Posted in Finding my voice, Introspection

My Voice In The Lost and Found


Photograph by Nancy Malcolm

I lost my voice….literally.  It left me and in its wake, my confidence fell into a pit.


All during my years in education, I would occasionally get a raspy, scratchy voice.  Too much talking and strain on my vocal cords.  But, three years ago, that scratchiness returned with a slight tenderness, and I could not clear the gravel sitting in my throat.


With one visit to my ENT Doctor, an MRI and a laryngoscopy, it was determined that I had cysts on my vocal cords and they needed to be removed.  “An easy day surgery with one minor detail,” my doctor explained.  “You must have two weeks of complete voice rest.  No talking and no whispering.” (as evidently whispering is worse for your voice.)  “No sound for two weeks.  Nada.”


Before the surgery, I envisioned the two weeks as total “me” time.  Reading, writing and silent reflection, yet when my two weeks started I felt differently.  I suddenly felt very vulnerable.  One dear friend brought me a notepad with a little explanation taped on each page.  “I just had throat surgery and am unable to talk.  Please be patient while I write.”  Someone else gave me a dry erase board to use at home so I felt prepared for communicating.  I was NOT prepared for the frustration at getting people to understand what I needed or wanted.  I was not prepared for the silence.

One day at Walgreens, I was checking out and while touching my throat, I mouthed to the clerk I was unable to talk.  I started to write on my notepad, and she nodded that she understood.  She then proceeded to use a rustic form of sign language to ask me if I wanted a bag and to point to cash or credit.  I wanted to (scream) mouth, “I can hear you, I just can’t talk!” But, I thanked her in sign language and went on.


Slowly, I felt so withdrawn and yes, overlooked. My family stopped talking to me just so I wouldn’t have to answer, but I felt ignored.   I felt what many others must feel every single day of their lives, yet, I knew mine would be temporary, or so I hoped. What if my voice never returns?   More and more I retreated into my hushed, speechless world.  


Finally, the end of my 14 days arrived.  When I first tried to speak, I was unnerved at the sound of my voice.  Complete gravel…..worse than before.  I was told to give it time, be patient and try to relax my throat muscles, but I realized immediately that I did not know how to do that.  Too many years of strain and stress.  


I became embarrassed to speak in public, answer the phone or even go out.  No one could understand me and I choked easily because I could not clear my throat.  My doctor suggested a few things:  another week of quiet, try a voice coach and if necessary, go see a specialist in San Antonio. Another week crept by with minimal speaking and it was determined that scar tissue had formed on my vocal cord.  The specialist could give me shots of Botox to improve my voice and so I made the appointment.


Even though the specialist explained how the Botox would help and what I could expect afterward, I was ill-prepared for the exact details of how it would happen.  The first thing they did was record me as I repeated chords and words so that there could be a baseline.  Then I was ushered into an examination room that had low lighting,  Feng Shui water fountain,  calming lavender diffuser and a large screen TV.  There was one large exam chair and lots of instruments….fear started to sink in.  


The doctor sprayed my nose and throat with a numbing solution.  A camera was put in my nose and down my throat and a light was put in my mouth down to my vocal cords. Then with a long, curved needle, he injected my vocal cord with Botox.  The whole thing was projected onto the big screen TV and recorded.  I would do this procedure three more times.


I admit, I was shy and self- conscious the first time I met my voice coach.   It was unsettling and disheartening to hear myself try to repeat the scales and words she gave me.  I could hear the pitch and sounds, but I could not make my voice mimic them.  She recorded me as well.  My confidence was in the toilet as I heard that first playback.


Sometimes life does send you angels and unexpected gifts, and Dara (my voice coach) was that for me.  This sweet, beautiful and talented girl helped me find my voice.  She encouraged me.  She laughed with me not at me and she befriended me at a very tender time in my life.


Probably one full year after my first diagnosis, I came to believe that my voice might be as good as it was going to get.  And now, three years later, I know it has gotten even stronger.  Patience and time worked after all.


What is lost cannot always be found or restored, but sometimes a new thing takes its place.  I gained a lot of strength from following through with the procedures and voice lessons, and with compassion and hard work, I found my voice.  My new, hard-earned voice that sounds more like me than ever before.