“Hi, you have reached the voicemail of George and Sue. Sue and I are not available right now, but if you leave a message after the tone, we will get back to you as soon as possible. Have a great day!”
A tone warbles on the other end. I pause, dumbstruck, for more than a second. George is my patient, but he has not been doing well over the past six months. After a portion of his tongue was removed, he underwent a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. His cancer is controlled, but his health, poor to begin with, has deteriorated. For the time being, he communicates primarily with gestures, writing, and an occasional spoken word. After some time at home with Sue, they both decided that he needed more intensive therapy and she needed some rest. He was admitted to a local rehabilitation facility to regain his strength.
“Hello, Mrs. Jones. This is Dr. Campbell. I was just calling to check up on you and see how things are going …”
There is a sudden click and I hear some fumbling at the other end of the line. Suddenly, she is talking.
“Hello, Dr. Campbell. This is Sue. I just came back from visiting George. He is looking better
.” She spends some time going over his situation. He is frustrated, but, overall, he is adjusting to his new life and the regimen. His communication skills need a lot of work. They both hope his stay there will be brief. She thinks he is resting better. It is clear that she is.
“That is great! By the way, it was very interesting to hear his voice on the answering machine when I called …” Since I first had met him, he has always had difficulty talking. The voice on the machine, on the other hand, was clear and strong with no hint of the coming tongue cancer problems.
She laughs. “I suppose I should change the message on the machine. He made that recording last year, long before he got sick
.” She pauses. “You know, I don’t even notice it when it plays. That is the way I remember him always sounding
. That is the voice I have listened to for 45 years.
” She laughs again, ruefully this time. “Besides, no one would understand him if he made a new recording now
I emphatically tell her the message is just fine. I don’t tell her that hearing his message on the machine having perfect articulation is more than a little spooky – somewhat akin to getting an e-mail sent from a friend who has died (because the family hasn’t removed his name from the account), or like getting junk mail and magazines forwarded from a dead relative’s home. The voice is unique. While we might be able to flip though pages of yellowing, faded photographs of friends and family irretrievably gone from us, rarely do we have the opportunity to hear their voices.
“Thanks for calling, Dr. Campbell. Talk to you again soon.”
“Good to hear your voice. Take care, Mrs. Jones.”
The following is feedback received for this blog:
This is exactly the kind of vignette I enjoy. It puts a human face on science; thanks for sharing.
Thanks for sharing. its very inspiring