“I wish there was some quick fix I could offer you ….” I’ve already guessed that there wouldn’t be.
We’re in Birmingham, at the Last Chance Saloon for voice ops. The consultant is affable, asks questions and takes plenty of notes. Then a squirt of something numbing up my right nostril and the camera’s on its way. I make various sounds, which cause the vocal cords to move in particular ways. When he plays the recording back I can see that the edge of the damaged cord is not straight when it meets its more mobile neighbour – there’s a slight bulge. This means that the cords do not completely close, resulting in a croaky/rasping/breathy (take your pick) sound. The bulge is the result of too much stuff having been injected. No one’s fault. Trauma during the procedure causes the cord to swell, so it’s nigh on impossible to predict where it will end up once the swelling has gone down.
There is only one surgical option – to undergo a difficult and risky operation (under a general anaesthetic) to try and REMOVE (yes – that’s right) some of the filling from my paralysed vocal cord. There are no guarantees and it could make things worse. I liken this to wobbly table syndrome; one leg is longer than the others so you take a bit off. Chances are it’ll end up being shorter than the rest.
It’s all about chance.
My current reading is a Louis L’Amour novel – an old fashioned shoot’em up western. The hero, a laconic loner is ‘a philosophisin’ on his predicament – surrounded by four baddies and nowhere to run. All Louis L’Amour heroes tend to philosophise on their particular predicaments in the same way – by reference to games of chance. Usually involving cards. So there’s talk of percentages, knowing the odds and so on. The hero only makes his move when he’s run the various scenarios through his head, skilfully predicting which way his opponents are going to react. If only life were that simple.
With a bit of nudging, my predicament could be likened to a game of cards. Do I take a chance and hope that an operation to remove some of the filling does not make things worse, or do I quit and live with what I have?
Where the analogy with games of chance falls down is that there are no percentages for this situation. A deck of 52 cards can only be dealt a finite number of ways; a lot mind you, but a calculable number none the less. Whilst there are only three outcomes for this new voice operation – it makes it better, it makes it worse or it stays the same – they’re not equally likely. Indeed, they’re not quantifiable in any way whatsoever.
We can probably discount one of the outcomes; I think it reasonable to assume that another operation is very unlikely to leave things as they were before. So we’re left with 2 outcomes – it’ll either make it better or it’ll make it worse. But it’s still not going to be 50:50. I can’t just toss a coin and say heads we do it, tails we don’t.
By the way – if you’re wondering what happened to the hero in the book – he’s rescued when one of the baddies turns out to be distant kin. The odds have now changed from 1 against 4 to 2 against 3. There’s a standoff while calculations are made as to how many of the bad guys will get shot if they attempt to shoot the good guys. Having done the sums to the satisfaction of all parties, the bad guys decide not to risk it and ride away.
And so to my own standoff. The consultant lays his cards on the table; “I always tell singers who have paralysed vocal cords that it’s unlikely they’ll sing again”. But he’s willing to do the procedure to try and remove some of the filling if I wish. There’s a lot to consider – he needs more information from Mr ENT in MK and I need to think about the risks. He’ll leave it to me to decide.
“It’s your call, stranger – raise or fold”.