“I would like you to open your mouth and stick your tongue out as far as you can. There is nothing to worry about. I am going to hold on to your tongue and place a camera on it to film down your throat”.
If I were a cat, I would have scratched, screeched and climbed up the curtains.
I am however a wolf, so I sat there and submitted to my fate.
I was at the hospital again. I have been here so many times since I arrived in an ambulance with a flashing light nearly a year ago when I suffered my brain haemorrhage. Hospital is almost home these days.
I was with the Adult Voice Consultant, the top man in his department and he was about to inspect my vocal chords.
I had a viral infection in Summer 2008 which ended with me losing my voice through September and into October. I only really felt better on the morning of 30th. October when I felt just great. Later that morning I had a brain haemorrhage and nearly died. Only goes to show that you never know when your time is up.
My vocal problems suddenly became a minor issue but throughout the period of my recuperation, now nearly a year, my voice has never returned to “normal” and today an expert was going to take a look down my throat.
The infection started last summer just days before I was scheduled to sing the tenor solos in a Schubert Mass at a posh ceremony in front of Brighton Mayor and Corporation.
At the rehearsal, the night before the performance, I felt unwell and I had that feeling in my throat that usually predicts an on-coming cold. Heigh-ho! I thought and carried on after telling the conductor that I would do the rehearsal at less than full voice to preserve what I had for the next day.
It was too late to find a replacement so I just had to go for it. Orchestra, choir and the other soloists were all fine but I felt terrible and to my horror in the pre-concert run-through there was hardly any voice there not even enough to shout help if ferret ran up my trouser leg.
The ceremonial entrance of the great and the good over, I came on, took my place and worked out a strategy.
It would go like this. Whenever the music covered for me, when the others were singing too, I would just mime, I would go for the main effects and try to get through my principle solo part with a lot of help from technique and St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music.
It was a nightmare but I got through – just.
That, without my knowing it, was the last time I have sung in a classical music concert. I assumed I would get my voice back a few days later but that was not to be.
I have since then been trying to fight back vocally and I have done a couple of gigs where I sang Blue Moon, I am an Urban Spaceman, Love Me Tender, Hallelujah and Arrivederci Roma but I knew, even if no one else admitted it, that my voice was shot.
My GP said it was something “we should put to one side” until I had got over the brain haemorrhage but now, nearly a year later, I decided to force the issue and, with some reluctance another GP referred me to the consultant I saw yesterday morning.
We have a great system in Britain called the NHS. It is at its best though however if you are feeling strong enough to bully the GPs who place themselves in front of you as first port of call and, sometimes obstacle, before you see the people who really know what they are talking about.
The second GP, a charming young new doctor, humoured me and said he would refer me if I really thought it was worth it but there was probably nothing anyone could do about my lack of voice. Even though he is Welsh, I suspect he thought that my ability or inability at singing was of no great significance – a piece of vanity perhaps.
He arranged it though, with a knowing look and just a touch of eyebrow raising.
That is how I found myself sitting in the consultant’s office with a camera down my throat.
“hmm”…..”hmmmmm” he said as I tried not to gag.
“Now sing he he he he he….”
“he he he he he…”
“Very good. Now sing higher…….ha ha ha ha ha…”
“ha ha ha ha ha…….”
And so we duetted mellifluously whilst he looked at a monitor above my head with his hand in my mouth.
I asked if I could look but he said I would have to wait until he played it back.
“Hmm” he said once more.
I thought he was going to tell me to go away and stop wasting his time but instead he gave me a mini lecture on the anatomy of the vocal chords.
“They are two muscles which come together over your windpipe like this,” he said indicating the gagging hole on the screen that was my throat.
So I do have a problem which may be connected to that virus or, in his opinion, was definitely related to my brain haemorrhage.
He told me not to worry…at worst surgery should cure it but he said before that he would send me to a vocal coach, a singing teacher who would act as a voice physiotherapist. The vocal chords are after all merely muscles which need training.
How exciting, I thought. I haven’t had a singing lesson since music college. Maybe I will still get that audition for La Scala Milan. At the very least, in my consultant’s opinion, I should be able to sing again.
Sorry neighbours but The Voice will be back.
Oh and when I next see that GP, I think I shall come into his office gently humming something operatic.
If you would like to see vocal chords being tested like mine were here is the identical examination performed on a young American soprano. Don’t be squeamish, it is really interesting: