Seven Days of Silence and What It Taught Me

Have you ever imagined what it might be like if you couldn’t speak?  I mean literally not speak. Well, it happened to me – voted the 8th grade Class Chatterbox - who never stopped talking, voice acting, and singing.  I simply over did it. 
It started at a gig this fall, where I found myself dropping my keys so low that I felt like a baritone.   Next, I began sounding hoarse after long conversations.  Concerned, I went to an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor) who told me that I had damaged my vocal chords, and that he strongly recommended seven days of “vocal rest” to begin to heal. 
He said the good new was that I did NOT have nodes.  The bad news was that I was on my way there and needed to take immediate action if I wanted to heal the damage.   I continued to answer his questions, realizing that each word was adding to the damage.  By the time I got to my car, I decided that no matter what was on my calendar, I had no time to lose.
Not speaking for a week is a bit more complicated than I thought.  I ran into neighbors on my way home and pointed to my throat, explaining I couldn’t speak.  They assumed I was sick, and they stepped back from me.  Then I emailed my friends, family and clients explaining my situation.  The important people now understood my situation I thought, relieved. 
Then the phone rang.   Uh-oh.  If I had the caller’s email, it was ok.  But sometimes, I didn’t.  They would just have to wait.  If I had to make calls, I tried emailing instead.  If that didn’t work, those to-dos just had to wait, too.
I was surprised by how many interactions with strangers require speaking.  Smiling and nodding aren’t enough if you don’t want to be rude.  For example, checking out at the grocery store, the cashier wants to know, “paper or plastic?”  And, “Did you find everything you needed?”.  In my apartment building, people asked me how I was doing.  So I made a sign that I carried with me wherever I went to let people know that I was “On Vocal Rest.  Doctor’s Orders.”   
Some reactions to that sign were bazaar.  For example, I went to the dry cleaner and showed him my sign.   I then gave him my ticket and dropped off the clothes I needed cleaned.   He was very nice and very sympathetic.  I typed my questions or instructions on my phone for him to read.  He was so sympathetic that he wrote down his responses for me to read.  I can hear, I typed; I’m just resting my voice. We both laughed (me, silently), and I went on to the rest of my errands that day with similar results.
I have a friend who is a psychiatric nurse who, it turns out, is a fantastic lip reader.  I went to her house for coffee and had an actual conversation with her without saying a word.  I felt reconnected with the world. 
With each passing day that week, I became increasingly efficient.  By the time I went to the bank, I had my system down pat.  First I flashed my vocal rest sign, hoping nobody would think I was robbing the bank.  Then I passed a paper under the teller’s window with a typed list of everything I wanted to do and what questions I needed answered.  The teller smiled and told me how efficient I was.  I smiled back, and kept smiling all the way home.
The smile left my face when I ran into a neighbor who wanted to talk to me.  I showed him my vocal rest sign, and he looked at me like with the disgust that some unenlightened souls reserve for those who have any medical or physical challenge.  We rode the elevator together while he asked several questions that required much more than a yes or no answer.  In the interest of time, I tried mouthing the words, hoping he, too, could lip read.  Instead, he put his head down and placed his ear next to my mouth, thinking that he could capture sounds I was not uttering.  “Idiot!”  I thought, but couldn’t say.
To get through that week, I told myself that rather than get frustrated, I would write a blog about the experience.  What drove me crazy became funny – material that I can share with you now I have distance and my voice is back.
On the day after I ended my vocal rest, I recorded eight voiceovers for a TV campaign that uses my voice.  It felt so wonderful to be back at work.
It is said that silence is golden.   But having a voice – and the vocal power of self-expression – is invaluable.  On the mend, I am learning to use my voice wisely, and I am profoundly grateful. 

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