“So – how are things?” I explain that I can now speak without running out of breath – and that I can even sing (a bit). “And you couldn’t sing before, ha ha. Isn’t that what they say?” I shoot Annie a look which says ‘later’.
He numbs the back of my throat and inserts the camera. I do the usual “EEEEs” and he seems quite pleased. “It’ll never close perfectly – there will always be a small gap – but it’s much better this time”. I ask about the inconsistency – some times it seems quite strong – while at other times it all but disappears. He explains that the voice box has suffered trauma – “so it’s not surprising it sounds strained”.
He’ll refer me to Speech Therapy – “you need the whole package”. He won’t see me again as a matter of routine. As I’m putting on my coat I mention that the anaesthetist must have increased the dose of sedative because I had no idea what he did this time. He smiles; “that’s just as well”. And that’s it. We shake hands – I thank him and we leave.
As we walk back to the car I say to Annie “he made a joke – he actually made a joke”. It’s been about 18 months since I first met him and finally I see the person. Annie asks if I’m happy. Yes I’m happy – it’ll never be the same as it was, but it’s much better. And we have speech therapy to look forward to.
After about an hour the numbness at the back of my throat wears off and my voice is clear as a bell. I get all the way through Get Back – and in the right key (Am¹). Yesterday I couldn’t even manage a careless whisper. A night time visit from the Gods of Arrhythmia leaves me with an Achy Breaky Heart and a Wheezy, Un-easy voice. It’s clear I’m going to have to get used to the foibles of this new vocal cord and cut it some slack.
A couple of people have mentioned that my voice is different from the previous version and from the original. I notice that too. A quick glance at the consent form shows ‘change in voice’ as a side effect of the procedure. The resonance that a few people had previously noticed has gone. My one party trick – an ability to make humorous non-voice box sounds² – has also gone. This is no big deal – it was of limited value and appeal.
My new voice is not as low as the previous version; witness Get Back now back in its original key. Prior to Mr ENT’s latest injections any attempts at this song were always in Em. And phone calls are a bit easier – Chris (from Fat Freddy) phones to check me out and my friend Jenny is surprised when we speak; “You sound so strong”.
But without some form of amplification the sound is ‘thinner’ – perhaps wispier – a bit like the Paul Whitehouse character in The Fast Show who always prefaced each sketch with a wheezy “… ‘ardest game in the world mate”. Or an affronted Peter Kay huffing and puffing –“How dare you. How dare you”. Apologies to those for whom these references are meaningless. I will record a message on my answerphone in this style and you can call and hear for yourself.
So having had three procedures – and probably my lot as far as Mr ENT is concerned – this is it. No one walks away from cancer treatment – whether it be surgical, chemical or radiation – or a mix of all three – without some sort of permanent reminder of the process. I can walk, I can talk and I can smell the coffee.
The new voice is not perfect but I’ll take ‘thinner/wispier’ and an ability to recite “Mary had a little lamb, it’s fleece was white as snow and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go … and still have a few words left over before finally running (gasp) out of (gasp) breath” – over resonance, a party trick and “Mary had a little (gasp)…” any day.