As promised, here is my experience with the initial vocal surgery recovery. Looking back I would say I should have taken an extra week or 2 before gigging, and instead worked on recovery exercises and technique.
Vocal Surgery day was the 5th January 2018 and the amazing Matthew Broadhurst was my surgeon.
My issue that required surgery was fibrovascular mass (scar tissue) on both vocal folds, and inability to get full glottal closure (vocal folds did not close evenly). This had caused me to have a problem with my high chest voice, low head voice and major vocal endurance and recovery issues. The surgical procedures were Suspension Microlaryngoscopy, Subepi rescection and KTP laser.
Surgery day recovery
I woke up in the hospital bed with no throat pain at all, but I did feeling the need to clear my throat and that is an absolute no no following the surgery. My biggest issue was I had had a massive headache (bordering on migraine) that day, and as the anesthetic wore off it came back with vengeance, so I was given some pain killers and sent on my way. All the way home with my wife driving I was just feeling drained, but apart from the killer headache, hardly any pain. I think by memory that evening I just had some soup and not too much to eat.
For the first few days, the worst thing was what to eat and drink, as I had to stay away from anything that could cause mucus or reflux, and with me, that’s nearly everything! The second worse thing was communicating, as for the whole first week I was not allowed to speak or even whisper. It was infuriating! I also had some nasal congestion that week with a post nasal drip, and of course I was not allowed to clear my throat so that was a real challenge.
As for everyone wanting to know how much pain I was in…. well apart from a bit of a sore mouth and top of my throat from them working in there, there was no actual pain from around where the surgery was done. I guess the vocal folds must not have pain receptors or something like that. I did also have tension and a mild dull pain in some of the muscles surrounding the larynx area though.
First checkup and week 2
I was healing really nicely and was given the go ahead to be allowed to talk. Immediately following the ENT checkup, I went straight to the speech pathologist. Now this was really hard! Being my first appointment, and after not talking for a week I expected it would be really basic, but I was put though my paces straight away with my now super gravely, just starting to heal voice. I was told straight away I had to work on posture, relaxing certain muscles in the neck, projecting properly, keeping my larynx up and preventing any acid reflux. I was given a whole load of daily exercises to do and sent on my way.
That week was really hard as although I was allowed to speak and had to do speech exercises, One of my tonsils had started to get a bit sore, I still had the post nasal drip, and I was getting a heap of muscle tension in my neck. I also had one particular muscle out to the left side of my larynx that was continually sore. This being the case I was neglecting my vocal exercises a little and probably falling a little behind on my expected recovery schedule.
I had a skype sesh with the Speechy and was corrected on a few ways I had been doing the exercises, and of course scolded for not doing them enough. After this, with my voice slowly starting to clean up, and also my tonsil pain going I started really working at my exercises. I also bought a steamer to sooth and hydrate my throat and I still use it to this day! I was still battling throat tension and that one muscle in my neck that was really giving me grief. I also had found that I was getting more indigestion and reflux than I normally do. I also this week started to try some really basic singing exercises. I gotta say it was pretty bad LOL.
Slowly getting better and starting to try some actual light singing along with my speech and singing exercises. I was still struggling with throat tension, general fatigue, and that one muscle in my neck
February 3rd was my first gig back. Luckily this was pre planned as a duo gig with another singer as there was no way I was going to do a solo show straight up after the minimum basic recovery time, and just as well after my setbacks. I actually probably wasn’t ready for it and shouldn’t have done it , but I sang 4 easy songs and harmonies, and of course the worst thing was the strain of talking in set breaks.
I was trashed after my first gig even though I hardly sang, and was now super stressed about the following weekend where I had 2 duo gigs with a non singer meaning I would have to be able to get through it. As the week went on I realised I wasn’t ready so I hit up the singer I did the duo with the first week so we could do the gigs as a trio format.
On the Thursday that week I had an ENT and Speechy checkup again and was told the vocal folds had healed really nicely but I had to get my singing technique under control to get rid of that throat tension or I would end up doing damage again. I was told that muscle problem I had should also go away on its own.
Well I got through the gigs as a trio and although great for the venues, it was obviously bad for my hip pocket having to split money 3 ways. I probably sang about 5-6 songs on the Fri night and maybe 8-10 on the Saturday gig plus lots of harmonies.
Week 6 (supposedly final week before expected full recovery)
I was again quite trashed from the weekend gigs and that dam muscle in my the side of my neck would not let up. Although I found I now had a monster head voice, my break and natural dirt was kicking in at very different places in my range than before. I should have been relaxing and settling in to my new voice, but was somehow continually involuntarily wrestling against it with major throat tension issues.
By the end of week 6 with all going well I should have been fully recovered and able to be back to easy full time gigging, but this wasn’t happening! I got a fill in for my scheduled Wednesday gig and also went to my GP for some anti inflammatory to get rid of my neck muscle issue. The GP said it is a really common thing to get pain there that has no real reason and their could be a heap of causes but unless it keeps going or gets worse it’s probably nothing to worry about. The anti flams helped me get through my 3 weekend gigs, and although I was still trashed on the Monday, I was finally beginning to feel like I was getting somewhere.
Ongoing recovery and issues
Late Feb & March
Back to full time gigging. Finally that muscle in the side of my neck has subsided, but I’m still struggling with throat tension and technique. I’ve still got minimal vocal endurance and having to be so careful with what I sing. I’m really noticing a lot of indigestion and reflux. I can tell I’ve got this amazing voice now, but just can’t seem to grasp using it properly! So frustrating as I though by now I would be back in full flight and better than ever, but instead was constantly in damage control.
Late March I saw the ENT again and was warned I had not done any permanent damage yet, but if I kept going the way I was I would. I was told I had to get my technique under control and my other main problem was reflux that I also must get controlled.
Mid April I’ve finally started to settle in with my voice and get my technique under control. I’ve also got my reflux under control as best I can and starting to get back to singing some big songs that I hadn’t done for nearly 2 years! Also my endurance and recovery is finally improving and I was thinking that within a couple more weeks I’ll be singing better than I ever have and I can put all this behind me!
End April / early May
Wouldn’t you know it. Just as I’m getting back on track, and right on 2 very bust weeks I get a nasty head cold. A step backwards, and I’m still recovering, but now feeling like once I get over this it will only be onward and upward!