The hoarse whisperer
“Ahhhhhhhh,” I say, drawing it out until I run clean out of breath. Twenty-six seconds, the speech therapist reports.
“Excellent,” she says. “You’re one of my highest scorers.”
I beam. Lean forward.
Next I hold the sound “Zzzz” until my eyes pop; then “Ssss.”
I count, go up and down in scale, call out. I re-create a scenario or two, with names and dialogue, where I tried to shout and couldn’t. I have put off going to speech therapy, but recently a nurse-practitioner friend said firmly that now, if ever, is the time. So here I am and, warming to the task, I give other examples of futile efforts — more animations, actually, than the nice speech therapist intended.
Earlier, when I told my son I was going to speech therapy, Ted said in alarm, “You speak plenty.”
Yet I can’t yell. Or, incidentally, sing. My mother, who also had her thyroid surgically removed last year, can’t raise her voice either. Nor, at church, sing. Unlike me, though, she is equable, at the stage of life where she and her friends have far more serious concerns.
If I never get my volume back, so be it: I’m grateful for great treatment for thyroid cancer. But I’d also like to bellow a few more decades.
“You’re not much of a yeller anyway,” my sister Lucy counters kindly.
Ah, but you don’t notice how often you want to do something until you can’t.
My voice was expected to come back in a month or two, then another few months. Still, as it has been explained to me, the thyroid had to be peeled off the vocal chords. Surgery can change a few things.
These days, here’s what happens:
I’m at a live-music event, where you have to yell into someone’s ear to say anything. I try three times, and finally the friend just looks at me and shakes her head.
I’m following friends to a trailhead, and they stop and wave my car alongside theirs to discuss directions. Will puts down his driver’s window, I unroll my passenger window; and I can hear him but he can’t hear me.
I’m at Aspen Highlands, skiing, two of us looking for a newly opened run named Eden. I think I spot its entrance (I will turn out to be wrong, actually), but my friend skis past. “Andrea! Andrea! Andrea!” I bleat, while she just keeps turning ‘em down the hill.
At a crag where a crew of us is climbing, my husband shouts across to friends that we are leaving. They reply, I call goodbye, giving it my very best; and Mike turns to me with eyes wide in amusement and disdain.
“Weak voice,” he says, then adds, “Weak sauce.”
I note, with beetled brow, the shouts of others. At a slopeside restaurant at Tiehack where people hand in written orders, I watch a little worker slap down each plate, calling out names, sometimes two or three times, into the melee: “Ben! Ben! Michele! Al!”
I couldn’t do that job.
My friend Greg tells me he had lessons in voice projection as a youth at West Point. “I still remember standing on one of the huge fields with hundreds of my classmates simultaneously yelling, “MAAAAAA!!!! … MOOOOOO!!!! MAAAAAA!!!! MUUUUUU!!!!”
Why, I wonder, those syllables? Not, perhaps, “Ah choo”? He doesn’t know. Well, why practice yelling?
“They were trying to develop the power of our voices, to teach us to make ourselves heard over a battlefield cacophony.”
Oh, no! I’d never be heard over a battlefield cacophony.
My friend Jim, upon hearing I was to start speech therapy, was delighted. “It’ll be like [the movie] ‘The King’s English’! You’ll get to say, ‘F—. F—! F—, f—, f— and f—! F—, f— and bugger!’ You can go around saying those. It’ll be excellent.”
In fact, King George VI in that scene added: “Bugger, bugger, buggerty buggerty buggerty, f—, f—, arse!”
My speech therapist demonstrates speaking from the throat (bad) and the diaphragm (yes). She is giving me voice exercises. I thought I would be terrible about doing them; in fact I doubted any of this would work. But she says I can practice while driving, and I can imagine that. Opening my mouth and mind. Saying, “Bugger, bugger, buggerty buggerty …”
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.