June 13, 2024
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June 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Ungarbled-Voice, Interrupted

Just to start off this column: I am using the Google Voice keyboard typing app that I’m sure comes with most phones, but it definitely supports Droids. As you will read below you will understand why I am starting with this app first, and I feel blessed that I have the ability to do so. Read on.

This column is more of a PSA, and my kudos to the ear, nose and throat and speech-therapist community.

A few months ago I kept on losing my voice, which I chalked up to either laryngitis, air conditioners running or the heat outside. My voice went from croaking like a toad to zero. Usually, after like a week or so it would just recover so I didn’t think anything of it. This wasn’t the first time. But this time the bout just wouldn’t go away.

I reached out to one of my esteemed doctor clients just to get advice for a home remedy. Maybe he could recommend lozenges or some throat spray.

One of the doctors I called didn’t like the way I sounded and didn’t think it was laryngitis. He felt I should go to an ENT specialist to get it checked ASAP.

I needed to run my business. But I figured OK, no problem. The next day I’m sitting at an ENT doctor getting a full workup and exam.

As the doctor is performing the exam, I see on his face that it’s something worse than I thought. Sometimes doctors can’t hide their concern. For a sore throat?

I just froze. Sure enough as he completed the exam, he said, “I have good news. You don’t have a tumor, but the bad news is you have polyps on your throat that are benign.”

Another ENT did further tests and diagnosed that I had reflux causing the trauma, but he was scolding me for not having proper voice hygiene. What’s that?

I knew nothing of this and he also explained it to me.

Without care, I could lose my voice or I could damage my voice permanently. Surgery is also risky, but it’s avoidable with proper care. This is all news to me because I never heard anything of this voice hygiene. (I am leaving out details of my double diagnosis of polyps and poor voice hygiene for brevity. Please excuse me if I say anything that is incorrect.)

But generally, I am guilty as charged, as someone who likes to talk to people. I’m infamous, or famous at least, when I walk down Cedar Lane on Shabbat, with my friends or my son Mendy, for saying hello to the gas station attendants and every other merchant I meet. That I’m glad to do so and eager to chat makes the walk take much longer, of course.

This really came as a shock. The first thing the ENT doctor told me is that I need to get voice therapy right away! I never heard of any of this. He also told me your voice is being hugely exasperated and you definitely cannot be something like a gabbai or a public speaker. (On a personal note one of my favorite positions and honors of my life is being the gabbai at the Chabad of Teaneck for Rabbi Ephraim Simon.) On Shabbat, for the past 16 years, I’ve also been running something for the children in my departed son Yisroel Zalman Baruch, z”l’s memory, called “Perek in the Park.”

At first, it seemed like a joke. I would tell my wife I’m not allowed to speak to anyone, and my lovely wife of 25 years went into draconian mode and went to all my staff and everyone I know, all my neighbors, saying, “Don’t let Shneur speak to you on the phone and reach out and make sure he doesn’t do so.” Thanks, Rachi, you are my rock and my protector.

Sure enough, people were doing just that. It’s a lot less funny when it’s you.

I’m walking around at night making my calls and one of my neighbors would drive by, roll down the windows and scream, “Shneur, stop talking on the phone!”

All joking aside, the hardest thing that I had to do was not talk to anyone, not talking to my team, not talking to my family for the first couple of days. You think you can do it but then you feel like you’re talking to yourself.

I felt quite lonely running a company that is very busy in the summer preparing for schools. This was a huge challenge.

My wife, family and team who are so good and great to me during the summer really pitched in to take my voice calls, though I wasn’t a perfect patient. You can’t just ignore clients who call, but the minute they heard my croak they quickly wanted to hang up.

I asked one of the summer interns, “What do you think I should do with all this?”

She asked, “Why don’t you use this as a topic for the column?”

So now that you know the background, here’s the nod to tech: Some of the great tools and must-haves, especially if you’re dealing with voice issues, are using something called a Google Voice typing keyboard. Even with your regular keyboard you can tap the microphone icon and speak freely. Though yes, with my croak it was not easy, as I stress my voice when I am talking to my Google Voice.

You would think that having voice issues, I shouldn’t use a product like Google Voice, but there’s only so much you can type, again, that I often used this instead of calling.

One of the instructions from the ENT is when you have this trauma: Don’t whisper, don’t scream. Try to refrain from using a smartphone because you raise your voice naturally when you make a call. Not easy, let me tell you.

I do want to say as a caveat that anyone who has had this issue should not take it lightly. You should definitely see an ENT, because what I found out is that for my entire life I’ve been speaking from my throat and not my diaphragm and that I needed to find a voice therapist or a speech therapist to actually retrain so that I don’t put constant stress on my voice. As Dr. Steven Gold put it, “Proper voice hygiene is needed—and you just don’t do it.”

There are too many great apps that I found, so here are just a few.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.DevExtras.VoiceTools

The friendly name is Voice tools: pitch tone and volume. It’s no replacement for a voice therapist, but it helped me out while I found one. I just never knew the risks; now I do and will spread the word.


Shneur Garb is the founder of The Garb I.T. Consulting Group that specializes in EdTech and Medtech solutions moving to a serverless Cloud-based environment

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