Monday, June 12, 2006

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....


At 10:52 AM, June 12, 2006, Blogger goesh said...

"just a silent strained shaking or some sort of whistling wheeze" - you sure have a wonderful way with words. Here is hoping you get the ol' voice back fast, and ignore the many folk remedies that will be coming your way. A couple of stiff belts of top-shelf bourbon is about the best you can do for it...

At 6:38 PM, June 12, 2006, Blogger Joan said...

Could you whisper?

I had laryngitis briefly after one of my surgeries, because the laryngeal nerves had been shocked all to heck. They bounced back pretty quickly, but I'm sure I drove my poor husband crazy until I could talk again. Notes on a clipboard just don't cut it for real conversations!

Hope your voice returns soon!

At 8:50 PM, June 12, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Actually, my voice is fine. This happened about six weeks ago after a bad cold, and then I had another little cold that's just resolving with only the tiniest glitch in my voice. So all is well.

At 10:16 PM, June 12, 2006, Blogger strcpy said...

About 4 years ago or so I had a really acute case of pneumonia (was on sick leave for about 6 months, worked half days for another 4-6 months), came close to be admitted into intensive care. One doctor wanted me in it, the other didn't but I responded quickly to the anti-biotics so they didn't.

Anyway, I lost my voice for a good two months solid, not much more than a whisper (interestingly enough that occured mostly after the actual infection was gone). For the next three months or so anything above a normal sound level failed to produce noise, and for another 6-8 months anything at what one would call a yell (say, trying to holler at someone quite a ways from you or trying to sing loud) would also produce no noise.

It was funny to try and sing, it sounded like someone was playing my voice through a speaker being unplugged and plugged back in every few seconds.

Actually I got used to it pretty quickly and didn't really think about it much. For most of that time I was stuck at home anyway, by the time I could make it out into the world from time to time I could speak in a low voice and most people commented (if they were to say anything) on my pasty white complextion anyway.

Still to this day I sometimes make no sound if I try to holler as loud as I can.

At 8:06 PM, June 13, 2006, Blogger Alan Kellogg said...

My last experience with laryngitis was many years ago.

At first it was a simple matter of having something stuck in my throat. so I hacked it up. It being a perfectly formed model of the inside of my larynx, in dried mucus. It was while I was trying to say, "What the f---!" that I learned I couldn't speak.

So I hopped on a bus and took it to a hospital clinic. There I was examined by a doctor. Who told me, "It's viral, there's not a damn thing we can do about it."

Ruined my Christmas that year.

Good news? It lasted only a month.

At 8:06 PM, June 14, 2006, Blogger Richmond said...

I had a vocal cord removed when I was 11 so I constantly sound like I have laryngitis...

It is both a benefit and a curse - hope your voice is all "back to normal" now... :)


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