A Clean, Quiet Life: Part One

Earlier this year I coughed for about a month before some people started telling me to go see a doctor. I am not anti-doctor, but it’s such a pain to take the time for an appointment so I just ignored it for a while. As you will soon see, shame on me.

Finally, I relented. I was diagnosed with bronchitis, took my prescribed antibiotics and assumed all would be well. The heavy coughing subsided but a lingering heaviness remained in my throat. A coarseness in my voice that just didn’t sound like me. I described it as feeling like there was a lid on my voice that I just couldn’t remove. It was most noticeable when I raised my voice – I just couldn’t do it. And, when I tried to sing, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty – no projection, no upper range. No fun.

Like the bronchitis, I let this continuing annoyance continue for too long, finally going back to my doctor who couldn’t figure it out and decided I needed to see a specialist, an ear-nose-throat guy, soon to become public enemy #1.

After he unceremoniously snaked a not-so-tiny tube with a light and a camera attached to it up my nose and down my throat (I’m telling you, it was like being on the wrong end of an Anderson Cooper investigation) he told me I have a nodule on my vocal chords (most likely brought on by too much coughing!). He then launched into a litany of prescriptions in an all too practiced, painfully banal, completely unsympathetic tone of voice that assured me I had not won him over as the best patient ever! (perhaps it was the gagging and grabbing his arm during the scope?).

Complete vocal rest for two weeks.

No caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol (aka breakfast, lunch and dinner) for two months.

In the very moment he hit me with his cornucopia of remedies, peering at me as if I was about to run screaming from his office to kick off an orgy of espresso, ganache and gin, two things became painfully clear: first, I saw how willingly ignorant I can keep myself when I don’t really want to know the truth; second, I realized how very, very much I enjoy and rely upon the rituals of my life. My morning coffee, my afternoon treat and my evening cocktail are all highlights of my day. Brief moments on the path that give me comfort, pleasure, and assurance. I really enjoy those things. What I don’t enjoy is the realization that “ritual” is a terrific euphemism for “habit.”

What is so interesting to me about this hiatus from (some of) my ritualized habits is how big the adjustment really is. Without coffee, I would much rather sleep than get up and read. Reading in the morning without coffee is unthinkable. So, I’m not. Without a cocktail or a glass of wine, I would rather keep working than unwind from the day. I don’t yet know what else to do with that time, without that well-practiced pattern to guide me. It seems so silly that any of this should matter so much and, yet, here I am; unpracticed in this new way of being, still resentful of it and still positive that I’ll form something new in the process.

And, yes, it’s only day 5. The bad news is, there’s a long way to go. And, the good news is, there’s a long way to go.

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