Music Moves

Perspectives & Insights from a Local Music Therapist

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Well folks, the verdict is in and I can sing again! As you may remember from my last post I was placed on mandatory vocal rest by my doctors 8 weeks ago.  In fact it’s been a month since that last post – if you can believe it, even on vocal rest, the summer’s been busy, though I’ll try not to go that long without posting again!  Early this morning, my ENT took another look at my throat through the long thin camera he first used to diagnose the pre-vocal nodule swelling he saw back in July, and I am able to report that the swelling is gone and I can start to reintroduce things I haven’t been doing since that first visit, the top priority of which for me is singing. It’s been a long, difficult, but ultimately necessary and valuable journey for me towards learning to take care of myself and the instrument that is so crucial to my life and work.  I plan to continue with many of the adaptations I’ve developed over the last 8 weeks (the greatest of which was using recorded music and the countless cool Ipad apps I’ve discovered for making music live) to carry the weight my voice used to during instrumental activities.  I also converted to playing a nylon string guitar so I didn’t have to project so loudly over it, and I’ll be looking for a headset with a microphone to use in my sessions from now on too.  I used my voice a lot in the past, and I have no doubt I’ll use it plenty in the future, but I plan to take greater strides now than ever to protect it so I won’t ever have to go 8 weeks without singing again!

Here are the top 5 things besides singing that I won’t take for granted ever again:

5. Being able to order at a Drive-through.  This may sound silly, but every once and a while, a girl just wants some french fries! And darn it all if I couldn’t project loudly enough during the initial weeks of my vocal rest to be understood through those little microphones.  After a few Speech Therapy sessions though, I now know how to project safely – though I may continue skipping the drive-through as a habit just because… well, most of the time when you can’t drive through anywhere, you either burn a few calories walking in and out the door, or just don’t bother eating out at all! Ultimately, I think not being able to eat as conveniently as I used to forced some adjustments in a positive direction for my overall health, but it is nice to know I at least have the option and ability to yell “Yeah, I’ll have a small fry please!” out my Envoy window once again.

4. Sleeping parallel to the floor.  Part of my whole vocal thing was acid reflux eroding my vocal chords while I slept, and while my ENT thinks I may eventually be able to wean myself off the medication they have me on the manage it, I may always have to sleep with my head elevated to prevent that sort of damage when I’m most powerless against it.  This has been quite the adjustment for my husband as well (he’s a stomach sleeper, and we have one of those adjustor base beds, so whatever position I sleep in, he’s been stuck dealing with too), but this is another one of those decisions that I think ultimately was for the best.  With my head and knees slightly elevated in a setting our bed’s remote calls “Zero G,” I’m actually finding relief from minor backpain I used to experience every once and a while – and it’s always good to avoid those kinds of aches when you can!

3.Drinking Caffeine & Alcohol.Caffeine I actually don’t miss as much as I thought I would – and I’ve cut myself off completely.  I didn’t even drink things marked “Decaf” during my vocal rest unless they were naturally caffeine free, on the off chance there might be a little bit still there.  For that reason I avoided chocolate as well, andthat I miss all the time, but have managed to avoid temptation well enough.  Alcohol has been harder, which may sound strange, because I’m not a big drinker, or even a glass-of-wine-a-night person, but I am a 20-something year old social drinker – and with a Bachelorette and two Birthday parties where shots and Champagne were flying like crazy this summer, it was the toughest thing for me to abstain, because I felt so out of place, like everyone was going on a class field trip and I couldn’t come along.  The feeling caught me completely by surprise, and I’ll confess I cracked a time or two just because I so badly wanted to feel a part of things, but believe me I paid for it when I did!  This is one area where my overall health wasn’t really in danger before, and it doesn’t do me a lot of marked good in terms of weight or mental well being to abstain like avoiding drive-throughs and sleeping at a 45 degree angle does, but we’ll see where I am in another month.  Doc says I may be able to work back up to being a glass-of-wine-a-night person yet, if I ever wanted to, but for me, just being able to toast the Bride at a Bachelorette party would be good enough!

2. Going out in General. There were many times where I would be invited somewhere this summer, and find out the place everyone had chosen to go was a loud bar, at an outdoor event, or some other setting where it would be difficult for me to project, and for a while I didn’t quite know how to cope, so I became a bit of a hermit.  I didn’t go anywhere and I didn’t want to go anywhere.  It was too difficult.  I think this compounded the whole alcohol thing too – it was so rare when  I did go out, I had a tough time with encountering “just one more thing I couldn’t do.”  Now that I’m aware of some safer ways to project, however, I’ll be glad to be able to go out again and still be voice conscious at the same time.

And the #1 thing (well, two things) I’ll never take for granted again?

1. Eating some of my favorite foods (namely Cheese and Orange Juice).  I have not had a sip of anything remotely citrus-y since July 13th, and man I miss it!  I’ve had to be really conscious of anything acidic trekking down my throat because of the risk it might play to my vocal reflux, but I’ve got the go ahead to start trying to re-introduce some things during the next month before I try breaking off the Prilosec, and you better believe a glass of OJ is high on that list!  Cheese I think will be another story.  I was able to switch most of my dairy products to soy and not look back pretty easily, but cheese has really haunted me.  It was the only other area of my vocal rest (besides alcohol) where I cheated, and I paid for it almost as badly as the drinks I had at that Bachelorette party in August!  Dairy products can aggravate acid reflux, so while they coated my throat going down and tasted great along the way, the result after a night of pizza or the performance of the play I took on during the latter half of my vocal rest that had me eating cheese onstage, I could feel it gumming up everything back there and needless to say, it was gross! I think my body may well be done with cheese for good at this point, but it’s gonna take some time for my brain to accept that…

So, I’ve kept my sense of humor throughout this whole thing, but there are serious lessons I’ve learned as well.  I can’t wait to start singing again and maybe reintroduce some of the things I used to love to eat and drink over time, but I don’t ever want to come that close to vocal nodules again.  They can damage more than just your voice!  I think the biggest thing my vocal rest made difficult for me was my social life. So much of how I interacted with people changed as a result of not being able to speak comfortably, but at the same time learning to be quiet more often taught me valuable lessons in prioritizing what was important for me to say and do, and really being conscious of where I was dedicating my energy, and it made me grateful to have such wonderful friends and family by my side, and grateful that I work in a career with such tremendous capacity to help others.  Needless to say, I’ll be resuming my vocal work with great care, not just for myself, but for the people I work with and care about, because my voice is not just my primary instrument, it’s a part of who I am – and it feels good to be fully myself again!


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4 Responses to “Hip Hip Hooray! I Sang Today! Plus 5 other things I haven’t been able to do while on Vocal Rest”

  1. JoAnn Jordan says:

    Our voice is a part of our identity. The changes and efforts you have made are amazing and difficult. I pray that health & wholeness will return and you’ll be able to periodically enjoy some of those items. Hugs to you!

  2. MB says:

    I used to have horrible acid reflux while sleeping. My ENT suggested not eating or drinking a thing (besides water) within 4 hours of bed. It’s horribly difficult for me to do – so used to snacking all night long – but it totally cured me of the reflux after no meds would.

    • I believe it! My doc told me the same thing – I haven’t been so successful (I work too late and have too hectic a schedule to avoid the occasional late dinner :-) but for me, what’s made a big difference has been elevating my head when I sleep. Thank goodness for adjustor base beds! You’re right that sometimes meds aren’t always the solution.