and music and I felt as if a big part of it had been taken away. To some extent I still do but, as time passes, you come to accept that this is the way you are now and just get on with it”. He tried all sorts of treatments including Tomatis, steroids, Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, but nothing helped his hearing improve.

“As far as medics were concerned, my GP was fairly useless. He didn’t recognise what had happened, wrote to the local ENT consultant and got an appointment for me in three months time. I paid to see the same consultant the next day and that is where I found out exactly what was wrong with me. He accepted me into his NHS clinic but offered no real treatment, apart from the none too consoling advice that the chance of it happening in the other (good) ear was minimal. I then went to an ENT specialist in Harley Street who helped, somewhat to come to terms with being deaf”.

He realised pretty quickly that his hearing loss was permanent and went to Cubex, a London Hearing Centre, recommend it by Benjamin Luxon, a singer, who has been previously helped by Adam Shulberg, one of Cubex’s hearing specialist.

“My life has changed greatly since then... I still struggle to hear people in conversation – sometimes even on a one-to-one basis. In situations where a lot of people are talking I have the difficulties that all deaf people have and can quickly drift off into my own world because it is so much easier. I realise I lip read quite a lot and rarely stand facing anyone directly. Rather, I stand side-on so that my good ear is getting as much play as possible. It probably creates a pretty odd impression”.

Deaf people lose spatial awareness

One of the things Rainer finds is slightly overlooked is that deaf people also lose spatial awareness. “You unconsciously get a lot of information about where you are and where the objects around you are from hearing. This may just be to do with loss of sound localisation skills which becoming deaf sometimes entails. I bump into things more than I used to and realise I am using touch more than I did – especially when it’s dark. The localisation thing is a pain in the neck - If I lose my mobile phone in the house, for example, I have to phone it about ten times before I can finally track down which room it is in and what piece of paper I have left it under. More generally, because sounds don’t have a specific source, it can be harder to concentrate and this can lead to a sort of permanent disorientation”.

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He also encounters difficulties when performing music. “My appreciation of sound quality has definitely diminished and I still, occasionally, find myself grieving that. On the upside, when I play the piano or conduct an orchestra – even when I'm in front of an audience, I am right on top of the sound so it’s loud.

Also, all this is in the context of my having perfect hearing in my good ear and that, of course, helps a lot. Many people who have hearing loss are not so lucky”.

Against all the difficult situations, Rainer continues to enjoy performing on stage, broadcasting regularly for the BBC or writing as a columnist for BBC Music Magazine. Always finding the best side of things, the endearing comedian concluded: “I once had to do a questionnaire for a magazine. One of those ‘when were you at your happiest?’, ‘what do you least like about your appearance?’ type things. One of the questions was ‘what is the most extravagant thing you own?’ I put: “my hi-fi. The speakers alone cost £2,000, the cables £500. And here’s the irony – I am almost completely deaf in one ear. To me, it’s not even in stereo”.

To increase public awareness about hearing and to encourage people to overcome the stigma associated with hearing loss, Reiner Hersch is judging a celebrity look-a-like competition in collaboration with Cubex and Hear the World charity. Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson, Annie Lennox and Sting are amongst more than 40 renowned artists who support Hear the World and its mission of raising awareness about hearing and hearing loss throughout the world. Each Hear the World ambassador has been photographed by musician and Hear the World photographer Bryan Adams in a “conscious pose of hearing” – with one hand cupped behind their ear.

To enter the competition the participants have to send their photo imitating the conscious pose of hearing and the name of the star they look like to maddy@cubex.co.uk or 25 New Cavendish Street, London, W1G 8LP before 16th July 2010. The best look-a-like will win FREE VIP tickets for two at the famous “Last Night at the Proms” that will take place in Hyde Park, London, on the 11th September 2010. For more information, please visit www.cubex.co.uk/promotions

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