August 22, 2011
A Longtime Shooter's Notes on Hearing Loss
By David E. Petzal
Having started shooting in the 1950s when no one wore hearing protection and having persisted for half a century, I now have what the doctor describes as “profound” loss of hearing in both ears. What has happened is that some of the hairlike receptors in the middle ear, called cilia, have dropped dead from all the noise. This has had three effects: First, I have to wear hearing aids, but even with those I still have trouble understanding some people. Second, I have constant ringing in my ears, called tinnitus. Third, I have lost my ability to tolerate high-pitched sound that doesn't bother other people, such as fire sirens or Michelle Bachman speeches. This is called “recruitment.”
Of the three, the least known is recruitment. It occurs because your ears essentially re-program themselves when some of your cilia call it quits, and have other cilia doing double duty to compensate for the loss. The result is, that when certain sounds hit your ear, they get very loud very quickly because the way you process sound is all screwed up and some of your cilia are pulling in that sound much harder than they normally would. This is why, when a fire engine passes you with its siren going, you clap your hands over your ears and fall to the ground foaming at the mouth. And people with normal hearing merely stare at you in curiosity.
About hearing aids. The ones they have now are infinitely better than the ones that existed only a decade ago. But they are not a cure-all. If you’re trying to talk to someone who jabbers like a rhesus monkey, or speaks softly, or both, or has Valley Girl Lockjaw,* you will not understand them.
I've found it best to be pretty blunt about the situation. I point at my hearing aid and say “Speak slower [louder], I’m deaf, I can’t understand you.” Almost invariably, the person to whom I explain this will say “Oh, I didn't know.” And then will start again, speaking exactly the way they did before—too fast, or mumbling, or too softly, or whatever. Or, they will get out one sentence I can understand and then default to their normal pattern of speech. It makes for a stressful existence. For example, when I gave blood a few days ago I dealt with three vampires at the blood bank and had to ask them speak slower/louder a total of 7 times.
What I’m curious about is, do those of you who have also gone deaf have the same experience? Do you find that the people with whom you deal in the course of a day react to your lack of hearing as the ones I run into? Maybe it’s my approach. I’m considering having cards printed that say:
“I am hearing impaired. In order that we may conclude this transaction with a minimum of difficulty, kindly slow the f**k down and speak the f**k up.
Or should I put it in stronger terms? Let me know what you think.
*I’m referring to the habit of some girls of high school and college age to clench their jaws when speaking, as though they had developed tetanus. The mouths don’t move and the sound, like, doesn't come out.