Health: Talk about suffering in silence . . .: When Helen Khon developed 'singer's nodules', the results were utterly unspeakable

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I am one of life's great talkers. I talk for work - telesales, ad sales, fund-raising - and I talk for fun. But it seems that I talk too much. At the age of 37 I was prescribed total vocal rest for 10 interminable days.

Only then, the speech therapist insisted, would my voice, now rough and rasping, turn sweet again.

I was suffering from 'singer's nodules'. Scar tissue develops when a blood vessel bursts, and prevents the vocal cords from touching. I am not a singer: the condition was probably the result of yelling too much at my children and generally misusing my voice.

For the scar to heal I had to stop talking. The alternative was bleak: the surgeon's knife, or possibly laser treatment to remove the scarring. I acquiesced. Since I work from home, stopping my telesales chat was easy enough. But how would my family, my husband and four children under 11 cope without the drill sergeant?

Day one. Communicate largely by scribbling in a notebook; write a large message on the front explaining why. The hairdresser, accustomed to my non-stop chatter, has to be picked up off the floor in hysterics.

Write a thank-you letter to a friend, rather than phoning, something I haven't done for years.

Bump into someone I haven't seen for at least 20 years. Feel a right idiot. Everyone laughs uncontrollably at my pre-written sign.

Day two. History course at the local college. Frustrating not to be able to ask questions. Communicate with my sister on the phone by a series of whistles: twice for yes, once for no. I find this perfectly clear, but she doesn't get the hang of it at all.

Open evening at kids' school. Great hilarity among fellow parents used to me selling them tickets for fund-raising events.

Quick meal in a restaurant with husband. Convinced that the other customers are all watching me as I gesticulate and scribble.

Day three. Lunch with equally vocal friend: she probably has a sore throat from speaking for both of us. Glad to see appetite is undiminished.

My hand is exhausted from scribbling down the latest gossip. Better destroy the notes or someone will sue me for libel.

First crisis. A man to whom I owe money leaves a message saying he is desperate for payment, but a cheque of mine has been returned by my bank. Make several phone calls to the bank, ably assisted by my heavily accented Yugoslav cleaning lady. Finally establish that the problem is technical and not caused by lack of money.

Go to a dinner party. Hostess kindly agrees that the silent spectre will not disrupt her carefully planned social arrangements. My silence is a great talking point. By the end of the evening people were writing me notes.

Day four. Jeremy, my husband, leaves early so I have to get the children organised for school. Imagine doing this without shouting. First tantrum comes from the four-year- old, who refuses to go to school with the normal car run. I resort to bribery and a packet of crisps. Crisps are the wrong flavour. Result: an even bigger tantrum.

Day five. Decide that intercoms at friends' front doors are the biggest enemy. 'Who's there?' they ask. With no other means of communicating, I whistle. 'Who's there?' Whistle again. At this point they either give up or stomp towards the door to see who the crackpot is.

Second crisis. In the steam room at the gym (steam is good for nodules) when the cleaning lady yells, 'Man coming through to fix the sauna, don't come out.' Unable to shout, 'Hang on a minute, let me out,' so I am stuck there getting hotter and hotter. Man wanders around outside for an eternity.

Day six. Saturday. Jeremy takes the kids out to give me a break from writing them endless notes. Decide that I'm getting to like this.

Day seven. Kids farmed out with friends for the day. I don't feel at all guilty and they have a good time. Haven't read as much for years. I am nearly there, only three days to go.

Day eight. A bad start. Jamie, 10, moans that his head had been kicked yesterday morning and he is ill today. Couldn't give my usual acerbic reply that he never notices these things on Sunday, only Monday morning.

Meanwhile, Ben, nine, throws a tantrum as there is something prickly in his shoes. Write him very civilised and reasonable notes, but end up throwing the offending shoes out of the front door in a temper.

On the whole, though, the kids are behaving very well. I'm wondering if my silence makes much difference to them at all. Resolve to be sparing with my words in future.

Day nine. The end is in sight. Beset by worries that my voice will still rasp when I speak tomorrow. I am becoming quite accustomed to not talking. An advantage is that one can take a step back from a conversation and be selective about what merits the effort of joining in.

The speech therapist's secretary phones to cancel my appointment tomorrow, at which I was first going to demonstrate my new voice. Feel very let down.

Day 10. Didn't sleep properly last night. Strangely, I am really apprehensive about talking again. Feel it would be too much of an anticlimax just talking to myself so I go round to a friend and, amid great ceremony and giggles, utter my first words in 10 days. 'Hello, how do I sound?'

To me, it feels as if I am in an aeroplane and my voice is muffled or coming from a distance. But the sandpaper effect has disappeared and my voice sounds quite clear.

I must only talk for limited periods for the next few days and must have speech therapy to learn how to project my voice properly.

I am stunned by the force of my untapped willpower, and rather smug that I have done what everyone thought impossible. (Now where's that diet?)

The experience was frustrating in the end, although I never felt isolated. Listening, it seems, is the real key to communicating.

(Photograph omitted)