Talking: A not so clinical exploration of a laryngectomy.

As presented to  Rome Area Writers, October 11, 2012. After they got through laughing, the members told me  that I should sell this article to a magazine. I decided it would suit me better to put it right here on Johntheplantman. Enjoy—

John Schulz speaking with the use of an electrolarynx
John Schulz speaking with the use of an electrolarynx

The nicest thing about the operation is that I can breathe again.

Breathing is under-rated and taken for granted until…

Until it becomes difficult or impossible to breathe.

Then we notice…Oh, Yeah, then we notice.

A doctor in an emergency room once told me, “Blood goes round and round, air goes in and out. Any deviation from this is not good.” I found this statement funny and quotable until the day I had to pull the truck over to the curb and get out to do some deep breathing exercises just to keep from passing out. That’s when the doctor’s statement rang true.

I have learned a lot about the Larynx (or voice box) over the last two or three years. I have a feeling that I am going to learn a lot more. In case you have forgotten since your high school science class, I’ll refresh you: there are two pipes going down your throat—the esophagus for food and liquids and the trachea for air and sound. The back of the tongue is designed to cover the trachea when you swallow and dump all the swallowings down the proper pipe. One does not want foreign matter in the air pipe.

The larynx is the organic device that makes sound so that we can talk. Most of us know that. What a lot of us don’t know is that the larynx is also the last gate before the lungs. If even a little bit of foreign matter reaches it to the larynx, we begin to cough until that matter is removed. Larger matter in the trachea causes us to choke and to die of asphyxiation and things like that which are not pleasing.

Sometimes, due to cancer and/or other reasons, it is necessary to remove the voice box. This is called a laryngectomy. What they do is cut that sucker out and re-direct the air to a new hole in the neck. This is called a “stoma.”  I knew about stomas because they are also little things on the underside of a leaf that allows for oxygen transfer. Stomas are important.

I knew what was going to happen to me, but it still took some getting used to. I went to the hospital for an operation, got gassed, and woke up with a hole in my throat and no voice.

If you know me at all, you know that I’m always open for an adventure. You know that I am interested in new knowledge gained from new experiences. And you know that I am a true optimist.

If you don’t know me, then please just take my word for it. At any rate I was ready to learn all about my new adventure.

You see, the laryngectomy re-directs the air and it doesn’t move in or out through the mouth any more. I never knew that air through my mouth did so many things. I’m learning. Did you realize that when you take a sip of water, you actually draw it in with air? I didn’t know that until after the operation when I found that I had to drink in a slightly different manner. What about blowing on a spoon full of soup to cool it off before putting it in your mouth? No more of that, either.  I burned my tongue three times before learning.

You can’t blow your nose or spit. No more whistling, I always wanted to go squirrel hunting with an Indian blow gun—that ain’t going to happen, either. The squirrels are safe—but then, again, they were probably safe before the operation, too. One day I tried to gargle with mouth wash—nope, that didn’t work. I keep learning about new things that I can’t do.

But what I CAN do is breathe. I sure do like being able to breathe again and I feel so much better. Breathing is good.

I haven’t really tried it yet, but I’ll bet I can set a new record for kissing because I can do that and breathe at the same time. I won’t have to come up for air.

As I write this, three weeks after the operation, my throat is still swollen from the stitches that were necessary to keep my esophagus from leaking. A leaking esophagus is not good. I had to be fed through a tube and was told that I was not to swallow for fourteen days after the operation. The not swallowing was a difficult assignment. I was very happy the day the tube came out.

I am now waiting for the swelling in my throat to go away so that I can see about getting a new store bought voice box. In the mean time, if I want to converse with someone, I use either the electrolarynx or my notebook and pen. I find interactions with people to be fun, interesting, and sometimes frustrating. I know that not being able to talk is a short range thing for me, but the people I am trying to converse with don’t realize this.

Reactions to the electrolarynx are varied. Most people are not familiar with the purpose of the device and, therefore, are wary of even trying to understand or relate to what is going on as I use it. The therapist told me it takes practice. I have done that and I feel like I’ve made progress in the use of the device. The therapist also told me that the success of the device also depends on the participation of the person with whom I am communicating. A lot of people don’t understand this part.

Writing as a form of communication is fun, also—especially when I mistakenly assume that the other person can read.

A number of people look at my writing and my smile and assume that I am also hearing impaired. That’s when they start making hand motions and moving their lips in an effort to be helpful. When that happens, I write on my tablet in large letters—I CAN HEAR. They usually don’t pay attention to that, though. They just go on moving their hands around and talking loud

One day soon I will be able to talk and breathe. I am looking forward to that.

Thank you Dr. Amy Chen and all of the wonderful people at Emory Hospital. You are all wonderful.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Published by John P.Schulz

I lost my vocal cords a while back due to throat cancer. The laryngectomy sent me on a quest to find and learn to use my new, altered voice. I am able to talk now with a really small and neat new prosthesis. My writing reflects what I have learned in my search for a voice. My site publishes a daily motivational quote and a personal comment. I write an article a week for my blog, which deals with a lot of the things that I do in the garden. I am also the author of Requiem for a Redneck and the new Redemption for a Redneck--novels portraying the lives and doings of folks around the north Georgia hills. I have an English Education degree from the University of Georgia and very happily married to the lovely Dekie Hicks. You may enjoy my daily Quotes and Notes at

12 thoughts on “Talking: A not so clinical exploration of a laryngectomy.

  1. John, your humor and insight are invaluable. I happened to see this new post when I was sitting with some of the ENT docs, and shared your words with them. Sincerely and not so clinically, Danielle (emory social worker)

  2. John, I am impressed! Outstanding attitude and wonderful story, I cast my vote for publication! I bet Reader’s Digest would snatch it up in a heartbeat!

  3. Stay positive!! I had 2 tracheotomies, vocal chords detached, stint in trachea. My breathing is limited and I know the frustration well. My late brother’s saying, everyday is a holiday, when you start it with a smile.

  4. Thanks, John. My husband had neck cancer. And I’ve nursed your kind of surgical patients. Very thought-provoking and humorous! 🙂

  5. Love your attitude. My quiet Daddy talked more after his surgery than the whole 70 years before. We had no problem understanding him but occasionally wished he were a little less vocal. I guess since he nearly lost his voice he feared he would not get it all said before all time was up.

  6. I had my laryngectomy 7 weeks ago and I have learnt to whistle again! By concluding my stom as I would for speech I am able to force out enough air to whistle! This has been on of the most exciting things in my recovery! My blog is

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