Today was going to be one of the happiest days of my life. Almost one year ago, my speaking voice began to fade as the undiagnosed cancer in my lungs destroyed the nerve connection between my brain and my left vocal cord, leaving the cord paralyzed. For one year I have only been able to speak in a very soft voice. It has been an effort to talk, talking enormous amounts of energy to get not just the words across, but what the words mean. It has been an endless struggle to order a latte at Starbucks, be heard in a noisy room, talk on the phone to doctors, physical therapists, my insurance company, the telephone repair service, simple conversations made difficult because people could barely hear me or my hoarse voice made me sound like an old woman, or if I pushed my voice when it was almost gone, people thought I was angry when I wasn’t.
Today I had an appointment with one of the best laryngologists in Southern CA, recommended by my voice coach. This doctor, I had been told, had worked for years with singers. It was a simple and common procedure, really. He was going to inject a gel into the left cord and push it toward the midline. I’d seen a video of this procedure and read about it for months on the Internet.
However, the doctor, even the one or two times he was able to get the needle through my larynx, could not get it into my vocal cord. He could not get even close to my cord. It was a nightmare of trying to breathe calmly, trying not to gag, trying to figure out if he was there yet and if I could hang on for the ten seconds he said it took to inject the cord. I’m almost afraid to go to sleep tonight for fear of dreaming I’m in that chair again. At one point, tears were literally running down my face.
After repeatedly trying to push in the needle for an hour, from every possible angle, he gave up and said I’d have to have this procedure done under general anesthesia in the hospital. First, he said he’d try to go in through the mouth, which is the only way I’d ever seen the procedure done. But he couldn’t find a curved needle in his office (and apparently none of his colleagues had one either). So, he said, “That’s it, you’re too beat up, we have to do this in the hospital.”
This doctor is not a preferred provider on my insurance plan, and my out-of-pocket and deductable start all over again January 1. He is not sure he can get me scheduled before then, and I have to talk soon because I have gotten my teaching job back at UC Irvine and must be able to lecture by January 4th.
I was not expecting this, not in one million years. I was going to walk out of his office with my voice restored, a bit hoarse for the first three days or so, but able to talk and sing at last. I had joyfully told my friends with whom I was going to spend Christmas that I would finally be able to speak normally again, that I might even be able to sing some Christmas carols.
I Wish I Had a River
I miss singing terribly. Last Christmas I couldn’t sing at all, not one song. I have been remembering only two years ago how I walked down the street the night of the San Juan Capistrano Christmas party and Joni Mitchell’s I Wish I Had a River came wafting out of a store and I just picked up the chorus, “I wish I had a river so wide, I could teach my feet to fly,” my voice soaring to the highest note. I used to take singing beautifully for granted. It was just there, all the time, this beautiful voice.
Have I Been Failed or Have I Failed?
The worst part about today, other than the pain I’m in, which feels like the worst sore throat I’ve ever had, is feeling like God let me down and I don’t know why. Either that, or I have somehow failed the forces that guide my destiny. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken the job at UCI. Maybe I just should have lived on faith and high insurance premiums, letting it all go to write my book. Maybe I’ve done something terribly wrong in my life.
On the other side is the realization that nothing has been simple for me lately. I go into the hospital to get my gallbladder out and am supposed to go home the next day. My temperature shoots up to 102.6 degrees and an X-ray shows what might be pneumonia developing in my left lung. My temp went down and pneumonia did not develop, but I was stuck there for four days instead of 1 ½, feeling really pathetic because the person who was supposed to bring me home with him and take care of me had to leave town before they released me.
My sister and my dear friends have encouraged me with the bravest and most realistic words they can. One friend said, “We are women. Many times no one comes to our rescue. But we are strong and can get it done, whenever and however we have to.” When I asked another friend how he got through hard times, told me about having his hips replaced twice and how he just lived one day at a time, doing what needed to be done. My beloved sister said, “You’re strong, you can do this. You can do anything. Take the weight of the world off your shoulders. Relax tonight, and take it one step at a time.” Another buddy who always has a joke and encouraging word waiting for me in my email inbox, said, “BE THANKFUL … You’re a TOUGH OL’ BIRD!! … That’s how yur a gettin’ thru all dis stuff in da 1st place!! .. Huh?”
I really wish I could get strong and make some plans instead of feeling knocked down to the ground all the time. But maybe there are times in our lives when making plans is not our job. Maybe what all these challenges are about is living in the moment, just riding that wild horse and somehow staying on its back. Maybe there isn’t even a destination, just a journey.
I Can’t Be the Only One
Part of me feels abandoned, undone, unworthy, undeserving of good luck or good times, afraid all this stress will make me sick again. I know that part is nonsense. I am deserving of every loving thing the Universe has to offer. I am loved and watched over. I am not abandoned. As my great grandmother used to say, “Tell that Devil he is a liar!!”
I have to keep writing because I know I’m not the only one out there who feels this way, who feels they do not understand why things seem so hard. I’ve got to keep the faith, I’ve got to keep being that woman with courage in her heart. And I’ve got to surrender.
A couple of days ago I wrote a blog about how worry is the most useless emotion. Boy, don’t commit yourself to paper unless you mean it, because you will be tested. That’s what we writers do, we take a stand, we go out on a limb. We dare to imagine that we are children of the Universe. We say, “I will not give up.” We pick up our courage off the ground, dust it off, and sling it around our shoulders once more. Then we hold our hands up high until we feel God’s hands in ours.