Speaker Voice Phenomenology, or “Just Another Asshole with a Bluetooth Headset”

One of the non-loaner headsets arrived last week. It is shockingly overpriced for what it is, and the amp has the hilarious name “Spokeman” which must be a mistranslation of either “Speakman” (as in “Walkman”) or “Spokesman.” You choose a headset to go with it and as I have a rather large head (hence outside the “one size fits all” range), I chose the most flexible one that could be worn over the top of my head, around the neck, or around the back of the head. It turns out the latter is the best for comfort, which means the mic sort of reaches around the corner of my mouth (that’s the big picture in the diagram):

The speaker hangs around my neck on a lanyard. It’s big and clunky, but so am I, and so that allows me to rock the chunky jewelry in this case. Although not by any means perfect, the system works way better than the loaner. We tried it for a couple short social events, and then yesterday the big test was a trip out to the Musée de beaux-arts, to see the incredibly commercial Tiffany exhibit. (What can I say? Glass is cool.)

As everyone knows but nobody reflects upon much, different compensations for different disabilities carry different levels of stigma with them. Eyeglasses are one thing, a cane is another, crutches are another, an artificial limb another, and so forth. A guy in a restaurant with a handheld mic gets a look from everyone walking in the door. The loaner stood out. But a head mounted mic actually appears to stand out less, at least in a crowd. So my flip assessment after one trip to a loud public place is that people are so used to other people walking around with extra equipment on their heads (earpieces, mics, headphones) that a guy walking around a museum with a head-mounted mic and speaker around his neck is just another random thing you see in a crowd and therefore not of much interest.

As to the sound, I’d call it tinny, but the truth is that I don’t hear it that well. The speaker projects out from my chest and is fairly directional. It allows me to speak quietly and be heard–which is the point–but it means I have to get used to not hearing myself and trusting the prosthesis. One of the reasons you sound so weird to yourself when you hear your own voicemail message (for instance) is that your normal perception of your voice has a bunch of bone conduction in it. You’re hearing it through your ears and through the bones in your head. I’m hearing my voice through neither, and the people around me hear it through a speaker.

I don’t know if this will be a permanent thing–probably not. But it will allow me to go out in public and/or operate vocally in groups of people while my voice continues to recover. My voice is finally showing some improvement over the last week (and speech therapy was much better), which is good news, though it is still slow going. It gets better in plateaus, rather than incrementally, so I have to just sort of wait to wake up with a new voice one day. That finally happened this week for the first time (this is how the recovery went after the first surgery so I am fairly confident that it will proceed in the same fashion again). The thing is, no matter how much better it gets, there will be another round of decline with the external beam radiation, but that’s such a giant can of worms that it must wait for another post.