My doctor said I was like a major league pitcher being put on the disabled list. I'm not an athlete. I am a broadcaster, but the analogy was not lost on me. My voice is my tool and it was rendered temporarily useless. It began as a sinus infection and soon evolved into laryngitis. Despite prescribed antibiotics and various homeopathic treatments my voice was getting worse, limited to little more than a raspy whisper.
New York and Los Angeles have their fair shares of "doctors to the stars" and I was fortunate to schedule an exam with Dr. Randy Schnitman, whose practice includes treating actors and singers, people whose livelihoods depend on their vocal instruments. On my first visit, the doctor picked up a piece of equipment that didn't look like it belonged in my body. It was a narrow, thirty-inch long, flexible tube with a tiny camera at the tip. The doctor slowly maneuvered it down my nose and into my throat in order to view and record my vocal cords in action. After some numbing solution took effect, down it went. (After half a dozen times it becomes more tolerable but never enjoyable.)
The video confirmed his concern was justified. "On a scale of 1-10, 10 being worst, you are a 9," he told me. I had redness, swelling and nodules on both vocal cords. The course of treatment was fairly straightforward -- stronger antibiotics, anti-fungal medication, steroids, both in shot and pill form and total voice rest. "No whispering, coughing, throat clearing or talking. Absolute silence. If that does the trick, we can avoid surgery."
The two words that lingered in my mind were silence and surgery. Talking for a living has been my life for more than 30 years. It wasn't so much a career choice as it was a calling. My wife often jokes that I could have a conversation with a bowl of pretzels. Talking is like breathing. I cannot imagine surviving without it.
With so much on the line I vowed to become the model patient. I purchased a dry erase board and markers, which along with the Notes app on my iPhone became my method of communicating. I noticed immediately that in public people began to treat me differently. I was certain that when I began typing, folks half expected me to be asking them for money. But most strangers and store clerks were more than polite and accommodating.
My epiphany, however, came not from what I wrote (and I wrote a lot) but from what I didn't write. Speaking comes easily for me, too easily. It's not uncommon for me to say things so quickly that I often utter words before I put real thought into forming them. What I have learned is that what you don't say is often as important as what you do. Maybe even more so. I have become a better listener. (I also realize my wife is horrible at charades.)
My colleagues and bosses have been fantastic. I have had several panic attacks that I might lose my job over this fiasco (the joys of being "talent"). It's difficult to be a Chief Correspondent for a nationally syndicated news magazine when you can't do interviews, talk on the phone, track stories or even speak on camera. But like a major league team, I am on the disabled list, but no less a member of the team. That has been made clear to me from the top down, from Executive Producer Charles Lachman and Co-Executive Producer Esther Pessin to my Bureau Chief Tony Coghlan, whose support and understanding cannot be overstated. We often hear of employers turning their backs on workers but at Inside Edition we have worked hard to recently claim the top spot among syndicated magazine shows. We achieved that milestone together. I have found firsthand that working together also means standing together.
I have been silent for more than two weeks and the doctor is now scoping my throat every 48 hours (to keep my nerves in check) and usher me to the finish line of my treatment. At this point he said we are on course but that, "It is like watching paint dry." He warned that talking too soon can re-injure the cords and cause permanent damage. So I must be patient. I cannot wait to get back to doing what I do -- talk. More importantly, I hope to have something meaningful to say. Because in temporarily losing my ability to speak, I seem to have found my voice.