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I Sound Like Elmo

For more than a month now, I have sounded like Elmo from Sesame Street. Sometimes, instead, I sound like a twelve year old boy whose voice is changing. I’ve always felt like there was a hand around my throat, but I’ve never sounded like it before. It’s like there’s a damper pedal muting at least half of my vocal chords and I have no way of making it let up. I can hit a handful of notes in the upper part of my range, and sometimes a low note will drop in and then disappear again. That’s it.

“Did you say something?”

I did have a cold three months ago, for about a week. And my voice was hoarse, which meant that my voice was actually lower than usual and it was the upper notes that were muted. But when the cold resolved my voice went back to normal. I assumed that this current vocal constriction was a sign of a cold coming on again, but the cold never showed up.

So I went to my primary care doctor. She stuck a tongue depressor in my mouth and said that my throat “could be” red. She wrote out a prescription for antibiotics, and a referral to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist, to use only if the antibiotics made no difference. I hate antibiotics, they wipe me out and never seem to actually kill off any of the bad stuff, only the good stuff. And they didn’t do anything for me this time either.

I went to the ENT next, and the first thing he did was to spray something evil into my nose, to numb my throat. It tasted bitter, and the spraying device was sharp, and when I responded like a normal human by pulling away, the doctor said I was going to hurt myself, as if I were the one holding the metal skewer and he had nothing to do with it.

After the spray started to numb my throat, he took a garden-hose-like device (only a slight exaggeration) and started to feed it into my right nostril, telling me to sniff, swallow, and sing at different points, until I was afraid I would swallow the garden hose entirely. And then he did the same thing down my left nostril.

Once he was done he said that that my sinuses were “pristine,” and there were no nodules, or polyps, or cancer, and there wasn’t even mucus on my vocal chords. He said that my nervous system was messing with me.

When we got home, Mom googled and found out that vocal constriction is yet another weird symptom that’s been associated with MS – Multiple Sclerosis – which all of the tests say I do not have. If I go back to the neurologist with this new symptom, he’ll just tell me it’s Fibromyalgia, or a psychogenic disorder, and he’ll ask me if something is going on in my life that I’m converting into a physical symptom. And I will have to kill him. So I’m not calling.

The dogs don’t seem to have noticed the change in my voice, which bothers me. I’ve always thought that the girls found my voice soothing, but when I talk to them in my cartoon character screech, I get the same reactions as before.

“I didn’t notice anything. Did you?”

My vocal weirdness hasn’t kept me quiet. I still speak up at Friday Night discussions at synagogue and talk to neighbors and friends. But I am nervous about meeting new people with this voice, and having them think that this is who I really am. People who already know me can ignore it, but new people will use my voice as one of the ways to get to know me, and they will make assumptions and get impressions of me that can’t be right.

What would happen if Butterfly, whose voice is very low and resonant, suddenly shrieked in a high soprano? Would it change who I think she is? Or even change how she thinks of herself? Her rumbling bass represents something essential about her personality, just like Cricket’s high trill gives you a clue to her emotional life. Who would Cricket even be without her shriek?

IMG_1142

Butterfly

IMG_0441

Cricket

No one has actually commented on my voice. Sometimes I’ll mention it, but mostly I let it speak for itself, and no one asks what’s wrong. Either people are very polite, or they assume I have laryngitis.

Almost everything I say in my high pitched voice sounds funnier than usual, and I don’t mind that. I like that I can make Mom laugh without even trying. But when I’m trying to talk about something serious, or just ask if the dogs have gone out for a walk, I still sound like I’m trying to be funny and it’s hard even for me to take myself seriously.

Sometimes during the day now, my voice is closer to normal. And last night at Friday night services, I was able to sing most of the regular notes – though I did have to shift octaves a few too many times. But, inevitably, by the end of the night, my voice was up in Elmo territory again, and the older people have trouble hearing anything pitched that high, so I had to repeat myself a lot.

Losing my voice, no matter how temporary the loss may be, seems symbolic, and ominous. I keep accumulating these odd, non-specific, undiagnosable symptoms that make doctors shrug and treat me like I have no voice at all. Luckily, the dogs understand me even when I can’t talk. They always think I have something important to say, whether it’s about chicken treats, or walks, or naps, or how much I love them.

The doctor said that my voice would probably go back to normal on its own, but he prescribed speech therapy just in case it doesn’t. And Cricket is chomping at the bit to be my vocal coach. We’ll start with growling exercises, to warm up my low notes, and then move into barking, to build vocal strength, and then, maybe someday, I’ll be to the full up and down, loop to loop, of arguing for a piece of chicken that is not yet mine. Though, and I think Cricket would agree with me, that would be quite advanced.

"Grrr. Now you try."

“Grrr. Now you try.”

“You can do it, Mommy!”

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

96 responses »

  1. You captions are so darn funny, Rachel. I’m wondering, in my very non-medical opinion, of course, if maybe you should just not sing and try not talking for a while. Try to give your voice a rest. I don’t know…..I might have to consult with Cricket and Butterfly.

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  2. The dogs would understand. The peeps can tell the difference between a lizard sighting or a rabbit sighting. Good gravy, why are humans in charge? That’s about the only dog lingo that they can understand. Don’t make the mistake of getting yourself into the medical profession’s clutches. Even they just admit they’re just not ready-they have a practice. Relax, enjoy the dogs, and enjoy life. If you’re upset, the dogs that love you will be upset. If you’re happy….

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  3. The worst thing for me when I have laryngitis I become paranoid about never getting my voice back at all. I am always wrong.

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  4. mamadeyoung2012

    Might not be your issue…BUT, I’d once caught a virus that affected my voocal cords. It cleared up after six or nine months just like my MD guessed it would. Maybe or maybe not…just food for thought. Your posts are so good and I thank you for putting them out there for us to read. Happy healing and may the force be with you 😉

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  5. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    Why do doctors sometimes take the easy path and ASSume symptoms are related to mental or emotional issues?

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    • Because it’s the easy path, and they’re tired, or bored, and I’m annoying them. I don’t know. It would be nice if they’d have taken a few psychology courses before they tried to dole out these diagnoses.

      Reply
  6. Nothing is more frustrating than to have an illness or problem that doctors can’t diagnose! I am so sorry you are going through that. But good for you to keep soldiering on, and to write such a poignant blog post about it! Hang in there…

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  7. You have to ask someone you trust whether your voice sounds different or not. Maybe you have a hearing problem, like wax in your ear?

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  8. I hope your voice returns to normal. Perhaps you should just let your vocal cords rest. I work in ENT (Pediatrics) and we scope kids all the time. I am not sure I could sit there and tolerate that either. Of course there is nothing really wrong with sounding like Elmo, better than sounding like Grover or Cookie Monster!!! Get better!!!!

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  9. Hopefully a speech therapist will be able to sort it out for you. But if you really do suspect MS, go to a different neurologist…one that will take you seriously. Also CFS/ME/SEID has a lot of the same symptoms, as does lupus. Fibromyalgia does not. Do a visit tho a rheumatologist might not hurry either.

    I am new to your blog, do you may have already gone down some of these paths. If so, forgive me. It took me many years to find a doc that would actually listen to me, so I understand your frustration. Luck!

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    • Thank you! I’ve found that a lot of people seem to be struggling to get doctors to take them seriously, and that really bothers me. When will the doctors wake up and realize that we’re not all under some kind of mass delusion?

      Reply
  10. Patience and stay away from the doctors. Perhaps you can add audio to one of your posts so we can all hear how you sound. Get well soon.

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  11. When my son was about 12 and I lost my voice he asked me “When are you going to speak in colour again?” Very apt picture, I feel! Hope your voice behaves soon.

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  12. I hope the dogtor is right and it goes back to normal soon… POTP to you and a big hug …

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  13. Hope you are back to normal soon, Rachel! Pip and the boys

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  14. I feel your pain, I have given up with the doctors because I am sick and tired of being told it is all in my head. Butterfly and Cricket don’t care how you sound as long as you are always talking to and with them they are always happy.

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  15. That visit to ENT sounds horrible I probably would’ve slapped him in reflex. My cousins wife has issues with her voice too. She gets softer and sometimes it’s just gone for days. I’m not sure if she has any diagnosis. It’s extremely annoying to have symptoms that cannot be diagnosed and I swear they don’t believe. All I can say is try what the cuz does soothing throat stuff and resting voice? I hope it’s resolved soon. But I’m sure the pups don’t care they love you.

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  16. Let the dogs comfort you. Dogs seems to know when something off, without their peeps having to say a word. I believe my dogs knows when I’m sad and he comes and snuggles and pokes at me with his snout. Dogs a great for therapy and your love you. Good luck with your voice. I hope you get better soon.

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  17. I’m sorry to hear about your voice problems. I hope you get back to sounding like yourself very soon. In the meantime, at least Elmo’s voice is cute. What if it had been Mr. Snuffleupagus?

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  18. There’s understandably a tendency to relate all kinds of symptoms to MS. Doctors do themselves – checking out just in case. But there are other neurological conditions most of which are much less serious. I had one about 30 years ago which produced all sorts of weird effects (I would find I’d crossed my toes, probably because I felt them becoming numb, and couldn’t uncross them except by taking off my shoes and socks and uncrossing them with my fingers) and which left me tired and washed out for about six months (only two days off work), but now it only manifests as one or another odd and quite inconsequential symptom when I’m exhausted or I’ve got some other bug and I almost feel affectionate towards it: “Oh, it’s you, you old bastard!”

    The hand around your throat thing. Have you possibly taken on work to be recorded for our UK rail station announcements? There’s a female voice which is sometimes cut off in mid warble with a sort of gurgle and it does sound like hands have closed around her throat.

    Anyway, I very much hope you soon get better and don’t have to be pushed around by insensitive doctors again.

    I know nothing about Sesame Street but I’m writing a darkly comic 1930s spy story in which the British Deputy Head of Mission in Berlin is called Nicholas St Elmo. He would of course have a posh English accent.

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  19. Love reading your blogs. You make me smile, every time! 😉
    By the by….I nominated you for The Premio Dardos Award! Please see my latest post for more info!

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  20. Hang in there Rachel! And BTW, your blog voice sounds just the same 😉

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  21. I agree with ‘baby wren’. You hang on in there and keep writing!

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  22. I “hear” you! I hope it gets better soon.

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  23. Sorry to hear that…good luck with it all!!

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  24. Many years ago, my voice became unrecognizable following a bout of laryngitis, but it did return to normal. I hope your get better soon 🙂

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  25. Not to make light of your affliction (I admire pristine sinuses) but you might consider helium beer as an option.

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  26. I once had a Dr. Try to tell me that I was limping because I didn’t have a boyfriend, not because of the congenital defect in my legs that it turned out to be. They can be great healers or great sources of amusement….Perhaps laughing at them will be great medicine?

    Hope you feel better soon!

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  27. I came from a background of abuse and the last 30 years have been a hell of mystery illnesses… I would tell you the cure but since you are Jewish and I’m Christian it might not work out so well hahahaha…. but yeah, i lost my singing voice when i was singing Cher’s ‘If I could turn back time’ at a karaoke bash in college… never to return. I also lost…. oh nevermind haha

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    • There is a lot of research that links childhood abuse to later auto-immune and neurological issues, because trauma has an extraordinarily deep impact on the developing body. The research is there, but doctors don’t seem to be interested in it.

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      • doctors just say MS, CFS, Fibro, i’ve even gotten Chronic Pain Syndrome from screaming in the hospital for unfindable reasons 2x a week… Dr John E. Sarno is the only doc that deals with it, and he just retired, but has some books out on it
        sorry you aren’t well, wish i could offer advice

  28. This must be such a worry for you. Hope you get some answers soon.

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  29. Oh, Rachel: If I go back to the neurologist with this new symptom, he’ll just tell me it’s Fibromyalgia, or a psychogenic disorder, and he’ll ask me if something is going on in my life that I’m converting into a physical symptom. And I will have to kill him. So I’m not calling.

    I laughed out loud.

    Gosh, it must have made you feel just peachy to know your sinuses are “pristine,” eh? Doctors must first have to take a course in condescension at certain medical schools. I hope whatever weird virus or whatever is affecting your voice clears up soon!

    Pam

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    • Ha! I’ll have to ask my brother if they had a specific course on Condescension, though I’m pretty sure they test their incoming students on that scale before they ever let them in to medical school. Humility and people skills are discouraged.

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  30. Sounds to me (sorry, but its a pun a minute here) as though your voice is strained. Often the more you worry about things like sound and sight the more constricted they become. I prescribe rest (yes, like I know what I’m talking about) and silent relaxation. Don’t strain it for a while. Side issue: when Honey comes back from kennels she can’t bark for a while, because she’s yelled herself hoarse. Alright, I know this has nothing to do with it, but I just thought I’d say…

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  31. I hope that things return to normal for you soon. At least your voice is like that of a well liked character. It could be worse – think what it might be like if you sounded like Donald Trump or Donald Duck.

    Hang in there and give the pups a pat on the head for me.

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  32. I hope you get your voice back soon, Rachel, before you have to kill that stupid doctor…

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  33. Irritating? Of course it is but it could be like Oscar the Grouch. I don’t think it can be too bad since I believe people are generally not THAT polite and someone would have made a comment. I do hope you get better soon.

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  34. Being Elmo for a little while might be fun, but I see how it can get old quite quickly. I hope your vocal ability will soon be back to your liking.

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  35. i have not seen for a while, so very very adorable always 🙂

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  36. Rachel, so sorry to hear about your troubles with your voice. Shame I am not a doctor because I hear you. My daughter is currently having fairly intensive vocal speech therapy to work on vocal nodules which are exacerbated by the way she speaks which is straining her neck etc. When she was having trouble speaking prior to therapy, she would force her voice, which only exacerbated the damage. She has been advised to take more breaths along with having frequent sips of water. Air is the petrol for your voice apparently. I also found out that reflux can damage your vocal chords and your voice, so that might be a clue.
    I don’t know how easy it is to detect MS in its early stages but my understanding is that it can be picked up on a brain MRI as well as other tests. I was once told that many different disease have similar symptoms and not to jump to conclusions. Auto-immune diseases are notoriously difficult to diagnose. Do you have any skin rashes or redness? That can be a calling card. Hope this helps and by the way, don’t give up until you have a satisfactory explanation. The early treatment makes a huge difference xx Rowena

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    • Thank you! I’ve always struggled with my breathing technique. I noticed it most when I would go to swimming lessons and almost drown in three feet of water. Maybe I should work on that.

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  37. Hey try and adapt and live my life style. Ignore all negative, whipe your backside off on it and laugh at those who don’t like it, and live only for the positive like you do mostly in your posts.

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  38. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this! The Elmo reference is fantastically funny, but that ENT procedure sounds horrific. Keep your head up and good luck with the speech therapy!

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  39. Oh gosh – how strange – I am WAY behind Rach as I have just spent two weeks in Italy and am only just ploughing my way through blog posts. Hope it is resolved, sending a hug xxx

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  40. Elmo — hope you’re back to your normal Lauren Bacall soon.

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  41. Miss Rachel, mom thought she had subscribed to your posts, but now realizes she has missed a lot. She has tried again. We know someone who thought they had MS, but the doctors said no. So eventually her mom insisted they do bloodwork and they found out 2 severe vitamin deficiencies that were causing all her problems.

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  42. I am sad you have an illness! This piece is so well written, so fluidly organized, seemingly effortlessly constructed, that I have more than an “inkling” how carefully and long you edited & polished it. I too, have had mystery illnesses that were eventually diagnosed and treated. It’s not an easy road. My empathy to you, Rachel. You’ve kept my spirits up in times of great need. Thank you.

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  43. Ima nurse . I think resting your voice is best. You can accomplish that by whispering. It’s not pleasant some of the tools needed for an assessment but thank God you don’t have throat cancer. Viruses can hang around for several months. I pray yours doesn’t because u seem so distressed over it. Your voice is not what defines youas a human being so dont worry about it too much. Good luck. You’re in my prayers

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  44. Rachel, wishing you His healing touch for a voice renewal. Your writing speaks for you in so many ways even when I can’t hear your cool new voice, I hear you just fine in your posts. Keep them coming.

    Reply

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