First the good news – I will be returning to my pulpit on November 19. It will have been three months since I last preached and, based upon this post title’s alliteration, I might be a bit rusty! I haven’t gone three months without preaching for almost thirty years now. It will be nice to get back to work.
For any of you who might be available, please consider yourself invited to church on November 19th. I will be preaching on finding and following God in difficult circumstances. The week after that will be a Thanksgiving sermon, and then we are into Advent. I am eager to get back to my principal calling.
There is also some bad news that I would like to share as well. This past Wednesday, November 1, I had a scope sent up my nose and down my throat to get a look at my vocal cords so that we could see what is going on in my voice box. After an uncomfortable few minutes in which I was asked to say “eeeeeeeee” while the tube was poking around, we found some clarity. As I had come to suspect, the left side of the vocal cords are in fact paralyzed. This is new information. The surgeon was and is quite certain that the nerves that control the motor functions associated with the ninth cranial nerve were not damaged. But evidently a lot of things can happen in those types of surgeries.
The Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist I saw on Wednesday suggested a possibility that I hope and pray describes my situation. He noted that sometimes when a nerve has experienced trauma, like that of a major surgery, the nerve gets “stunned” (his word). The result is a temporary paralysis that can sometimes last for months. At some point, such nerves will “wake up” (his words again). That would be wonderful! Currently, I have full command of my speech as far as articulation and clarity go. My challenge is that because I cannot close the vocal cords on the left side, I cannot regulate the airflow through my voice box and have only limited control of the pitch of my voice. My vocal tone is very breathy, or hoarse, I can’t build up the air pressure necessary to raise my voice at all. And my singing range is just about an octave. My days of singing in the University of Maryland Choir are truly over…
In the meantime, I have been told that I sound like Marlon Brando in the Godfather. So there is that…
The good news is that I am preaching again and soon. The bad news is that my left vocal cords are paralyzed temporarily or permanently. The ugly news is that I only weigh 144 pounds. YIKES!
Eating continues to be a terrible problem and it has been compounded by a really unfortunate side effect to the vocal cord paralysis. For weeks I have been asking my speech therapist and the ENT doctor about the really bad cough that I have. The ENT specialist told me this past Wednesday that people with paralyzed vocal cords simply cough a lot. And the cough is not productive (I know, that’s gross to say in a blog but keep reading – we’re about to get even grosser). The unproductive cough is again due to the inability to build up sufficient air pressure to get the cough to be effective. When my body feels that there is still some irritant that a cough should be removing, it puts the cough reflex on steroids and my diaphragm starts to spontaneously spasm. And then, before I know it, that fifteen hundred calorie meal that I manfully fought down one swallow at a time is laying in the sink, or in a bucket, or looking up at me from the porcelain throne… This happens several times a week – usually at night.
On the bright side, since the sensory nerve was cut, vomiting doesn’t hurt anymore. I remember as a young father wondering how infants could spit up and not cry. Now I know. But I have got to stabilize my weight and then put some pounds back on.
What a wild train ride this recovery has been. That attempted microvascular decompression of the ninth cranial nerve is the gift that keeps on taking. But it gives as well. Isn’t it true that when we go through difficult times, right alongside of the anxiety and the depression that come and go we also have that sweet sense of the Spirit of God accompanying and strengthening us in our deeper desponds? I am reminded again and again that Jesus never told anyone that if they followed him they would have nothing but peaches and cream for the remainder of their life. In fact it is the contrary in many respects. And there is a reason for it.
Last week my father called me and read me a passage from James chapter one. I will close by sharing it with all of you.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:1-4)
May we all grow in our perseverance and have an ever-maturing faith as we patiently and joyfully endure whatever trials come our way.
N.B. The picture is thanks to the Linked In account of Dr. Priyanjal Gautam who is associated with the NIMS Medical College and Hospital in Jaipur, India. The image on the left shows healthy vocal cords in the breathing position. The center image shows healthy vocal cords as they are when you speak. The right image shows paralyzed vocal cords – one side will not close in order to produce optimal speech.