For over two years, I suffered from chronic tonsillitis and laryngitis which led to the total loss of my voice. Throughout the year 2016, no normal sound came from my voice box. I underwent several costly treatments and a surgery; lured to a herbalist against my faith; took in some concussions – none worked. Friends, professional colleagues detested me; some made mockery and mimicry of my voice, was disqualified from certain programs very important to me; went into depression. With the help of an expensive supplement, I started making some sounds in 2017. It was like a miracle to me and with voice therapy started, it improved to making some musical notes - I could sing a bit today.
In his book, ‘Discovering Your Destiny’, Bob Gass says “When you find yourself experiencing things that are beyond your ability; it`s when you know God is at work, demonstrating his great power”. In joyful thanksgiving to God, I write this piece to share the power of being empowered beyond limit. With loss of voice, I grew in my career and impacted lives. Also to let others learn from my experience.
HOW I LOST MY VOICE
For over 20 years, I have had recurrent tonsillitis which occurred every 3 to 5 months. During those years, I discovered that it is only when I take ampiclox or Penicillin V that I got relieved. In November 2015, I had the regular visitor, tonsillitis and took the usual ampiclox, rather than relieve, it got worsened and my voice kept going down. I consulted a pharmacist and took other medication recommended, none worked. The voice kept getting worse. In 2016. I sought for help at the ENT unit of St. Charles Borromeo Specialist Hospital, Onitsha where I underwent different tests and procedures in addition to medication, Also I was given a list of food items that I should abstain from and placed on voice rest. I obeyed all these therapy, yet none worked.
I proceeded to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH), where after all the medical examinations, procedures, voice rest and medications failed. The consultants resorted for a surgery to remove one of my larynxes stating that my vocal chord is badly damaged. I asked the consultant, ‘will the surgery bring back my voice?’ He assured. Not convinced, I left for a program in the US and on return to Nigeria; I went back to NAUTH to continue with the treatment. I finally agreed and booked for a surgery to remove my larynx. So far it is one of the most painful surgeries I have undergone. I was left alone to bear the pains for over a month. One, two, three months after the surgery, I saw no improvement in my voice sound. I went into depression again, considering hundreds of thousands of naira spent and excruciating pain I underwent. Several times I went back to the ENT, the doctors were not telling me anything reasonable or the way forward to get my voice back since the surgery did not work.
LURED TO A HERBALIST
When I announced I have been booked for a surgery, a brother advised me not to go for it. Recalling that a friend of his in Abuja had same problem two years back and was booked for a surgery. His father in the village sent for him and took him to a native doctor who gave him herbal medication that healed him and he never had to do any surgery. I got excited with the ‘testimony’ and asked about how much the herbal drugs would cost, being a lover of organic African herbs. He pretended to get the contact from the guy in Abuja and the following morning, we headed to Alor.
Welcoming me to the gigantic modern edifice though poorly maintained were large statues of Jesus Christ, Blessed Virgin Mary, rosary and other Christian articles. The compound looked dirty/filthy with ducks, fowls, walking and stooling round the compound. We waited for few minutes before he arrived, said a long prayer in a traditional way and broke the kola nut which he gave all to eat except me.
It was my turn to see him; he asked I drop a N1000 consultation fee on an old, torn, dirty bible he was using. He started seeing vision and said so many things about my life. I was smiling and saying within me, ‘hurry up and give me the herbs to cure my voice, so I can leave this place”. He finished and asked me what brought me here. With a sign language and from the movement of my lips, told him I want to have my voice back. I was shocked with the next thing he said, “It’s deliverance that you need”. Deliverance?, he said yes. I asked what about the herb drugs, He said after the deliverance he will give me the herbs. I got convinced again, that I will have the herbs to get my voice back. This is what desperation could cause. I was highly desperate and getting depressed with my voice condition.
He said I should come when I’m ready for the deliverance. ‘Ready?’ I asked. He said yes, that it will cost me N10,000. I shook my head in disagreement and asked the person that brought me there to take me out from the place. We left and I directed him to the Catholic Church in Alor where I called the priest, who unfortunately was in Abuja for a meeting. I sent for the vicar, was told he was in a meeting with the teachers at the school. I was in a hot seat, panting to get quick info and make enquiries about the man and the authenticity of what he does before I commit myself. Time was going, the brother who brought me got angry I was wasting his time, and asked I pay the money.
I reluctantly went back with him, paid the money and he sent me to go up stairs and wait for him. While waiting for him, I was fidgeting and confused. He entered and asked I remove the finger rosary on my finger, I did. He brought out red and white candles molded in human form, tied them together with a rope and lit it. He made continuous incantation till a loud sound came from the image indicating the candle was burnt completely which he said implies my problem has been solved..
He applied an ointment on my palm and asked I rob them on my face; I did. He poured and splashed smellier oil on my face asked I continued rubbing it all over my face and body, was foolishly doing so. To cut it short, when he was done, he noticed I was angry; he said I shouldn’t be, that I should go and look myself in the mirror and see how my face is glowing. “I didn’t come here to make my face glow rather to get my voice back”, I told him. He gave an instruction that I mustn’t take my birth till after 48hours. I asked for the herbs which he said that comes after the deliverance. He said is for N2,500. I got angry and told him, don’t have any cash with me again. He brought it down to N1000, I still refused to pay and finally he said I should bring N500 which I gave him. He gave me something similar to the oil he splashed on me and another he said I should add in the water each time I have to bath.
I left that place in anger and warned the brother that brought me there, never and never again will he bring me to such a place. I was unhappy with myself and have done something against my faith. On getting home, I disposed the contents he gave me and went into the bathroom to soak myself and wash off the smelly stuff he splashed on me. I was so scared and didn’t have mouth to tell anyone what I underwent.
OVERCOMING THE DISABILITY
February 2016, the US Embassy in Nigeria shortlisted me for an interview for the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) program. I cried to God to come and be my voice. During the interview, the panel looked anomalous hearing my queer voice, though I apologized they should bear with my voice that I have severe catarrh. They understood and strained to hear and understand me. On getting notification I was the only one selected from Anambra state for the MWF 2016, I wept. So with the loss of voice, I scaled through.
No improvement whatsoever in my voice. Hardly answer phone calls and resorted to text messages. For me to communicate effectively people only have to look at the movement of my lips and from it depict what I was saying. I forgot about my voice, though still depressed and went for the YALI/MWF program which I did in Chicago, Illinois. Have question during lecture time? I wrote in a piece of paper and passed on to a fellow to help me ask the question. My colleagues from 18 other Africa countries could understand with me but the professor could not, insisting I must speak. While in the US, I had an option of treating my voice there but the Africa in me wouldn’t allow me to. Also, considering the intensiveness of the program I was running at the Northwestern University, I wouldn’t want to miss out in any of the Fellowship activities. It is a life time opportunity but my voice could be treated when I get back to Africa.
During professional network meet-ups, I stayed in one corner admiring others networking for I wouldn’t want to bore anyone with my voice. Sighting any professional I would want to network with, I would walk up to him/her, and put on the arm an African bracelet. The professional would want to talk with me more; usually gave a sign of not feeling fine but with a promise to connect him/her via email. On getting back to the school, I sent out emails and we connected very well with such a strategy. Same way I connected with the Vital Voices family during the VVLead Exchange Program in South Africa.
Whenever there is a loss: loss of a job, relationship, and even loss of voice as in my case, there is always a new beginning and an opportunity to create, embrace it and have all the power to create the life you want out of the loss. Without a voice to chat people up, I strategized and connected with few professionals. On return to Nigeria, got a grant of $5000 from the US government to bring one of the professionals I connected with through this self-styled strategy to Nigeria. One can be strong in certain areas and struggling in others, yet God will still use the person. Without a voice, I have attracted two Americans and one Canadian to visit my Africa. This I see as one of the effects of being an ‘empowered woman’.
THE ‘MAGIC’ SYRUP SUPPLEMENT
January 2017, the first checkup I had at the ENT unit was not promising as the doctor said he doesn’t have any treatment option for me again. I came out from the consulting room, went to the matron and suddenly tears rolled down my eyes, so this is how my voice will sound the rest of my life. The matron consoled me and gave me a flyer for a supplement which she encouraged I buy. I’m not a believer of wonders of all these food supplements, so I turned down the offer. She persuaded me to try it and gave testimonies of two patients they had previously booked for surgeries and on taking the supplement, they returned to the clinic healed and the surgeries were not carried out again. I asked if their problem was a vocal chord problem like mine, she said no but insisted I should try it. I asked for the price of the supplement – N12,500/per bottle and have to take it up to six bottles. I was not convinced to try the supplement, so I left the hospital in anger and return home to keep mourning.
I consulted people, searched the internet and tried several other concussions including drinking my own urine, nothing was helpful. Nothing again to try, so one day, I reluctantly withdrew N12, 500 and went to the matron to have the syrup supplement. She explained to me how to take it and I religiously followed it. Two weeks of taking it, people around me became surprise and told me it seems my voice was coming up. True, I felt it, I was excited. I went back to the matron and bought a set of the supplement (3 bottles). By March 2017, my vocal sound became clear. People can hear and understand me without looking at the movement of my lips. The syrup brought back my voice, I started testifying about it. In all, I took nine bottles of it.
CONQUERING THE MIMICS AND MOCKERY
Initially when the mimics, mockery and complains about my voice started; I felt shy, withdrawn and sometimes depressed. When it continued, for once, I didn’t fight back but with time, I learnt to focus more on my potential, not my limitation. I looked inwards and realized my worth; I am a lapsed organist, taught reading of sol-fa notation to a choir group and a strong alto singer. But within one year, I have faced several caricature of what I could do well before. Through the experience, I learned to handle criticism, and allowed it develop me. I used the dirt thrown at me as a fertilizer and grew stronger.
I read few books by Bob Gass which motivated me to stay strong in the midst of the jokes I got about my voice. “Life will either bury you or bless you; the difference lies in having the right attitude” he says. I developed the right and positive attitude when people make jokes about my voice. It is not just what they say about me anymore but what I say about myself after they have made their jokes. Gradually, I developed immunity to negative criticisms and since then happiness has come to stand on my shoulders.
UNDERGOING A VOICE THERAPY
Three months after I started taking the syrup, I went back to the clinic for a checkup. Everyone was surprised they could hear me well. “You need no medication again but will refer you for a voice therapy to get your voice fully back” the doctor said. I found a speech/voice therapist and started the therapy and bought all the tools for the therapy. I was not religiously doing the therapy the way I ought to for few reasons – disturbance to those around me with the queer sounds I make; mimics and mockery of my voice by people around. These made me run away where nobody could hear me and hide to do the therapy. If there is no space to sneak away to do the therapy, to make sure I wasn’t disturbing anyone, I rather forgo it than do the therapy.
Two acts of love that motivated me to continue the therapy were from Engr. Okhiria (financial) and Isaac Okoh (Moral/kindness). The former voluntarily paid for the therapy while the later after he learnt about my voice defect, rather than make mockery of my voice like most people do, he became my second voice therapist. He took me through the drills; offered some skills to improve on; made me play some notes while I sang along with the keyboard; gave some tips on better ways I could do the therapy and took me to the chapel to pray for and with me. He reminded me daily to do the therapy. “Don’t forget to do your therapy daily; assume no one is listening to you. Do it well and your voice will be back”. He told me.
I wept for this acts of love from these two brothers unknown to each other but both from Edo state. I have not received such support, love and motivations from people since this health problem visited me, rather it has been mockery, rejection, teasing, mimicry of my voice and jokes made from how I sang or do my therapy. I am not done with the voice therapy because I cannot sing well yet as I ought to. I am joining a choir group to enable me improve on the therapy and in singing thanksgiving to God for restoring my voice back. Through this ailment, God inspired me through many people, I long to extend an act of love to all, both those who inspired me negatively and positively. I have let out all bitterness and breathe in God`s love for I choose to be better not bitter.
Udegboka Tessie Nkechi is an example of an empowered woman and been working to empower and transform lives of women and youth living in the slum/rural communities. Executive Director of Whispering Hope Africa Initiative (WHAI) +2348033842029