In January 2020, I noticed changes in my health. I was always tired, my speech had changed, and I had a slight tremor in my right hand. After a visit to my GP, I was referred to a Neurologist who diagnosed ‘Mild Parkinson’s Disease’. He recommended Speech Therapy, and Physiotherapy, and also advised me to join a choir, walk every day for at least forty minutes, and to join an aerobics class.
I have always been an active person, and although I was saddened by my diagnosis, I was relieved that I was still able to play golf with my friends, play the ukulele, and continue to be a member of the choir that I had joined eight years ago.
However, as the weeks progressed, I noticed a deterioration in my speech. My voice had become softer and breathier, and occasionally it tended to be slower and a little slurred, particularly when I was tired. Sometimes my husband and friends would ask me to repeat my sentences, as they couldn’t hear me, and one day a friend remarked that I looked bored and disinterested, and asked me if I was depressed.
I was still waiting to hear from the Speech Therapy Department in my local hospital. When I contacted them, they confirmed that I was on the waiting list, but, due to the COVID 19 Pandemic, and a very long waiting list, it could be a year and a half before I would be called. After discussing the matter with my family, I decided to organise a private appointment. I searched online and after several days, I came across Elizabeth McBarnet. I decided to contact her immediately by telephone, and she agreed to meet with me the following week. However, because of COVID 19, normal face to face appointments at her Clinic were restricted and we agreed that online Teletherapy using Zoom was the safer option.
My first session lasted for two hours. I felt very apprehensive at first, but as the session progressed, and we chatted, I began to relax. It was very reassuring to find someone who understood how I was feeling.
Elizabeth realised that I was still grieving over my diagnosis, and explained that it was normal. I talked about the changes in my voice, the slight slurring, and lack of variation and expression. I also talked about my overwhelming fatigue, and my increased anxiety when faced with stressful situations. Elizabeth listened attentively, and devised a programme tailored to meet my specific needs. At the end of this session, I felt very optimistic, that with her expertise, knowledge and enthusiasm that I could really improve my speech, and also deal with other problems related to my PD. I decided then, to continue the therapy for another six sessions.
During the remainder of the sessions, I realised that Elizabeth was not only knowledgeable about her subject, but that she was a very proficient communicator. Although, I have never studied Anatomy or Physiology, I have learnt and understood about the brain, and how my PD has been caused by the death of brain cells located in the Substantia Nigra, which produces dopamine. I now understand how sound is produced, when the vocal folds (vocal cords) come together and vibrate, as air is passed through from the lungs. She also informed me about techniques which can be used to make my speech clearer....taking deep breaths before I speak, speaking louder, slowing down my speaking rate, and over emphasising mouth movements.
We talked about relaxation techniques which can be used to manage anxiety.......massage therapies, meditation, mindfulness, and music therapy. In addition to these techniques, Elizabeth also talked to me about safe swallowing issues. Just as PD affects movements in other parts of the body it also affects the muscles in the face, mouth and throat that are used in speaking and swallowing. She also stressed the importance of facial expression, body language, and gestures.
I am also more aware that fatigue significantly affects my speaking ability. Techniques that work in the morning don’t always work later in the day. So, I try to plan periods of vocal rest, before planned conversations or phone calls.
During the following five sessions, and after having consistently worked in the areas she suggested, I noticed a vast improvement in the volume of my speech, pitch and my facial expressions. I was delighted one morning when she congratulated me on how well I looked, how my self confidence was growing, and how my speech and expression had improved.
My progress to date has been excellent. Elizabeth is a Speech Therapist, who is very caring, kind, genuine and compassionate. I also found her to be a very professional, supportive and convivial person who made my speech therapy sessions very enjoyable and rewarding. I have gained more confidence, and am now feeling more positive about my speech and my ability to communicate.
But, most of all, thanks to Elizabeth and her encouragement, I have learnt to accept and manage my condition. I now realise, that my future does not rest on the diagnosis I got last year, it’s not a worse life that I have now, but, its different! I will continue to accept it, manage it, and get on with living my life.