When Sergeant Vince Carter bellowed, “I can’t hear you!” to Private Gomer Pyle in the ’60s TV show “Gomer Pyle,” he wasn’t admitting that he was hard of hearing but making fun of Gomer’s hard-headedness. Today, however, “forty-eight million Americans, or 17 percent of the population, have some degree of hearing loss,” writes Katherine Bouton. “Nearly one in five people, across all age groups, has trouble understanding speech, and many cannot hear certain sounds at all.”
When she was 30, Bouton, former senior editor at the New York Times, joined this group of Americans when she suddenly lost her hearing in one ear. In Shouting Won’t Help, her deeply poignant book that is part memoir and part scientific study, she compellingly chronicles her own struggles with admitting and accepting the severity of her hearing loss. When she first experienced the roar of silence in her left ear, she ignored it; 10 years later, her hearing loss was serious enough to affect her daily life, and by the time she turned 60 she was functionally deaf.
Although Bouton searched for a clue to her sensorineural hearing loss, caused by a defect in the hair cells, doctors could not isolate a cause for the defect, and she slowly and reluctantly started to adjust to her hearing loss. Using her own experience as a starting point, Bouton explores the mechanics of hearing and the numerous ways it can be impaired; the causes of hearing loss, such as noise in restaurants, concerts, subways, airports; and the various conditions (heart disease, dementia, depression) associated with hearing loss. Bouton eventually had a cochlear implant placed in her left ear and now uses a hearing aid in the other ear, and she explores the advantages and the limitations of each technology. Each chapter also features short profiles of individuals, ranging from musicians and composers to nurses and medical publishers, who share their own experiences with a variety of levels of hearing loss and their attempts to come to terms with such loss.
Carefully researched and elegantly written, Bouton’s page-turning book issues a loud and clear call to find solutions to this disability that affects more people every day.