9-Year Update — 1990
Update: 9 Years
It all began simply and innocuously. I caught a cold and contracted a case of laryngitis that refused to go away. Although I attempted to repeat the previously successful cure by not using my voice, circumstances prevented me from being allowed to maintain ‘radio silence.’ My voice became less and less a reality and more and more of a very painful experience. At one point, I had to resort to holding signs up so I could communicate. At that point, I was referred to an ENT (ear, nose, throat doctor). He treated me with pills and potions. We both expected that I’d recover in a week or two.
Well, when plan A didn’t work, the ENT referred me to a speech pathologist. Each week I was given a series of ‘exercises’ to practice as well as a list of myriad do’s and don’ts to correct my supposedly damaging behavior (pure poppycock, as I later learned). I did my homework diligently and incorporated all the ‘advice’ into my daily behavior. By the time that the originally treating team of ENT and speech pathologist were finished with me, I was a physical and mental mess… AND I STILL HADN’T REGAINED EVEN THE SEMBLANCE OF A FUNCTIONAL SPEAKING VOICE! The ENT finally told me that, like a ballplayer who had sustained a crippling injury, I would have to find a new profession. He also advised, probably based solely on the fact that he hadn’t been able to cure me, that my voice problem was caused by some traumatic event that occurred in my early childhood. Well, I didn’t have the greatest childhood but logic told me that this advise was pure, unadulterated garbage (that’s not actually the word I used but it’s a family friendly one and doesn’t need a PG rating.)
ENTER DR. COOPER. Actually, I was lucky, very lucky. Someone had mentioned Dr. C’s name to me earlier. When I asked my speech pathologist about him, she pooh-poohed me, telling me that all speech pathologists use the same techniques and treat patients in the same manner. Later, after the original ENT gave up on my case, I was lucky again. Some people who weren’t supposed to give me Dr. Cooper’s name in their official line of business, gave me his name in whispers with the explanation that he’s the only one to see about severe voice problems. I called Dr. C. As soon as Dr. Cooper’s secretary heard my gaspy, whispery, painful voice on the phone, I got an almost immediate appointment. Dr. Cooper sent me to an ENT whom he trusted. AS a result of that ENTs examination, we all learned that I had bowed vocal cords. In effect, instead of curing me, my previous ENT and speech pathologist had severely worsened my condition through their professional treatment. No, they didn’t mean to do so. They just didn’t know any better and were too misguided by their egos to admit ignorance and refer me to anyone more capable.
Thus started an intensive regimen. I was in Dr. Cooper’s office six days a week, Monday through Saturday, for approximately three hours each session. The first thing that Dr. Cooper instructed me to do was, in effect, to shut up…and not to try to speak at all. As a necessary introduction to voice exercises, Dr. Cooper style, he started me on humming through my nose. For all of you who are unfamiliar with this particular exercise, when done correctly, it feels as if the inside of your nose is being tickled. To this day, I still use the ‘sick bumble bee’ exercise, so named because that’s what I think I sound like. Then, I became acquainted with the machine and magic 97 sentences. Those sentences are still being utilized, complete with a ‘hum’ inserted in front of each word, before any public speaking. Hundreds of hours and many, many thousands of sentences repeats later, I regained a voice and ultimately, reshaped my vocal cords. However, while those happy end results were still just a work in progress, there was just one horrible personal setback. It was on a Saturday. I felt the district beginnings of a cold. By Sunday evening, I had lost my voice almost entirely. When I showed up in Dr. Cooper’s office that Monday morning, I was close to hysterical. The results of all the hard work up to that time had seemed to vanish almost in an instant. However, by the time I left Dr. C’s office that day, my voice was once again on the path to full restoration and I was feeling much better. At that time, Dr. Cooper decided the only way to effect a real cure in my case was to teach me to breathe properly. We had discussed the problem previously. I remember telling Dr. Cooper, in no uncertain terms, that even he wasn’t going to be able to get me retrained. In my mind, it was an impossible task. My abdomen refused to budge even the slightest bit when I made my first feeble attempts at correct breathing. The long and the short of it are that Dr. Cooper did get me to change my life long (up to that time) breathing habits. It was painful. There were many days that I was totally physically exhausted and drained as a result of the exercises. There I sat, with one hand on my tummy to monitor my breathing, through many hours of practice of reading aloud. At least I was promoted from the famous 97 sentences and was allowed to select books of my own during this process.
So why, after being wholly disgusted, discouraged and turned off by my first treating team, was I able to respond to Dr. Cooper’s course of treatment? First, Dr. Cooper presented a totally open and candid demeanor. From day #1, there was no question about voice problems that was off limits. I could ask anything. Also, I was given reading materials so I could learn more. I was encouraged to seek out information on voice disorders, their history and attempted cures. My favorite (and this is merely a matter of personal taste and temperament) was the textbook authored by Dr. Cooper. Second, I realized that the worst that could happen, if Dr. C’s form of treatment didn’t work, was nothing. There could be no negative side effects, such as those can accompany drug and surgical remedies. Third, at the point that Dr. C. deemed I was ready, I was introduced into the patient circle. Naturally, all the appropriate permissions had been given by each of us. We exchanged war stories about out voice problems. Each of us had a slightly different horror story to tell. It was immeasurably relieving and therapeutic to learn that I was not alone. Dr. Cooper was not present at these gab sessions, although it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. Fourth, at some point, I was able to personally notice the obvious physical signs that my voice was improving. That gave me the impetus to continue the struggle.
It’s now been seven or eight years since I was cured. Now, whenever I get a cold and feel the first signs of laryngitis, I know exactly what to do. In fact, since my cure, I’ve never lost my voice for more than a few minutes, the time it takes to hum or recite sentences (no, not all 97 of them!). I’ve been able to speak through, over and above the worst colds…and even bronchitis. Yes, sometimes I do get caught up in the excitement of something or other and forget to breathe correctly. As a result, my mouth moves but no audible words result. However, it takes me only seconds to rectify the momentary lapse and talk audibly.
Dr. Cooper’s system does work. It requires patience, dedication and diligence on the patient’s part. Most of all, the patient must be totally committed to the idea that he or she can be cured. It requires a good measure of faith, in oneself and in someone else. As an alumnus of the Cooper School of Voice Rehabilitation, I can vouch for the reality of the results and their long standing nature.