Diane Rehm,

Diane Rehm,

A weeklong electronic journal.
May 12 1998 3:30 AM

Diane Rehm,

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       I keep wondering what I'd have done without e-mail these past three months, and especially this past week. Operating completely without a voice creates an entirely new perspective. This morning, instead of our usual Monday telephone conference call to plan programs for both this week and next, the four producers of the Diane Rehm Show--Sandra Pinkard, Elizabeth Terry, Anne Adams, Nancy Robertson--and I conversed entirely by e-mail. It's a very different approach. It allows perhaps for a more orderly run-through of possible topics, but it sure takes a lot of the fun and humor out of the process.
       We began at about 9:30 this morning and were finished within 20 minutes. Ordinarily, we'd all be sitting in my office, batting around one idea after another, chuckling over some and dismissing others. Sometimes we haven't finished our conference before it's time for me to go on the air. Of course, there's much yet to be discussed. Some of the topics we talked about may not work out for this week or next. Others depend on the availability of certain individuals. So we keep "talking" throughout the day. There have been 40 messages so far back and forth among us. Maybe they prefer it, but I doubt it. I'll have to ask them.
       I've taken several phone calls from friends today, some of whom were shocked at the sound of my nonvoice because they hadn't heard me speak in a while. Others with whom I've spoken more recently were accustomed to the bare whisper but encouraged at what they perceived as an uplifted spirit. In fact, I have been feeling quite well and energetic. It's only my voice that lacks strength.
       The radio has always been a constant companion when I've been at home alone in the past. Now, though, with the constant contact I experience through e-mail, it seems less necessary and sometimes even a distraction. Knowing the lineup of great guests we have for this week and next, perhaps I'm not listening because I'm saddened not to be there doing the interviews myself.
       I spoke today with Dr. Paul Flint, the otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins who diagnosed this strange disorder called spasmodic dysphonia. I gave him an update on my condition, remarking how hard it is to get out even a very few words because of the number of breaths required. He urged me to have patience. Actually, I think I really do have patience, plus a certain faith that this will all turn out just fine. Having lived with this voice problem for so many years and being assured that the Botox treatment is working just as it should, I feel somewhat less anxious.
       All day long, I've been here at the computer. Between e-mail messages I think of all the people I've turned to as healers in the past few months and just how much I've come to depend on them. The trouble is, I can't talk with them all by e-mail. My usual regimen of therapist appointments, with long conversations in their offices, have had to be canceled, since it takes too much effort to talk right now. I smile when I think of all the catching up I'll have to do.
       There's another aspect of communication that I'm particularly missing, and that is looking directly into someone's eyes as we exchange ideas. As I sit at my computer in my sewing room overlooking the garden, I try to imagine the face of the person I'm in touch with, wondering about the cast of the eyes, the reaction in the eyebrows or shoulders or neck to a particular comment. I've always said that going into the studio to interview a guest each morning is like learning to dance with a new partner, sensing when to lead and when to follow. E-mail, for all its advantages, as it allows me to remain in touch, has taken away some of the sheer pleasure that I have always experienced through human contact.

Diane Rehm is host of radio's Diane Rehm Show, nationally syndicated by WAMU/NPR. She is the author of a forthcoming book, Finding My Voice.