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Throughout my adult life, I have tried to develop a strong voice—as a single mother, educator, writer and woman. This ability to speak for myself has made me feel impenetrable. Through self-expression, I have managed to survive the challenges of my life.

Then, in mid-July, I lost my voice—literally. I woke up with a severe case of laryngitis and now, six weeks later, still grapple with not being able to talk above a raspy whisper. My inability to communicate has made me feel vulnerable; I am dependent upon others to either speak for me or to have the patience to try to decipher my feeble attempts to speak.

When I went to the ENT specialist at the local hospital, my older brother not only accompanied me, but he also explained to the physician what was happening to me. I felt like a child who needed an adult to convey her feelings; I felt helpless as I passively sat in the examination chair and had a tube placed in my nose and down my throat. When I could barely utter sounds—zzz and vvv—I worried that my independence had forever abandoned me. 

I do not like being dependent on the kindness of others. I do not like having to ask others to lean forward to hear me. I do not like knowing that I cannot effectively convey my thoughts and opinions. I do not like the insecurity I confront due to the lack of a voice.

Because the physicians cannot diagnose the cause of my problem, they have decided that my best option is vocal cord therapy. I practice all kinds of exercises to strengthen my vocal cords—and sometimes I even feel that I am making progress. When I speak to my children on the phone and they can make out my words, I feel victorious. Then, however, I regress, and I again return to a state of hopeless vulnerability.

This “condition” with no positive end in sight has made me profoundly cognizant of how I have taken my basic bodily functions for granted: seeing, moving, speaking. It has reminded me of how the human body is both strong and fragile: able to survive years of stress and illness but also vulnerable to age and decline.

Perhaps I will magically awaken with a voice. Until then, I must deal with the vulnerability of being voiceless.

Ronna Edelstein
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania