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Larry Page's Voice Problem - Dilbert Blog

Larry Page’s Voice Problem

I saw some speculation in the news that Google’s Larry Page might have the same “voice problem” that I had, called spasmodic dysphonia. I will add to that speculation because it fits what little we know about his situation. I’m not saying he has spasmodic dysphonia, but it fits the few facts I know.

I’ll start by giving Larry Page, and Google, my trust when they say it’s a voice problem and not something more serious. I wouldn’t have trusted Steve Jobs on that sort of question because of his reality distortion field. But I think Google is genetically disinclined to lie about something so important to investors. I think they mean it when they say they try to avoid evil.

The mystery is that if Page has a simple voice problem, why not give more details and be done with it? That’s a fair question and one that I have seen being asked in the press. Here’s where my experience with my own voice problems can give you some insight. I think there might be a very good reason he’s not providing details.

For starters, even the best doctors in the world would have trouble diagnosing spasmodic dysphonia. It’s sufficiently rare that most doctors have never seen it, and most have probably never heard of it. It can present in a few different ways, and because it’s rare, doctors would look for more pedestrian causes first and try to treat what they know how to treat just to see what happens. A patient with not-yet-confirmed spasmodic dysphonia might receive treatment for bronchitis and even get a brain scan to look for tumors. A sudden loss of your voice can come from several sources. Doctors start with the easy guesses and eliminate possibilities as they go. Page might not have a definitive diagnosis yet.

Here’s the insight I’ll add to this speculation: Spasmodic dysphonia usually presents itself in a way that appears to be a mental/emotional problem brought on by stress. One of the oddities of the condition is that you can often speak normally to your pet but you can’t speak to humans. Sometimes you can sing or recite a poem but you can’t answer a question. For many years the medical community classified spasmodic dysphonia as a mental problem. At one point in my search for a cure, I ended up in a psychologist’s office turning down her offer for Valium. Her best guess what that stress had rendered me unable to speak in certain situations. I’ve heard from other people who have spasmodic dysphonia that they too got the “crazy” diagnosis before figuring out the real problem.

So if you’re the head of a major corporation, and doctors haven’t yet ruled out “crazy,” you would be wise to keep it to yourself, especially if you don’t feel especially crazy, and it isn’t affecting other parts of your behavior. But I know from experience that loved ones, friends, and even doctors will tell a person with spasmodic dysphonia to simply relax, as if that is enough to make the voice problem go away. The implication is that you’re emotionally unbalanced and everyone knows it but you. It’s a living hell when you lose your voice and everyone around you treats you like a mental patient. Trust me on that.

I have no idea what Larry Page’s actual voice problem is. I hope it’s something simple and that he’s already on the path to fixing it. But if the problem happens to be spasmodic dysphonia, I’d be happy to help him figure out what works and what doesn’t. A brilliant doctor cured my spasmodic dysphonia with a relatively simple surgery on the nerves in my neck. But it took me three years to find the one doctor (at the time) who had pioneered the surgery: Dr. Gerald Berke at UCLA.

Interestingly, I diagnosed my own voice problem as spasmodic dysphonia by using Google. And Google Alert later provided me with the trail of breadcrumbs that allowed me to find the doctor with a cure. So, Larry, if your voice problem turns out to be spasmodic dysphonia, send me an email (dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com) and I’ll shortcut your research for a cure. I owe you one.