Part 1: “We only read you when you write”

I truly thank God for Facebook and for the technology that both keeps me alive and compensates for each new problem that comes along. It can be tough sometimes to tell if I’m staying up because of FB or because of the pain, but I only have to think of the many nights before the Internet (and, thus, before Mary) when I would lie awake in pain and have nothing to do except read if I felt well enough, no one to talk to, etc. And now, with my vocal cord paralysis, it has been quite a living Purgatory as someone who “loves to talk.”

In July, I had a window of opportunity when my “temporary injection” gave me a voice that just sounded like laryngitis, which, when you think about it, it technically *was*. They inflated my vocal cords with a substance (the doctor kept referring to it as “gel,” but the nurse said it was Botox) to see how well it worked. People asked me to say something profound for my “first words,” and I quipped, “It will probably be something like, ‘[N], stop that!'” As it happened my first words, two days after the injection, were, “Let’s see if this works.” Then I began to recite the Gettysburg Address, which I have mostly memorized because of a great lesson on critical reading I built around it. When I started calling family members, the joke was, “I never thought the day would come I’d be glad to hear John talk.” When I called Mary’s parents, and got disconnected, her dad called back and said, “Mary, some guy just called impersonating your husband!”

When it wore off much sooner than expected, and the scope showed no change in my paralyzed cord, the doctor jumped to the most advanced procedure, reenervation, when they bypass a nerve (he didn’t say where they get the nerve from to restore nerve activity in the paralyzed muscle. He even said that he was reluctant to do the procedure on a Marfan and that it was probably too late (as I later read, the procedure works best 3 months after the paralysis, and this was already 5 months). Everyone with Marfan synrome who had vocal cord paralysis after an aortic repair told me that the laryngoplasty (the standard surgical method) didn’t make much difference, and a couple said they lost their voices entirely. Given the risks of the two surgeries, and the minimal benefit I got from the injection (since I still couldn’t sing–more on that later), I decided to leave well enough alone. If God wants me to have it fixed, or He wants to heal me miraculously, He’ll do it just like He did with my aorta (both times).

In the meantime, I constantly think the way I used to, gathering ideas I’d like to share with Mary, the kids, my parents or her parents in conversation, and then remembering I can’t. Somehow, it’s very difficult, though, to “keep in touch” with family online. My mom’s the only one who seems to use email much. My siblings have always been less “into” technology than I am.

Online, I can still share my thoughts. Fittingly, since we met online, chat has become the most effective means of communication for Mary and me. Skype was literally a life saver for me in the hospital, and my future sister-in-law suggested we keep in touch that way, but I just figured out how to get my account working on “my” laptop. I also just finally fixed a glitch on our web mail with Comcast. Even when I had a pretty clear speaking voice after my injection, I still had to wait for times when it was quiet to call. I was sharing all these frustrations with Mary last Sunday afternoon and she said, “Hey! Your voice actually sounds pretty good right now!” I realized it did, and, though I missed my OCDS meeting yet again we sampled a re-entry to the social scene by arriving late to a gathering we’d been invited to, and the next day I called my parents. Even so, ironically, I just don’t know what to say anymore. Thoughts I just want to share for the sake of sharing I do on Facebook and on here and consider them “shared.” Writing this long two-part piece has taken me about 2 or 3 hours so far, and I’m not even finished editing from the versions I posted on Facebook. So I really don’t know what my family members have or have not read on Facebook or my blog, and emailing seems redundant: so much I wish I could say and yet I’m at a loss for words or motivation.

I don’t know which part of my ICU experience I look back on with greater dread: the time period where I was mostly anesthetized and dreaming/hallucinating, or the few weeks where I was fully aware but unable to communicate except by tapping on letters on a board. My hands weren’t steady enough to write and, honestly, I haven’t really tried to write other than signing my name since I’ve been home.

I was essentially “locked in,” having the trach in my throat keeping me from speaking at all. Once I got over the paranoia and the shakes enough to trust the computer, everything changed, and everyone noticed it, but prior to that, although I did get some reading done, I spent most of my time praying the Jesus Prayer. It was very effective spiritually, but I don’t think I’m quite up to that level of hermitage yet.

I’ve blogged before about the greater significance of “Ships” (written by Ian Hunter; popularized by Barry Manilow), always one of my favorite songs, now that I’m an adult, how I always dreamt of acting it out with my dad or with my kids, and having one of them sing it for me when I’m gone. Now, the lyrics are all the more poignant. While searching for an image to go with the song, I found this Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem:

“He said, ‘It’s harder now, we’re far away. We only read you when you write.”

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