What happens when you hear these words from a medical doctor or a speech language pathologist? What then? Do you just accept them and go home? How does this up end your life?
There are all kinds of illnesses and vocal fold injuries that can compromise the vocal folds, some have to do with the vocal folds directly and some are caused by disease or surgery that has had a negative impact upon their function.
Many people do not realize that the vocal folds’ primary job is to protect the lungs from foreign objects. If you have ever accidently swallowed something and choked on it, you know that the body will do its best to get it out of your throat by gagging and coughing. You really can’t stop that from happening, even if you are in a quiet, elegant restaurant and you would like to control it! They may also not know that you need the folds to close to climb the stairs, to carry something heavy and even to defecate. If your vocal folds paralyze in an open position, you will have trouble with these activities and with making sound. If they stop moving in a more closed position, you will have also trouble breathing.
You can have conditions which impact the ability of the vocal folds to vibrate along their length and that affects the way we control pitch. If the edges are compromised, you can end up with a weak, breathy sound. If the nerves to the vocal folds are damaged, you can end up with little control over anything vocal. And, if you have one or more vocal folds removed by surgery, you can lose your ability to speak forever, even though you may have saved your life in the process, perhaps by having a cancerous growth removed.
Vocal fold illness and injury is a profoundly powerful scenario to encounter. If you have ever run into the any situation in which this awful experience arises, you will know how distressing it is. Not only to lose normal speech but to lose the ability to do other things is often devastating. While medical science is working to develop new treatments and protocols all the time, there is much that allopathic medicine still cannot do. There only a few limited options that an MD or an SLP can offer and after that, you are on your own.
It has been my experience, however, that singing training can be helpful, perhaps in a way that nothing else can, and it would be great to have some studies done to verify if this is indeed so. Coupled with a positive outlook, a desire to trust and encourage the body, a willingness to do almost any reasonable exercise, and some meditation or visualization, people who have an optimisn about their situation can go much further than we now suppose. The body can respond at a deeper level than we give it credit for and things are not always as bleak as people are told.
Someday the doctors and speech experts may be willing to work with the many tools that are available to a singing teacher with a broad range of experience and knowledge in helping someone return to full vocal function after it is diminished. Right now, the individual has to be lucky enough to find someone to help through referrals or sheer luck. If you are searching for someone like this to help you, don’t give up! There are people out there who do know how to do that. Keep looking until you find one.