Scars and Stitches

January 2, 2013

In October, I got sick.

Things were coming out of my face that had no business ever seeing the light of day.  I lost my voice at the end of one day of work and then had to take a last minute emergency trip to take care of a friend in a different time zone.  It was miserable.  I was hacking and coughing and wheezing and congested and couldn’t breathe, and then my voice never came back.

I waited it out, hoping it was just a lingering case of laryngitis, but after a month and a half, I still couldn’t sing normally and my speaking voice was strained and hoarse. My interns were still leading all of the sessions (which may have actually been a blessing in disguise, because they are doing an amazing job), and I had a looming unsettling feeling of pessimism about the tumor problem in my vocal chords.

About a month ago at one of the facilities where I work, one of the nurses walked by me while I was brooding (and eavesdropping), and I heard several people say, “Heeeey! You’re back?” “How aaaare you?”  It turns out that she got sick this past summer, got laryngitis, and never got better.  And then found out that she had a nodule on her vocal chords that needed to be removed.  And then found out she would need to be on vocal rest for three weeks.

The hypochondriac that I am, I freaked out and was 100% sure that I, too, had a nodule that was going to require surgery and vocal rest, and therefore ruin my career and my life.

Here are a few of the things I learned about nodules while Googling:

NodesThey are benign.  They are polyps, lesions or blisters caused by vocal abuse or misuse.  The nurse I spoke with said that the membrane tears, and the muscles, etc. behind the fold pop out like a hernia.  I can’t find that information anywhere, so I’m not sure if it’s true, but in any case…In order to restore normal voice function, they require surgical removal followed by voice therapy paired with vocal rest.  THEY ARE AVOIDABLE.  Here’s a link in case you want to worry yourself as well!

So…I was inspired by the nurse at work, and went to the doctor (an Otolaryngologist), and found out, after a nightmarish inspection-by-videocamera (microlaryngoscopy) that occurred in my poor gag-prone throat, I found out…that I don’t have a node.  I have been sporadically worried about nodes forever, so I was relieved, to say the least.  However…

What I did find out, is that instead, I have a giant scar on my vocal chords prohibiting me from singing and speaking correctly.  What’s worse, is that it is apparently not new, which means that the five years it took me to recover from the last time I had laryngitis was probably just my vocal chords adapting to their new topography.  That’s only a theory, but it makes sense if that’s the case.

Scar VCWhere did the scar come from, you ask?  Apparently, at some point one of my vocal folds tore (probably from coughing), it almost healed, and then tore again, and then healed into a scar, but the healing process wasn’t quite complete because I probably sang and talked and yelled through it and exacerbated everything.

Now, the fun begins.  I have to see a speech and voice therapist who specializes in voice disorders for singers (and who is a former music therapist!) for 4-6 sessions.  She will assess my current situation through a series of tests and give me exercises to do that will allow my vocal chords to heal (and get back to normalish).  I will also most likely have to adjust several aspects of my speaking and singing voice, and re-learn how to breathe and warm-up. Fun times.

The reason I decided to write about this, is to stress to all of you (my colleagues, students, and friends who sing) to take care of your voice and your vocal chords.  Warm up before leading sessions.  Drink water until your pee is clear. Avoid coffee, sugar, citrus juices and smoking right before sessions.  For the love of Pete, don’t sing through a cold or cough.  Take the day off, rest your voice, and forsake the money you would have made (if you’re self-employed).  It is not worth it to have your instrument stripped of its function just for a day’s pay.  You’ll end up spending far more than that in medical bills and therapy.

Unfortunately, voice disorders having to do with scars or nodules affect adult women between the ages of 20-50 most often.  Look at that!  Music therapists are mostly women who use their voices every day to speak and sing.  Double whammy for MTs.  And even more reason to take my words seriously.

For now, I am dealing with the issue, and will start voice therapy in two weeks, but I can’t tell you how frustrating it is not knowing how long it will be before I can really sing again, or at least sing comfortably.  I can tell you, though, that I’ll be far more careful from now on knowing what I do.  Take my word for it, take care of yourself, and don’t take your voice for granted.


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