From my Evernote diary, dated Tuesday, July 23, at 5:53PM
Just came from the ENT at Clinica Manila. Had a camera stuck down my throat. The verdict? Confirmed. I have vocal cord nodules.
They appear to be what’s known as “soft nodules,” but to confirm I will be getting further testing from The Medical City. I’ve been prescribed a round of steroids (once again!) and acid inhibitors, and I most likely will need voice therapy. I’ve also got to cut back on vocal use to only 10% of my average usage. This means I am not allowed to sing, host, or do any speaking more than necessary for the next three months or so.
Hopefully I won’t need surgery.
I’m trying not to get depressed over it. After all, the nodes are there, and no crying will change that. (In fact, as crying is vocal stress, they’ll become worse.). But it is deeply troubling that I can’t sing for three months, and that for all intents and purposes my voice may be permanently compromised.
I won’t break down. I won’t.
The vocal cord nodules in question. They’re nothing like how Pitch Perfect makes them out to be.
It started a few months ago, when I started inexplicably getting hoarse and losing my voice for weeks on end. Sometimes, this would be accompanied by a hacking cough, sometimes colds. More often than not, it was just an unexplainable case of dry, scratchy throat, along with a severely limited vocal range that stayed quite stubbornly within my chest-tone register. This had happened only once before–during the run of LI(F)E Auditions last year–but I figured it was nothing more than a natural extension of my perennial allergy problems. I dealt with the issue as I had during those ViARE musical days–dosing myself obsessively with Throat Coat, tea, and Sinutab–and expected that it would all work out as it had before.
Only it didn’t, and after I’d gone to Brazil and back and my problems still had not gone away, I began to be concerned, especially when what had previously been my one “ace-in-the-hole”–my broad range, with its classical high upper register, also known as “head tone”–slowly began to fade. This became obvious when I sang the opening bars of the title aria of The Phantom of The Opera, only to find I was unable to do so with my usual clear, bel canto timbre. Adding to my worries was the fact that my reliable cure-all, Throat Coat Herbal Pastilles, had been phased out by Healthy Options. With no more back-up plan, I decided to consult an ENT, hoping that it was nothing serious.
…as is obvious from the distraught Evernote entry, it definitely was.
Vocal nodules have a stigma in the singing community. Thanks to horror stories such as Julie Andrews, Ryan Key, and José José, they’ve gained a reputation as a career-ending, or at least a career-altering, vocal injury. In recent years, Pitch Perfect has added to that perception, with its famous subplot involving one of the Bellas having been diagnosed with the dreaded disorder.
I was one of those people who bought into the hype of Pitch Perfect and Julie Andrews, and so when I visited Dr. Karen Capuz at Clinica Manila, I was hoping against hope that it was not, in fact, vocal fold nodules, although I had tried to reassure myself that modern medical technology–at least, according to what a Google search told me–made it so that nodes weren’t as serious as the hype allowed. Still, when I received my diagnosis, I felt like I’d been hit by a cement truck, the numb feeling continuing as my prescription was read out:
“…no talking or singing for three months…”
It’s pretty obvious from how long my blog posts can run that I usually have a lot to say. I’m a talker. It’s something I’ve been known for every since I was a little girl, and for the most part, I’ve been, if not proud of the fact, then accepting of it. That I can run my mouth a mile a minute at a drop of a hat has been pretty much one of the key facets of my personality. In fact, it’s gotten to a point where I feel like I’m counted on to speak up, whether it’s for class recitations, or presentations, or simple meetings–my ability to talk my way out of and around things usually has me taking the role of spokesperson, representative, PR person, and pitch-woman, all rolled into one. Being talkative has been my primary way of being useful.
So when I was told, quite bluntly, that I’d have to cut my talking down to a mere ten percent of average–to, in fact, avoid speaking at all if I could help it–I was floored. I wasn’t sure I could shut up for three minutes, let alone three months!
Still, I had very little choice. If I was to get back into fighting form, then I had to do whatever I could to reduce the stress on my vocal cords, at least until I could seek therapy. So the very next day, I got myself a whiteboard, and proceeded with what I dubbed Project Zipped Lips.
Actually, it wasn’t supposed to be much of a “project” at first. I’d planned to just go about my daily business, albeit minus the ability to speak. But as I went through the motions, toting my whiteboard around, using sign language, and adjusting to my new normal, I discovered that I was beginning to feel changes in my personality, some of them…actually kind of good. I began to wonder: had talking become such a huge part of my life that it had gotten in the way of me figuring out the rest of it?
Curious as to what I was noticing, and deciding to put a positive spin on my self-imposed silence, I decided to make my three months of verbal exile a sort of experiment, posing the following questions:
1) Will having only a whiteboard and sign language as primary forms of communication drastically change not just my habits, but my character?
2) What will happen to my thought process when the Queen of Babble can’t babble quite so much?
3) Who is Frankie really, sans the ability to talk?
So welcome, then, to my new normal for the next ninety days. It’s been a little over a week, and while further consultation has resulted in my restrictions being made slightly lax (selective versus total voice rest–this means I can talk, but only when I need to, and only in a really low, quiet voice), I’ve mostly stuck with the original resolution to not talk. Mostly. Admittedly it gets really hard often and sometimes I can forget myself for stretches, resulting my my throat feeling really sore.
It’s slow going, but hopefully as the weeks progress I’ll get more and more used to it. Already, I’m discovering that I don’t actually have to talk as much. I’ve realized that feeling compelled to talk was my own little manifestation of my inner control-freak–by making sure I was heard, I somehow exercised power of a situation. Essentially, now, I don’t have that option, other than a bit of board-waving and frantic scribbling. At first, that realization was tough to swallow, but now I’m actually learning to enjoy it. In fact, I’m actually learning how much I don’t like talking.
No, seriously, I’m not kidding.
The fact is, keeping quiet has allowed me to slow down, decreasing my stress levels by a small (because I go to Dragon U and therefore am always stressed) but significant bit. The less I speak, the less I feel pressured to, and the more I find I enjoy the silence.
Will the wonders never cease? Well, who knows. There are still eleven more weeks to go, after all. Stay tuned for (regular? We’ll see. School is insanely busy.) updates about my Project Zipped Lips (or on shutting up and living with nodes) journey!