Two years ago today, I had thyroid surgery to remove the remaining portion of my thyroid due to the growth of large nodules. There were no complications when I had the first surgery three years prior to this. I had no reason to think things would be any different this time. However, this was not the case.
The main risk of having this type of surgery is paralysis of the vocal cords, as the thyroid gland pretty much sits on top of the cords. During surgery, alarms are placed on the cords that go off if the surgeon even gets close to them. I remember waking up in the recovery room afterward, with the surgeon by my bedside, prompting me to talk to him immediately upon waking. When I spoke a few words, he became so relieved, as he then proceeded to tell me that there had been a nodule that was stuck in my left vocal cord and he had had to touch the cord to get the nodule out. He had been so worried that my cord would be paralyzed. Upon hearing my voice, he pretty much said, “Phew! If you're talking now, you should be fine! Three days later, my voice started to go hoarse, and then basically disappeared.
I waited a few days and with no improvement, went to see the surgeon. He walked into the examining room and said hello, and with my “hello”, stopped in his tracks. He put a scope down my nose and looked at the cords, but he already knew the outcome. My left vocal cord was paralyzed, just as he had feared from the beginning. I had a voice for those three days only because of the swelling from the surgery, which allowed the cords to touch, hence giving me a voice. Once the swelling went down, the left cord moved away from the right side and since they no longer touched when I talked, I no longer had much of a voice. He tried to be a bit nonchalant as he continued to talk to me, telling me that he has seen people recover from this situation, but it could take all the way up to a year. And he then said, “And sometimes the cord remains paralyzed. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.” I sat there, and even if I could speak out loud, I wouldn't have known what to say. So, stunned silence it was. I left the office in tears, and just couldn't grasp the fact that I no longer had a voice. And for how long??
All I basically had was a whisper. No one could hear me unless I was standing right next to them and even with that, you really had to listen. There was no talking on the phone, no going through any drive-thru's; no conversations. Over the next few weeks, I became so frustrated, so angry. To make things worse, my mother (who lives with us) was already hard of hearing, and with my “new” voice, she couldn't hear anything I said. The only person it made no difference to was Derek, my son. He was deaf and communicates with basic sign language. People would try to make me feel better and say, “Well at least you know sign language and can still communicate!” Well, guess what? Most people DON”T KNOW sign language! If we went to a restaurant, I had to have someone else order for me. In a crowd of people, I felt alone, isolated. In the evenings, I would crave conversation with Bob, but he wouldn't even allow me to try to talk for fear of making it worse. He found me a little device, an amplifier that had a headpiece with a microphone attached, that we bought online and it actually helped a little bit. I would wear it around my waist, with my headpiece on and the mic right in front of my mouth. I could control the volume and could turn it up or down as much as I needed. So this amplified my whisper of a voice and made things a little better. I felt like a tour guide at Disney World. Except my world was not the happiest place on earth!
Six months after the surgery, there was still no improvement. The surgeon recommended that I go have a procedure done that would give me back my voice. He made it sound like no big deal, so I scheduled it and became excited thinking I would finally be able to talk again! Well, it didn't take long for that experience to become a nightmare for me as well. This is what was supposed to happen: a scope would be placed through my nose with a camera on the end so the doctor could see the vocal cords; then a needle would be inserted into my neck, where an injection of a collagen-type substance would be placed next to the left vocal cord, which would then push the cord over to meet the right vocal cord and upon them touching, voila! I would have a voice. That's basically how my doctor explained it. So, the doctor came into the room, and it seems he forgot to bring his good bedside manner. He picked up a needle of anesthesia,stuck it into my neck to numb the area, and as soon as he finished with that injection, he turned around and picked up the other LARGE needle and proceeded to plunge it into my neck before waiting for the anesthetic to take effect. All the while, I had a scope down my nose while I was sitting on the table with a needle in my neck, and he's saying “Don't move!” and I'm just sitting there wanting to scream from the pain and kick him where it hurts. So, he finally removes the needle from my neck, and the scope from my nose, and I sit there and half a minute later, everything goes dim and the room starts to spin. Yep, I was passing out! And do you know what that doctor did? He comes over, looks at me and says, “oh, she's just having a vaso-vagal attack”, turns his back and walks out the door. He left the other doctor and nurse in the room with me, and he never even came back to see how I was!
Not only was this procedure a nightmare, it also didn't work like it was supposed. I did have more of a voice, but it was a hoarse voice. It sounded like I was sick with a bad cold. Now people would say, “oh boy, you sound terrible! I guess you got that sickness that's going around! Feel better!” I got tired of trying to explain, so I would just say, “yeah, thanks.”
Right around the one-year anniversary of the surgery, my voice started to sound like my own again. I had a follow-up visit with my surgeon, who was happy to hear my voice. I knew it had finally healed and as he scoped me, he got very quiet. He then told me the cord was still paralyzed. Apparently I was only speaking because of the procedure. At this point, I knew I had to let go of worrying about my voice. It is what it is, and at least for now, I sound like my old self.
So, what did this experience teach me? What did I gain during this fiery trial? Let me tell you, I did have it out with God quite a few times during that year. I cried a countless amount of tears; my frustration level hit all time highs. My anger sometimes got the best of me. But all the while, God showed me He was with me. He let me yell, let me rant and rave. And still He loved me. He used His people to minister to me. Friends, family, church family. I bet many of them don't even know how He used them. That they were instruments in showing me that I could get through this. That He didn't forsake me. And most of all, I thank my husband and my daughter. They were my strongholds when I couldn't stand any more. When I couldn't take one more minute of frustration and anger. I thank God for everyone who helped me survive this ordeal.
I don't know how long my voice will last. The collagen substance isn't a permanent fix. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm talking. I have a voice, for now at least. There's no point in giving any more thought on the matter.
I will say this: appreciate your voice. Like all things we have in our lives: we don't miss something until it's gone. You might be wondering what does “Uh Oh” have to do with anything? Well, if you can say uh-oh, its only because your vocal cords are working. I had speech therapy at first, and the therapist tried to get me to say uh-oh. And I couldn't do it. And boy, did I want to say it!! So, one of the first things I spoke out loud after that terrible injection, was “uh-oh”. And what a beautiful,hoarse sound it was. Go ahead, say it. And appreciate the sound of your voice today!