Like a lot of people lately, I had a bout of the respiratory illness that seems to be going around and hitting hard.
Mine started mid-November, and it included a sore throat and laryngitis. As the other symptoms started to subside by December, I had no reason to believe my laryngitis wouldn't improve as well, but it didn't.
December dragged into January, and I still had a faint, raspy voice. By that time, I had been through two courses of antibiotics and two Prednisone tapers, so my family doctor sent me to an ENT. After doing a scope, the ENT said that my vocal cords were extremely swollen and that I had to be on strict vocal rest for the next six weeks -- no talking, no whispering, no throat-clearing... nothing that required using my vocal cords. I'm barely into week two of six and I am frustrated already.
This vocal rest has made me think about our patients with head and neck cancers who experience varying degrees of voice loss, either due to disease, radiation, or surgery. These patients are dealing with not only all the issues that come with being a cancer patient but a major communication barrier as well.
While on this vocal rest, I've found some ways to communicate other than old-fashioned pen and paper that might be helpful to pass along to patients who can't talk.
Speak It is an app for an iPhone/iPod/iPad. It allows you to enter text and then when you press the "speak" button, the text is converted to voice. It will save key phrases for you, and you can copy and paste documents and emails for it to read. The voice quality is pretty good. It comes with two standard voice options: one male and one female. There are additional voices with foreign accents that are available for purchase. The app is $1.99, and the additional voices are $0.99. I just started using this app, and I like it so far. I'm going to try it out at my next doctor's appointment and see how it works.
Blackboard for iPad is a free app, and that's the one I had been using prior to finding Speak It. It;s very simple. You just use your finger to write across the screen of the iPad. You can purchase the full version of this app that lets you use colored chalks and other features.
U Type I Say is a free app I got for my phone, and it converts text to speech. I didn't use it that much because the voice was difficult to understand and it seemed to have problems recognizing certain punctuation marks.
In looking around for some online support groups for people who have limited vocal function, I came across WebWhispers. The purpose of this site is to provide support for patients who have had laryngectomy due to cancer or for anyone who has suffered an injury to the vocal cords and has a difficult time communicating. They also have a list of additional apps with some very good reviews.
I'm hoping in four weeks the ENT will tell me my vocal cords have healed and I can talk again. I'm fortunate in that unlike many of the patients who deal with vocal impairments, my speech issue is temporary. This experience has made me appreciate how difficult it must be to deal with this impairment on a permanent basis.
Do any of you have suggestions to facilitate communication for your patients with limited ability to speak?