I have recently been diagnosed with a vocal fold weakness. I noticed it because my voice began acting erratically in April and just wouldn’t “behave” no matter what I did. I sang at a benefit, two operetta pieces, and had almost no sound when I came in on A440.
I subsequently went to my good friend, Dr. Peak Woo, one of NYC’s best otolaryngologists, reporting to him that the left vocal fold was weak and not working properly. He looked at me with his super high speed camera and said, basically, “That’s right”. It is below the right fold, bowing a little and not really vibrating, instead making a kind of spastic shaking, at least in chest register and in chest mix in middle pitches. My high voice is unaffected and I can vocalize to F above high C. Go figure.
I was, at first, very depressed because all that can be done to help me is to have an injection in the fold, to prop it up and help it close and meet the other one. I don’t think it will help the vibratory issues. It’s risky, temporary, and not much fun to contemplate. The weakness could be from age (I’m 63), it could be from an old injury (I have twice burst blood vessels on this fold from coughing due to severe bronchitis, even while medicated), or it could be from the fact that the entire left side of my skull is 3/4″ longer and therefore droopier than the right side, indirectly effecting the larynx through the muscles of the throat and neck. We will never know.
I decided, however, to do whatever I can to see if I could help the folds work better. I started practicing right after the diagnosis. If you heard me practice, your eyebrows would raise. I sound scary, mostly on purpose. I know what I am doing, however, and I understand how far to go. I don’t tire myself out, I don’t get hoarse, and I am getting results. The noise which is quite prominent both in speech and in singing diminishes as I warm up and eventually goes away and stays away for quite some time after I stop. I can match pitch, control volume and keep the sound going, although with some slight constriction and an occasional unplanned glitsch. I don’t sound optimal (at least to myself) but I must be doing decently because I sang in June at my godson’s wedding and got several comments from complete strangers. They didn’t have a vested interest in telling me I sounded good so I accepted the complements as a way to validate that I’m not dead yet, vocally speaking.
I don’t know how long this phase of things will last or what will come next. I don’t know if I will continue to be able to teach and sing, but I will continue to try to do both. I don’t know how I will sound next week or next month. All I can do is keep practicing and keep a positive attitude.
I cannot imagine my life without being able to sing and sound good. I have been singing since I was 7, but I do know that life goes on, no matter what, and that I am first a human being and that isn’t going to “go away” until I’m in the ground. People face worse challenges every day and we can remember that the ones who strive to overcome sometimes are victorious.
I wanted to share this with those who read this blog regularly, because it might effect my point of view and my experiences and I thought I should be honest in case that shows up in what I write. From time to time I will keep you all posted to let you know how I’m doing.
When it goes, it goes, but as long as it hasn’t yet gone, I’m not giving up. I’m a tough old bird.