Recovering from Vocal Surgery: A Personal Account

Marie Carlow
February 15, 2023
min read
Doctor examining patient's throat

In 2018, I began my 9th year teaching music in the public schools. Of all the years I have taught and performed professionally, I have had laryngitis maybe two times. It always went away after a couple of days with rest and then I was fine. After the first week of school that year, I got a cold/virus with a sore throat. The cold went away about a week later but I noticed that my voice was very hoarse and that it was not getting better. I kept teaching and singing during classes. I kept practicing my own repertoire at home. After two weeks of having a hoarse voice, I knew something was wrong and I contacted my PCP who then referred me to an ENT and Speech Pathologist.

At the beginning of October that year, I was scoped by the speech pathologist. We found out that my right vocal cord had a hemorrhage and a lesion of some sort which I later learned was a polyp. I was put on one week of strict vocal rest. No talking at all. After seeing that initial scope I completely broke down in the exam room. I immediately thought, “how could I have let happen to me? I know how to take care of my voice. What did I do wrong?” I immediately thought of the famous case of when Julie Andrews got surgery and was unable to sing again. “Would that be me??”

Let me say first of all that a hemorrhage and a polyp can happen to anyone. You can sneeze or cough too strongly, or even yell too loudly and it can happen. Your vocal cords are fragile and when you get sick they become inflamed. By pushing your voice even ever so slightly can cause damage if you are not careful. It can happen to anyone, even people who do not use their voices as much as musicians, teachers or actors. Since I use my voice much more than the average person because I am both a singer and a teacher, I was more susceptible to it happening. It took a long time for me to realize and accept that although I did not help my condition by continuing to teach and sing, it was not necessarily my fault that it happened. My cold with laryngitis made me that much more susceptible.

After four weeks of vocal rest and therapy, it was determined that although the hemorrhage was getting better, the polyp was not shrinking. In December of 2018, I had microscopic laryngeal surgery to remove a vocal polyp from my right vocal fold. After the procedure, I had seven days of complete vocal rest. No speaking, no singing, no whispering, no coughing, no clearing the throat and no sneezing. Nothing at all. Once those days were over I could speak for 5 minutes each hour.

About twelve days later I had my post-surgery scope and the results were incredible. The hemorrhage and polyp were gone and the folds were healing. I was able to speak more often in small amounts and started vocal therapy again. After six weeks, I was finally able to sing again. It had been almost five months since I had last sung and although it wasn’t as strong as it was before, I knew that with practice that I would be able to build it back.

Here I am four years later, teaching voice and Kindermusic and performing again. When I tell people that I had vocal surgery, they are always shocked. There was no lasting damage, no raspiness, no change in my vocal range, nothing. This is only the case because I learned how to take care of my voice so much better after surgery and therapy.

Here are some tips:

  1. If you are sick, DO NOT SING! Rest your speaking and singing voice
  2. Stay hydrated
  3. Limit caffeine before vocal work
  4. Take deep breaths when speaking and watch the placement of where your voice is (keep it forward)
  5. If sick and you have a sore throat, use non mentholated cough drops (slippery elm works best)
  6. Use a humidifier or steamer to warm up the folds
  7. Limit coughing
  8. Always warm-up before singing
  9. Reach out to an ENT if you’re noticing your voice isn’t where it usually is
  10. Stay strong! Your vocal folds can heal if you follow good vocal hygiene.

Fellow vocalists, take care of your voice. Know that if you have to have vocal surgery that there is light at the end of the tunnel and recovery is possible. It takes patience and work but the end result is incredible.

Marie Carlow
Voice Instructor
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