Tinnitus on the Starship Enterprise

Stardate  – March 27, 2013……… kirk

Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Many of us around the world grewkirk5 up glued to the television between 1966 and 1969 watching the voyages of the Starship Enterprise and its crew.  Each week we followed Captain Kirk , Spock, Mr. Sulu, Scotty, Mr. Chekov, Bones and the others on their 5-year voyage through the galaxy.  We followed their weekly plights battling the Klingons  and other other vicious extraterrestrials being beamed up and down, in and out of trouble.  Of course we have all been in situations where being ‘beamed up’ by Mr. Scott as characterized on Star Trek would have been very beneficial (such as that flopped presentation, or an embarrassing statement at a dinner party).

As young people, we got to know the Star Trek personalities and their interactions aboard ship; and some became part of the huge Star Trek following called ‘Trekkies’, found on many Internet trekkie web sites .  Evekirk20n after the show was discontinued on television, the full-length feature films and a second generation of Star Trek kept the legacy alive for another generation of fans.

It’s hard to believe, but the bigger-than-life Starship Enterprise that could travel at Warp Speed (later adopted by a hearing aid company to describe the speed of their hearing processor), that was used in the filming of the Star Trek TV show was made mostly of poplar wood and vacu-formed plastic. Sheet metal tubes were used for the two engine housings or nacelles.  The Starship Enterprise was based on the ideas of Star Trek producer Gene Roddenberry and made from a design by Walter M. Jeffries. A tiny balsa and cardboard version was built first, and then Richard C. Datin Jr. built a 1-meter (3-foot) wooden model, which was scaled up to 11 feet to create the final version. Paramount Pictures donated the Enterprise model to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. in 1974. Who knew that the Enterprise began as a mere balsa wood, when to us it seemed so real and part of the universe? (click for a video of the model of the Starship Enterprise).


The Tinnitus Connection

One of the major stars of Star Trek, William Shatner, had his 82nd birthday on March 22, 2013.  Dr. Shatner is a Canadian actor, musician, recording kirk1artist, author, philanthropist, and film director who gained worldwide fame and cultural icon status for his portrayal of James T. Kirk, Captain of Starfleet Command’s USS  Enterprise.  Dr. Shatner was born in Montreal, Quebec, to descendants of Austrian and Jewish immigrakirk8nts.  And, yes, it is Dr. William Shatner.  Educated in Montreal public schools, he studied economics at the prestigious McGill University in Montreal, obtaining a Bachleor’s Degree in Business Commerce. In addition to his numerous other accomplishments, McGill awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Letters on June 2,2011.

At the commencement ceremony, he delivered the convocation address to graduating students and Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Religious Studies.  Although commencement addresses tend to be rather boring, Dr. Shatner’s  was inspiring.  (Click here for Dr. Shatner’s Convocation Address.)  Dr. Shatner told stories about obtaining  his Bachelor’s Degree, his class attendance (or misattendance), cleaning jobs, and he totally denied burning the principal’s car.

Canadian and American baby boomers may have forgotten (or never known) that Shatner played “Timber Tom” and “Ranger Bob” okirk12n the Canadian and US versions of Howdy Doody.  He was a television and movie star long before his success in Star Trek, appearing in Dr. Kildare and numerous other television shows and theater productions.  After Star Trek went off the air, his long career included gigs such as the spokesman for Priceline.com and recekirk10.jpgnt roles in Big Bang Theory and other contemporary television shows.

Dr. Shatner has had tinnitus for over 45 years.  He says that his condition began while he was filming episode number 18 of the first season of Star Trek in 1967.  In case you’re not a Trekkie, on the  “Arena” episode of Star Trek, a superior alien race pits Captain Kirk in single combat against the murderous reptilian captain of an alien ship he was pursuing.  He says, “I was standing too close to a special effects explosion and it resulted in tinnitus.  There were days when I didn’t know if I would survive the agony [because] I was so tormented by the screeching in my head.  I really felt I wouldn’t be able to go on.”  Shatner credits the support and counsel of the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) as ‘a ray of light in his life’.

American Tinnitus Association

For those in our international audience who may not be aware of the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), the first of its kind, which was founded by the late Dr. Jack Vernon in the 1970s.  Dr. Vernon, an otolaryngologist, began ATA with vision, ckirk7ompassion and a drive to help the many people suffering from tinnitus who had virtually been left alone to suffer by their doctors.  Medical practitioners at that time  did not have the knowledge or support that they needed to adequately diagnose and treat  tinnitus, so patients were told to “live with it.”kirk6  Until Dr. Vernon began treating tinnitus in the 1970s and calling attention to the disorder, it was considered an untreatable malady.  Audiologists may remember Tinnitus Masking, a treatment offered by Dr. Vernon, which began as a result of a “brown bag” lunch held near a water fountain on the campus of the University of Oregon Health Sciences in Portland. He noticed that the noise of the fountain covered his own tinnitus; the first tinnitus masker was the noise of a fountain! Since his discovery that tinnitus could often be masked, tinnitus treatments have become mainstream in audiology and otolaryngology clinics. Approaches now being offered by clinics include Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, sophisticated amplification and masking devices, and the FDA-cleared Neuromonics device and procedure.

Dr. Shatner shares his ATA online video (click here for the video) where he states, “The help they [ATA] gave me literally saved my life.”  As a spokesman,kirk13 he publicizes the fact that ATA offers patients and professionals the opportunity to do something about tinnitus (www.ata.com) and makes it possible for anyone to contribute and support research that moves toward a cure.

Tinnitus and those who suffer from its constant noise have attracted much attention in research and treatment over the past few years. This attention is due to changing capabilities for research and to the availability of funds to evaluate new treatment programs based upon the information. A number of celebrities who have been  brave enough to call attention to their disorder have greatly assisted in obtaining funds for tinnitus research and for evaluating these treatment programs. Some of the procedures that are now widely available in audiology clinics barely existed 5 years ago.

Hearing International would like to salute Dr. Shatner and other celebrities that publicize their personal tinnitus and/or hearing impairment to help others realize they are not alone in their struggle and that there are treatment programs available.  As for Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise, some of us can aspire to and achieve a doctorate, either by hard academic work or ‘just saying yes’; some of us may even set fire to the principal’s car and get away with it,  but none of us will be able to “command the most influential ship in Starfleet command.”  Thanks again, Bill……

Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.

1 Comment

  1. Bob,

    Loved, your article on tinnitus. I’ve had it for years, mostly just try and ignore it. Read everything I can find about it in hopes of finding a cure. Am always amazed by ads in the paper claiming they can “fix” it. How about a follow up article explaining what is available now?


    Al Musser

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