Tag Archives: vocal cord damage

Adjunct of the Year & Concern About My Future Career

At the end of May, I was honored by the English/Philosophy Department at Monroe Community College when I was awarded Adjunct of the Year.

I didn’t expect the award to be a big deal — more symbolic than anything — so when I sauntered into the English Department on the designated day and the predetermined time, I was sort of surprised to be greeted by two Adjunct Coordinators and my Department Chair. They had plans.

First, one of the Adjunct Coordinators, Keith Jay, made a little speech about my service to the College.

Honestly, it was like my wedding.

I barely heard him. I saw his mouth moving, but my brain was all: Whaaaat?

Keith handed me a certificate.

Nice, right?

Honestly, the certificate would have been enough!

But then they gave me flowers.

Pretty, right?

And then my Department Chair handed me an envelope with ninety-six bazillion dollars.

Ben looks good in green, right?

Keith asked me to follow him into the hall.

(At that point, I would have followed him anywhere.)

“Your nameplate will eventually be there.” Keith pointed to a hook on an otherwise empty wall. “The plaque is at the engraver’s now.”

I followed Keith back into the English office where he picked up a white glove.

Because I am a dork, I thought: Oh, this is it. This is the part where I get hazed.

I’m not kidding.

I thought I was going to have to clean out the English office, or perhaps the supply closet where everyone goes to get pens and pads of paper and markers and chalk. It can get pretty messy in there, especially around the end of the semester. I seriously thought someone was going to make me pass a “white glove” test.

(What’s wrong with me?)

The other adjunct coordinator, Professor Yulanda McKinney, pushed a black box into my hands.

Nestled inside layers of white silk was a crystal prism.

“Put this on before you pick it up.” Keith said, handing me the glove. “You don’t want to get fingerprints all over it.”

As I lifted the prism out of the box with my gloved hand, I saw it had been engraved with my name on it.

It’s hard to take a picture of a prism!

And I was overwhelmed.

Because I realized no one was going to haze me Yulanda and Keith and Cathy and all the people in my department view me as a colleague.

I may not have my own office or full-time hours, but the people with whom I work respect what I do.

Which is an awesome feeling.

So I was filled with gratitude.

Professor Keith Kay, me (in the white glove) & Professor Yulanda McKinney

Not long after I received this award, I had a dream. I was on a ship with a bunch of my students. I turned around to call to them, but no words came out of my mouth. A voice told me to leave them behind, that they would be okay.

I’ve been struggling with my vocal cords lately.

A lot.

Obviously, the damage is worse.

I keep thinking about that dream.

I don’t know how many semesters I have left in the classroom because some days I just squeak.

Or cough.

It goes without saying that I will, of course, give 100%, but if this September is to be my swan song, 20 & 1/2 years in the classroom will have been a lovely run.

I don’t know what I will do next.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything else.

Especially anything that has required me to be quiet.

Have you ever had to stop doing something that you really love? What made you stop? Were you able to replace that thing with something else? Or do you still miss the activity that you had to drop?

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An Unwelcome Dx

“Mouth” by Phineas H @ flickr.com

It should not have been a surprise when I received the diagnosis; after all, I was a shrieking cheerleader in high school. And while I never had a single voice lesson, I used to sing in a band. For fifteen years, I shouted to my father while he pushed his lawnmower to let him know that I’d brought him a drink and some cookies. I hollered when riding snowmobiles, dune buggies, motorcycles and motorboats, and I shouted to get attention in noisy places: bars, restaurants, at concerts, hell, even while at the salon while under the hair dryer. During my years at summer camp, I intentionally tried to scream the loudest to show my spirit, and over the last decade, I’ve morphed into that crazy mom (you know the one) who cheers for everyone’s kids at the baseball games – even the kids on the opposing teams. I laugh a little too loud. I squeal and carry on when I am reunited with people whom I haven’t seen in way too long, when a friend’s child dives into the pool for the first time, or when I find out someone has just gotten engaged. In my car, I am Madonna, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. I try not to shout when I am mad, but sometimes I can’t help it.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that after a day of teaching, my voice is pretty shot, that I am hoarse and I strain when I speak. At first, it was kinda cool: I sounded like Stevie Nicks, all husky and sultry. . . but when I developed a night-time cough and realized I’d lost more than a full octave when singing, even I knew it was time to make an appointment with the Ear, Nose and Throat doc who told me exactly what I didn’t want to hear: I’m a vocal over-doer.

Yup, that’s my diagnosis.

Dr. Anat Cedar and Dr. Robert Bastian coined the term “Vocal Over Doers Syndrome” to designate an individual whose manner of voice use can be considered excessive and thereby put the person at risk of injury. Typically, the vocal over doer is talkative (Check.) And possesses a life circumstance that demands much voice use. (Um, double check.)

I’m supposed to rest my voice and do these weird breathing exercises to prevent further damage. It’s called practicing “good vocal hygiene.”

I am supposed to avoid nicotine and caffeine, shouting, cheering and excessively loud laughing. I am supposed to clear my throat only when absolutely necessary. I am not supposed to cough or make “strange noises” with my voice. (I swear, I am not making this up.) I should talk when I wish, but not too much. (I’m finding “too much” is too relative of a term.) I am supposed to avoid spicy foods and substitute skim milk for whole milk. When I teach, I am supposed to sit in the center of the room so I can be heard easily without talking loudly. (That one cracks me up.) The list goes on, and truth be told, I fail miserably on nearly all fronts, except the nicotine. That one is easy: I don’t smoke.)

Alas, I don’t know how many more years (or semesters) I have left in the classroom. It has definitely become more difficult for me to project my voice the way I used to, but I am still wildly enthusiastic about my subject matter, so it is incredibly frustrating when I open my mouth and a tiny squeak of nothingness comes out instead of my intended passionate auditory gush over a well-placed comma or properly used semicolon.

You should hear me on roller-coasters. Terrified, my hands balled into fists, my mouth agape, I’m positively silent.

There is a compelling gospel song that repeats the line, “God is trying to tell you something.” Maybe this is the case. Perhaps some cosmic force is trying to tell me to quiet down, exercise my ears, and become a better listener. I am open to anything.

tweet me @rasjacobson