"How long do I have to not sing for, Doctor?"
"Two and a half weeks. And only light speaking for that time as well. I know it's going to be difficult for you. Will you be able to do this?"
"I'm going to do whatever you tell me to do, if it means at the end I have my voice back."
"Two and a half weeks, then. Absolutely no singing. Not even a little. You must be silent."
That's how my journey began ...
After six months of wondering why, in spite of everything I had tried - from steam and humidifiers, to lotions and potions, to good, old fashioned prayer - I still wasn't able to really sing, I got my answer last Friday. I went to see Dr. Bernard Tawfik (Ear, Nose & Throat specialist) and Marc Berlin (vocal specialist), who performed a stroboscopy and got to the bottom of things. Here's the diagnosis:
I have a "resolving hemorrhage" of my right vocal fold and my left vocal fold is swollen and "suggesting nodular behavior" although he was very quick to say I do not have any polyps, or nodes that need to give me concern, apart from the fact that they are there. Are you thinking What on earth does that mean?? Yep, so was I.
A vocal hemorrhage happens when a blood vessel in the vocal fold bursts and the blood leaks into the vocal fold. If you continue to use (or in my case overuse) your voice after the burst, the vocal fold doesn't have the opportunity to heal. Think of it like this: you fall down and land on your knee, causing a black & blue. That's the hemorrhage - the discoloration is coming from the blood vessels in your skin bursting and leaking blood into your skin, at your knee. Now, if you're careful when you walk and don't fall again, the bruise turns lighter (kind of yellowish) and then goes away. But if you keep falling and hitting your knee, the bruise doesn't heal. In fact, it can get worse. It's the same thing with your voice. If you use improper technique or overextend yourself, vocally - in a song, a performance or the run of a show - and continue to sing after you have injured yourself, the bruise doesn't get to heal, leaving you, well, pretty much exactly where I've been for the past six months. I am extremely lucky, though, because in continuing to sing (or at least trying to sing) I could have caused permanent scarring on the vocal fold, which would have changed my voice (at best) or potentially led to my not being able to sing at all (worst case scenario). The swelling and such in my left vocal fold is likely from overcompensating for her injured friend on the right side. The prognosis for my injury is excellent. They don't feel that I should have any trouble bouncing back from this, so long as I do exactly what they have prescribed: medication (steroids for a week to aid in healing) and SILENCE for the next three weeks. Then, when I do start to sing again, I will have to take it carefully and ease back into it. And they armed me with a wealth of information that I'm looking forward to passing on to my voice students, so that they can be better educated about their instruments.
So, in the end, it could have been much worse, but it's still not great. I'm going to keep a daily record, here, and I invite you all to come back tomorrow to check in. It's a rocky road, this singing business. But I feel like I've taken a big step in learning to navigate it.