Daily Connector | Silent screaming into the void | Jeff Lookabaugh

In these latter-day,
Degenerate times,
Cherry-blossoms everywhere!
-Kobayashi Issa

In early January, I lost my voice. At first I thought it would be temporary; I’d go through a few days of forced silence and then back to normal. A month in it was worse, not better, and then it disappeared entirely into a forced hissing. I am a stay-at-home dad, and parenting a six- and nine-year-old through hisses and gestures is a private sort of purgatory. When I reached the stage I’ve come to think of as “Silent Screaming Into the Void,” I gave up and called the ENT’s office. Then, when they hung up because all they could hear was hissing, I had Britni call back for me.

At the appointment a doctor put what looked like a foot-long metal worm through my nose and down my throat, then used its camera to discover that one of my vocal cords is paralyzed.  “It’s probably viral,” he said as he extracted the tool from my nose. “Sometimes the nerves servicing the vocal apparatus get damaged from a cold or the flu, and all you can do is wait for it to get better. We can inject some collagen into your throat to push the paralyzed cord over and give you a temporary means of talking. I’m optimistic you’ll recover your voice in six to nine months.”

“Hiss hiss hiss?!?!” I said.

“Yes, months. Of course sometimes,” he added, “it just doesn’t come back.”

“HISS HISS?!?!” I said.

“It’s far too early to worry about that. Let’s get that injection scheduled.”

The injection was in March, just a few days before the schools shut down and we entered this period of social distancing. Now I sound like I’ve got laryngitis, which leads to lots of terrified looks when I try speaking to people (through my mask) at the grocery store or pharmacy. But I’m thankful to have a voice, even this gravelly voice, now. As the day goes on my larynx fatigues and I end up hissing again, so I choose my words with care. I’ve become aware of how much I dislike silence, and of my impulse to fill up the silence with words. I smile and wave at neighbors, but do not speak. I text family and friends to check in with them. I hold my kids more and talk to them less. I notice things more, from the blooms on the cherry tree outside the window to the salamander Micah and I found in the backyard.

Some days my voice makes me feel like a ghost: present but unable to participate. But I’m not alone in this. In these past weeks we’ve all lost connection, peace, experiences. Some of us have lost much, much more than that. In those moments when I feel my most ghostly, I sit with the sadness of it for a few breaths, accept it as the grief that it is.

Then I go look at that cherry tree again. Or I find puppy videos on Youtube. I highly recommend those.