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Hello? Can You Hear Me?

Monday, December 17, 2012

By Christy Sillman

You know that list they’re required to read to you before surgery? The one that states all the possible complications—I mostly remember death or dismemberment. I closed my ears, swallowed hard, and signed the paper with a silent prayer. I don’t, however, remember them saying “you could lose the ability to speak.”

Prior to my last surgery I was quite a chatty person. I used to talk all day and night to anyone who would listen. As a teenager my parents had to get me my own separate phone line and I practically had the phone glued to my ear. Then, at 17, the height of teenage talkativeness, I had my pulmonary valve replaced, and I woke up from open heart surgery without a voice.

The surgeon “bumped” a nerve that paralyzed the left side of my diaphragm and my left vocal cord. Suddenly, I couldn’t speak above a whisper.

My surgeon insisted that my voice would come back in a week or two. I spent the next year waking up every morning with a hopeful “HELLO???”—praying that my voice had magically reappeared overnight.

I was a theater major, a singer, and an annoying loudmouth before my surgery. After surgery I was quiet, reserved, bashful, and depressed. I couldn’t go through the drive-thru without a friend to place my order. I was the quiet girl at the college parties, not because I wanted to be particularly mysterious, but because I literally couldn’t talk above the music.

This was the worst of times for me. I was lost without my voice. I was angry but I couldn’t yell or scream.

Then I just stopped fighting it. I accepted it. It was my new reality and I had to move forward because time was moving me forward whether I liked it or not.

I changed my major from theater to health sciences—a pathway that eventually led me to nursing.

I found peace in the quiet.
I became a better listener.
I became a better friend.
I found the power in my voice behind a pen.

Today, I’m thankful for the loss of my voice. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it, and I wouldn’t have the quiet insight it has provided me.

Almost 15 years later my left vocal chord is still paralyzed, and although my right vocal chord has compensated, there are still some days where I talk and only silence comes out.

Sometimes, in our CHD journey, we come across roadblocks we never expected. The challenge is to find a way to accept it, move forward, and eventually embrace it.

I’ve found my voice. It’s in the calm, quiet lessons I teach my son, the support I’ve received through this blog and ACHA, and the collaboration of the many people who help speak up with me.


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