Voice Disorders & Fear | Part 2

My Real-Life Nightmare – Dealing with an Emergency

Guest Author: Dorothy Tannahill-Moran

I was involved in a very serious 3-car accident. A car attempted to illegally pass me on a blind hill and hit an oncoming car head-on. Both drivers were killed and the passengers were seriously injured. This was out in the country where there was very little traffic. It was just me and a very unreliable cell phone. When I finally got 911 on the phone, only a croak came out of my mouth. My throat had closed up due to the trauma and my (undiagnosed at the time) spasmodic dysphonia. I pushed through it and was able to get the words out, not easily and not beautifully but well enough to get help. My throat hurt for days afterward because of how determined I was to utter the needed words to deal with this tragic event.

We all know the challenges of daily life with spasmodic dysphonia and voice disorders. Picking up the phone to make a doctor’s appointment is frustrating. Trying to order fast food at a drive-through speaker is next to impossible. And we can’t leave out the agony of an automated phone system. Eventually, we all get the job done but not without some sense that we just climbed a skyscraper. Exhausted and maybe even a little deflated as we wait in expectation of the inevitable next challenging task. These things are frustrating parts of living with a voice disorder. However it turns out that one of the most agonizing things is the silent fear of an emergency like mine, where your voice won’t work when you need it the most.

So I say, instead of living with this fear that you might be faced with an emergency, prepare for the likelihood that someday you will. I encourage you to think through some of the emergency scenarios you might encounter, maybe a car accident like mine, or a loved one falls, or a fire at your home. Imagine it’s just you and the emergency situation. Can you manage it considering your voice challenges? Can you pick up the phone to speak to 911 well enough to get the needed help? Can you warn someone well enough and fast enough to keep them from harm? What WILL you do in an emergency? I can only say that even though this seems a morbid thought, preparation will build confidence. You’ll have a plan you can call on in case something happens and I think you will be empowered by this exercise to rise to whatever crisis comes your way.

Here are some thoughts on planning for your emergency situation:

Call  911
Keep in mind that 911 operators are trained listeners because they receive phone calls from people completely unable to speak. Don’t hesitate to call them. You will both do your best to communicate and they will respond to your emergency. Take a deep breath and say “help”. It’s the start they need to respond.

Pre-plan your easiest emergency statement
Each voice disorder has difficult sounds. If you are like others with adductor SD, abductor SD or tremor, you think of better ways to say things that optimize your voice all the time. Create your ideal sentence in advance. Do it right now. How can you say “I need help” with the least resistance from your voice disorder? Make one for “there’s a fire” or “we need an ambulance”.

When it’s you and only you
There may be situations where 911 is either not available or isn’t the best first step for you to take. It could be a situation like discovering a house fire and needing to quickly alert the residents to get them aware and evacuating. Use whatever voice you have and be prepared to be as loud as you can get. Use anything available to make noise to get others’ attention. Look around you right now and think about things you could use to get someone’s attention. It could be a house bell, car horn or even a noise app on your phone. You might be surprised at just how creative you can get, especially when someone’s life depends on it.

Practice, practice, practice
It’s not surprising that first-responders suggest families practice leaving the house and planning a meeting location in the event of a fire. Practice is the key to preparation. If you spend time on the lake with poor cell service you might plan something like waving your arms to other boaters as your primary source of communication. If you’re in your apartment, maybe you bang on the neighbor’s wall. Think about potential situation and make a plan. Doing this will make you more confident and more prepared.

Believe in yourself – You can do this! 

Keep in mind that our emergency responders know what to do because they have trained, prepared, and practiced. Even with all of that advanced preparation, they are always encountering unique situations but have a toolkit of actions to draw upon. You don’t have to prepare like a first responder but you do need some level of preparation and thinking about what you would do. I asked a local emergency responder for some expert advice. Here’s what he said.

I would never wish an emergency or tragedy on anyone but I have learned from my own situation that I can manage whatever life throws at me. I’m as prepared as I can possibly be and do realize that I can never think of everything, but I can be comforted in knowing “I’ve got this.” I hope the same for you.