The Doc Knew Better!


By Jonah Begone



What? What did you say?


I find myself saying that a lot these days – usually in noisy rooms – because of my hearing loss. I have an authentic, old-timey 19th century hearing loss called a “Boilermaker’s notch,” characterized by a marked loss of response in the region of about 4,000 Hz. (In Europe it’s known as a “C5 Dip,” because the musical tone C5 is the top-most key on the piano, and is about 4,000 Hz). In the U.S. it’s associated with boilermakers because it was a common hearing loss caused by the metal-on-metal banging created in the boiler-making process.


I was once in a line waiting to enter the Crayola Crayon factory in Pennsylvania and happened to make small talk with a guy in front of me. Turned out he was a boilermaker by trade. I mentioned my ailment, and he confirmed, “Oh, yeah, we’ve all got that. Have you ever heard the ‘Boilermaker’s Greeting?’” “No,” I said. “HUH?” he bellowed.


Life with a hearing loss is interesting. I once attended a job fair and interviewed, not in a closed office, but in a noisy atrium. I’m pretty sure that with all my repeated “Whats?” and the frequent “Could you repeat that, please?” I wouldn’t get the job. It was very frustrating. Nowadays I’d probably complain and cite the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act to scare the employer. (That is, once I was sure I wasn’t going to get a job offer from them.)


Soft-spoken females, like Mrs. Begone, can be especially hard to hear, especially in rooms with other conversations going on or with a noisy air-conditioning system. I guess the female voice is more or less in the neighborhood of around 4,000 Hz. As a result, in business meetings I sometimes completely tune out female speakers if they refuse encouragements from myself and others to speak up. It’s survivalist, not sexist.


Ladies, if you want credibility and attention from your male co-workers, speak up in meetings!


I was amazed one summer night to learn that with the left side of my head upon the pillow I could hear the crickets and bugs outside our opened bedroom window, while with the right side of my head on the pillow I could not. And another experiment with a ticking watch – which ticking of the jeweled pallet on the escape wheel I could hear with the right ear but not the left – confirmed the damage.


Think about it for a moment: do you know what would cause a hearing loss in the left ear?


You may have guessed that it has to do with firing muskets at reenactments. An audiologist once had me hold an air-musket steady at the “aim” position, with my cheek to the stock, and pointed out that my left ear (being a right-handed marksman) was closer to the source of the noise, the muzzle. It became clear to me that about twelve years of frequent, unprotected musket fire at events had taken its irreversible toll upon my hearing.


Do I regret this? Yes, I do. I am a lover of classical music; to me, there is nothing to compare with the nuance, power and subtlety of a symphonic orchestra. I loved to listen to it before I started reenacting, and I still love to listen to it years after I have given up the hobby. I know there are sounds I’m not hearing, and it’s a shame because I had an early warning of what could happen, and what to do about it.


My very first reenactment unit, which I joined in late 1982, was the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which was active in the Central Utah area. (At the time I was attending college at Brigham Young University.) Our activities were confined to very small skirmishes in Provo Canyon and parades – especially the Big Pioneer Days parade and 4th of July, when we’d march down the street of Salt Lake City and Provo, stopping occasionally to fire a musket volley to impress the spectators. When I moved East I learned that such things were regarded as farby and hokey by the local reenactors, but the folks in Utah loved it!


One of our soldiers was a middle-aged fellow who was known as “Doc” Petersen. We didn’t see him often because of his medical responsibilities, I was told, and I never had any conversations with him that I could recall. Frankly, I thought the fellow looked somewhat silly, as he insisted upon wearing a full uniform coat and a Hardee hat with a big blue plume. Silliest and most unmanly of all, I thought, was his habit of wearing bright yellow hearing protectors whenever he fired his musket. I thought that it made the entire unit look goofy: the rest of us were young, two-fisted rough and tumble infantry types wearing sack coats and somewhat dirty brass, and there’s middle-aged Doc Petersen, bright and shiny, with yellow things sticking out of his ears.


Foolish is as foolish does, and I know now who the fool really was. Doc, I should have followed your example!


Gentle Reader, if you take nothing else from this article, or, indeed, from anything else I’ve ever written, at least take notice of this statement:


Wear hearing protection when firing muskets!


The day will come when you’ll want to be able to hear women, symphonic music, bugs and the gentle tick of a mechanical watch.


What Jonah Heard

A collection of misheard conversations

Life becomes puzzling with a hearing loss...

From a woman, looking at a can of Niagara spray starch in my wife's shopping cart: "Are you using Viagra?"

My wife: "I need to get some Percoset." (She said "party stuff.")

More are coming...