I know about vocal damage. I have researched and consulted with voice specialists and doctors about it. And years ago I came close to losing my own voice -- permanently.
At a previous post on this blog with tips about recovering from laryngitis, I get many fearful comments from people worried their injured voice may never come back. So I decided to tell you the story of my own experience with serious vocal damage, and why I am such a believer in the ability of voices to heal.
NOTE: If you experience hoarseness or laryngitis for a length of time (Mayo Clinic suggests two weeks), you should go to a doctor to be assessed for the presence of cancer, spasmodic dysphonia or other serious disease. Don't take chances... get the bottom of any medically treatable underlying cause. Also, ruling serious illness out can give you the peace of mind to commit totally to your vocal retraining and complete healing.
My Story of Vocal HealingWhen my son was born around three decades ago in Memphis, Tn, I had very serious complications. My intestines had adhered, through scar tissue, to my uterus and the act of childbirth pulled my insides apart. They diagnose the cause as undiscovered Crohns' disease. It took three surgeon-angels, three major surgeries, three months in hospital and seven weeks in ICU to get me home, and then about two years and another surgery to physically heal. In the process, I was intubated on a ventilator for days at a time, several times. They told me later they would have done a tracheotomy had they realized I would be on the ventilator that long, but I got better just in time to avoid that procedure. (One less scar!) But the intubation for that long was extremely detrimental to my vocal cords. Some screaming I did for various reasons after they took the tubing out didn't help. In total, I lost an octave an a half of vocal range.
My brilliant surgeons through the grace and providence of God saved my life. But in the process, it looked like I had lost my voice. After I got the hospital and some healing time behind me, I asked my primary surgeon about my ailing voice. He looked down my throat and told me it was probably from permanent scar tissue on my vocal cords. I was lucky to be alive. But as a professional singer (staff jingle singer, member of nighclub band, background singer on records) looking at the end of my vocal career, I didn't feel lucky at all.
I became determined not to take that diagnosis for the final word. In my short stint in college, I had taken classical voice where I learned to pronounce and sing several of the '24 Italian Art Songs'. I got my book out and began to very lightly attempt some of the songs. Little by little, my head voice began to come back. It took two years, but I got almost all of my previous range back, from "F" below middle "C" to "Bb" just below high "C". From what I know now, exercising my head voice as opposed to my chest voice was exactly what I needed to do to limber up my stiff and puffy vocal cords and begin to create a middle (mixed) voice again.
About this time, my young family moved from Memphis to Nashville. I began to do studio vocals (session work), but was plagued with respiratory illnesses and had to work very hard for the extreme vocal control necessary for this line of work. I found out that several of the top session singers I worked with went regularly to professional vocal coach Gerald Arthur, so I also became his student. On a side note, I also began seeing alternative health practitioner Liz Flannigan, who changed my diet and got my excessive mucous and digestion issues under control. After all, it's hard to sing with walking pneumonia!
Gerald told me very early on that I needed to 'stop guarding' my voice. I was able to trust him enough to do that, and submit to his vocal exercises without holding back. Little by little, under Gerald's patient guidance and positive support, I was able to gain back my ease of vocal control and increase my range to 1/2 step higher than I'd ever had! Long story short, about three years later I had a recording deal, a #1 record and an ACM New Female Vocalist Award. A year after that when I opened for Reba at Mud Island in Memphis, one of my surgeons showed up at the show and surprised me with a dozen roses! What a success story for us all!
NowYears later, my journey led to my own career as vocal coach. I learned more intricately how the voice works, what affects it and how I could unlock others' voices. I found that my personal aquantence with vocal damage helped tremendously with diagnosing vocal injury and strain in my students. From seeing what worked for all kinds of voices, I developed "Power, Path and Performance" vocal training method. Funny thing, working with this method I gained 1& 1/2 steps of vocal range myself that I'd never had. I completely eliminated a vocal break I'd always had. My vocal control is better than ever, and my speaking voice never tires, even when teaching for hours a day. I'm singing live again, full band, my husband on drums.. and our little baby has grown into an amazing young man!
I tell you this story to encourage you, dear singers and speakers. Although prevention is always better than treatment, voices are rarely ever damaged beyond repair. With time and good healing strategies, injured voices can indeed recover. AND -- often in the process of re-training with better vocal technique and health habits, you can end up with a better voice than you ever had before. I know. I did it.
NOTE: If you schedule a surgical procedure and will have to be intubated for it, be sure and tell your anesthesiologist that you are a singer! Sometimes it's an emergency situation, but if possible to let them know beforehand, it can make a big difference in how careful they are when they the insert the thing.
Labels: "Power Path and Performance", damaged voices, Gerald Arthur, injured voices, Judy Rodman, laryngitis, singers, speakers, vocal coach, vocal damage, vocal exercises, vocal strain, vocal training