Having covered four of the six essential elements needed to ensure the health and longevity of the voice.
We are left with just two remaining. This next one, however, is of such grave importance that I felt it warranted its own post. What is it? DIET. I can’t stress enough how important your diet is to a successful professional speaking or singing career.
To illustrate it let me tell you a little story. Back in 2014 I began to notice that my voice, with increasing frequency, and regularity, was becoming fatigued when I taught. I wasn’t skipping warm ups. I was using the same, sound technique that had served me well for the past forty five years. Truth-be-told, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. The vocal fatigue progressed into hoarseness, and entire sequences of notes began to disappear from my range. I was devastated, and terrified. I make my living using my voice, so I knew I had to seek out professional help. I worried, though. How could I continue my craft, both performing and teaching, and expect to have any credibility with my students if I, myself, had developed vocal granulomas or nodules? Something that is usually associated with poor technique or vocal abuse.
I tried to hide it from my students, making excuses that it was a cold, or dryness in the air, change of season, anything I could think of to explain my vocal lapses. I was desperate to protect my livelihood. I didn’t want them to think that I was no longer up to the task of teaching, but as the days past, I could no longer hide the problem, and eventually I had no choice but to come clean, and tell them the truth. I tried to reassure them, telling them that I would be meeting with a specialist, but really, how much reassurance could I give them? I had no idea if this was cancer, nodules, a damaged vocal cord. I had no idea what I was dealing with. My greatest fear was that my singing and teaching careers were over.
I’ll never forget the day of my Dr’s appointment. I sat in a chair in the doctor’s office waiting-waiting- waiting- for my name to be called. while my mind played out every possible, terrifying scenario. Finally, the nurse called me, snapping me out of my delirium. She chatted with me, making small talk, as we meandered down a maze of hallways to a little room with a dentist-looking type chair, and all kinds of strange looking instruments.
After a brief interview, she left the room with a promise that, the doctor would be with me shortly. You know how that goes? More waiting. I sat there and looked around.The walls were virtually naked. I would have given anything for some artwork on the walls. Something to distract my overly imaginative mind. But between the bare walls and the vacuum of silence, except for my own breathing, my anxiety level was through the roof.
Minutes later, what seemed like a millennia, I heard what I hoped was a doctor on the other side of the door. A quick knock, followed by the turning of the door knob, and the doctor stepped into the room. He shook my hand, introduced himself, and then looking down at the clipboard in his hand said, “So, you’re experiencing episodes of dysphonia?” To which I responded, “Well, if you mean I’m hoarse and constantly in danger of losing my voice. Then, yes.” He then, asked me what I did for a living. Frowned a little at my answer, and said, “Well, there’s only one way to really know what’s going on here. Let’s have a look, shall we?” He explained that he was going to spray a numbing agent down the back of my throat, then fish a tube, with a built-in camera, up my nose and down the back of my throat. He said this would give him a bird’s-eye-view of the vocal cords. The thought of fishing something up my nose didn’t thrill me at all, but it’s what I was there for, so I sucked it up and said, “Let’s do it.” The numbing agent worked really well and the test itself was actually, very cool. I was able to see what my vocal cords looked like while I spoke and sang. Pretty wild stuff!
After the test was complete he told me, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is there’s no nodules or granulomas on your vocal cords. They’re smooth, pink, and shiny just the way we like to see them.” And at that point I remember feeling relieved and, oh, so confused. What, then, could possibly be causing my vocal issues? “The bad news, he continued is that you have acid reflux, and the acid is burning the cords and causing inflammation so that the cords cannot close properly.” I was stunned! Of all the things I thought could be going on, acid reflux, didn’t even make the list. “But” I said to the doctor, “I don’t even have heartburn, or any burning at all.” He smiled, and said gently, “This my dear, is called silent reflux. And is probably one of the most dangerous forms of reflux because it’s asymptomatic.”
Why am I writing about this? Because just months before all of this began I had radically changed my diet to help me lose and maintain my weight. In doing so, I had unknowingly changed my pH levels, and my body had become too acidic. Needless to say they promptly placed me on a regimen of industrial strength prescription antacids, and instructed me that I would once again have to overhaul my diet. Ish! I dutifully did as I was told and began to see improvement in my voice quality and range, but the medication made me miserable. As they began to ween me off the medication, because you are not meant to stay on this medication indefinitely, the symptoms began to re-emerge. All I could think of was NOW WHAT???
To find out, check back next week for my fourth and final post on The Care and Feeding of the Voice. Until then…Cheers!