Its one of the first things people notice when they meet you. Other than your appearance, it allows them to begin to judge/evaluate/inspect/critic you. Other cues allow us to determine additional information about that person, but we mostly form our opinions/thoughts/conclusion about this person before many conversations are even had. I’d assume thats human nature. When we first meet someone with an accent, we assume they are from a foreign country. Someone who has a cold often has a particular sound too. However there are those rare occurrences where we can’t quite place the sound we are hearing. I assume thats where I fall. Before my brain tumor, I didn’t make much fuss about my voice. I used it in various venues- I sang at Church, I worked in customer service, and as a Mother of a toddler, I constantly had opportunities to talk, sing, correct & teach my son. I also was/am quite social so talking was just what I did/do. I am still timid about my voice when I meet new people & other times I’m sometimes lazy about my speech with those I’m familiar with. You see after my brain tumor, I was unable to speak. I was capable of making sounds but what came out was sluggish garble. I was diagnosed with aphasia. Aphasia is defined by Dictionary.com as “the loss of a previously held ability to speak or understand spoken or written language, due to disease or injury of the brain.” I remember coming to after surgery and within moments being filled with panic and dread. I remember trying to tell the nurses I couldn’t swallow but when I spoke I sounded much like a zombie groaning. I remember someone saying that it must be swelling that was causing my trouble swallowing & difficulty speaking. Nope & nope. I had just had a brain tumor peeled off my brain stem and apparently some damage had been done. Thankfully, I had a default I knew could help me communicate as I could tell from conversations around me that my Doctors & Nurses weren’t just trying to evaluate my speech, but also my ability to comprehend. I began to use simple sign language which I think both impressed & overwhelmed them at the same time. They knew I was still in there, but they had no one to translate. Finally, they got my sister Jaime and she picked pieces of what I was saying from a language we had briefly learned (the alphabet) in our childhood. Shortly after this they gave me some paper and pen to use for communication. Wow! I still have these initial writings and those that followed in the days and weeks I was hospitalized. They are hard to look at but they provide a clear outlook into the chaos and disorganization my brain was enduring following brain surgery. In those first few hours after surgery it was also discovered that I couldn’t move my body either. Shortly after surgery, I earned the diagnosis of ataxia and apraxia which defined by Dictionary.com suggests my inability to move also had to do with loss, ‘loss of coordination’ in my muscles & the ability to ‘perform purposeful movement.’ To sum it up, I was a hot mess... sad thing was these diagnoses didn’t cover all the deficits I had to deal with. I also couldn’t swallow, had double vision (strabismus), didn’t recognize my center of gravity, and then there was my paralyzed vocal chord. Every one of these things presented its own challenges & when added to the picture of healing from brain surgery, made the outlook seem impossible. Many hurdles also developed along the way: pneumonia, the giant DVT (blood clot) that formed (due to medical error) from the bend in my elbow up to my shoulder, orthostatic hypotension (blood pressure mystery), and chronic hiccups just to name a few. I had a giant battle in front of me.
Thankfully by God’s grace, I have travelled so far from that scary time. Some progress was quick while other was painfully slow. I spent hours doing Occupational, Speech & Physical Therapy. I was surrounded by incredible family, therapists, Doctors & Nurses that also deserve credit for my recovery. I know I am beyond blessed & I give the glory to God for restoring me. Do I still have difficulties & deficits? I do and i’ve come to realize I might always. Some days accepting that is doable while other days the thought is defeating. So why am I thinking about this experience now? It isn’t a special day or anything. Last week I was in the Dentist office getting some work done and when I returned upfront to pay & checkout, one of the ladies commented on my voice. Instead of saying something I feared, she told me she liked my voice because it reminded her of one of her children’s friends and she really liked this child. I quickly commented well this isn’t my real voice. Another gal at the front desk joined the conversation and when I said that, they both looked at me perplexed. So I told them the brief version of what had happened. They both looked at me shocked. So i finished my story as I always do, giving God the glory for it all and commentating on how blessed I am. This experience has not been easy but its been blessed. What a perfect time of year for this? Be mindful and thankful.