Don’t Speak

I don’t think I’ve ever been this quiet in all my life. It’s been a week since I visited Mr Al Yaghchi at OneWelbeck for vocal surgery and that means one week since I last said a word to anybody. I’m going to level with you…I have no idea how I’ve managed to not make a sound. I guess the fear of fucking up the surgery is the main factor? I had this surgery so I could finally overcome something that’s forever bothered me…I don’t want to be the one who then ruins this chance for further internal peace. Not to mention the cost. I’ve had quite a lot of questions about the surgery and my experience, so I decided to write a post about it all. Skip to the end if you’re just here for the before and after pic!!

Content warning: this post contains discussion of surgery and addiction, which some people may find triggering. This also contains images some people may find upsetting – especially the second one.

So, first up, why Mr Al Yaghchi? Well, he was recommended to me by the London Transgender Clinic. Just to be clear: I may be a brand ambassador for LTC but that had no bearing on this surgery. Or this post, for that matter. I trust LTC, whole heartedly, and was gutted when I learned Mr Inglefield didn’t offer this surgery but his recommendation is good enough for me. I knew of this type of vocal surgery but I never realised it was available in the UK, let alone being something I’d end up going for. Why? Because I’ve always relied on vocal therapy. I was adamant that my transition was my responsibility and that apart from physical things like facial feminisation surgery (FFS) or breast augmentation etc I owed it to myself to do the work and to create that change. I guess I’m stubborn like that? As I explained in my last post, vocal therapy is something I struggled with – more so due to my life as it is now. Upon reflection, I suppose it’s fair to say that I felt a complete failure for not being able to stick with the therapy or for being able to make time for the necessary exercises and practice. Of course, I totally understand this surgery won’t magically fix everything for me. It’ll only address one aspect of my speech. The pitch. That happens to be the aspect I struggle most with. Having therapy first has been incredibly beneficial though, and I would defo recommend it first. Surgery should be a last resort. Why? Because therapy taught me so much about my voice. Why I sound the way I sound along with all the nuances which make up the human voice. Whilst I’m established on my journey, that doesn’t mean I don’t suffer from dysphoria. I just don’t really talk about it as much these days, instead opting to stay constructive and to focus my energy on creating change for the whole community, not just me. Whilst I don’t mention if much, it’s always there though. Sometimes it does rise up and slap me hard in the face. Given I’m still on the NHS’ waiting list for my first appointment, this is my way of getting by. As individuals we need to do what we can to get by and to stay afloat in the absence of NHS support.

How I’ll be communicating for the next week or so

So, what is this surgery I keep referring to? For the medical enthusiasts, it’s called a glottoplasty. More specifically, a Modified Wendler Glottoplasty. To everyone else, voice feminising surgery. Or a type of. In this procedure, the vocal cords (aka vocal folds) are shortened. Imagine wibbling (is that the right way to describe it?!) a ruler on the edge of a table. Stick more ruler off the edge of the table and you’ll get a lower sound, less ruler results in a higher one. I won’t bore you with the technical stuff but if you are interested in learning more, click here.

The procedure itself was pretty quick. About 30 minutes or so? I can’t say for certain. I was asleep. I arrived at the hospital and was checked in by admin staff, before being shown to my room. After some pre-surgery checks, I was on my way into theatre within about 45 minutes of arriving…which suited me fine because I was an emotional wreck. Partly down to what was about to happen but because I’m so shit at goodbyes. Having to say bye to my wife (who couldn’t come into the building for Covid reasons) is bad enough normally, let alone when I’m about to have surgery. So yeh, the quicker they sedated me, the better it was for everyone!! I literally went to sleep with one voice and woke up with no voice. It’s so weird waking up unable to do something that you’ve done for most of your life. Luckily the nurses were on hand with a board for me to write on. There wasn’t any pain to be perfectly honest. Just felt like a sore throat once the anaesthetic and pain relief had worn off. After a post-surgery assessment with Mr Al Yaghchi, I was ready to be discharged. In total, I was in and out of hospital in about 3 hours. Now for the difficult bit: recovery.

Waking up to no voice

During my consultation, I was warned the recovery process involves total voice rest for the first week. Up to two weeks if I used my voice for work. No talking, no coughing, no sneezing…not a single noise. Nothing that could disturb the vocal cord area. Until I couldn’t actually utter a sound, I never realised just how much sound I made throughout the day. Whilst I have my text to voice app to help me communicate, one thing I’m struggling with is coughing. In fact, as soon as I came round from surgery, I needed to cough but couldn’t. It’s not nice. I was given painkillers which would also help to suppress coughing however there’s one slight drawback: they are the same painkillers I became addicted to when I used to be in a really dark place. I was determined not to take them but when your body reeeeeally wants to cough and you are struggling not to choke or disturb the healing process, the choice was ultimately made for me. I was pleasantly surprised to find the fuzzy high was no longer the same. Which could only be a good thing. In its place were feelings of shame and regret. Using them to escape reality in the past cost me moments of my life which I’ll never get back, some which still haunt me to this day. But there’s nothing I can do about that, other than making sure I don’t fall into that trap again. Plus I’m no longer in that dark place. I won’t lie, despite the anticlimactic feeling, there’s a part of me that still would…hoping that the next ones will taste better. That and knowing that I could help myself to them at any time still freaks me out. Luckily I have better coping mechanisms now, so I am better equipped to step away from those temptations. It did make me think though…whilst medical professionals ask if you’re allergic to anything, they never ask if you have prior with certain painkillers, before prescribing ones which can potentially be triggering or detrimental. Maybe they should start checking and allow patients to speak up, so there aren’t any nasty surprises? Just a thought.

My vocal cords before (left) and after (right)

Whilst I will be able to speak soon, full recovery will take some time. To begin with, I’ll be limited to a few words per day and then gradually increasing the amount I say, along with some vocal exercises to make sure I don’t cause any damage. Then it’s a case of working on other aspects of my voice. To begin with, my voice is going to sound really hoarse but I’m still very intrigued by how I will sound. I think all my Instagram followers are too. Maybe I should do a live stream of me saying something? So many people have stuck by and supported me on this journey that I feel like they deserve to share the moment too? Especially as I get to decide my first word…unlike when I was a baby and just blurted any random word out. To be honest, I don’t even know what my first word was, as a baby. I can tell you it won’t be anything meaningful. Not like now.

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