While tens of thousands of people are making their way to the downtown Minneapolis riverfront on July 4th to “ooh” and “aah” at the airborne explosions, Evey Krammer-Carlson will be headed the opposite direction: deep into the wilds, where the only sound is her own breathing.
Every year at this time, Krammer-Carlson drives as far north as she can go without leaving Minnesota. She pitches a tent in a remote area just shy of the Canadian border — “There aren’t even motorboats here” — and waits for the celebrations to die down.
“It totally helps because you don’t hear anything,” she said.
Krammer-Carlson, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), needs to avoid the loud noises of fireworks. And she’s far from alone. Many people and animals have noise sensitivity, making it impossible to enjoy the festivities.
Ronda Nelson, an Oakdale-based adult foster caretaker, said one of her clients who has autism is very affected by such noises. Because the client lives near Richard Walton Park, where there often are fireworks, Nelson has to prepare him for what is about to happen.
“He gets upset with loud noises with crowds, and so fireworks are triggering,” she said. “What we’ve done in the past is we talk about the fact that there’s fireworks tonight and it’s going to be loud. We can see them from the house, and he chooses to not watch them. What helps is he goes into his room with the TV or music on.”
Many young children, especially toddlers, are also sensitive to sounds, said Dr. Abby Meyer, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children’s Minnesota.
The problem is getting worse, said Krammer-Carlson. Firecracker blasts used to be limited to the July 4th holiday, but now they start days — and even weeks — in advance.
“They’re super-triggering because you don’t expect it,” she said.
Those who aren’t mindful of the effect firecrackers have on others can cause serious problems, warned attorney John Baker, a retired Marine — and himself “not a big fan” of fireworks.
“I represented an Army veteran who did four, five tours in Iraq — he was a sniper,” he said. “Around July 4th, he was dozing on his couch in the basement, and the next thing he realizes, his 11-year-old son is tapping him on the shoulder, saying, ‘Daddy, wake up! You can’t do this!’ In the interim, what had happened is he heard a neighbor setting off fireworks, and he had his sniper rifle in the yard, ready to take out the threat.”
How to help?
To alleviate anxiety, one strategy for children is to discuss what to expect.
“Ultimately, giving the child a voice can provide them with some sense of control, and often the perceived lack of control is a significant contributor to the anxiety some children have related to sounds,” Meyer said.
Hearing-protection devices such as earplugs and earmuffs also can help, said Analise Ludwig, an audiologist at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.
Nelson said that she will wrap her client in a weighted blanket to make him feel secure, a common device used for people on the autism spectrum. Hand-holding and hugging also provide comfort, she said.
Leora Hudak, a psychotherapist at the Center for Victims of Torture, said many refugees also suffer from PTSD and benefit from grounding exercises.
“We really work on relaxation,” she said. “As we’re talking about the holiday and what it might be like to hear fireworks outside the house, we’ll work on breathing, and they’re listening to calming music. For people who are very triggered, we create a plan where we might go to a place farther away, too — staying in a room in a house where you can’t hear it, or staying with family and friends.”
If you’re the one with the firecrackers, make sure you’re not inadvertently hurting someone, Baker said.
“If you have a neighbor who’s a veteran, be aware there’s the potential of triggering some unwanted response or discomfort,” he said. “Just know it’s a noise that is not just contained to your area. It’s throughout the community. Be respectful of your neighbors. I think we owe it to these men and women to do that duty. It’s a small price to pay.”
In fact, neighbors can be part of the solution, Hudak said.
“One thing we encourage is to look at this as an opportunity to be a good neighbor,” she said. “The July 4th season is a chance to show what’s great about the U.S. When a refugee knows the story, it’s symbolic of freedom and liberty and justice, and they have really been robbed of those experiences in their home country. They are excited and looking to build a new home here and want to get to know the culture and American people.”
Most people likely would be surprised if they knew how widespread the aversion to fireworks is, Krammer-Carlson said.
“I want to emphasize it isn’t just people with PTSD,” she said. “There’s probably a lot of people who are startled but don’t want to say anything because we don’t want to upset the neighbors.
“Here’s the thing. … I’m not a huge camper. I don’t live to go hang out with mosquitoes and I have to drive a while, and go camping and sleep in a tent for a few days. I kind of want to hang out at my house sometimes. But it is what I’ve had to do, to just not be so triggered by all the fireworks.”