Finding My Voice

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

By now, you know the story of my ruptured brain aneurysm. I nearly died. I also lost four months to hospitalization and rehabilitation. I have a new outlook on life and confidence in Speech_bubblemyself. And I also have a new voice. It’s softer and raspier, not quite what I’d call sexy, especially at the end of the day.

Upon my arrival at the hospital, I was intubated to facilitate my breathing. I had a trach the entire month I was hospitalized in Columbia, and I kept the trach in as I was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for rehabilitation. The first week, I apparently coughed out my trach, and the decision was made to leave it out. Until I started making funny sounds called stridor, and they called in an ENT doc. He was able to determine that my vocal cord had scar tissue, and he scheduled surgery to remove.

It was a painful surgery. When I woke up and for days after, it felt like someone had taken a weed eater to my throat. He inserted another trach, which was larger than the first one. It tickled the back of my throat and pretty much constantly triggered my gag/cough reflex. Seems like I was always either coughing or vomiting, or a combination of both.

My trach was removed in late June, right before I came back to Columbia. I was glad because he originally said I would have it in when I came home. The result was a voice that wasn’t much louder than a whisper. I worked with a speech therapist at Pathways, but my voice was still quiet when we got back to Columbia.

Pathways recommended that I continue speech therapy in Columbia. It took us a while to find one who worked with adults, but we finally did. She had me working to speak in “confidential voice” to reduce the stress on my healing vocal cords. Last week, she and I went to an ENT, who did a procedure to examine my vocal cords. (Another tube down the nose – UGH!)

The ENT detected some nerve damage in my vocal cords. She said it was either damaged by the aneurysm or during the intubation. She made some recommendations to my speech therapist and said that I should have a fuller voice within a year… A year? I was hoping that she’d say something sooner.

For now, I am avoiding situations that require me to talk a lot (which is hard as I have a lot to say!) and/or loudly. Restaurants are hard for me because my voice is so soft that it’s hard to be heard. The phone is hard for me; it’s harder to control my breath when I’m talking on the phone, and I end up sounding choppy.

My speech therapist gave me exercises to do twice daily, exercises that strengthen the vocal cords. I’m also practicing breathing through my diaphragm. There is a great app available only in the Apple Store, so I bit the bullet and bought an iPad. It makes it a lot easier to do my exercises.

I started this post a few weeks ago. Thankfully, I’ve made some progress since starting it. My voice isn’t what it used to be, and it’s far from perfect, but progress nonetheless. And that is a good thing.

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