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Regaining 'LIFE' After Laryngectomy

Margine Perez posted this on Jun 16, 2020

What is it that stresses patients most when they come to know that their larynx would be removed?

This is a rather difficult thing to assess. According to medical experts, the level of stress in a patient depends on external factors. These include the person's socioeconomic status, whether he or she is the bread earner for the family, age and sex, type of profession that the individual is linked with, and so on. The worst cases are those in which the voice of the afflicted helps him in making his or her living! For instance, a college lecturer – he or she is totally impaired if the vocal cords are gone!

Why is laryngectomy done?

The answer to this requires an understanding of the neck anatomy of human beings. The inner anatomy of the neck consists of two pathways – the food pipe (esophagus) runs down to the stomach. The trachea (windpipe), on the other hand, runs into the lungs. In a laryngectomy, when the larynx is removed, it disrupts the continuous connection between the mouth and the lungs. Therefore, in a gist, post laryngectomy a person needs to adapt to two major life changes –

• Breathing through a hole (stoma) in the neck

• New ways of swallowing

The new adaptations post-surgery…

This article deals with a vivid account of the multi-faceted changes that one needs to adapt to when the larynx is subtracted from his or her body…

Eating through the mouth temporarily suspended –

Normal mouth feeding needs to be kept at bay for a couple of days. This is only until your surgery site (throat) heals. During this period, a feeding tube is made to run through the nose down into the stomach for the intake of nutrition.

Learning newer ways to communicate –

The primary aspect of life that laryngectomy hits at is 'speech'. Such patients are no longer able to speak in a normal way. Imagine a world without sounds! Yes, the inherent sound-producing ability of laryngectomy patients is gone forever. But that does not necessarily imply that they are no longer able to communicate. They can, and here's an elaborate discussion on the newer ways and means of communication that such individuals need to adapt to…

Communication, as we know, is of two categories, verbal and non-verbal. initially, during the 'hospital stay' of a laryngectomy patient, he or she learns to communicate non-verbally. Typing, writing, using picture boards, physical gestures, and expressions are all ways to express yourself! This however does not last long. Eventually, the candidate learns ‘oesophageal speech’.

So, what is oesophageal speech?

This is a unique technique of speaking. Usually taught to laryngectomy patients by speech therapists, it involves the trapping of air inside your mouth followed by a controlled release. The latter action produces the necessary vibrations that produce sound. The candidate couples his lip and mouth movement to produce effective speech. This entire process is easier said than done. It takes days of sincere practice and patience to adapt to the technique of oesophageal speech.

Medical devices at the rescue to bring back LIFE to ‘normalcy’…

Voice prosthesis – another remedy for laryngectomy patients

Voice prosthesis involves the implantation of an artificial valve in the neck. When the person wants to speak, he needs to cover the stoma first (of course, after breathing in). While exhalation, the air that passes out through the valve produces vibration and consequently, during this, if one can move his or her lips and mouth to create meaningful words, the person is actually speaking! The voice, although sounds natural, is much lower-pitched than the original one.

The use of an electrolarynx

This battery-operated device is indeed a revolution in medical science. It is a simple appliance, which, when held under the chin can produce spoken words if the user moves the mouth and lips appropriately!

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