I started having trouble with my voice several years ago.
Maybe it was the 2K jinx that caught me off guard, I don’t know.
I was singing “Moondance” by Van Morrison (no jokes, please) and went to hit a G note when I felt that first rub.
I cleared my throat with an emphatic ‘ahem’ and finished the song without too much of a problem.
It happened a few more times that night but I thought that maybe it was just the start of a cold or some funky allergy, something that would dry up and blow away in a few weeks. No big deal.
Unfortunately, the problem didn’t go away and I was faced with a situation that was ultimately compromising my livelihood – it was time to go to a doctor and find out what the hell was going on.
I can’t remember the doctor’s name (Dr. Putz?) but I remember him spraying some numbing agent into my nose before asking me to breathe normally.
The topical spray completely numbed my throat and nose in a matter of minutes allowing for the passage of a laryngoscope through my nostril and down into the back of my throat.
“You have a polyp,” he said, rather casually, but maintained that it was minute and shouldn’t cause me too much of a problem.
“What can be done about it,” I asked, wanting some sort of resolution to the problem.
“Well,” he said, “it’s too small to operate on,” and suggested some vocal therapy to alleviate any insignificant problems that I may encounter.
I immediately gathered that this wasn’t the guy to fix my throat and sought a second opinion.
The next doctor I went to wanted to use a strobe, a test that would afford a better view of my overworked vocal folds.
Regrettably, she found that I had a gag reflex stronger than a fat dog that had just eaten too much grass. She gave up after four tries and numbed my nose in preparation for the mundane laryngoscope. (actually, she was probably certain I was going to soon deliver her a nasty bile bouquet)
“The node is tiny,” she said, “no surgeon in their right mind will touch that.”
Uhh, ok, so now I’m back to square one.
Vocal therapy, learn to sing around the problem and basically be miserable.
I’d basically blown my voice out.
For many years, I’d had such a strong, vibrant voice—a voice I was so proud of and now it had gone on some sort of bizarre Gary Larson-like sabbatical, buh-bye, for now.
I spent the next few years trying various sprays, drinking warm liquids, cold liquids, Maker’s Mark; anything to end this search for the ultimate snake oil. Sadly, there was no oil to be found…I was devastated.
No one would operate and remove the polyp and I was left standing in No Man’s Land. This is my livelihood for Christ sake; I need to be able to sing.
Didn’t anyone hear how bad I sounded besides me?
This would be the end of my gigging career as I knew it.
I pissed the guys in the band off because of my ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude, a nasty situation I still feel badly about to this day.
It wasn’t anybody’s fault but my own.
I hadn’t listened to my own body and would suffer in silence for the next several years before finally deciding to try another doctor…
I was losing my mind and had basically reached the proverbial end of my rope.
I finally set up an appointment, determined to put this thing to bed.
Dr. Sillman numbed my nose with the old familiar spray and sent the scope in search of what I claimed were the dreaded polyps that had been ruining my life. My heart was beating fast and I was nervous.
“I don’t see anything, he said—no polyps, anyway. There is some irritation and reddening—but no polyps.”
No nodes. Yup, Ok, WTF?!
I had been a psychological basket case for roughly five years over something that never existed in the first place? I was totally baffled. Just what the hell was going on here?
“Do I like spicy food?” He asked.
“Yes, I do,” I said. Jalapenos are almost mild, for God’s sake.
Duh, I get up at 4:30am. That’s a given.
“How about OJ?”
“Guilty, Doc.” (I actually said that.) Yes, I do drink OJ.
“Do you eat late at night then go to bed?”
“Do you smoke?”
Wait a minute…this guy’s been watching me.
Turns out I have acid reflux (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
Acid freekin’ reflux.
I’ve since investigated it on the web and my eyes have opened wide.
The epiphany was almost as astounding as losing my voice.
It appears that LPR hampers the vocal cords of singers tremendously because of the backwash of acid in the esophagus.
I’m still scratching my head but currently altering my diet and taking medication to try and ‘reverse the curse.’
So far, (crossing my fingers) it’s working and my voice is slowly returning to normal. The band is currently learning an old Doobie Brothers song that Michael McDonald sang and I’m slated to sing it.
We’ll see how it goes.
If you have the Livin’ on the Fault Line album,
check out “I know you’re made that way”.
I pray I do the song justice.
I decided to put this piece on my blog in the hopes that maybe someone going through what I’ve been through will read this and save some decaying grey matter. Though I can’t say definitely that this regimen will work, I can say that I never knew acid reflux could possibly be the root of my problem.
I’m still praying anyway.