I was reminded by this post from Chris (and how lovely to see a new post from him again) of the time when I was unable to speak and had to communicate through writing notes.
I say unable, but it would be more accurate to say forbidden. And maybe I’d better set the scene first.
In the winter of 1985 (I know, darlings, I’m good with dates and stuff), I developed a bad cough and it left me with a husky voice. I spent months expecting it to clear up, and in the meantime I received a good deal of gratifying attention from men who found my deep and breathy voice alluring. Quite staid and well-behaved gentlemen, whom I’d known for years and who had never made any sort of advance would say “I say, what a sexy voice you have” and such things as that. No one tried to take things any further, I should add, so it was just the voice.
Still, once it reached July, it finally occurred to me that I couldn’t blame the state of affairs on a chesty cold six months earlier and I went to the doctor. He promptly referred me to a consultant. Well, I say promptly – I was given an appointment in six weeks time, which was pretty prompt for 1985. The consultant decided I had nodules on my vocal cords and that they should be removed and I duly received a date for admittance into hospital another six weeks later. I only discovered that I’d been fast-tracked when I arrived at the hospital and found how long other people had been waiting for operations far more urgent, I’d have thought, than mine. So evidently, although I was young, had never smoked and had good health generally, there was a suspicion that I had rather more wrong with me than nodules.
I didn’t though and they were removed uneventfully – and this is the only time, apart from a childhood removal of teeth from an overcrowded jaw – that I’ve ever had a general anaesthetic. I disliked the feeling intensely. Not that I had ill effects from the anaesthetic, that is, but when I woke up I heard myself saying how cold my feet were. It was all I could think to talk about – except that I couldn’t control what I was saying at all. I went back to sleep and rather hoped I’d dreamed it, until I woke again and found a whole stack of blankets at the foot of the bed. That, apart from general interest and excitement about the whole thing, gives the clue to why I didn’t want sedation for my hip op. Z is a control freak, it seems – who knew?
After the operation, I was told that I must not speak until the stitches had healed. The less I spoke, the better the chances were that I would have minimal scarring and my voice would recover well.
Those of you who know me must be wondering at the remarkable prospect of silence for me for a couple of weeks. I spoke a lot less then, I was still quite shy, but it was not easy, certainly, because of what happened while I was in hospital. That is, my mother-in-law died suddenly, which was a great shock to all. At her funeral the next week, there I was with my little notebook and pencil, trying to engage in conversation with nice people who wanted to speak to me.
I had already discovered something about the nature of disability, however, within a few days. It is quite true that one becomes invisible. Because of Ma’s death, a lot of people had called round, and when I wanted to join in a conversation, I’d write down my comment … and not once did anyone wait to read it before carrying on talking. In the end, I was writing down what I thought of the situation, in quite irritated manner, but that didn’t matter because no one was reading it anyway. In one to one conversations it was all right, of course, but it was impossible to join in a small group.
I must mention our nephew Simon, by the way. A young man in his early twenties then, he took the trouble to sit down with me and have a lovely conversation. He was kinder to me than anyone else at that time, it was all a strain for everyone but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for myself. I couldn’t even cry as a sob would have been bad for my throat. Simon was the only person who noticed and did anything about it.
I said ‘disability’ – I don’t mean that I had one of course, it was no such thing, being simply a temporary and minor restriction. What was telling, though, was the non-person aspect. It taught me a lot, I’d like to think it made me a little more thoughtful.
Anyway, that’s it. Not much of a story, Chris’s was much better. And a whole lot shorter. My voice recovered completely in the end, though it took ages for the higher register in my singing voice to return (not that I ever sing, a little gentle warbling to the grandchildren or when doing the housework is it). And it turned out not to be nodules, but polyps – the former is caused by straining your voice, the latter just pop up.
I always regretted a bit having that operation, mind you. I liked my husky voice too.