For the last five weeks, I’ve had whooping cough (pertussis). Though I’m well on the road to recovery, this thing is nasty and lasts a long time and I don’t recommend it. If you haven’t already, do get your booster shot—as I, unfortunately, didn’t.
That isn’t very interesting to anybody else. What comes next is. For over three weeks, I’ve been unable to speak. I lost my voice about ten days after getting sick and never got it back. While an amusing upside is that I’ve perfected the stage whisper that I could never master in drama class, it’s no fun to be unable to call out to people or talk clearly on the phone.
Laryngitis is a common complication of whooping cough. But its lasting this long is not at all common. After consulting a series of baffled GPs and Internists (each of whom said “come back in X days if it’s not better”), I finally got referred to a voice specialist. What he told me I would never have expected: there was nothing much physically wrong with my voice. I’ve got a little something on my vocal cords, probably a fungus, which may (when it was worse) have caused the laryngitis in the first place. But it’s nowhere near big enough to keep me from speaking.
Essentially, my lack of speech turned out to be a bad habit that I’d fallen into. After a few days of not being able to talk, but wanting to communicate, I’d trained myself to stage-whisper instead of talking—and that training had persisted after the underlying condition had cleared up. Apparently this is not unknown; and the longer it persists, the harder it is to get the sufferer talking normally.
I might have been skeptical of this explanation—if not for the fact that the doctor, after giving me a few voice exercises, i.e. starting with humming and working to speech from there, got me talking again, croakily but comprehensibly, within about three minutes. I have to observe a regimen of practicing my voice and then resting it, but I’m now confident I’m on the mend. (I wonder how likely it is that my voice will be high quality afterwards but totally different from how it was before. That would be strange.)
They say that nobody ever forgets how to ride a bicycle. That’s not completely true either, as I found a few years ago after a hiatus since childhood. But I’m astonished that it’s possible to forget how to speak.
To paraphrase President Obama’s sentiment in the last campaign, “A lot of this sh*t would be really interesting if it weren’t happening to me.”