The Unexpected Present

The Voice

silver dynamic microphone on black microphone stand

I always loved Yuri’s voice. Still do. Whether the richness in timbre –its musically sounding character and clean quality or his range going from warm-toned tenor to unwavering falsetto– so distinctive in its pitch and intensity. The extraordinary ability for harmony always had me going. I paid attention to him taking good care of his voice with never overusing it badly from strained out-of-range performances or pushing its limits to overwrought hoarseness. I listen to his recordings past and present with honest delightful pleasure. But now we are coming up against another unknown in our unexpected present – at the crossroads of when and what level Yuri will get his vocal range back again.

We have gone past the first and second levels of recovery (medical –heart/lungs and physical mobility –walking) whereas then I was able to focus on getting an appointment with the proper specialists that could help in this aspect of full recovery. What can we expect? While medical professionals saved his life in ICU, much damage was caused through overzealous med students in their thirties who have little empathy for what kind of quality of life after such a harrowing life or death situation. Thanks to friends who reach out with suggestions, (a big shout out to Billy Lawlor) as well as on the Kessler Speech Therapist’s referral list we decided on renowned ENT specialist, Dr. Peak Woo who has worked with many singers and musicians. It was a Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. when I made the call expecting to be told that the office was closed. It’s the weekend remember?

I told myself, it would have to wait until Monday, a day that sets the pace for the week of daily tasks, scheduled appointments, everyday errands, and outpatient visits. Surprisingly, the voice on the other end empathized and made an appointment for next week, midweek, high noon. Enough time to get into New York City and out before crunch times over the bridge and out of the tunnel. What else can we fit in while we’re there? A stop at Golden House, our favorite Chinese place in Rutherford? a quick hello to former neighbors who stayed in touch throughout the ICU ordeal, now living in Lyndhurst? See our friends on the Upper West Side who sent a Zabar care package during the time of much traveling on roads to Westchester, New York then back to the uppermost region of Sussex County, New Jersey?

The logistics are daunting. I haven’t been in NYC since the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. With relaxed notions towards Covid, the crowds back then don’t seem any different than the crowds now along Central Park West where I let Yuri off while I find a parking spot. Walking on red lights, no one seems to care that cars are on the road. Even the pigeons don’t move as I cruise the side streets. I’m confident I’ll find a parking spot (it’s my mantra) so I didn’t think much of allowing Yuri to find his way to Dr. Woo’s office. It’s only the second week since he started walking and this outing was not meant to be anything more than in and out a necessary diagnosis from the best available medical opinion. I drove around for an hour with no luck. Yuri called and I heard the doctor’s voice explaining what’s going on with Yuri’s voice.

Six weeks of intubation, as well as the weekend misdiagnoses, did the damage-causing two reintubations scarring areas that left an opening at the esophagus flap thus precipitating breathiness to Yuri’s voice. Time plus speech therapy may heal this instrument that Yuri has honed his entire life. Or it may not. Just as we lived through the other Unknowns. We won’t know until we know. While I leave Yuri again on another corner waiting to meet up with Bill and Neva at the cafe, I feel a bit guilty as if I’m leaving Nell at the door and she wonders if I’m coming back. Watching his slow-moving but unwavering figure curbside in New York I can imagine what his feelings are after the appointment.

It’s fear. I witnessed it before and that’s why I say we will get it back again. When we merged, I would often encourage him to start singing again after a chunk of time spent composing and performing Latin Jazz instrumentals with his quintet, GRUPO YURI. Many CDs included a tune with him singing and I played it over and over on repeat. He finally complied and started singing Then it happened in 2016, during late winter. Yuri had inexplicably lost his voice. I saw panic in his eyes. Not the same this time, nevertheless, it’s a fear we all encounter when something fundamental changes in our lives. Whether we accept or reject this change depends on our beliefs in coming back. Again. In real-time.

What we did for Yuri’s first time was turn to Roman Osadca, the Garlic King who grows over 200 varieties of garlic, and get his advice. “Inhale organic garlic stems, as much as he can tolerate many times a day,” he said matter-of-factly. How would that help, I wonder? Whatever went on, it must have been some kind of sinus infection since sinuses sit on top of vocal cords. It took many weeks and several months, but at a very peaceful moment, driving home from a road trip to Toronto when Joni Mitchell came on the radio, it happened. Yuri started to sing along. He smiled. It was a Kubelka moment. It will happen again.

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