I often wonder how Julie Andrews truly felt when she discovered she could no longer sing, especially since she’d entrusted her exquisite voice to a surgeon and the end result became the unthinkable. Did she cry? Throw things? Wish she could scream bloody murder only to realize a croak would have to suffice instead of the long wail? Did depression cloak her, or deep inside was she able to live what she showed to the outside world? She is the consummate professional—her attitude toward the outcome of her life in seemingly good balance.
I am not Julie Andrews.
On any level.
A passion for singing.
For weeks I have struggled with how to relate my situation to those interested reading about my hum-drum little life. Well, not weeks, actually months. I stated in an earlier blog there were health issues I’m dealing with, some not so great moments in the annals of living life to the fullest. To put us into today, we have to take a few steps back to several years ago and continual diagnoses which tipped my world on it’s ear … or upside down in my case since I have vertigo and often I find myself hanging onto the bed so I don’t fall off while thinking I’m twirling on the ceiling. Life’s ups and downs take on new meaning in my house.
Some of you know I am a singer. It has been my passion since I was 15. I’ll write a blog one day about my life singing, the highs and lows, and some of the personal experiences I’ve had while doing what I truly loved. I’ve often thought about writing a short story about my life in a certain choir and one day may take people on the journey of The Disenchanted Diva. But I digress.
Two years ago I developed a hacking cough, dry, irritating … constant. My personal thought at that time was that I was exposed to an unknown environmental situation since one day I was fine and the next day all hell broke lose in my body. To this day I still think I was exposed to something toxic which triggered the decline of my health due to it attacking what was already vulnerable in my body. No time to find out what was wrong since I was in the midst of one of the busiest times of the year at work, plus no health insurance. But I have a limited background in the medical field so I did what I do best and what many out there do best, what I call prairie medicine. You know the kind of stuff your grandmother used, or at least my grandmother used.
I did finally go to the doctor when my voice consistently sounded strangled, I couldn’t walk without gasping, and my heart rate soared through the roof. Even I know when to cry uncle.
The result of that visit began a long journey into the wasteland of medical opinion. By the time I got to the doctor I couldn’t speak from the gasping and loss of my voice. Two series of cortisone treatments, massive doses of high-powered antibiotics, an inhaler, and a month in forced silence somewhat restored my voice. A late night call from the doctor after a chest x-ray ruled out pneumonia … confirmed other things, possibly a strangled aorta. Okay, give me a minute to digest the info and I’ll get back to you, doc. I will admit fear freely flowed through me, shutting off logical thought, sending my head into overdrive, all while trying to stuff the emotions deep inside me so I could cope with life.
I still had to work. Now I got to purchase a C.A.T scan view of the lungs, heart, etc., etc. Let me stop here and let you know money to me is relative. I have never really desired riches, but money does aid you when you need something important like that test. Although, if a record deal had come my way I wouldn’t have refused the cash.
The scan confirmed C.O.P.D. and a funky ventricle in the heart, plus a few other issues I’ve still not had a good diagnosis on. What the scan also showed was the goiter on my thyroid, once almost infinitesimal, now growing and displacing my trachea. Huh, well that explained the pain I experienced as I watched my neck changing shape. Oh and by the way it’s going to take a long time to recover from this trauma to your system. Way to go, doc. Think you could learn a better bedside manner?
On to the throat specialist/surgeon. The only good report to come out of that visit was that my vocal folds were in great shape. No scarring. No nodes. My years of training and learning to sing properly had paid off. What was shared with me after I was poked, prodded, lump measured, inspection of vocal folds, still upsets me. First, the surgeon told me he didn’t do the type of surgery I needed. Huh? You couldn’t have told me this over the phone weeks ago and I’m now wasting my time and his on something that’s going no where. But wait … more joy to share. I told him I sang. His response to me was this: You will never sing again. Joy. Rapture. Tell me more wonderful news. He told me: In fact, after the surgery you will probably lose your voice altogether and it will never return. How I stayed upright in the examination chair still remains a mystery as my head spun off my body.
Do you have insurance? No. Now the words you don’t expect to hear from a doctor: How the hell are you going to pay for this? His actual words. I gathered the silence around me and told him I would figure it out. What I really wanted to do was shove every pointy instrument into his eyes and say whoops, guess you lost your eyesight, hope you can find something else to do with your down time. The final cherry on top of the stupendous sundae was I got to pay his outrageous fee for the consultation. I should have stopped payment on the check. I should have kicked him in the balls and said deal with it. Needless to say at this point I wasn’t hip to surgery.
Fast forward to this year. Another health crisis to deal with. Another blog which may not make it to the page. Still no insurance. This time a new clinic had a nurse practitioner who decided to become my health advocate since so many things were happening. Months into the process we could finally address the growth in my neck. The ear/nose/throat specialist fed a camera through my nose to my vocal folds and thoroughly inspected them. Good news. Despite the continuing hoarseness, totally losing the voice, the folds were in excellent condition. He ordered an ultrasound, which I had.
The results were in. My nurse gave me the news. Lots of cysts. Okay, that wasn’t bad news. She looked at me with a different expression on her face: The large nodule has great blood supply to it. My breathing deepened as she watched my face. Okay, so it’s a tumor type thing nodule. She nodded, never forced me to answer, then: What do you want to do? My father had thyroid cancer. Had survived thyroid cancer. The nodule rapidly growing in my throat held the possibility of either being benign or cancerous. Something always in the back of my mind, something to deal with in the here and now. Go ahead and order the biopsy. Are you okay? Yes. Can we increase the dosage on the anxiety medication? She smiled and said we could up it as much as needed. I’m not sure I felt brave, in fact, I’m not sure what I felt except the thing growing in my neck like an alien being waiting to burst forth. Hey, could it suture the wound when it left so I didn’t have to pay for surgery?
I was brave when I told my mother. Maybe not brave but a little shell-shocked which took the edge off delivering bad news. I do remember going to bed, crawling into a fetal position, putting my arms around myself and rocking since there wasn’t anyone to do that for me. All I wanted was to put my head in someone’s lap who cared and let them stroke my head and tell me it would be all right. I told myself it would be all right. I prayed a lot. I cried a lot. I dealt with the news.
The biopsy was this week. For the past several years I have been working on facing fear head on. Fear is debilitating. Fear is that nasty demon which wraps its tentacles around you and doesn’t let go. Fear is that thing which reminds us we have no hope. Fear is mistaken for it doesn’t recognize there is a more powerful person in my life—God. And through God all things are possible.
When combing my hair before leaving for the appointment, I had a sudden attack of panic. I felt what the fear was doing in my body, that fight or flight scenario where you feel like passing out, your limbs go cold because blood is rushing to your organs to save you, and you gasp for air like a dying fish. I looked in the mirror to see a grayed replica of me staring back. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
My sister convinced me to take her with me to the appointment stating I didn’t have to be the big girl and bear the news alone. After the biopsy she told me I looked ragged. Yeah, we don’t spare each other at times, and really what did she expect after 45 minutes with needles being stuck in your neck? I felt ragged, and as the day unwound so did the anxiety level, which left me exhausted, a reminder why none of us is built to live in constant stress.
Now I wait for the news of my biopsy. For the next appointment with the specialist to give me the word, whatever that would will be. I say the word cancer to offset the shock of hearing the bad news. Possibly not the best thing but I’d rather be prepared than be in a fantasy state and fall to pieces. My idea is plan for the worst, accept the good news when it comes.
Life is so uncertain at times. Through the situations in my life I’ve learned to trust God more, to give Him the problems to deal with and try not to take them back. That’s the key, not taking the problems back, but learning to lean on His understanding even when it is foreign to us.
I pray I don’t have cancer. I pray the lump in my throat will someday disappear, and if it doesn’t I pray that the right surgeon will be there when I need him.
Everything has a season, and as we travel through each cycle we learn more about the season we are living through and our place in it and are allowed to cherish the experiences those seasons have to offer. To not acknowledge the dismal season in favor of a brighter one does us a disservice. We don’t grow, but remain static. We become weak. Our roots don’t take hold in fertile soil and grow deep enough to withstand the onslaught of life’s storms.
I want to be brave. I am a warrior. And one day I hope to sing again.
Ta and peace,