Tag Archive | temporary threshold shift

Gunshot: A Cautionary Tale

I blame gun culture: in the news, in TV shows and movies, in games. I’m just another stupid American with a gun. To be clear, there was nothing wrong with what I did; just with how I did it. It’s three days this morning, and my hearing still isn’t right. It’s much better—but not all that much. MFC was right, I never should have fired that second shot. It turns out one gunshot can do permanent damage.

Now that I understand what I actually did to my ears, I am even more chagrined. With one violent act I brought instant karma down on my poor ears, and I blame the normalization of guns in our culture. Because they never show, in news of mass shootings, of cop killings or cop killers or ‘stand your ground’ murders, in movies with wild west gunfights, gangsters, or the mob—they never show a shooter stop to put in earplugs or pull down their earmuffs, no, they just whip out a gun and start shooting. Like an elk hunter suddenly attacked by a bear—even bow hunters carry a gun for that, just in case.

So that’s what I did. Whipped out my gun and took a quick shot to the ground behind the last of the two big dogs patrolling my east fence like they owned it. I’m tired of these brutes, who have troubled me and Stellar at the end of our own driveway, charged across the road into our space menacing me and my decrepit old dog. I yelled at them and shooed them away a couple of times before we just quit walking to the mailbox.

I know they’ve been around all winter, I’ve seen their tracks in the snow. But I couldn’t be sure it was them until the other morning, when I saw them both trotting along just outside the yard fence, in the heart of my safe zone, the very woods I walk for peace and solace with my tender cat. I decided to give them a piece of my mind.

And mind only. It was never my intention to hurt one. Like I’ve seen Chris and Dave fire their guns into the dirt to break up a dog fight (and even they didn’t stop to put in earplugs) I pulled out my .357 revolver, braced it on the deck railing, waited until the second dog was just past the south fence, and shot downward well behind it. I never heard or saw the dogs after that—well, I didn’t hear anything for awhile, but I didn’t see them run off so don’t know if they got the message, but I assume so.

I certainly got the message: guns are incredibly loud. It’s not like on TV. You really do have to stop and don ear protection, even for just one shot, if you don’t want to wreck your hearing. In my foolish, spontaneous urge to teach those rogues a lesson, I forgot everything I ever learned in the few shooting tutorials I was given years ago (all of which included ear protection). The kick alone could have knocked me over: I hadn’t braced nearly enough, and I’d done it all wrong. I know what a powder burn is now, too. I got one on my left thumb along with a cut from bracing too close to the barrel. 

I only took the second shot to do it right—well, also to drive the point home with the marauders. I held the gun straight out, sighted well away from my face, braced the base with my left hand just the way I was taught, took my time to aim at the plastic dogloo in the pen, a big fat target, just to see if I could hit it. I didn’t. It wasn’t as loud as the first shot when I’d had my elbow bent, my ear twice as close to the gun. It somehow escaped me that I also had half the hearing I had before. And I didn’t think to put in earplugs the second time, because it didn’t occur to me that I could be doing permanent damage.

A simple explanation of the complex, miraculous process of hearing is described here. 80 decibels is considered loud. Hearing loss can occur with sounds above 85 dB. Last night, falling asleep, I remembered a party at the home of a former boss in the Park Service. At his frequent parties, he routinely played Pink Floyd at top volume on huge speakers, likely well over 100 dB, and that night his little girl came in her pajamas into the living room, crying because her ears hurt. He told her to go back to bed. I learned years later that she had eventually gone deaf. The 165 dB shockwave my pistol produced for 2 milliseconds was the equivalent of working a jackhammer for a forty-hour week without ear protection.

A bomb can register more than 200 dB, well beyond the threshold of “deadly shock waves.” Weeks of exposure to bombs and gunfire… I cannot imagine the trauma of sound shock alone on the people of Ukraine, those who survive the bombs and artillery assaults. Contemplating with painful compassion how any war causes such unutterable suffering. 

I am in the throes of Temporary Threshold Shift. Immediately after shooting, every sound was deeply muffled, as though I had a down comforter stuffed in my ears from both outside and in. For the next two days, my own voice sounded like I had a mouth full of custard. External sounds are gradually improving but I still can’t hear myself clearly. At rest, my ears burble with the faint sound of water boiling in the next room. 

My poor stereocilia are still recovering from their traumatic flattening, and here I’ve been talking on the phone, listening to music, watching TV, zooming for work, further assaulting my inner ears for most of my waking hours the past two days just trying to force things back to normal. It’s time for a break. At least one full day of silence, no talking, no music, TV only with closed captioning if I watch it at all. A great opportunity for a silent retreat, reading the book club selection, appreciating nature. This could take weeks to heal, if I’m lucky.

I’m optimistic. I just blew my nose and my left ear whistled. That could be a good sign. Let’s pretend it is. And outside, I can hear bluebirds faintly chirping as they fly over, and the whoosh of raven wings. I’m grateful for these sweet subtle sounds, and the silence that surrounds them.