I will never forget the moment when I realized that what I thought was a simple case of laryngitis was in fact something far different. It was a Sunday evening, almost nine years ago. I had struggled with a hoarseness in my voice for about two months. I wrote off the symptoms as having to do with being outside in the cold a great deal, dealing with a typical winter head cold, allergies, or any other number of nuisance issues. However, that night as I took my place in the pulpit to deliver the Sunday evening message, I was unable to make a sound. I opened my mouth, formed the words as I had all of my life and nothing came out - not a raspiness, nor a scratchy sound, not even a whisper - NOTHING! I knew something was wrong when I saw the look on Pamela's face. I tried to apologize as best I could and eventually a friend in the congregation gave a very good impromptu message in my stead.
That week I began a journey that started with a local doctor and journeyed to doctors in Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, and finally back to St. Louis. I did not have some virus or other stress induced inflammation of my throat, in fact, the doctors argued amongst themselves as to what I had. One doctor told me I needed to have surgery on my vocal chords to remove a vocal node. One suggested I find another line of work, because as he put it, "You will not be able to speak above a whisper in ten years if you keep preaching and teaching with the same pace and schedule." I was eventually directed to a clinic in Chicago that was doing some experimental therapies. Fortunately that clinic was opening an office in St. Louis and I was able to go there for my treatments. I was entered into an experimental group with the goal of getting my voice capacity back to 85% of my original strength. The treatments worked and worked very well. I achieved the 85% capacity within the treatment phase and was released from the test group within 18 months of this ordeal occurring.
Since that time I have had little to no symptoms and very little issues with my voice. A great deal has changed in the intervening time; I no longer preach three times on a Sunday as well as teach twice on that same day. I now share messages in a much smaller venue and am no longer a full time pastor and my new work is not nearly as taxing on my voice. Everything seemed fine until about a month ago.
For the last two plus years I have been singing back up vocals and doing some lead vocals with our band This Side Up. Recently, I noticed that the sound people kept turning me up to the point of feed back in our sound system. I noticed that I was having trouble with certain high notes - I blame Bear Rinehart for writing "Image of Divine" in such a ridiculously high key! And, most significantly my wife and other people close to me began to ask me those unnerving questions about my voice.
So, off to the voice doctor I went - having convinced myself I would never set foot in his office again, or swallow that scope again, or have that nasty taste in my throat from the analgesic which makes swallowing the scope easier. And yet here I was again - "Once More Unto the Breach"
As a result I have learned the name for my problem - Cricoartyenoid Arthritis. It is a form of Rheumatoid Arthritis that attacks the vocal chords, specifically the tendons and cartilage which support the vocal chords. So where did this come from? Some say it is a secondary symptom to certain forms of "Arthritides", like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Reiter Syndrome, or gout. It can come as a result of the streptococcal bacteria, or it could come as a result of trauma to the head or neck. Of all of these possibilities I have had - well let's see! Gout - Yep, that really sucks. Step Throat, oh let me count the times! Head trauma - did I tell you I played fullback and my nick name was Tank?
So why am I sharing this in this manner? Maybe I am that narcissistic, I hope not. Maybe to help others, 45-50% of all Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers will have issues with the larynx - maybe someone will read this and learn something helpful. Or perhaps, this is the simplest venue to share this stuff with the largest amount of people instead of reciting this over and over and over!
The medical plans are to begin again with the treatments that were effective before, adding to them an anti-inflammatory medication,and maybe a steroid injection in the area (that sounds medieval!).I begin a twelve session therapy this coming Monday.
The issue for me is more mental and spiritual. I thought this was OVER! But apparently there is more to come and like many I will now need to learn to deal with an ongoing health issue. I don't have to look far for good examples of that. I am surrounded by people who courageously deal with chronic pain and health struggles on a daily basis. My wife, Pamela, is one great example of a person who deals daily with chronic pain and just finds a way to be herself and to be a blessing to others.
I love being a part of This Side Up! I love making music with this band of miscreants, and I have really enjoyed singing in worship with them. Now, I will have to learn to be content to worship with my hands and feet, with cymbals, drums and sticks - thank God it's just my voice!
I remember when all of this first started, Pam made the observation that I was afraid. Imagine that, someone having to tell another person they were afraid. Yet, looking back, it was the first issue in my life in which I can say I was truly afraid. I learned then what David meant when he said, "What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee." I began a journey learning to trust in God, not just to know of Him, about Him, but to trust in Him. And now I have the opportunity to continue that process.
This is not a life threatening issue, nor is it career ending, it is just 'something' to deal with. I am good at dealing with catastrophes; it's the little, daily,nagging junk that really gets under my skin! I want to know God's plan in all of this, I want to know what God has in store through this, but most importantly I want to know God better through this.
So, to quote my favorite Shakespearean play, 'Henry V', "Once more unto the breach!"