Not the Report I Was Hoping to Hear

I was very excited about the EEG test that I had a couple of weeks ago. The technician had wired me up to the machine to record brainwaves as I performed the requested tasks. However, the lady surprised me by having me sing “You are my Sunshine” followed immediately by speaking the words. I was excited to learn that she did this because of my demonstration before the testing began.

It was with great anticipation that I went to see Dr. John Scott, my neurologist for my follow up appointment on Wednesday. I could hardly wait to hear what the EEG scribblings would show. I bet that there would be irrefutable evidence that my speech area was located in a different part of the brain than that which I used to sing. And since I can since in my “regular” voice, I thought that meant that I would be able to fully recover my normal, unaccented voice.

However, my excitement turned to disappointment when I didn’t get such a report. “Your EEG is normal,” came the report. Although that is good news in regard to connectivity of brainwaves and such, it didn’t help shed light on what is actually going on with me.

When I put the doctor on the spot with, “Well, if I just came to you with these symptoms and I had never even mentioned Foreign Accent Syndrome, what would you do with me?”

Dr. Scott told me that there simply isn’t an easy way to figure out what is going on with me. He said that in this local hospital network there simply aren’t specialists who deal with speech and how one might suddenly be stricken with a foreign accent. The closest related doctors that he could think of deal more with dementia than speech. There are also doctors who handle speech problems as it relates to psychologically based maladies, but I don’t really fit into that category either.

The bottom line of our follow up appointment is that Dr. Scott was entertaining the idea that it might be Foreign Accent Syndrome, but we are unsure of where to go from here. What testing or studies should be done. Dr. Jack Ryalls, of University of Central Florida is an expert on Foreign Accent Syndrome. My neurologist asked me to have Dr. Ryalls email him with suggestions for tests and then he will consider those recommendations and schedule them accordingly if possible. For example a functional MRI has been known to show which areas of the brain are affected, but there may not be the proper imaging tools located around here.

It is looking more and more like I am going to be dependent on some sort of a School of Medicine to launch an investigation, or include me in a study of some kind, because there doesn’t appear to be anything around here like me. Truly, I am feeling very foreign now, not just in accent, but in the idea that people just don’t know what to do with me or this problem.

There are very many people who say that I have a beautiful sounding accent. They all are intrigued by the very idea that I have this affliction. It truly is bizarre, however what to do about it? That is the question. All in all, I didn’t get the report that I was hoping for.

That is why I continue to scour the internet for more information on what may explain this. I am amassing quite a lot of documentation, but not getting to the answers yet. There is so little known about such a rarity. Still, I press on. . . there are others who are looking for the same answers out there. Still there are others who don’t know who to turn to for help. I, at least, have a group of doctors who are legitimately trying to get to the source of the problem.s

How Do You Say It?

languagesThe weekend was full of activities, and a lot of it was spent with family and friends of family that I had not seen in years. All these relatives and friends were at two different big celebrations held over in both Michigan and Northern Indiana.

All but one set of relatives have never heard me speaking with the foreign accent that had suddenly came upon me on May 12th.
So imagine for a moment if you were me; how would you handle the attempted explanation of the inevitable questions “what happened to your voice?” “Why are you talking that way,” and from the less familiar relatives and friends “where are you from?”

There is no easy way to explain it. There is a rare disorder called Foreign Accent Syndrome and it causes me to speak with a foreign accent. I did manage to tell groups at a time while we sat together after eating. Although that helped cut down on the number of repeated explanations, I still became very tired of explaining something that is so hard to explain.

It all boils down to the fact that we don’t know exactly why it happened, or if I will get my regular voice back. However, in the meantime we are pressing on with investigations and tests to try to gain a better scientific understanding of how the brain works in relation to speech.

Still, it is fascinating and the listeners dropped their jaws when I sang a little bit for them in my regular voice. Then we had a good conversation about our bodies being fearfully and wonderfully made. What about attitude? We talked about how we don’t gain anything by worrying or fretting about something that we do not have any control over. Then I was able to talk about my faith in knowing that God remains in control of it all. That is how I truthfully am able to do as well emotionally as I have been.

I explained that I can have “joy” even in the midst of a trial. While I may not be “happy” about it, I can have times of laughter with others as we note the funny pronunciations of American English. Some mispronunciations make a normal saying sound even more funny. We can laugh together! I have been told by many people that it is the laughter that allows them to ask me more questions without feeling uncomfortable about it.

That brings me back to the conversation with them about what to say when I am asked so many times a day, “Where are you from?” I always answer, “where do you think? I seriously would like to know, because we are taking a poll.” Most people then apologize and express they are afraid to guess wrong. I tell them they cannot guess wrong, and that I will explain it after they guess. Then the people are more at ease and will play the game.

Here is how the poll is going this week:
1) English/Australian
2) Swedish
3) French
4) Some form of Slovick
5) And this week I have been getting repeated “South African” and even a specific “Rhodesia” and 6) one Portuguese.

Although there hasn’t been a clear winner as to which accent I am speaking, it is clear that it is a foreign one. The easiest way to describe it is the sound of a foreign born European coming to the United States and trying to speak English.

Making Waves with an EEG

EEG Strip Clip JI recently underwent another medical test known as an electroencephalogram (EEG) which is a noninvasive test used to evaluate brain function or disorders.

Electrodes were attached to my scalp with a special gel or paste. This made for a VERY BAD HAIR DAY… it took forever to get that goop out of my hair. These electrodes recorded my brain’s electrical activity and transmitted impulses to an electroencephalograph, which magnified them and recorded them as brain waves on moving strips of paper. I was asked to close my eyes and be still for most of the test, so it was a semi-rest period for me. However, it was hard to keep my eyes closed when I wanted to open them up to see what was going on.  A strobe light was used for a portion of the test, and it created interesting colors or spinning patterns while my eyes were closed.  Although most of the test was routine. Something of great note to me happened.

The young lady who was administering my EEG interviewed me about what kind of problems I have been having. When she asked me the inevitable “Where are you from” question, I let her try to guess and then asked her if she’d heard of Foreign Accent Syndrome. No, she had not heard of it. I further confounded her when I showed her that I could sing with my “real” voice.

When the test was almost done, this young lady who had so painstakingly wired me up to all these electrodes all over my scalp did something unique. She asked me to go ahead and sing a verse of “You Are My Sunshine” (the song I had sung to her before the test began) AND THEN to just speak the same words to that verse. As I heard myself singing and then saying the words my emotions got the better of me. Just as I said “please don’t take my sunshine away,” I began to bawl like a baby!!

I think part of the reason I was so emotional is that I really heard how drastic a difference there is between my real voice singing and then the foreign accented saying of the exact same words. However, I believe the biggest reason I cried was because I realized something.  This technician had really “heard” me. She noticed how much I believed that something could record the difference between the two modes and that I believed concretely that the singing and the speech are coming from two different places in my brain! I believe this may be the first time such a thing is recorded scientifically, in black and white, ink and paper, proven. Maybe history is being made.

This technician not only listened to what I had to say, but DID something about it. She recorded with the EEG the exact thing I had been talking about.  When I asked the lady if this was a normal part of the test she answered, “No, I just decided to do that because of what you had told and shown me.”  History — history was made.  Not only have I demonstrated via audio, or video, NOW they have EEG waves recorded of this interesting phenomena.

I can hardly wait to see my neurologist on July 1st to get the results. There is surely something recorded on that tape of brain waves to help us understand exactly what is going on in the brain. Now, we are getting somewhere, “making waves,”  and it feels good!