Tom Duerst drives his tractor planting winter wheat at his farm near Verona, Wisconsin, September 27, 2013. Duerst, a 55 year old dairy farmer with partial hearing loss now wears ear protection when working on the farm.

[imgcontainer] [img:workers-urged-to-protect-hearing-farm-clatter.jpg] [source]Photo by the Associated Press[/source] Tom Duerst drives his tractor planting winter wheat at his farm near Verona, Wisconsin, September 27, 2013. Duerst, a 55-year-old dairy farmer with partial hearing loss now wears ear protection when working on the farm. [/imgcontainer]

On the wall of my office I keep a plaque given to me by my dear mother-in-law. Written on the aging wood is this thoughtful inscription;

“My wife says I never listen to her. At least I think that’s what she said.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Over the years lots of people have thought I wasn’t listening. Even worse is when I answer the question I thought they asked instead of the one they did. 

I’ve been given some very puzzled looks.

But I think it’s worse when they ask a direct question and I reply with thoughtful silence. It sort of reminds me of the movie “Forest Gump,” when the experienced shrimp fisherman looks at Forest, asking him “Say. Are you stupid or something?”

How might I answer such a question on a noisy Gulf Coast pier at midday?

<Smile, nod>

I went to the ear doctor yesterday. It seems I have 17% hearing on the left and 22% on the right. I am incapable of understanding close to a third of the alphabet. I have moderate hearing in lower frequencies. Nothing at all in the highest ones where the sounds of women, children, microwave timers and cell phone  are.

They say you cant fix stupid. Hearing is almost as tough.

I’m not fixable on either front.

All I can say about my IQ is some of us got it and some of us don’t.

Causes of my audio deficiency are most likely genetic and environmental.

Mother was deaf as a post at 93 when she died.


The weaker ear on farmers is generally the one we turn toward the tractor muffler when we look back while driving the tractor through the field.    


And then there were all those days of shooting big caliber guns for fun. POW!!!!

Then tinnitus for three days after.  


For some reason flying takes a day or two to get over. My ears plug up every time, rendering them almost useless. I hear but can’t understand. Those echoey airline terminal public address systems spoken over by women, or someone with a strong accent? “Flight 9541 now boarding at gate 7” sounds like “vly bwah bwah bwah ven”


I watch TV with the sound turned off. That’s because I use closed captions instead.

But I miss a lot of what happens onscreen because I’m reading print at the bottom instead of watching the picture.

“Wow! Did you see that?!!!”


[imgcontainer] [img:hearing_sign.jpg][/imgcontainer]

An old friend once told me he found it uncomfortable talking to me because I seemed to stare at him during the conversation. Then he figured it out.

“You read lips, don’t you” he said.

Being this impaired takes management. Reading lips is a must. Men with bushy mustaches or people who move their lips imperceptibly are almost impossible to read. If I lose track of the conversation and don’t have visual clues to what it’s about, suddenly everything sounds like gibberish because my brain can’t interpret what my ears are telling it. Listening is exhausting because not only do I need to absorb information, but I first have to figure out what it is. A friend told me awhile back that long pauses in our conversations bothered her until she figured out I have to think about what i just heard before I can answer.

That’s why people with hearing impairments tend to drift off by themselves. Even if friends and family know the problem and tolerate it, it’s still embarrassing. 

My Missouri Blue Cross insurance has a $30 copay for office visits.

Visiting an ear specialist probably cost $500 and 2-and-a-half hours’ driving there and back.

It took him maybe all of five minutes to diagnose.    

“I’ve lost some of my hearing due to my age, too,” the doctor said.

Then came the audiologist and testing. I bet I spent $1,000 altogether that day. I’ll know when I get the bill. But it’s not over yet.

They can’t fix me, but they say they can help.

All it takes is money.

New hearing aids use computers to move sounds to different frequencies I still hear, rather than simply amplifying sounds.

Will women and kids sound like James Earl Jones and the microwave like a steam whistle on the Titanic? The audiologist said getting used to hearing again is tougher than not hearing at all.

I tried older style aids once. They just make everything louder. After a couple of hours my ears were ringing so loud I couldn’t understand anything. Plates clattering in a kitchen sounded like a train wreck. Noises were amplified to the point of being painful.

My old farmer neighbor Herman had hearing aids. Once he used those types of aids, his hearing got worse. They were deafening. Then he couldn’t function without them at all. I used to go down the road to visit him and his wife Betty once in awhile. We’d talk an hour or two. Herman would smile and nod at everything. Betty would ask him something. He’d smile and nod again.

Then Betty would look him in the eye and ask “Herman Tiemeyer! Do you have your hearing aids on?”

Uh-oh. Like the plaque says…..

After my hearing evaluation I asked the audiologist how much a set of those computer controlled hearing aids that move sounds around instead of blowing them out of the water would cost.

She said, “About $4,000.”


Richard Oswald, a fifth generation farmer, lives in Langdon, Missouri, and is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.