She was a successful senior editor at the New York Times for two decades. She also successfully hid her sudden-onset hearing loss from colleagues and friends, until the damage was too much to hide. This is the story that Katherine Bouton tells in “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I – and 50 Million Other Americans – Can’t Hear You,” an informative book that underscores the invisible nature of hearing disabilities.
Bouton’s memoir is at once autobiographical and educational. It describes her personal experience – the sudden onset of hearing loss and subsequent denial, which led to progressively worse hearing and difficulty at work and in social settings. Bouton also researched the scientific and practical aspects of hearing loss, interviewing experts in the fields of neurotology and otolaryngology and devoting a chapter to the costs, pros and cons of hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Bouton’s overarching goal with this memoir is to empower people by helping them to recognize their hearing loss and take action. She describes her frustration with people who associate deafness with dumbness, her painstaking efforts to get the right fit with hearing aids and their sundry devices, and her fears of what hearing aids would do to her self-image. Through such personal accounts, which are frankly written, many readers with similar struggles will be able to relate to Bouton – an intelligent, successful woman with a highly competitive career.
“Hearing loss remains a silent and invisible disability,” she writes in the epilogue. “It needn’t be. There are lots of us out there.” Forty-eight million in the United States, to be precise.
The other aim of the book is presumably to educate readers. The facts are written anecdotally, but Bouton definitely did her research. The advances in science included in this book are fascinating; there are currently efforts to produce hair cells that regenerate, meaning that scientists may one day be able to completely rebuild damaged properties of the ear, eschewing the need for hearing aids or implants. Bouton also relates the financial obstacles to getting proper hearing devices, pointing out that one hearing aid costs more than a huge flat-screen TV, and that health insurance generally does not cover hearing aids.
To gain an insight into the world of someone with hearing loss, this book is definitely a starting point. For those with hearing loss who are struggling with the physical, emotional, practical and financial aspects of hearing loss, they will find a companion in Bouton’s narrative.