Living with a paralysed vocal chord

paralysed vocal chord

Sarah Hartley

by Sarah Hartley, Harrogate

I have had an unusual voice condition for two years, making my life very different and also very difficult.

I have a paralysed vocal cord, which means I sound croaky permanently. This all began two years ago with what I thought was just a very bad virus, but after two weeks going back to the doctors they started to test me for cancer.

Firstly they tested my lungs for any signs of cancer there, then they did a CT scan.

I was sent to the local ear nose and throat specialist as they thought it might be my thyroid making my voice alter. This was scanned and all clear so cancer was by this point eliminated, which of course was a
massive relief for myself and my family.


I had an appointment with the ENT specialist who scoped me, using a camera up my nose and down my throat, which was awful. It was then that they discovered that my cord was in fact, paralysed.

The specialists believe that this can in fact recover on its own. So they waited, and in the meantime with no money and by now no job I started to try to find things to do, to help my health.

When my cousin died of cancer, aged just 46, the funeral service was overflowing with people. During the wake I kept close to family and didn’t chat to anyone I didn’t know. My voice condition was beginning to affect my confidence massively by now.

I started cycling regularly and getting outside and making sure I had lots of things planned, although there were times when my confidence really crumbled.

If I tried going out, often when men talked to me they didn’t know what to do, because they couldn’t hear me. So I was often ignored. I found this very difficult to handle.

Then by the end of September I was begging the doctors to do something. My speech therapist had been a great support and spoke about a treatment they were doing in Doncaster which involved an injection, which I didn’t like the sound of, but they then decided it was the quickest and simplest thing to do.

So in November 2013 my mother and I went to Doncaster to see the specialist. He scoped me, and recorded me and he said: “I can do something today if you wish.”

I replied: “I’ve come this far, just do it.”

So within half an hour I was given a local anaesthetic and he did the injection, a substance a bit like Botox into my cord. With the scope down my nose and into my throat, I had to stay completely still; no swallowing just gentle breathing, which is very hard to do. The Doncaster Speech therapist and my speech therapist had come over from Harrogate as support for me.

My mother waited in the corridor and she timed it. When I was done I could see all their faces as I spoke. My voice was much higher and they were all smiling widely, so I knew it had gone well.

I virtually sprang out of the room to greet my mother. She said: “That’s taken 20 minutes.” I could talk, although it was very high pitched and it felt like I had a balloon in my throat.

Mum and I went back on the train. We were both exhausted, but I was on a complete high, feeling a bit vulnerable when we boarded the Harrogate train which was packed. But Dad was waiting
for us at the other end.

I stayed with them for the next couple of days, which was lovely. By the second day it sounded better and you could almost hear my old voice, but I couldn’t speak for long without it hurting.

Then I went back home, which was lovely. Friends came to wish me well and I was able to have a lovely Christmas with a nearly normal voice. The temporary procedure I have had was only supposed to last three to six months and it’s still going, although it’s wearing off now, a year later.

I am due another operation, which should be permanent. But I am trying this time because I know that there is a solution to keep positive and make short-term goals, trying to keep busy and look after my health and not put myself in noisy situations when I just end up very frustrated and depressed because I feel like a freak. But I’ve found out who matters to me, who really cares and hopefully 2015 should be an even better year than this one has been.

I am hoping this raises awareness for anyone with a voice condition, a stutter, a stammer or nodes on your cords. All these things as well as my condition make socialising and general mixing very difficult and in fact most jobs difficult. A little bit of patience and kindness and care is all it needs.



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