Laryngitis and sympathy
A few weeks ago I had a bout of laryngitis.
It's a funny thing, laryngitis; an excellent tool for making a person feel powerless. Something most of us ordinarily take for granted--the voice--mysteriously vanishes without a word of warning. Now you hear it, now you don't.
In this particular case, I woke up one morning (to be exact, I was awakened by a phone call), fumbled around for the receiver, and opened my mouth to say "hello," just as I had on so many other days of my life. But alas, this time no sound emerged. I tried again, to no effect. My voice had totally and utterly disappeared.
I've lost my voice perhaps five times in my life, invariably after a cold. The departure of the voice always comes as a surprise, because one of the odd things about laryngitis is that it usually cannot be felt at all. The sufferer (and that may be the wrong word, because laryngitis doesn't ordinarily involve any pain) opens his/her mouth, does whatever one usually do with the vocal cords to produce the sound known as a voice--an act that's second nature. But nothing emerges.
And it continues to be a surprise as long as the laryngitis lasts--both to the one who has it, and to those he/she encounters. If you happen to be someone who relies on your voice for a living--a teacher, for example, or an actor--laryngitis is serious. But to the rest of us it's not much more than a nuisance, something to weather and endure; it too shall pass.
In the meantime, it's even good for a laugh. Real laughter, of course, isn't possible with laryngitis; just a silent strained shaking or some sort of whistling wheeze.
This time my laryngitis had a unique feature. I discovered, while doing some housekeeping, that every time I bent over a small seal-like squeal would emerge involuntarily from my larynx, turning me into something akin to a dog's squeeze toy. I kept forgetting about the phenomenon, and then every time I'd bend over it would happen again, and my squeak sounded so absurd to me that it would start me laughing silently, which in turn seemed so absurd to me that it would make me laugh all the more in a helpless vicious cycle.
Going out in public garnered misplaced compassion from all I met. In the market, in a store--any time I had to encounter people and talk--I was the recipient of incredible concern. The more I tried to say my voice loss was really nothing, the more dreadful and noble I sounded, and the more concern they expressed, I've never gotten so much sympathy for so little effort.
It occurs to me that laryngitis would be the perfect illness for a hypochondriac: minimal pain, maximal concern from others. Also quite easily faked. Not that I'd ever do that, of course. Although now, as I'm recovering from a recent cold, I feel a certain something coming on....