Here we are at 5 Weeks + since my surgery! All indications are that recovery is going very well. And, I think it’s time to celebrate some victories in this process.
First, a win for something that didn’t happen: There have been no issues of VPI or hypernasality in my speech since the surgery. As you may recall from my pre-surgery posts, there was a concern that the advancement would stretch the pharyngeal flap and create conditions for VPI. My voice sounded pretty good even right after the surgery, but my surgeon cautioned us that congestion due to post-surgical swelling could obscure VPI. The swelling is now almost entirely gone, and still no VPI. I think we can call this a wonderful success.
I have occasionally shuddered to imagine an alternate reality I could have experienced: struggling through that recovery while dealing with the trauma of realizing that my voice had reverted back to the nasality I began with as a small child, the self-consciousness of sounding like – as they labeled me then – a “crippled” person once again, and the knowledge I would have to go through therapy and possibly more surgery to correct it. Thankfully, this did NOT happen. And I must hand a great deal of the credit for that to my surgeon’s skill and care. Thank you, Doctor.
Another victory is the fact that I’ve been able to re-assimilate into my musical work. I’ve had several rehearsals with Choral Arts Northwest, and will be singing the Duruflé Requiem this Sunday in concert. My singing voice is not 100%, but I can sing with decent tone and moderate power in the mid-range especially.
In another victory, I’ve led three rehearsals with one of my choirs, the Skagit Valley Chorale. This group has well over one hundred singers this semester, and we have made an accommodation to help make sure I will be heard by everyone without straining: I am using a lavaliere microphone through a p.a. system. It is working very well. I think people can hear better than in rehearsals in the past – and I have been relieved at not having to worry about being heard.
There is another victory whose possibility I have sensed, but not confirmed. With the advancement of my mandible and maxilla, it seems logical that both my pharynx and my mouth have greater volume. I have had the impression a few times when I have sung that I now have a larger resonating space for my voice – but I haven’t been able to really test this yet, for several reasons. My face is still numb and I don’t feel that I have good control over various muscles involved in singing, especially regarding changing vowels and changing formants. My hard palate area is still somewhat numb and doesn’t report reliable information about the sensations of resonation that I am used to. Also, I am not supposed to do vigorous activity, and full-power singing is a vigorous activity. I’ve found that the more power I put into my singing, the more it irritates the paresthesia in my face. I believe that the vigorous activity of singing can put pressure – similar to sneezing, straining, bearing down, and other activities I’m not supposed to do – on my healing facial bones that is not good for bone recovery, including the “bony union” at the advancement sites. As my surgeon releases me from limits on activity, and as my paresthesia begins to ebb, I’ll be able to explore this some more. I’m interested to see what my upcoming tests at the UW Speech and Hearing Clinic will show compared to the “before” tests we did in July. Anyway, I have a quiet and perhaps not-unfounded hope that I’ll find I have a richer tone than I did before the surgery. That would be exciting!
The final victory that I’ll mention right now is just the recognition that my recovery continues to go well. One part of that victory is that I’m living with paresthesia day to day without freaking out about it. :) I trust it’s going to heal in time. Another is that I’m doing well at feeding myself, and not wasting much time being self-conscious or annoyed about realities like having to take lots of time preparing food, eating with a mirror and catching the dribbly bits that run down my chin, and drooling at any moment without knowing it (oh, joy). Friends, family, fellow musicians have been tremendously supportive, my spirits are good, and I seem to be handling the things I need to be doing, personally and professionally. May it continue so!
Looking to the future…
As you will have noticed, it’s been a while since I made a post. My music career – relatively quiet (hah!) during the summer – has picked up again with rehearsals and project management and study. One result of that is that I don’t have the same amount of time to write blog posts. Lorraine reminds me that if a blog is not updated on a regular basis, people stop checking it and readership goes way down. Yes, I know this to be true, and I accept it; I just don’t have the time to post regularly. The main impetus for this current spate of posts – my surgery and recovery – is winding down as my work winds up for the year. I’m certainly planning to make more posts – more about paresthesia, more about eating, and I’m sure other things like my upcoming work with speech therapy. But they will be fewer and farther in-between. So I’ll thank my readers who have gone on this journey with me, and say I’ll be back from time to time.
Also, it has always been my intention that this blog will develop into many more areas of interest than my surgery and recovery. I look forward to finding out what’s going to inspire or prompt me to post!
9/24/2016 03:42:08 pm
...It seems that your voice is sounding very good and strong from samples we're hearing at the Skagit Valley Chorale...I've heard many comments from others also that have indicated (happy) surprise around a speedy recovery time given the procedures that you've gone through...you seem to be doing very well from our perspective! Thanks for the update--
9/29/2016 10:10:37 pm
This is all WONDERFUL news! I'm glad you have come through it so well. Do you get to go back to a regular diet next week, or will it still be a few weeks?
9/29/2016 10:54:32 pm
Hello Heidi, Thank you! As of my appointment yesterday with my surgeon, my bone growth is established well enough that I can begin to experiment with things that need to be chewed. However, to give you perspective, he suggested I start with pasta - which doesn't take a lot of chewing. Steak is probably a long way off! And a "regular diet" is probably still some ways off, for other reasons. The numbness in my lower lip makes it difficult to chew, as I bite myself constantly. This leads to swelling and more biting, etc. There's a similar issue with the inside of my cheeks, which are also swollen and prone to getting bit. Also, right now my bite is such that really only one pair of upper-lower molars on the back left side are meeting - so that makes it hard to chew. I expect that as my orthodontist shifts my teeth and my bite improves, some of these issues will recede, my bite will equalize, and I'll be able to eat much more normally. I'm not sure how soon that will be; could be months, but it doesn't really matter because Lorraine and I have worked very hard to learn how to make this diet work for me. Only problem with that is, I'm trying to gain weight while she's trying to maintain the weight loss she did so well. Once my healing bones and nerves stop hogging the calories, I expect I'll be able to reduce the amount I have to eat.
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Dr. Adam Burdick has been a professional musician for over two decades. Teaching, conducting, and performing in various music genres, he is also a perpetual student with interest in a wide range of topics. He loves to ponder and share his discoveries with anyone interested!