Over the last 18 months, hardly a day goes by without a listener or reader asking about my health and my voice, and when I will be back on the radio talking about politics, the Congress and President Trump. Even more questions came my way this week after a veteran lawmaker went to the House floor to give a speech about my medical predicament, publicly offering welcome words of encouragement.
“Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about Jamie Dupree,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) began, as she detailed some of the troubles that I have been experiencing since the spring of 2016, when my voice suddenly went AWOL after I spent much of the first four months of the year on the road, covering the race for President.
Since then, I have been off the air, still covering the same stories for my company’s radio stations behind the scenes, while also expanding my internet footprint through my blog and social media.
What is wrong with my voice? It’s complicated.
My official diagnosis is a rare neurological condition known as “Tongue Protrusion Dystonia” – for some unknown reason when I try to talk, my tongue pushes forward out of my mouth, and my throat clenches, leading to a voice that is strangled and strained, as it is a struggle to string together more than a few words at a time.
Let’s just say this – other than some simple one syllable words – it is not a voice that is suitable for radio, let alone for normal social conversation.
Monday evening, my kids were decorating our Christmas tree when word arrived that Ros-Lehtinen – whom I have covered since she was first elected to Congress in 1989 – was going to say a few words about me on the floor of the House.
It was truly an honor to have a member of Congress mention me on the floor of the House; I could only wish that it was under better circumstances.
Ros-Lehtinen told me on Tuesday that she was surprised by the outpouring of support on Twitter.
And it was gratifying to see comments from listeners, readers, colleagues and friends, all urging me to keep trying to get my voice back.
“You still have a voice,” Craig Caplan of C-SPAN said to me about my tweets and blogs, as I struggled to get out more than a few words to him in the press gallery.
“I had no idea,” said Carl Hulse, veteran reporter and Chief Washington Correspondent for the New York Times, who in the Speaker’s Lobby asked the logical questions of what medicines and what treatments might be available.
The answer is – I’m still searching.
I’ve been to doctors at Johns Hopkins University. Georgetown University. The Cleveland Clinic. George Washington University. Emory University. I’ve seen individual ENT’s. GP’s. Neurologists. Voice experts. Speech pathologists. And more.
I’ve had a series of botox shots in different places in my larynx; one set administered in January made it difficult for me to swallow for about eight weeks.
And unfortunately, none of those botox treatments resulted in any improvement in my voice, though my friends liked to joke about how I had a neck with no wrinkles.
In April, I drove to Ohio to see the head of the Voice Center at the Cleveland Clinic. When I asked him to recommend a specialist to see, his response was simple – what I have is such a rare condition that he could not name any doctors who might treat me.
That was a long drive home.
By June of this year, I was at a medical dead end. I had become one of those medical mysteries that you read about in the paper.
The Mayo Clinic had rejected me for treatment, I wasn’t getting anywhere with major university hospitals, and I was being ping-ponged back and forth between ENT/voice specialists and neurologists.
All of my doctors and specialists were clearly doing the best they could. I don’t fault any of them.
I’m just looking for an expert who evidently does not exist at those institutions.
About that time, one of my cousins introduced me to a local neuro-psychiatrist, who agreed to consider my case. We’ve tried a few things, and my voice has made a small bit of progress in recent months.
“I think you’re getting a little better,” my doctor said last Friday with a note of optimism in her voice, as I sat in her office and struggled to clearly, and slowly, say more than a few words in a row.
As my doctor says, I’m basically trying to learn how to talk again, how to re-wire some new neurological pathways from my brain to my larynx.
But the truth is, a year and a half after my voice suddenly started to have troubles, I still haven’t solved my medical troubles which have silenced me on the radio, undermined my job security, and made it difficult just to be a regular dad.
In the halls of Congress, I’m sure a number of my colleagues know I have a voice problem, and just don’t say anything, but I bet there are a lot of other journalists who have no idea that there is a veteran radio reporter in their midst who can’t say much.
Think about it – a radio reporter who can't talk – it sounds ridiculous, and that's what makes this all the more frustrating.
The outpouring of support from lawmakers has been great.
“Anything else I can help you with?” asked Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) on Tuesday, after a quick Q&A with him had been overrun by a number of other reporters.
“I want to make sure you can keep your job,” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) told me a few months ago, telling me to bring my reporter’s notebook with written questions at any time.
“Are you okay?” a concerned Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) said to me recently as he grabbed me by the shoulder like a close friend would, his face showing concern.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent his prayers, after I handed him a note to explain why I couldn’t talk.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) stopped with me in one of the underground tunnels from the Capitol to pray for my voice to return.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) kept worriedly asking about my health, recounting how a close friend had suddenly been hit with a terrible medical diagnosis.
From the past, former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) sent me a hand written note, expressing his hope that my voice would return.
And there are many more examples.
An old college friend from Atlanta printed up some cards that I carry around with me at work, telling people that I can’t speak, but I could still use their help to do my job.
And now with another Christmas season almost here, I’m still furiously working in the halls of Congress, feeding interviews to my company’s radio stations and blogs to our newspapers and other media properties.
And I’m still trying to talk.
Hopefully, 2018 will bring about a different story line.
Thanks to everyone who has written to express their concern or ask what’s up with my voice. I wish it was something simple to fix.
If you have any ideas, you can send me a direct message on Twitter, @jamiedupree.