At the tail end of 2015 something very ordinary happened to me that turned out to be anything but ordinary. As many do in the winter months, I caught the very well-known virus called: the common cold. No biggie, right? Wrong. Said cold turned into laryngitis. Laryngitis, after many doctor visits and several ENT appointments, became vocal cord paresis. What that translates into is: one of my vocal cords stopped working properly. Who knew that your vocal cords could catch a cold?
The result was that it was really difficult to talk normally – and in fact, I couldn’t. My voice was high, breathy, pitchy and sometimes really weird and alien sounding. I also choked a lot on liquids, had constant gunk in the back of my throat (which I was forever and annoyingly clearing) and people just couldn’t understand what I was saying. So, my doctor, after about 4-month of ‘waiting for it to heal’ finally referred me to ENT (Ear Nose and Throat Dr.) #1. He didn’t do much other than send me to a speech therapist and said: well, there’s nothing we can do!
Off I want to referred speech therapist. She told me that this didn’t ‘have’ to be a permanent solution and in fact, there was something that could be done about it – turns out several somethings – and thus, she recommended me to ENT #2.
ENT #2 injected a kind of filler in my vocal cords so that there wouldn’t be such a gap. The problem was that they weren’t connecting properly because part of right vocal cord was paralyzed and had nerve damage. This really didn’t do very much, was painful (think really long needle plunged into your throat) and temporary. Unfortunately, this was the only option at the time as I was told I wasn’t a good candidate for a permanent implant.
This went on for a few years and I was clearly frustrated so ENT #2 referred me to ENT #3 who was the BEST of the BEST. At least in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver.
I liked her. She tried a different type of filler and it worked better. One caveat, though, it only lasted about 4-5 months. So, I constantly had to be topped up. Again…really big needle in the throat. Hurt like hell. The thought of having to get this for the rest of my life was daunting. What if this Dr. moved away? What would happen if she retired? I mean, she was the BEST out there. Could I settle for second best?
Also, I ‘used’ to be a singer. Now I wasn’t performing – unless you count crooning at the top of my lungs in my car on the way to work – but I really loved singing and damn it, I was good! Emphasize the word ‘was’.
After my courtship with Mr. laryngitis, I sucked. I sucked really, really bad. It was like I’d suddenly developed tone deafness. I couldn’t hit the right note if my life depended on it, I ran out of air, easily, and sometimes my voice would take on this bizarre deep multi-tone wobble that sounded like I was possessed by a demon. A demon who loved to sing along to Tayor Swift.
I know you’re picturing that in your head. The Taylor Swift demon impressionist. Weird, isn’t it?
Sorry ‘bout that.
Anyway. It was terrible! Some people got used to it, but most were simply annoyed or thought I constantly had a cold. This got really interesting around the start of COVID and I finally started explaining that I did NOT have a cold (or COVID) and got into waaaay too much detail about my condition. I’m sorry ‘bout that, too.
Finally, one day in March of this year (after over FIVE YEARS of dealing with this BS) ENT #3 was willing to try the implant (permanent solution). Whoo hoo!! I was excited! But I also had to have my throat cut open and …
Be. Awake. During the procedure.
I had to be able to talk to them as she stuffed in and then yanked out, different sizes of the implants into a little hole that she drilled into my thyroid cartilage. She had to know which size worked best to get the optimum result. Yes, that’s a yucky image. Once again, I apologize.
Seems fair, though, that this was an acceptable procedure. If it was the incorrect size of implant, it wouldn’t have worked so well.
By now you’ve guessed that I’ve done this. And yes, I have! I’m happy to say that I actually do have my original voice back. I’ve missed you, Voice! People who haven’t heard it in nearly 6-years were a little taken aback, but that’s okay. Singing is still an issue but I’m working on that with another amazing speech therapist and she’s a singer, too, so she gets it.
Where I’m going with this long-winded, and sometimes cringe-worthy, story, is – that during that time, I was extremely frustrated. Not being able to talk properly was a massive hinderance. I sell for a living (my day job) and council/coach in my spare time. This involves a lot of talking (also listening but my ears weren’t the problem).
I got angry. Angry that it was hard to understand me. That I had to repeat myself constantly. That life just went on for everyone else, but I was stuck struggling to communicate. I kept thinking: if only people would listen harder!
So, imagine those that have a much more difficult time talking (something we all take for granted) – maybe they can’t talk at all, or need a device to assist them. What if I was born deaf or mute or both, and suddenly, I couldn’t use sign-language as my way to communicate? What would it be like to be trapped in that predicament instead of the small inconvenience that I lived with? I mean…I could still talk – it was just difficult to be understood most of the time, but I adapted. Over the years I got better and even though I was pitchy and talked in a much higher register than I used to, I managed.
Now that I sound like ME again, I’m starting to feel I was being a whiny little wretch, feeling all sorry for myself while not even considering that I was lucky to still be able to talk at all. We take so much for granted and this is a very basic one. I mean, if you’re a parent and reading this, you will well remember your child(ren)’s first word; it’s a big deal! Even my mom remembers mine (she’s 85 btw). And it was “no” in case you’re wondering. Or probably more accurately: “NO!” Haha.
Humans need to communicate and be heard. It’s what we do long before we write – we cry to express ourselves, speak or sign to be heard, laugh to show humour and sing to feed our soul.
But when it’s taken from us or even partially taken, we feel somehow violated, like something was stolen.
I am so grateful to Dr. Hu and her team. I’m still healing (and there is one nasty ass scar on my neck) but in just over a month after surgery the results are incredible. I’m me, again.
*Happy Snoopy Dance*