816 Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: From talker to soft talker to no talker

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“Susan, I think you talk just to hear your own voice,” my mother often said when I was growing up. She was right, sometimes I did just babble to hear my own voice.

Over time, Little Chatty Susan learned to appreciate the give and take of conversation. “Do you have to talk to everyone?” my husband has asked for years. Yes! I have met really interesting people over small talk in the most ordinary places. I guess you could say that mindless chatter has been my jam.

Until recently.

Over Christmas I had a respiratory virus — stuffy head, earache and a very sore throat. Whenever I get this version of sick, I lose my voice for a few days. In the time-honored tradition of family “support,” they always rallied against me.

“Yay! She can’t talk! Speak-up Soft Talker!”

And I would smile.

That’s what happened this time. Joke. Smile. When Bekah came down with similar symptoms a few days after I did, I told her to take one for the team and get a strep swab.

“It’s negative,” our beloved family doctor said. She went on to explain that she had seen a lot of folks who felt like us, and that whatever we had was probably viral. We had to wait it out.

So we waited. Within a few days we were feeling better … but my voice was worse. A raspy, croaking whisper was replaced by blowing air that sort of sounded like words if I spoke into someone’s ear.

My complete lack of volume required me go into the doctor’s office with a note in hand, to get a second appointment. I repeated that move days later when the antibiotic I had been prescribed did nothing.

I have no voice, it read, would you please make an appointment for me with an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor?

I felt fine, I just couldn’t tell people that. I communicated via a small notebook entitled, “Susan’s Very Important Notebook V.1.” The first page was FAQs:

Yes, my husband thinks it’s very funny.

I feel fine.

If I learned sign language, would you be able to understand me?

A week later, as the ENT was removing the camera that she had threaded up my nose and down my throat, she made a face. The face that says, “The next few minutes are going to suck.”

“You have a paralyzed vocal cord.”

Not a slow, frozen, cramped, stalled or wonky vocal cord … a PARALYZED vocal cord.

My jam was jammed.

I added a few more answers to my FAQ:

No, I didn’t break it from overuse.

Yes, I heard that joke before. I’m smiling on the inside.

Yes, not being heard is pretty miserable.

I can’t podcast right now, but my co-host, Beckett, is working on some things until I can.

An MRI showed no reason for this and medicine may not be able to tell me why. But why doesn’t seem so important now. Getting it back is.

Voice therapy won’t fix the vocal cord, but it is teaching me some tricks so that I can be heard well for short periods of time. There are medical options, later, if it doesn’t spontaneously self-correct.

My family’s jokes have lessened, although they still shout for me from another room and act surprised when I don’t answer.

For now I have to rest what little voice I have. I’ve become stingy with my words; I’m learning to shut up. This is something new for me.

I used to be a talker of the highest order, but this silence? I think it’s turning me into a better listener.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.