Saturday, May 05, 2012

Cathy shuts up

Darth Bear helped me remember that just breathing is enough
I had known it was coming for months. I'd been looking forward to it since December.

My vocal chord surgery.

I have a virus that causes extraordinary cell growth on my vocal chords. Over the past year or more, my voice had slowly changed, becoming deeper, softer and more problematic in social situations.

I got headaches when I talked too much. I had to push to make myself heard. My neck craned at odd angles to get the sound out. I couldn't attend networking events, parties, restaurants -- because no one could hear me. It was time for a change. I was ready.

The surgery took place on April 10th at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. I must say that my experience with everyone at the hospital was amazing. It all went very smoothly. Gordon came with me and left for work only after I changed into my hospital gown and awaited the anesthesiologist.

When I woke up after the surgery, I immediately knew there was something wrong with my tongue, but I otherwise felt no pain. I just couldn't talk. No sounds at all. Not for two full weeks.

The surgeon said the surgery had gone well, although my tongue was indeed a casualty. It had gotten crushed against my teeth and they'd had to stitch it up. She didn't tell me how painful that would be -- more painful than my throat by far, numb for longer and cause problems with my taste buds. I was probably better off, not knowing.

When Gordon brought me home, I immediately went to bed to sleep off the anesthetic. He later brought me some soup he'd made. It was delicious. I was to eat soup and smoothies for the next two weeks. It was a great diet plan, especially as my taste buds revolted against anything sweet. A sore, swollen tongue and ice cream tasted BAD. Where's the justice?

At first, I wrote quick notes to Gordon with a paper and pen when I needed something in between naps. As I became more alert and needy, I sent him text messages. I parked myself futon in front of the TV and watched movies all day, getting up only to make food. That's when Darth Bear arrived from my friends at work. He kept me company and I rubbed his soft hand on my cheek for comfort like I when I was a kid.

I also got lovely flowers from the lovely Sarah. So bright and cheerful, they made me happy just looking at them.

My parents visited and I downloaded an iPhone text-to-speech app. This helped with social conversations. I could participate at least a little, though it kind of breaks the flow when everyone has to wait for you to type.  For quick things, I tried some charades. My dad, at least, was pretty good at that. My mom made me soup and stewed rhubarb - which tasted AMAZING to my new tastebuds when mixed with plain yogurt.

Ed's Real Scoop: Cassis, Blood Orange and Dark Chocolate
For the next two weeks, I worked from home. Email, Google Chat and Hangouts meant that I could pretty much carry on as normal, including getting status updates from my vendors. In fact, one of my vendors found out I was craving cold, tart things and sent me a gift: home delivered Ed's Real Scoop. The best ice cream in the city! I dove in immediately to the most tart sorbet. It danced on my tongue.

The text-to-speech app also helped me renew my book at the library, order food and get a pedicure. Certainly it was not easy. But people were pretty understanding and tried to be helpful. They often thought that I couldn't hear and would try to mime responses back to me, which was sweet and funny at the same time.

After that, I was able to whisper a little. I immediately felt the discomfort when I went overboard, but at home it was starting to be a problem. At some point, communication became difficult and patience was lost. It was frustrating to not be heard. To rely on other, less elegant methods of communication. Nothing is like talking one-on-one. We forget how much we rely on it.

You, my friends, YOU reading this may be hearing my voice in your head and thinking that writing is a pretty good substitute. Now imagine being in the same room with me as I type my responses to you. Not the same thing. I'm a pretty fast typist, but I certainly couldn't keep up with a room of people. So no voice pretty much means no social interaction. Or at least very limited, very awkward social interaction. The longer I had to do without, the more difficult it became.

The internet made things heaps better. I felt connected in a way I never could have 20 years ago. Many people never would have noticed I was gone if I hadn't told them or they hadn't read my updates on Facebook. They communicated with me as they usually do: via email, SMS messages and social media.

It was my closest relationships that suffered: the relationships that are regularly conducted offline, in-person. It was preferable to be by myself. Which gets lonely and boring after a while.

I used my voice for the first time with my hairdresser. I'd had Gordon book me an appointment for the day I could start talking. I hadn't had a haircut since the Fall. And I didn't have to talk much, especially after explaining I'd just had vocal chord surgery.

I've been back at work for a full week. The first day back was exhausting. I got a migraine from the effort. But it got better. And while I'm still healing, my voice keeps getting stronger.

I can't wait to hear what I sound like. But I hope I will always remember the lessons I've learned while shutting up: listening is very, very important.


Allyson Hewitt said...

Cathy, radical diet plan indeed but we are so happy to have you back.

Unknown said...

Thanks Allyson! It's good to be back to have the casual conversations I love so much.