The Middle-Aged Guide to Growing Up: Radio Silence

antique radio

Those who have been reading this blog will know I recently had minor throat surgery (minor now, but with major implications at the time). My recovery regimen included a week of not talking (total silence, actually) following the operation. Total silence is harder than you think.

I was prepared for the visit to surgery. I brought a small notebook and a pen. The first thing I wanted when I was out of the recovery room was a hot sub, and I wrote a note to that effect to youngest brother, who was driving me. It took two or three confused exchanges to establish which sub I wanted, and I realized it was easier to just point at things..

You learn very quickly all the ways you can make noise without speaking, and they’re all rude. Snapping your fingers, or clapping your hands to get attention will win you no friends. I could whistle, but that was almost as bad. I wasn’t supposed to whisper, but I found it started to get necessary by the second day. Still I avoided it as much as possible.

I had the foresight to leave a message on my phone saying “Hi, I’m recovering from throat surgery and won’t be able to speak for a week, but leave me a detailed message and I’ll get back to you by e-mail”. Alas, all week, I only got one phone call, from a colleague who hadn’t got the memo I had sent out, explaining I would be off the spoken word grid for a week. Most of my business contacts didn’t know and didn’t need to know; I dealt with all of them by e-mail and rarely phoned anymore.

With a message like that on my phone, though, I was free to not talk to anyone I wanted to avoid, and I may leave it on the system for a while yet. Meetings are very productive as well. During an editorial meeting I took by phone, I would press a number once for yes and twice for no, and with those the only two options available, my contribution to the meeting was both concise and productive.

As the week wore on, I was whispering more, as softly as I possible, but I needed to be able to speak beyond pointing. A curious phenomenon is that, when you whisper to someone, they whisper back, even though there’s no reason to. Also, there’s no better way to get attention in a noisy room than to be whispering.

Occasionally, I slipped up and spoke aloud, especially in the morning, before I was fully awake. When I did, I heard the same voice I used to have, except a little rusty, like a creaky hinge, and with an electric buzz I didn’t used to have. Considering the delicacy with which your vocal cords shape sound, and the fact that mine had been scraped raw, this was a decidedly positive development, not the “poor vocal outcome” that was predicted if I had surgery. This wasn’t the breathy croak I was afraid I’d end up with.

The thing I wanted most to do was sing. That was going to be the real test. I sing in the car (I didn’t have one at the time, a tree fell on it), in the shower and most of the rest of the time when I’m not whistling. Before the operation, I had recorded a sad little audio file of me singing some of my favourite songs, in case I couldn’t anymore. Summer Wages, Teddy Bear’s Picnic, Hesitation Blues, Dear Prudence… I’ll leave them on my computer as a reminder of how close I came to losing my voice.