Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lost Voice (Chronic Aphasia)

Yes, I know. I have always known it and been ashamed of it, but I can’t help it. I wish it wasn’t true but it is. I talked too much.

There are worse than me, but I am guilty of excessive talking. As I aged and realized it, I worked to ameliorate my relations with people and my inclinations were, for the most part, kept in cheque. Plus, I took steps to channel my inclination and became a regular at The Flame, a storytelling collective.

Then, like penance, came my speech problem. I can’t remember when it started, but it was sometime around 1990. At first it was sporadic, happening perhaps every two years for a couple of weeks but by 2010 it was happening every year and for months at a time. Finally, in 2014 I went to the speech clinic.

Around February 14th I started having problems again. By the 16th, it was worst than it has ever been; by the 18th, it was gone. If I try to talk, I can only say one-to-three words and then my voice stops so I stop talking—just for a millisecond—after every couple of words and by doing this, I can communicate in a way that can be heard.

I call this “jerky” way of speaking, speaking in “robo voice.” And, odd as it seems, if I try to talk with a foreign accent, I can talk. This may strike you as funny but having no voice is not funny to me.

So this past week, I went back to the voice clinic where I went for an appraisal in 2014 and asked for more help and you know what? They wouldn’t allow me to make an appointment. I was standing there unable to speak and could not make an appointment. They said I had to go back to my GP for a requisition. The last time I did that (in 2014) it took eight months to get my appointment with them.

Last night, I decided to have some sushi for dinner. I went to my favourite place and ordered take out and I had to sit down to wait. Surrounded by people out having dinner with friends and talking, I started to cry. I am 68 years old and I was crying because I can’t talk. It was a moment—my first— of self-pity. Sitting there alone waiting for take out food, for the first time I worried that I may never be able to speak.

I can speak quite clearly if I speak very slowly. To me, it feels extremely slow but I can “pass” quite well in stores and on the phone. If I speak really slowly, I can speak like a normal person but I have to speak softly. If I get excited at all—you know, animated like you do with friends—absolutely no sound will come out of my mouth.

Speaking for me requires impeccable posture, no tension (my shoulders have to be relaxed) and slow speech but if I do all that, I can enjoy almost normal relations with people if we are in a quiet place.

This is the worst my voice has ever been. I have an appointment with my GP on March 7th. I have decided after these many years to ask him for help—it’s that, or accept this condition. I am disinclined to give up until someone knowledgeable about my situation says further intervention is pointless. If I were told my voice is irreparable, I would accept it with grace and learn how to adapt. Until they do I must persevere. The good news: I will never talk too much again.

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