After spending a week in the ICU, the only residual effect keeping me from returning to work was a minor pronunciation impediment, so my neurologist recommended I start working with a speech pathologist. Fortunately, one of the country’s top specialists worked right down the street. Being in the entertainment industry, I’d heard of him and the valuable work he was doing with celebrities. He was instrumental in eliminating Daffy Duck’s lisp, Porky Pig’s stuttering and Foghorn Leghorn’s southern drawl. He’d also worked with the Roadrunner to expand his miniscule vocabulary from meep meep to that of a graduate student in English literature.
I was ushered into an exam room and given the standard stack of insurance papers. I lied about how I injured myself. Fearing the insurance company would consider my accident a stunt and not a bonafide medical emergency, I wrote down that I blew my nose on the summit of Mount Everest. Ten minutes later, the doctor walked into the room.
“Good mowning, Miwfte Smiff. I’m Doctow Fudd. How awe you feewing this mowning? What seems to be the pwobwem?”
Dr. Elmer Fudd was considerably shorter than I imagined and even though I’d seen all of his cartoons, I’d forgotten that he too, struggled with aspects of the spoken word. I just assumed that after he retired from show business and went into medicine, things would improve.
“Great,” I said. “I just have this little speech impediment. I seem to slur my ‘L’s’ and ‘W’s’.”
“How wong has thith been goin’ on?” he asked.
“About three weeks. Ever since I blew up a surgical glove with my nose on Open Mic Night.”
“Oh, you scwewy wabbit! Wiwey Coyote came in hewe wif a simiwaw compwaint aftew the Woadwunnew thwew a stick of dynamite into his wawwen. But he compwetewy wecovewed in wess than thwee weeks. Huh-uh-uh-uh.”
“Whew,” I sighed. That’s good news. I’m up for a big part at the end of the month – Julius Caesar – so I can’t be speaking like a Warner Brothers cartoon character. You know what I mean?” He nodded his approval and we got down to business.
Dr. Fudd explained that speech disorders typically came in three flavors: fluency, articulation and voice disorders.
“What you have, Miwfte Smiff, is a gawden vawiety fwuency disowdew. It’s an intewwuption in the fwow ow whythm of speech chawactewized by hesitations, wepetitions, ow pwowongations of sounds, sywwabwes, wowds, ow phwases.” I had no idea what he just said.
“I’d wike to begin wif a few simpwe phwases,” said Dr. Fudd, “To see whewe you need the most hewp. Wepeat aftew me: the qwick bwown fox jumped ovew the wazy white dawg.”
“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy white dog.”
“No, bwown, not brown.”
I could see this was going to take longer than I thought.
“Wewax youw mouf and wet the wowds fwow natuwawwy,” said Dr. Fudd. “Can you heaw the diffewence between wazy white dawg and lazy white dog?”
By the end of our first 30 minute session, I was exhausted, so we called it quits and he sent me home with a book of exercises and a tape recorder. “I want you to pwactice the exewcises in this book while using the wecowdew to wisten to youw pwogwess. Stawt wif something easy, wike Abwaham Wincown’s Gettysbuwg Addwess.”
The following morning I got up early and recorded myself, as I plowed through the exercises:
“Fouw scowe and seven yeaws ago ouw fathews bwought fowf on this continent, a new nation, conceived in wibewty and dedicated to the pwoposition that aww men awe cweated eqwaw.” I practiced for over an hour until I could repeat it perfectly.
Dr. Fudd was impressed with my progress. So much so, that we slowly moved through General Douglas MacArthur’s “Faweweww Addwess to Congwess” and John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Bewwinew” speeches. I didn’t know that Dr. Fudd could annihilate the German language with the same ease that he decimated English, but he could.
After mutilating Martin Luther King’s, “I have a Dweam” speech, we went on to more practical applications like applying for a job, shopping for computers and ordering food at a restaurant:
“Good mowning. I’m hewe to appwy fow the Cweative Wwiting position you have advewtised in the newspapew.”
“I’m intewested in buying a new waptop computew wif 4GB of WAM, a 21 inch dispway and Micwosoft Office.”
“I’d wike the bweakfast speciaw wif scwambwed eggs, hashbwown potatoes, whowe wheat toast and bwack coffee.”
After six months, my insurance company called and informed me that I had wun out of speech wehabiwitation benefits. I had exhausted all of my out-patient thewapy sessions and they wefused to weimbuwse me for the time I worked with Dr. Fudd.
I argued wif the cwaims adjuster for over 3 hours, pweading to extend my benefits. While my tweatment was awmost compwete, I still had a wong way to go. Nevewthewess, nothing I said would change his mind.
“I’m sowwy, Mw. Smith. Dewe’s nothing I can do. Besides, you sound pewfectwy nowmaw to me.”