World War II, Aural Rehabilitation, and Tinnitus: Interview with Moe Bergman, EdD
Douglas L. Beck, AuD, speaks with Dr. Bergman about noise-induced hearing loss, Grant Fairbanks, Raymond Carhart, Ira Hirsh, and more.
Academy: Good day, Moe. It’s an honor to speak with you.
Bergman: Hi, Doug. The honor is mine.
Academy: Moe, I know you’ve been officially retired for a couple of decades now (actually since 1985) and you make your home in Israel. Nonetheless, your history and insights are still very important to audiologists in the United States. In fact, I noticed in Jack Katz’s latest edition of the Handbook of Clinical Audiology he dedicated the book to you, Fred Martin, Laura Ann Wilber, and one of my favorite people, Mark Ross.
Bergman: Thanks, Doug. Yes, Jack is a wonderful person. I was honored to learn about that dedication.
Academy: Moe, where and when did you get your education?
Bergman: I earned an Ed.D. in 1949 at Columbia University. I only took one course in lip reading—that was as close as anything got to audiology in the 1940s! I also earned my master’s from Teacher’s College at Columbia University, in New York.
Academy: And then you were an itinerant teacher of “speech correction” until World War II? Is that correct?
Bergman: Yes. That’s right. And I might note it wasn’t until years later that we got the first “portable audiometer” (a Western Electric 2A), which weighed some 68 pounds. I immediately dubbed it “trans-portable.” Portable audiometry was not for the weak!
Academy: I can just imagine people lugging those units across town! When did you join the army?
Bergman: I was in the army from 1943 to 1946. I had studied radio and radio repair in an army pre-induction course—before being called up for active duty. In fact, the army decided to have me learn about stringing telephone lines so I actually had to climb telephone poles! Of course, we all thought that it was a great challenge because we were young and naïve—but the reality was we didn’t have the safety equipment they have today. Once you got to the top and looked down, it seemed pretty high.
I learned quite a bit about electricity and electronics and that served me well as I got more involved with audiology. Nonetheless, the army was getting more concerned with soldiers who had suffered noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus secondary to weapons and noise exposure. I sought out a position working with soldiers with hearing impairment to allow me to use my skills and knowledge related to aural rehab. Back in those days, it wasn’t a good idea to be too aggressive while you were in the army! But I did send a letter to the Surgeon General’s office in Washington and stated I was prepared to work with soldiers with hearing impairment. The timing of my letter was fortuitous. The army had decided to set up the west coast Aural Rehabilitation Clinic at the Hoff General Hospital in Santa Barbara and a clinic at Borden General Hospital in Chickasha, Oklahoma, and one at Walter Reed Hospital, in DC. Ray Carhart joined the Deshon program in Butler, Pennsylvania 7 months later.
At the Hoff clinic I remember we selected new equipment and rack-mounted it to perform tests of hearing, hearing aid “fittings,” etc. This was my job, since the remainder of the large rehabilitation staff at first were teachers of lip reading, auditory training, and speech therapy. Then Ira Hirsch arrived and he, too, joined the technical activities as acoustics officer. The program just got better and better with the addition of other professionals, such as a psychologist, a social worker and more ENT doctors. My program was called the Aural Rehabilitation Unit of the Department of Ear, Nose, and Throat at Hoff General. I arrived as they were starting the program and I stayed there until 1946, when they closed the unit after Hiroshima.
Academy: And when you left Hoff, where did you go?
Bergman: The army sent me to Borden General Hospital, which was another aural rehab unit in Oklahoma. Dr. Grant Fairbanks headed that unit. He was quite the genius and very well respected.
Academy: Yes, I recall the “Fairbanks Model” in the aural rehab book by one of my first professors, Dr. Derek Sanders. And I hate to bring it up, but oddly enough, I remember Dr. Sanders telling us that Dr. Fairbanks actually died a tragic death while flying somewhere?
Bergman: Yes, that’s’ true. Dr. Fairbanks was actually an expert in the larynx and voice. Ironically, as it happened, we had hosted him at a restaurant in White Plains, NY, the night before he left to attend a meeting in Florida. Apparently, as he was flying and a fish bone from the onboard dinner lodged in his throat and he died. That was June of 1964.
Academy: That is amazing. What a tragedy. And then you were at Borden for just a short time?
Bergman: Yes, well, Borden had their own professional staff, and they actually were well positioned and didn’t really need more clinicians. I was reassigned to the Pentagon to write up the history of the Aural Rehabilitation Clinic and to describe our experience with sodium pentathol interviews to uncover feigned deafness. We wrote that up in 1946, but I don’t think the published version came out till 1957!
Academy: Wow, an 11-year publication process—unbelievable! And after that you worked with the Veteran’s Administration (VA) in New York?
Bergman: Yes, I think it was near the end of 1946 that I got to the New York VA. I designed that clinic with my wife. We had to cut and paste pieces of paper representing test rooms, therapy rooms, etc., and that became the first of the VA centers in audiology. I hired a staff and then I served as chief audiololgist there until 1953.
Academy: And that’s about the time you started to publish on tinnitus?
Bergman: Yes, it was about the mid-1950s. I took 100 people with normal hearing and placed them in the sound booth for some 15 minutes or so. As you can imagine, more than 90 percent of them heard whistling, buzzing, and other sounds. Then I did the same thing with 100 people with hearing loss. The obvious conclusion was simply even people with normal hearing hear tinnitus, but because their hearing is so good, the everyday acoustic environment masks their ability to perceive their tinnitus.
Academy: And before that you were involved with an audiology course offered in Sweden with Raymond Carhart and Ira Hirsh?
Bergman: Yes, you’re talking about the First International Course in Audiology in Stockholm, 1950. We participated as instructors. That was a pivotal point in my life and career. While I was there, some of the doctors from the brand new state of Israel (founded in 1948) asked me to consider teaching in Israel. It took a little while, but they raised some funds and in 1953, I was able to go to Israel for the first time. I lectured around the country and saw they had virtually no audiology services at that time. I went back and forth a few times as a visiting professor and I worked with people to design audiology clinics for different regions of the country. I worked with sound booth companies to get appropriate facilities installed, and then I finally moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, in January of 1975 to accept a position as professor in the Sackler School of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University.
Academy: Moe, your story and your life is fascinating. And I happen to know your son, Jay Bergman, is a well-respected author and he has recently published a well-received and highly acclaimed book titled Meeting the Demands of Reason—The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov.
Bergman: Thanks for mentioning that! Yes, it was an exciting project for Jay, and of course for my wife (Hannah) and me, it’s so exciting to see the book doing so well!
Academy: I’ll bet! You should be very proud, and I’ll look forward to reading the book myself very soon. Moe, you’ve been very generous with your time, thank you for speaking with me.
Bergman: It’s been fun for me, too, Doug!
Academy: Okay, well, next time we’ll have to cover the 70s, 80s and 90s, but in the meantime, thanks again, and very best personal regards.
Bergman: Thanks, Doug.
Moe Bergman, EdD, is retired and lives in Israel with his wife, Hannah.
Douglas L. Beck, AuD, Board Certified in Audiology, is the Web content editor for the American Academy of Audiology.