Hearing Link

Blog: Would Robert de Niro use earplugs?

I often find a wry smile on my face when I watch macho cops such as Bruce Willis or Robert de Niro taking out the enemy, firing every describable weapon from hand guns to rocket launchers. A few moments later they are holding a quiet, romantic conversation with the leading lady, whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears. Then they’re off again, blasting away with another round of loud gunshot.

I smile because, in reality, the loud bursts of noise would render their hearing temporarily out of order. Their ears would be ringing and they certainly wouldn’t be able to hear the whispers of the beautiful heroine. But we never see this in Hollywood, do we?

In the 70s and 80s I was a police officer. We were trained to use guns. Initially we used an army range. Anyone shooting would wear ear protection, but there was always a shortage of ear defenders, so officers waiting to fire standing at the rear of the range, would stuff weapon cleaning wadding wrapped around a 38-shell in their ears. In later years we’d practise in a modern indoor police range. Since more officers had to undergo firearms training the air conditioning couldn’t cope, I heard that some of the baffling between the concrete walls was removed for the air to circulate better. This meant that no matter what ear protection you wore, you always heard a loud ‘concrete crack’ as the gun fired. The result? Permanent hearing damage and tinnitus.

I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss, and tinnitus, pitching at the note, ‘high C’. My hearing loss had a dramatic effect on my working life. I left Operation Duties and moved to a quieter, classroom environment, completing two postings at the National Police Training Centres run by the Home Office. Now I’m retired.

I’ve tried many remedies to alleviate my tinnitus and I’ve tried getting off to sleep to the sounds of whales and dolphins. My hearing aids seemed to increase the volume of my tinnitus so I stopped wearing my hearing aids. Now I rely on lipreading.

People often ask me to describe my tinnitus, and I tell them it is a ‘constant, loud, high pitched scream’. On hearing this they often unconsciously talk much louder. Even though people are perhaps more aware of tinnitus than they were in the past, they don’t generally know the stress it causes and how best to communicate (I think talking louder is their way of showing empathy). My family are aware of my hearing loss and tinnitus and they are very supportive. I suffered from depression for a while. Counselling helped, and I worked out that keeping busy is a good coping strategy.

Today, there have been attempts to get soldiers and police officers to use ear protection, but few use this because it blocks all noise, making it difficult to hear commands and listen for friendly and enemy troop movement. So, they are stuck, and that is why most veterans still get hearing loss and tinnitus.

Back to Robert de Niro. I wonder when we will witness a Hollywood blockbuster with actors either putting in earplugs before they start shooting or ‘acting deaf’ after they have used their gun? I’m not sure punters would pay to see such action. What do you think?


Guest writer

This blog has been written by Geoff Giles, a retired police officer.

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