Keep Calm and Carry On

Decision velocity was imposed on us as spaceship earth completed another journey around the sun; we hit VR, back pressure was applied, and we climbed into 2023 on January 1. May I wish my fellow flyers a happy new year, with a fervent hope that it brings health and happiness. We all want to “carry on” in the best possible way with our aviation avocation and life in general, and keeping calm is a good way to achieve that. 

I am sure you have seen this phrase, adapted by countless companies and organizations to promote various products or services. The expression originated in 1939 as part of a campaign to prepare Britons for the coming storm of Nazi attacks, but the millions of posters created by the authorities were not widely deployed. The idiom was supposed to conjure stoic behavior, remaining calm when all hell was breaking loose.

As pilots we are tutored to remain calm in tense situations and carry on. But at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, hearing scientist and Black Sabbath fan Dr. David Welch and ear, nose, and throat expert Dr. Guy Fremaux have an alternative spelling and interpretation: CAALM – Conditioning, Adaptation, Acculturation to Loud Music. Simply put, why do people like loud music? Because we associate it with fun and become conditioned to seek it out. The effect stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, the same structures that our predecessors relied on to stay ahead of hostile animals and to hunt prey. As the fun advances, often lubricated with adult beverages, and the volume gets turned up, hence acculturation, one needs more to achieve the same effect. However, loud music can damage hearing and induce tinnitus, a continuous and troubling ringing in one’s ears, both of which can compromise your ability to do what you love—fly airplanes! Yes, sound-induced deafness can be very effectively treated with hearing aids and tinnitus might benefit from some medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, noise suppression devices worn like a hearing aid, and various retraining methods to teach one to ignore the sound. But prevention, as always, is better than the cure.

What about aviators? In addition to enjoying Bach, Beatles, Black Sabbath, and Bad Bunny with the volume set to 11, we love the sound of loud engines. Just like driving musical themes, they make us feel powerful and in charge. Of course, a loud engine beats a quiet one hands down, because “loud” equals flight time and joy, whereas absence of powerplant noise induces mental discomfort, sweating, brief ensuing flight time, and a total absence of joy!

For rock music fans and musicians, ear protection is highly preferable. Those entertaining us on stage wear in-ear monitors (IEM) to provide a clear track to coordinate performance and protect from high volumes and distorted sounds. Prior to IEMs, musicians would suffer often career-ending deafness and tinnitus. Those in the audience often go home with unappealing numb ears and the aforementioned in-ear pealing. Pilots wear headsets during flight, but should also consider using ear defenders or at least ear plugs while in the airfield environment.

This same philosophy should be applied to protecting your baby blues; invest in high-quality and obviously cool shades and actually wear them! Clouding of the lenses in your eyes, cataracts, are extremely common as one ages and the risk of developing them grows with exposure to UV light. Yes, cataracts may be addressed surgically, and there are now very impressive implantable prosthetic lenses, but as with ears, is it not better to prevent rather than treat?

While we are talking about the sun, most would agree that rays warming our faces feels so good, especially as I write this on a chilly winter’s morning. But just as UV can damage the optical lens, it can also induce cancerous and other skin changes. Those applying make-up already utilize sun protection, and while you may balk at wearing mascara or foundation, some high SPF cream should be a part of your daily personal care routine. Every day! Because every day in America there are 9,500 skin cancers diagnosed and pilots are at higher risk due to UV exposure at altitude and active outdoor pursuits. Furthermore, pilots and other aircrew have twice the incidence of the nastiest type of skin malignancy, melanoma.

Keeping calm, as the title suggests, allows us to carry on with our lives. I have previously talked about the incidence of stress on general health (After Burners and Burnout) and recently participated in a free webinar on the topic that I encourage you to watch. Quick disclosure here, the site this webinar sits on was funded and created by me and my colleagues. Please take stress and burnout seriously; they are killers that creep up on you like a stealth aircraft and then deliver an often-fatal payload.

Speaking of carrying on, I have encouraged my fellow pilots over the years to:

  1. Check in with your doctor at least once a year to have blood pressure and other simple observations checked. Taking some medications may be a pain, as well as addressing resultant FAA paperwork. But suffering a heart attack is much more painful and your loved ones having to deal with end-of-life paperwork is a drag.
  2. Review medications with your primary care doctor, as often they can be reduced.
  3. Discuss whether you should be undergoing any routine screening tests in 2023. And get them booked. As with BP, or flying, dealing with checks and checklists can consume time, but that beats having all your time consumed by the big C, for instance!

“Hurts So Good” was a 1982 song by John “Cougar” Mellencamp. Enjoy Mellencamp’s music by all means, and relish the pounding pistons or thunderous turbines, but don’t let them hurt you—because, as the song says: “Sometimes love don't feel like it should.”

Fly well in 2023!

You can send your questions and comments to Dr. Sackier via email: [email protected] and listen to his weekly podcasts.

Jonathan Sackier
Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

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