Nine weeks ago I woke up, tried to say good morning to my darling husband and found I could not speak. I couldn’t even to croak – nothing! Very strange. My vocal cords had gone AWOL. The evening before, having had guests for lunch, I noticed that my voice was a little weaker than usual. I thought nothing of it – I probably talked too much – as one does!
My dearly beloved, of course, thought it was a huge joke! I was more upset by his obvious merriment than I was by not being able to speak. ‘It’ll come back during the morning’, I thought and put off doing anything about it. I work from home – most writers do – and as I deal in the written words, I just got on with them – composing them in my head and storing on my computer as most writers do. The doorbell rang once, and when I’d opened the door I gesticulated at the man delivering a parcel. He nodded politely, as if accustomed to meeting people who could not hear or speak properly. I signed for it and mouthed my thanks.
The expressions ‘losing your voice’ and ‘being struck dumb’ took on a whole new meaning. I found I could whisper on the breath but few could hear me. There was no question of answering the telephone. By mid afternoon, after an unusually peaceful and silent lunch with my dearest man who also works at home, I became a little concerned and resolved to visit the doctor the next day. He wasn’t concerned at all and said I had laryngitis – inflammation of the vocal chords – and that it would probably go away soon, but if I still couldn’t speak after 8 weeks, he would refer me to the ENT Dept at the local hospital. I would have to be patient. ‘EIGHT WEEKS!’ I shouted in my head, remaining silent. Patience is not my strong suit.
Inevitably, a week later there was our village May Day Fair which me and my vocal other half attended. Unable to utter any sound at all, I decided to make a clown of myself by using placards to communicate (as in ‘Love Actually’), with messages such as:
‘Just call me a dumb brunette!’ or ‘ A writer without a voice!’ and ‘Let all rejoice. I’ve lost my voice, And don’t know where to find it.’ I found people tended to shout at me as if I was mad or deaf, so in protest I scrawled down:
‘I’m speechless not witless!’ The placard that people found most entertaining was:
‘Please no more jokes about how peaceful it must be for my husband – I’ve heard them all.’
A talkative woman (as I am), rendered speechless (as I was), had to be hilarious. But soon it became not only inconvenient but isolating. I had to get used to being ignored. As weeks past I began to think that perhaps my enforced silence was a punishment for being so effusive and so wordy.
I recalled that a few years ago, one Shrove Tuesday, my normally tactful spouse made the cardinal error of saying that I talked too much. Truth hurts so I snapped back that I would give up talking for Lent. This was harder than I had anticipated, but I did keep it up for about 10 days, after which time I had to resort to whispering i.e. not quite using my voice. So I whispered for another week, during which time my best beloved and I went to Sunday lunch with friends. I kept up the whispers throughout, which some of the other guests found strange whilst others were amused by my persistence in my Lenten protest. But I couldn’t keep it up for 40 days. Whispering is tiring and I nearly lost my voice for real.
This time, when it is real, I find that people often whisper back to me, which is completely illogical when they know that I can hear very well, but just can’t make sounds. I ask people why they are whispering and they generally say, “Because you are.” How crazy is that? What is even more crazy is that though my voice has returned during the last three weeks, I still speak huskily and sound as if I’ve been smoking 30 cigarettes a day for 30 years – which is very unfair as I’ve never smoked tobacco at all!
Three weeks ago, I went to the hospital and a doctor threaded a tickley line with a tiny camera into my nose and down to my larynx to see if there were any lumps. Fortunately there were none – to my great relief, though it was still inflamed – after 6 weeks. I was advised not to shout or whisper, and suggestions included gargling, drinking lots of water (something I always do), and trying to relax (something I rarely do). Friends tell me that occasionally I speak almost normally, but to myself, my voice still sounds croaky and when I’m tired it goes high pitched, loses strength and fades. It’s now over 2 months and it’s no longer funny! Perhaps I should ‘Leave it alone. It’ll come home, brimming with words. Don’t mind it.’