Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It Is (Darn Near) Finished - Lessons Learned

Tomorrow. I can speak tomorrow. Ed keeps asking me what I'm going to say. I thought about, "Oil can," because I'm hilarious, and because it partners well with my last words, "Chicken fat." However, I'll probably just say something profound like, "Hey."

I'm curious about how I will sound. These seven days are the longest I've gone without vocalizing. Yeah, I didn't start speaking until I was six months old, but according to the attending parties, I started vocalizing when I was six seconds old. This door has been shut for a very long time by comparison. The hinges will be a little rusty. I keep joking that I'm going to sound like Sgt. Hulka after he falls off the obstacle in Stripes. (See below.)

This week has been unforgettable in a lot of ways. Two of the original purposes of my plan to blog about my week of silence were to help others who might someday find themselves in my silent position, and to view the experience as educational. With that in mind, I would like to share some things I learned this week.

I'd like to caution that I'm going to be fairly candid. Normally, I stick to reporting the positive. No one wants to hear the negative, and keeping positive is just good practice. However, in the interest of being honest, I'm going to report the hard stuff, too. Maybe it will help someone approaching a period of silence to be better prepared. Luckily, there's more positive than negative, anyway.

Pain is temporary.
The pain of the surgery was not that bad. The time period immediately following the surgery was painful due to the tricky intubation that was necessary, but that part went quickly. The most painful activities were laughing (not OL, of course), coughing, sneezing, and yawning. Yawning was the worst. (You're trying not to yawn right now. I see you.) After a few days, though, all "pain" was reduced to feeling like a bruise on the neck. No sweat.

Weakness is temporary.
It hurt to eat normal stuff for a few days. Mushy foods + low appetite + Crohn's disease = weak, weak weak. Again, that passed. Hooray, ice cream.

Music is divine.
Don't Speak
I had to put away the iTunes most of the time this week. The temptations to whistle or lip sync were too great. I would break those post-surgical rules without intending to do so. I really miss participating in vocal music. However, I will admit it was funny that "Don't Speak" was playing on the radio when Ed and I got in the car today. He sang it to me.

Planning is everything.
My pre-made "I can't speak because I just had vocal cord repair surgery," notes are worth their weight in gold. I always have 10 or so in my pocket. Whip out one of those bad boys, and the person who just asked, "How are you?" isn't wondering why you're just standing there starting at him/her with a goofy smile.

Planning isn't everything.
I carried around my iPad and wrote notes to people using the ShowMe app. It was very helpful for ordering food and asking for help in a store. Beyond those places, it was pretty frustrating. I just couldn't write fast enough to keep up with conversation. Being on a lower conversational plane (see my theory), coupled with a sometimes lagging app often made me very frustrated. By the second half of the week, I relied mostly on texting.

I need chargers.
All chargers in the house worked overtime to help me communicate. My iPhone especially was in constant need of a recharge. Having portable, wireless chargers in my purse saved the day multiple times.

I need outlets.
Having a way to escape and be normal was really important. For me, that was running.

Language will come.
Within a week, my family, friends, and I have unintentionally developed a dozen or so hand signals or gestures that have meaning for us. I bow for thank you. Hands in a triangle on the head mean, "Happy Birthday!" I make a little hand signal to "sound" the inside-joke battle cry adopted by my running friends and me. These communicative indicators developed on their own. Quickly. As a student of education, I find it fascinating. Maybe I could've held my own at the Tower Of Babel.

Laughter is good medicine.
Though I probably nearly ruined the surgery a few times, laughter with family and friends kept me afloat this week. A special highlight was when I was trying to teach Mom the ASL alphabet so we could communicate in the pool, where I had no means to write. The letters were getting all jumbled for her, and she looked at me and said, Ralphie style, "BeSureToDrinkYourOvaltine." I've never had to stifle laughter so much.

People want to help.
People didn't quite know how to handle me, but things usually resolved well. One of Ed's and my friends was the most forthright about it: "This is awkward. I can't talk to you." :o) We eventually managed to have conversation, though. If I stayed positive and smiled a lot, most people followed me down the rabbit hole.

The truth is, I needed people to aid me in my quests to buy a sandwich, or make appointments, or explain why I can't mouth words, or communicate with my currently in-the-doghouse health insurance company. (Aside: There, I felt a little like John Goodman taking the crowbar to the car in The Big Lebowski. As you may know, I can't link that video here. Ha.) I can't make phone calls. I can't go through a drive-through. I needed people. People helped.*

Tough times will happen; focus on the positive.
I planned for "the 2%," but I wasn't ready for its extensive emotional force. Fully 98% of the time, everything was cool. The days clicked along their tracks nicely. If there was a derailment, prior planning and problem solving got the day back on track. However, there were some really hard times. There were moments I felt like I was a burden. There were moments when people would make a voice joke that made me laugh in the 98%, but didn't register as humorous to me in the 2%. The worst feelings, however, were the lonely feelings.

This week, there were moments that I felt as alone as I've ever felt in my life. During those times, I tried to be as positive as possible: focus on the "finish line," so to speak; remember the people who love me; remind myself that as medical ailments go, this one is not so bad. It all worked. I eventually got through the 2% moments.

Choose quality over quantity.
I think the most important lesson I learned this week is that a good chunk of what I say isn't important, anyway... maybe even 50%. This week taught me that I can manage life more word-simply. In some ways, not speaking got easier and easier. I'll admit it: at times, it was a relief not to have to speak. I also learned, since writing takes so much time, to pick the words that packed the most punch. Stories are great, but they aren't always necessary. Here's a little of what my inner dialogue has been like.
Aw, shoot, I sure wish I could tell that funny story about ____. I can't, though. ... ... ... Now that I think about it, that story doesn't really fit here. I'm glad I was forced to think about it. ... ... ... When I can speak again, what will I do in this situation? Tell the story or not?
I wonder how much my future conversation will be changed by this week's experiences. I always tell my students to listen to what I say because a good 85% of it is really important. Turns out it was lower than that, but I think I could work to get it around 90%. (...she says as she completes a 1,575 word blog.)

And now...
Yes, quality over quantity is my favorite lesson. It will be a good one to carry with me now, because starting tomorrow, things are not back to normal. I won't be fully recovered for more than a month, and even then, I won't be ready to sing like I'm accustomed. My speaking will be limited to "speech of necessity" and "conversational tones." I will sound a little like the Men In Black bug-alien for a while. ("Sugar. In wa-ter. More.") Also, I will take more time to consider the words I want to use. You see, they have to be precise when you don't get many of them. I have a clever little idea about what I will say first tomorrow. Until then...

Oil can!

*Thank you to Ed for bearing the brunt of it all; to Sam for joining Ed in making me laugh, not OL; to Mom and Dad for being the secondary bearers; to Wendy, Wes, Amelia, and Yancy for the running, stories, songs, and sanity; Karen and Debbie at BMS for helping me during the health insurance freak out ("See what happens, Larry?!"); to the fine folks who helped me in some of Bedford's many fine establishments; and to all the people who took the time to be a little creative in order to include me in conversation. I know it was awkward, but we made it! Thank you! <bow>

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