The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 12, 2010



The saying goes “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” and while often applied to sappy romance stories, it can be applied to anything that is easily taken for granted. And let’s be honest, it’s impossible to appreciate everything in your life all the time; you wouldn’t have time for anything else. Instead, you do the best you can to appreciate the things that are the most important.

You tell your family you love them. You “raspberry” your little girl. You call your friends to let them know you are thinking of them. Maybe you take a walk outside and say “wow, what a beautiful day.” But there are just some things that you don’t even consider consciously appreciating because it never crosses your mind you’d be without them. Your voice, for example.

I had just had surgery to remove half my thyroid (resulting from a thyroid cancer diagnosis) and found that I had trouble talking. They had said there would be “soreness” so I thought it would just be for a couple days. Thyroid surgery gets very close to the vocal chords (also called vocal folds) and permanent damage is a known risk, but I was told the folds had passed post-op testing and were fine. It was only at the follow-up appointment when the doctor asked me about the weakness of my voice that I grew a little concerned. Why is he asking me? You mean this isn’t normal recovery?

Sure enough, not normal and not common either. While normally the two vocal folds vibrate off each other to make sound, now one was moving and the other was paralyzed. This happens only in about 1% of thyroid surgeries and I was the only patient my doctor, considered an expert in his field, currently had with this side effect. That I stood alone here was not a great feeling and I couldn’t help but think that once again I was on the crappy end of the statistics. But then again, this expert was literally telling me that he would bet the house and the farm that I would get my voice back. You don’t hear those words from a doctor very often! It was just the question of how long it would take, likely six to eight weeks he said, and that only then would we talk about the next step for treating the thyroid cancer. As frustrating as it was, what else could I do but just wait it out?

Thus began a very interesting four months. That’s right, six to eight weeks turned into four months. After recovering from the surgery itself, I had to learn to survive with limited verbal communication skills and I learned just how much I missed what was gone. Husband, baby and dog learned to respond to claps, whistles and “pssst.” Dunkin’ Donuts orders were written down. I gave up trying to talk on the phone after someone hung up on me thinking no one was there. I had other people talk for me in meetings at work. I avoided restaurants or other public places that had a din I couldn’t talk over. It was very isolating and I found I really missed small talk: meaningless greetings or comments about the weather. I basically thought about what I wanted to say and if it was worth the effort to actually try and say it. Every word had worth to me and most of them were saved for my daughter. It was hard to miss four months of being an active, verbal part of her world. I couldn’t sing her songs or read her books. I couldn’t teach her animal sounds or make funny noises. I couldn’t sing Happy Birthday to her when she turned one. She was just at the age to take all those things in and it was frustrating to not be able to share them with her.

When my voice finally started to come back over the course of a week, each day it got a little stronger for a longer period of time; I was excited to put this part of my journey behind me. I rejoiced that I would be able to call my dog inside, answer a question that my husband would ask from another room (he never was quite able to drop that habit!) and know that I could yell for help if I needed to. I realized that yes, I had been on the crappy end of statistics again, but I was lucky that this had been temporary and that what was gone I had the good fortune to get back. I still had cancer to deal with, but I definitely took a moment to appreciate the victory. Singing The ABC song never felt so good. ∆

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