Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I'll Show You Mine...

You may recall my earlier complaints/concerns about my vocal health over the last sixth months.  I quickly recovered from a half-day's worth of sickness, but my voice has never fully recovered.  The combination of my own constant worry plus the encouragement of a few key friends resulted in this morning's appointment with both a speech pathologist and otolaryngologist.  Lest you be overly impressed by my doctor's title, that's just the fancy word for ENT.

I didn't want to see just any otolaryngologist.  It sounds totally diva, but mine isn't just any old throat.  I earn my living with my voice, and I was reluctant to trust it even to the great ENT's I've met through the course of the innumerable ear issues we've had around here.  A friend's suggestion led me to the Voice Disorders Clinic, part of the U of U Research Park.  They have three types of specialists on hand, all working together for an accurate diagnosis and effective therapy.  But despite my trust in the clinic, I've been pretty scared leading up to today's appointment.

I had a whole list of things I was afraid they'd say:

  • Nodules
  • You'll need to go on complete vocal rest
  • You've already done irreparable damage
  • You obviously talk way too much.  You'll never recover if you can't get that in control.
  • Did I mention nodules?
Well, after an incredibly uncomfortable diagnostic process, I...

Nope... gotta sidetrack and explain the process...

For maximum results, follow along at home.  First, lean forward and stick your chin out like you're "trying to cross the finish line."  Now stick out your tongue, and imagine a doctor grabbing it with a paper towel and holding it as far out of your mouth as possible.  A rod, slightly thicker than a pencil, holds the camera and is shoved as far back as it can reach, just barely not choking you.  And the doctors tells you to make an "Eeee" sound.  Seriously.  Try it.  I dare you to make an "Eeee" sound while holding out your tongue and half-swallowing a pencil.

Anyhow.  After an incredibly uncomfortable diagnostic process, I was actually told:
  • I do not have nodules.  Yet.  I'm pretty sure the clinical word they used was "bumps."  My vocal folds are inflamed toward the middle and are currently sporting small, fluid filled, squishable bumps.  It seems bumps are much less serious than nodules.  So that's good.
  • My singing is not at all the problem.  In fact, according to the torturer speech pathologist, I have very good vocal habits when I sing.  
  • My speaking voice developed bad habits when I chose to push through October's cold.  Just as one might tend to favor a sore leg and end up straining other muscles in the process, I've managed to mess up the muscular balance associated with talking.  Maybe I've always had bad habits which have just been exacerbated.  Or maybe it's a recent development.  Anyway, I've now been told I talk "right on my vocal folds" putting strain on muscles that shouldn't be strained.  And I've developed a "glottal fry;" that raspy noise most people can produce on purpose has now found its way into my standard speaking.
  • I'm fixable.  A bit of therapy to retrain my muscles, and the swelling should reduce.  The bumps should go away, and I should be good to go.
And a few other interesting things:
  • I heard the speech pathologist discussing my diagnostic assessments with the otolaryngolosist.  It was fun to hear, "She has rapid-rate speech patterns."  I laughed and told them I've never heard that before.
  • I'll be looking into some sort of personal amplification system that I can use at school and probably when I run rehearsals.  And I will feel like a total diva using it.  But now that I've strained my vocal folds once, they'll always be at a higher risk for damage.  (Did you know that music teachers are 4x more likely to sustain vocal damage than regular teachers, whose risk is already pretty darn high?)
  • They want me to reduce the amount of chocolate I eat.  We'll see.
And now, since I took a cell phone pic of the computer monitor when the doctors left the room, I have a pretty gross picture of my vocal folds.  If anyone's curious, I'm just posting the link, because nobody needs to just see it pop up on their screen!

Now you show me yours...


Julie said...

I read in a singing book that improper use of the speaking voice is one of the most frequent causes of vocal problems. I know I don't speak properly and I certainly talk to much. Sigh.