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Silence Is Golden . . . When It's Voluntary

November 10, 1994|T. Jefferson Parker | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

I completely lost my voice at noon on a Tuesday a few weeks back. This was due to a surgical "procedure"--I truly hate that word--to remove a polyp growing on my vocal cord. (I truly hate the word "polyp," too.)

Now, I actually thought a polyp was something old Republicans got somewhere in the fanny area, so, following the diagnosis I looked up polyp in the dictionary. I learned to my horror that a creature with a "hollow cylindrical body closed and attached at one end and opening at the other to a central mouth surrounded by tentacles armed with nematocysts" was growing in my throat. No wonder my voice was shot.

The ear, nose and throat surgeon assured me this was not the case and told me to read the second definition--something about a "projecting mass of swollen membrane"--a definition that sounded almost as bad as the first but far less dramatic.

As the date of my procedure drew near, I grew peevish and baby-like. I angled for sympathy without shame, then thanked anybody sympathetic with a little macho slap: "I'll be fine. No worries." Then I'd sigh, gazing pensively into the distance, and add, "No, not that many people actually die from anesthesia, though death is listed as a possible side effect. If I don't make it, can you feed my dogs?"

I became alternately whiny, then manfully stoic about my chances on the table. Finally, I rode tall in the saddle, telling friends and family that "they'll just knock me out for an hour, hack it out with a chain saw, slap me awake and send me home."

In reality, this is what I knew about what was to happen: 1) I would be in the hands of an experienced, much-respected surgeon who is also a very nice guy. 2) I would be knocked out for an hour at a hospital. 3) There would be little, if any, pain. 4) I would go home the same day. 5) I would need to "rest" my voice for a week. 6) Insurance would pay after my deductible was fulfilled.

What I didn't know was that as soon as I got to the hospital I'd be forced to strip completely naked--not even my wristwatch, with which I had planned to monitor the last few moments of my life--could stay. The watch, and everything else I had with me, all went into a plastic bag labeled "Patient Belongings," which sounded like a good title for a woman's love-hurts-but-I-still-have-my-cat kind of novel, and I wondered if I could write one under a pen name.

Shivering idiotically on a wheeled bed, dressed only in an Angelica brand smock, my toes as cold as frozen Snickers minis, I greeted my nurse's kindly "How are you this morning?" with the word "Miserable."


"Well, no. But this is sort of scary, actually."

"Hold this under your tongue."

A moment later, I underwent the first physical trauma of the day--the dread insertion of the IV catheter (I hate that word). But my nurse was deft and cheerful, and when she finally got the thing shoved into a wrist vein and taped down, it didn't hurt a bit. I gazed out the window with tears in my eyes as she found the vein, then felt like throwing my arms around her and hugging her when it didn't hurt, but I couldn't because I was tethered to a plastic bag of solution that hovered over my bed like some kind of transparent guardian angel.

"Here comes your I-don't-care' shot. It will relax you. It's kind of like a glass of wine."

I quipped that a bottle and a half might do the trick, and in went the drug. About a minute later it hit me, and I was then wheeled into the O.R. (I hate those initials). But at the moment, I was hating nothing. I felt jocular.

"I've read all your books and liked them," an O.R. nurse said.

"If you'd read and hated them, I'd be a bit worried right now!"

That kind of thing. I was asked to take two deep breaths from this plastic mask.

Then I was awake and in the recovery room. The nurse told me everything went well. The surgeon came by to say that everything went well. I whispered back, and they told me to shut up. My brother was hanging around, hassling the staff--quite a comfort. A nurse pushed me to the curb in a wheelchair, and Matt drove the truck. My head bobbed around like one of those hula dancer dashboard dolls, but I felt fine, wondering how to get my hands on a case of I-don't-care shots, then deciding the needles wouldn't be worth it.

Before the surgery, my doctor clarified his rest-your-voice suggestion.

"Don't use it for at least a week," he said.

So I didn't. My first two days of voicelessness went well, as all I did was lounge around in bed, reading books and passing an occasional note to Matt. My throat didn't hurt one bit. The dogs seemed mystified by my silence because normally I carry on a pretty much endless monologue with the brutes, but who cares what dogs think?

In truth, I had made out a list of all the people I was looking forward to not talking to. I rarely have anything to say anyway, much to the bewilderment of groups that bring me in to provide an evening's entertainment, local author style. No more small talk! No more opaque answer to "how's the new book coming?" No more heartless inquiries as to the status of some people's days! No more B.S.!

So I ventured into town, armed with a note that said:




"That's a drag."




"Eat lots of ice cream!"

By the end of the week, I really missed talking. I missed being able to crack wise, even though I rarely say anything funny. I missed the chitchat, the kibbitz, the bull, the breeze, the buzz.

As of this writing, I'm about ready to dust off the now polyp-less cord and see how it works. I might even say words like procedure, polyp and catheter. In fact, I'll be glad to say any word. I love them all.

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