A doctor stands with stethoscope in this undated handout photo..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I had been practicing pediatric and infectious disease medicine for more than 40 years when I was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2008. Unfortunately, my larynx had to be removed to eradicate the cancer. Becoming a laryngectomee (someone without vocal cords) was difficult and challenging. I had to learn to speak again and cope with many medical, dental, psychological and social issues. Day-to-day life was difficult. Things that I took for granted – such as speaking, eating and breathing – became arduous.
I realized that there was an urgent need to prepare an instructive book that could guide similar voiceless individuals and their family members, as well as their medical providers, through the process of rehabilitation and improvement in their care. To this goal – and after many discussions (in person, online, and at meetings) with laryngectomiees, speech pathologists, doctors and others – I wrote a book titled The Laryngectomee Guide, which provides practical information to assist patients with speech, medical, dental and psychological issues. It contains information about living without a “normal” voice, including the side-effects of radiation and chemotherapy; methods of speaking without vocal cords; airway, stoma, and voice prosthesis care; how to overcome eating and swallowing problems; how to cope with medical, dental and psychological problems; and how to travel.
The guide has been adopted by the American Academy of Otolaryngology and has been translated from English into many other languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Bulgarian, Italian, and more). The translations were done by native medical professionals and are available for free download from the websites of medical societies in these countries.
The guide is also being used in countries throughout the Middle East. It has been translated from English to Arabic, Iranian (Farsi), and Turkish by local medical professionals from these countries. These are also available for free download and are being used by head and neck surgeons, speech and language pathologists, as well as patients with head and neck cancer in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Dubai.
I have received many messages of gratitude from head and neck cancer patients, as well as head and neck cancer surgeons and speech and language pathologists from these countries.
The translation into Arabic has, in particular, been personally significant to me, as I view this small endeavor as aiding to serve the cause of peace and enhance the coexistence between Israel and its neighbors.
The goals of alleviating patient suffering and improving people’s lives have no borders.
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I served as a medic during the Six Day War and a battalion physician in the Yom Kippur War, during which I took care of many wounded Jordanian and Egyptian prisoners of war. I provided them with the best care I could give and am proud that I was able to save many lives. Caring for these prisoners of war offered to me a sort of inner satisfaction during difficult times. I felt that, even in the midst of war and destruction, I could honor the sanctity of human life, a value with which I was raised. I knew that, as a Jew and as a medical professional, I could not conduct myself differently.
For me, making the guide available in countries with which we have fought wars and with whom we may continue to have political differences is a continuation of what I did as a young physician during times of conflict. Seeing the guide assist patients across the Middle East and in other countries is part and parcel of the core values of medicine, and a recognition that those of us in the medical professions are called on to help the sick wherever they are.The writer is a professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University School of Medicine, a speaker for the Israel Embassy in Washington, and the author of My Voice: A Physician’s Personal Experience with Throat Cancer, The Laryngecomee Guide, and In the Sands of Sinai: A Physician’s Account of the Yom Kippur War.
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