My voice

Posted February 25th, 2009 by Jane

Its nearly 6 months since my big booming distinctive voice disappeared literally over night. Though that little procedure in October: ‘cord medialisation for vocal cord palsy, secondary to metastatic breast carcinoma’ has produced ‘immediately more reliable volume there is still ‘unreliable pitch and quality.’

I quote from my speech therapist’s recent letter about me to the surgeon, oncologist, GP…so many letters are written about me these days.

I have spent my lifetime relying on my voice feels like the most obvious representation of me as a person…the one who can talk, and argue, and crack jokes and hold a lecture theatre and chair a noisy meeting. I am just beginning to really mourn the loss of my voice as it was and to accept its limitations. Restaurants have become difficult places..and I love eating out and having sparky conversation. On Sunday lunchtime R. and I were catching up with two old friends in a Lock Fyne restaurant. Apparently, according to my speech therapist, background restaurant noise reaches 60-80 decibels and to manage to speak above it you need to go 35 decibels louder. Well I can’t. There I was trying to start an animated conversation about why the Germans integrate alternative medicine into their mainstream treatments and I wanted to mention Rudolf Steiner. ‘Steiner’ I croaked to blank faces and proffered ears. ‘Steiner’ I said again, more shrill and strained than before. Blank encouraging faces again. Perhaps they hadn’t heard of Steiner? ‘Steiner’ I said for the third time, the name lost..I couldn’t even hear it myself. Then someone got it but I didn’t have the energy to explain why I’d brought him up. We ended up laughing and it was good supportive laughter, but still inside I am weeping for what I have lost…for that easy skill I used to have and don’t any more. I have sometimes taken a notebook out with me and determine to do so regularly.

The speech therapist is good. I like talking to her about the psychological impact this is having and she has good strategies for being more assertive. I’m hopeless at the physical exercises though. I always was tone deaf and couldn’t get breathing exercises. Its embarrassing not to be able to practice humming in tune, or to demonstrate breathing from my abdomen not my chest. Each session I speak more clearly and easily at the end than I did at the start, and listen to nice tape recordings of myself to prove it, but in real life the exercises are not a matter of course and I struggle in restaurants, at home when the TV is on, in the street (traffic), on the tube (no point trying to speak), and answering the phone. I know one to one I can be heard and I can order a capuccino now and be understood first time, but my sense of self and identity has had a hard knock.