From The Doctor’s Desk
I am an avid reader of history and recently enjoyed reading Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. It is an excellent book of Gorge Washington’s life. Using newly found documents and letters, diaries and first-hand accounts from his contemporaries, the author tells us of Mr. Washington’s passions, his strengths and weaknesses, his experiences and adventures, his victories and failures, and the demand he shouldered in leading an Army and building a nation. The author notes that George “was known for his colossal temper and softer emotions. A man prone to tears as well as temper.” One of his biggest victories was how he learned at an early age to control his famous temper. He never looked for attention, but rather avoided it when possible, figuring the less people knew about him, the more he could accomplish. He writes how George protected his reputation and worried about how he would be remembered by history. He wanted t be known as a public man who was civic-minded.
There were several instances where the author revealed that George Washington suffered from hearing loss and described how others observed his associated behavior. Senator Maclay from Pennsylvania wrote of how President Washington was miserable in social settings. At a presidential dinner, he reported Mr. Washington “to be a bore, devoid of conversation and very jittery: he could neither relax nor converse spontaneously.” On another occasion he reported, “The President seemed to bear in his countenance a settled aspect of melancholy. He often played on the table with a fork or knife like a drumstick.” Several months later the Senator provided a possible clue to the awkward silences at earlier gatherings. “The President… was so deaf that I believe he heard little of the conversation.” A different incident tells of an occasion at a presidential gathering: “Since Washington’s hearing was failing, David Humphreys announced him and his visitors in a raised voice.”
Mr. Chernow summarizes Mr. Washington’s impairment very well. He says, “That Washington’s hearing had deteriorated—bit surprising after eight years of roaring cannon—may explain the gruesome conversational gaps that Mr. Maclay so freely mocked. Deafness can be an isolating experience, especially for a president. People would naturally have waited for him to respond to statements before proceeding with the conversation; to conceal his deafness, a self-conscious Washington may well have feigned hearing what they said and sat there in silence.
The author humanized Washington, and when reading Washington: A Life, he was no longer the marble statue or the oil portrait or the face on the dollar bill we all know. He became a man with real life trials and tribulations and HEARING LOSS! President George Washington suffered the same struggles with untreated hearing loss as individuals still do today. It’s not that hard to imagine the opportunities and information he lost, as well as the lost energy he spent just trying to keep up. His anti-social behavior, feeling isolated and withdrawing from social settings is very typical of behavior with untreated hearing loss. You can picture the embarrassing moments when he didn’t catch someone’s name or some other important bit of information. Straining to hear a conversation in a noisy setting is physically and emotionally tiring. It’s just hard to make the effort, and you sometimes just give up. This is what the Pennsylvania Senator observed George doing all those years ago. It makes you wonder how episodes of George’s story might have changed, or if his part in building a new nation would have been smoother if he had heard easily at those numerous official meetings and social situations. George lived too early to be treated for his hearing loss, but if he were here today, I’m sure he would demand the best correction available and would have encouraged the other Founding Fathers to do the same.
Today there is no excuse to suffer from untreated or inadequately treated hearing loss. Don’t let hearing loss hold you back. Contact me to learn about today’s new technologies that enable modern hearing aids to treat all types of hearing loss.
I also highly recommend the book if you love history!
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