As a battery of top officials were addressing reporters in the White House briefing room on Thursday afternoon about the question of possible foreign interference in the 2018 elections, instead of quickly filing stories about how the Trump Administration is trying to prevent a repeat of Russian actions from the 2016 campaign, I was hundreds of miles away to again see a top neurological expert in hopes of recovering my voice.
My voice struggles of the past two years have been diagnosed as “Tongue Protrusion Dystonia,” a rare neurological condition where my tongue misbehaves, not allowing me to properly form words and sounds.
And that’s a problem when your main job is that of a radio news reporter.
“The tongue is a very complicated muscle,” said Dr. Hyder Jinnah, who is treating me at the Emory University Brain Health Center in Atlanta.
Three months ago, Dr. Jinnah gave me two Botox shots in the hopes that it would slow my tongue, and keep it from popping out of my mouth when I talk, leading to a situation where I can only get out one or two words, often in a strained and strangled sound.
Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any change from that first round of shots, so I was back at Emory for another round, hoping for a more positive result.
“We usually start with a conservative dose the first time,” the doctor said, as he used a special instrument to listen for the sound of the needle going into the right muscle area.
“That little rumbling noise you hear is muscle of your tongue talking to us,” the doctor said at one point.
If you look at the picture, you will note that the doctor was injecting Botox into my tongue – not by going into my mouth – but by coming up from underneath.
“Most people don’t think about getting after the tongue from under the chin, but that’s actually the easier way to do it,” the doctor told me.
And once again, there was a camera crew on hand to record my treatment efforts.
“Maybe one time it can just be the two of us here,” Dr. Jinnah said with a smile.
Earlier in the day, I had gone over to our company’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta, to meet the person who helped find the outfit in Scotland that built a voice app for me to use on the radio, which we are calling “Jamie Dupree 2.0.”
The first time I had been to Emory in March to see Dr. Jinnah, my day had started with an unexpected summons from a top bigwig at Cox Media Group – I actually thought I was about to lose my job – but instead, I was given the news that Mike Lupo had found a company called CereProc.
Over the last few months, I had been on numerous conference calls with Mike, emailing furiously back and forth with him about the voice development, but this was the first time I was able to thank him in person for helping me to get back on the radio.
Like the good guy he is, Lupo said he was only doing his job when someone above our pay grade asked him to look into how they could develop a computer generated Jamie Dupree voice.
“He said, ‘Stephen Hawking talks; how does that happen? Can you look into it?'” Lupo wrote me in an email.
Sitting with a mutual friend in the company cafeteria, Lupo and I quickly discovered some intersections in our lives, as both of us had lived in the Detroit area in the past – while I delivered the Detroit Free Press as a kid, he worked for the same newspaper as an adult, at one point covering the automotive industry, which was where my father worked for a quarter century.
I shook his hand earnestly to say ‘thanks’ – not only for helping to find a way to get me back on the radio – but also for something which had clearly saved my job.
Also as part of my visit to Atlanta, I stopped in at the flagship radio station of the Cox Media Group, WSB-AM/FM, where I have been the Washington Correspondent for almost 30 years – seeing my colleagues, and showing off my new Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice.
“I thought it was going to be a big machine,” said afternoon anchor Chris Chandler with a big smile, as my colleagues seemed genuinely amazed at how I can just type words into a special text-to-speech program, and watch it spit out my computer generated story.
Like our listeners, my colleagues are happy to have me back on the air after an almost two-year absence, even if it isn’t my real voice.
“I can hear you in that voice,” one of them said.
The reaction from our listeners has been very positive – and that was reinforced when I went out to my company’s corporate HQ.
It was raining hard as I drove into the visitor’s parking area, even though I had a badge which could get me into the employee parking garage.
One of the security aides came out and wondered why I was showing her an employee badge at the visitors entrance.
“Because I don’t work here,” I said slowly, struggling to get out every word and sound with my voice.
She looked at my badge. She looked at me.
“Jamie Dupree,” she said, with the tone of someone who was trying to figure out why the name was familiar.
“Jamie Dupree,” she repeated. “Jamie Dupree 2-point-oh,” she then said with a smile, waving me through.
A few hours later, I was waiting at the airport for a delayed flight home, when a woman named Becky came up to say hello, telling me how much she enjoyed hearing my 2.0 voice.
“You can totally tell it’s you,” she said. “My husband and I love to listen to you.”
Encounters like those with my listeners give me hope about my real voice.
“We keep our fingers crossed,” Dr. Jinnah had said earlier in the day.
And so do I.