Verbal communication is one of humanity’s greatest achievements – it has taken us out of those caves into the miraculously advanced societies of today and also given us a lot of juicy gossip. Where would we be without it?
I am lucky enough not to have done but I could so easily have been deprived of my powers of speech and language when I had that now infamous brain haemorrhage last year.
Having a haemorrhage in my brain’s Left Frontal Lobe meant that there was a huge possibility of death, paralysis or loss of word comprehension. Luckily for me I am still alive, largely able bodied and as far as I can be the judge, pretty well OK in my communication skills.
Being alive is good and so is retaining the use of my body but I think it must be worse than either of those possible outcomes if I had stayed alive but unable to speak or understand words. This was, so I am told, I real possibility. Phew! Lucky old me!
I have had a few bits of brain damage though and now that a year has gone by, I am now being treated for these relatively minor side effects of nearly dying.
Yesterday I had an appointment with a man who is a specialist speech therapist with a particular interest in Dysphagia, something, apparently, that I suffer from. Dysphagia is the posh name for a condition where the patient has difficulty swallowing. Not something that the lovely Linda Lovelace ever suffered from we are told. Deep throat aside, well, I am talking to a mixed readership here, swallowing is an essential part of breathing as well as eating and drinking and if you don’t get it right, you choke.
My right vocal chord has been damaged by my illness and it doesn’t close fully thus effecting my voice and my ability at swallowing so I was referred to the very charming doctor who is apparently one of the country’s experts in swallowing technique.
So I spent an interesting hour and a half yesterday morning drinking water whilst he tried to throttle me or at least squeeze all those bits in the throat that come into play whenever we gulp.
He is also a speech therapist so he was called on to analyse my haemorrhage induced speech impediment which I had always called a stammer. I had to make a variety of guttural grunts, high pitched squeaks, vocal scales to the top and bottom of my range, read a story which contained all the sounds in human language (English I assume) into a microphone and I also had to be as loud mouthed as I could manage whilst he held a decibel counter in front of me.
It is, he said, a good job that I am not shy.
Well after all these party games, he told me that my voice was undamaged. I have retained a wide vocal range, the quality of sound is good but I do have, not in his opinion, a stammer but what he called speech prolongation with some laryngeal blocking.
In other words, I don’t repeat sounds in a stuttering way but have difficulty starting to speak and enunciating the beginnings of words. This would definitely be the result of brain damage he said but with the techniques I am learning with my NHS recommended singing teacher, there is a good chance that my brain will find another connection which may well lead to me conquering this irritating new mannerism.
Similarly with my dysphagia – my singing exercises will also help to get my vocal chords back into full operating order because singing is really a form of physiotherapy.
I am now more and more aware of how my body functions and more and more amazed that we manage to breath at all, let alone carry on our daily lives as well as most of us do.
So every time you swallow, try not to think about how close you are to choking! There are so many things that can go wrong in just taking a simple sip of water. It is even more complicated having to speak through the same orifice – sometimes I wonder if it really would be better if we talked out of our……. Sorry, I won’t go there!
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