COVID-19 Movie, “Presbycusis Meets PPE”

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Original story posted on: May 15, 2020

In the 1950s, there were all kinds of “So-and-So Meets So-and-So” movies. Frankenstein met the Wolf Man, and Abbott & Costello met Frankenstein. Now, 70 years later, one disease is meeting another.

“Presbycusis” is a word that basically means “old man’s hearing.” Of course, presbycusis is genderless and affects all old ears, especially ones exposed to loud noises in their occupations, their recreation, or their military service.

Presbycusis progresses by degrees, and I, personally, am working on my second post-doctoral degree in progressive deafness. Of course, what you learn in post-graduate degrees of presbycusis is how to deny you can’t hear, and how to fake (almost) hearing.

We presbycusiacs also lie a lot – we guess at what was said, which leads to a post-graduate lecture that starts with the words “you didn’t even hear what I said! What did I say?” Worst of all is that when we do hear, we don’t hear consonants: “please get the _ag” leads to angst in my auditory system –was it the “rag,” “bag,” “tag???”

So we face the talker – patients, caregivers, staff – and we read their lips, but the movements they make and the sounds they produce are now hidden under masks and muffled behind visors. So, like those Russian Matryoshka dolls, there is a pandemic inside of the COVID pandemic – it’s the presbycusis pandemic. The problem isn’t that most people don’t see it; it is that we presbycusiacs can’t hear it.

Unlike COVID, there is a cure for presbycusis, other than the miniature megaphones that hang in your ears – it is the written word. Even when the documentation you are reading is a lot like the documentation you read yesterday, the consonants are clear. So there it is, yet another, smaller Matryoshka, this one with clear consonants you can sound out in your head, even though there are the same sounds you made in your head yesterday.

So look for the movie, “Presbycusis Meets PPE.” It will be R-rated, but not for graphic violence or unbridled sex, but for the loud language of those responding again and again to the plea, “what did you say?” It is R-rated because the language is laced through and through with the F-word – frustrated.

COVID is a humorless disease. So it is important we shine as much humorous light as possible to keep the deep, sad shadow of COVID from completely darkening our world.

Stay healthy, talk loudly, and enunciate in an exaggerated fashion.

Michael A. Salvatore, MD, FACP

Dr. Michael Salvatore was a pulmonary medicine/critical care physician for 35 years. Since 2012 he has been the physician advisor and medical director of the palliative care team at Beebe Healthcare in Delaware. After earning his MD at the University of Arizona, he trained in internal medicine and PULM/CCM at Duke University. Dr. Salvatore is a member of the RACmonitor editorial board.

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