Click here to read part one of “My Little Polyp”.
A moment of silence for my vocal polyp, for she is dead. Rest in peace, polyp.
It’s Sunday night, two days before my follow-up appointment. Interestingly, I keep telling my friends that I’m anxious and nervous, but after I check in with my body and mind, I find that I am not. I’m not worried. I think I should be uneasy– maybe I’m just used to feeling nervous in situations that warrant some anxiety. Fascinating.
My voice feels so much better than it did a month ago. Even though I’m not singing high, I can tell that if I were to do that nauseating hum or lip trill test that neurotic singers do, I would be able to vocalize through my full range without pushing or straining. The years spent perceiving my voice have allowed me to notice the smallest of changes; this is why the level of denial that my vocal cords were in any way usual or functional for the past few months was a perfect trick of my brain indeed.
The best way to track improvement in the vocal folds (aside from getting scoped, like I did yesterday) is the range and quality of the voice, as well as the perceived effort of speaking and singing. There are no nerve endings on the vocal folds, so there can be no feeling of pain or discomfort directly from the vocal cords themselves. So, if you’ve ever heard me complain, “my voice hurts,” I mean, “the extrinsic muscles surrounding my larynx are overworked from attempting to produce more sound because my vocal cords aren’t able to adduct properly.” I think I’m still going to say, “my voice hurts,” because I would still like to have friends.
The main question I am asked daily by anyone who knows about my vocal injury is, “how is your voice doing?” It is tough to answer because I was shocked that my pre-nodular edema had developed into a polyp in the first place. However, in retrospect, I should not have been surprised. I was thoroughly in denial. Whether or not it was uncomfortable to speak or produce high notes was a daily gamble. This month, I made a conscious effort to be honest about my vocal use and perceived improvement, which paid off in a significant way.
The month of relative rest is over, and it’s the day of my appointment. I wake up and drink my coffee as I edit another lengthy application for a scholarship that would take me to Germany. A month ago, my brain might have bullied me into giving up because it’s not like I will ever sing professionally again. My mind doesn’t believe that anymore, at least not today. The caffeine flows through my body, and my fingers plunk away at the keys. I am still not nervous. I feel ready. The thought of a bad outcome does not even cross my mind.
There are really only three things that I gave up this month– singing operatically, extended socialization, and alcohol. The singing is a big one, obviously. However, making temporary sacrifices is worth the feeling of ease I am now beginning to gain back. Singing hasn’t felt easy in nearly a year. My keys turn the ignition, I press my foot to the gas pedal of the car, and I excitedly zip to the University of Minnesota. I am ready to see a much smaller polyp. Still no nerves.
Sliding a Camera Down My Nose
Getting scoped is an interesting experience, but my little vocal nerd self loves it. I’m practically giddy. The laryngologist strolls in, profusely apologizing for being thirty minutes late; I laugh and accept his apology. Stunned, he exclaims, “you actually don’t sound bad!” Jokingly, I respond, “just the feedback every professional singer wants to hear! Can I put your review on my website?” He is unsure if I am serious. I am not. I think my joke is hilarious. We move on.
I sit back in the chair, and my laryngologist sprays this nasty numbing solution in both nostrils. After a few seconds of tongue-tingling bitterness, the doctor slides a long, slithering device with a camera attached down my nose. It’s not that bad, I swear! His hand perfectly blocks my view of the screen on the wall, but he spoils the results anyway. Before I even make a sound, he exclaims, “wow! No polyp!” I immediately emit a “woo!” and see my pretty little cords come together with little effort. An “ee” vowel provides the best look at the folds, so I “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” on various pitches (no vibrato allowed!), clear my throat, and do fun little slides through my range. Do you want to see my vocal folds? I feel like a proud parent. Look at my vocal folds. Look at them do things. They’re better than your folds!!!!
My laryngologist commends me for my hard work and releases me to my SLP. The micro-hemorrhaging is still healing, and a minimal amount of pre-nodular edema is present, but it’s significantly less than my initial appointment. My voice is the healthiest it has been all year, and I don’t want to ruin my progress.
Caution versus Paranoia
Singers tend to treat their vocal cords like precious little princesses up in a tower, and any cough or sneeze will cause them to hemorrhage. I’m not trying to scare singers, they’ve already frightened themselves enough, and spooky season is over, anyway. If I had spent more time resting and healing and less time trying to prove my old voice teacher wrong, I could have avoided all of this. I can and will acknowledge that a highly elevated level of vocal self-care is necessary to pursue a serious career in singing. Coming out of the pandemic, I had become lax in my vocal health. Some people have cords of steel and can beat their cords to a pulp and sing just fine the next day. Most of these people are men, and they would still sing better if they treated their vocal folds with some respect. After this ordeal, I have proof that I do not have vocal cords of steel– my blood vessels live closer to the surface, which makes my vocal folds more fragile. Lucky me.
It’s not business as usual yet. I’m a little afraid of singing now, to be honest. I’ve become one of those irritating singers, except instead of a cough, I’m terrified that one high note will send me into an irreversible tailspin. I am being ridiculous, but I do have to take it slow. Fifteen minutes per day of vocalizing, here I come. After this month, I’m full of ideas. Screw auditioning for the same twenty young artist programs and experiencing rejection every time; I have recitals, concerts, and project proposals swimming around in my mind. I am so hopeful for what comes next.
Update: As of December 2022, I am still vocal polyp-free and avoided surgical intervention.