Adele at the Grammys: How to Heal From Vocal Surgery

by Dr. Reena Gupta

 

It is truly a wonderful thing to see Adele back on stage.  After what seemed like an endless hiatus (though in reality it was just few months), Adele came back on a huge platform: the Grammys stage.  Her voice was back to its usual, stunning quality, despite recently undergoing vocal surgery.  But I can’t imagine I was the only one to be left slightly unsettled by her performance.

The sound was there but I didn’t feel the passion the way I usually do watching her. I believe that everything she went through took an emotional toll on her.  I think she may fear the impassioned performances that led her to fame and, possibly, to vocal injury.

As a voice surgeon, I am aware of many of the things she had to do during her convalescence and recovery:

Pre-operatively:

  • Voice therapy: an intensive process of re-educating the patient in voice use.  This is done by a speech pathologist, preferably one with expertise in the injured singer.  This is akin to learning to being told, in your twenties, that you’ve been walking wrong for 20 years and need to learn to do it differently.  It is difficult and makes you conscious of how you speak and sing.
  • Voice rest: no speaking, no singing, no whispering.  Often, the only communication I have with my patients is via text message and phone calls from their caregivers.

Post-operatively

  • Voice therapy: learning how to use your “new” voice.  The anatomy of your vocal cords has changed now that you’ve had surgery.  It often feels very differently when speaking or singing.
  • Voice rest: most commonly for 7 days after surgery.  This is strictly held to by most surgeons.
  • Singing voice therapy: singing lessons by a coach trained in injured singing voices.  This is not always required by a surgeon but is, in my opinion, a critical step in rehabilitating the injured singer.

This is not to mention the psychological effects of knowing that your instrument is being operated on and may never be the same again.  Every vocal surgery carries with it the risk of permanent, irreversible damage and hoarseness.

What I saw when I watched Adele was someone who had been though all of this.  It is a frightening process for any singer to go through.  It is even more petrifying for someone who is on the national platform.  Contrast the following two performances.

Adele on Live with Jools Holland, May 2011:

Adele at the 2012 Grammys:

She seems much more comfortable and at ease in her pre-surgical footage.  This is understandable and merely serves to underscore how stressful vocal injury can be.  It takes a toll on a singer’s psyche and their confidence to know that a huge part of their identity, their voice, is at risk.

It is impossible to know if Adele’s injury could have been prevented by voice surveillance.  However, I am a firm believer in surveillance and having a vocal care team.  Often I stand alone against my colleagues and insurance companies in this belief.  Many feel that it is an unnecessary cost.  However, there is the greater cost of a missed injury, a surgery, and an extensive rehabilitation with the possibility of not regaining the voice.  The naysayers would like to ignore this possibility but it is often the outcome when preventative voice care is not exercised. It really angers me when people besides singers make decisions for singers.  If a singer were to be properly educated about the real risks of not having regular voice checks, I don’t think any of them would decline an exam. Unfortunately, these are things that are not spoken of, even by veteran singers.  I know we will see more injuries like those of Adele and Keith Urban until the culture of voice care finally changes.

To learn more about Dr. Reena Gupta or vocal surgery recovery, visit: http://www.voicedoctorla.com/

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