My husband Keith, has always had a powerful voice. Its deep baritone, along with his knack of carefully pacing his words with thoughtful pauses, combine to reassure loved ones as well as acquaintances with a solid reasonableness. It is a voice that has the ability to make a no sound like a yes, and charmed me when we first met 12 years, ago, drawing me across the country to reside in the Bay Area. It is a voice that is put to good use daily as a private equity investor, encouraging business owners seeking financing to share the most intimate of their professional challenges without fear of judgement, and is occasionally deployed with an eye crinkling smile to quiet crying children with much success. Total strangers have suggested he do voice overs. In short, his is a magical voice.

Over time, however, Keith’s voice seemed to be more congested than honey filled, and the antihistamine that he did manage to get- with him purchasing a 15 day supply, and me another, like common criminals from the local pharmacy,  in the hope of having him breathe normally for 30 days straight- helped less and less. A MRI in November revealed the reason for his muffled consonants; a slow growing tumor, rare in location and rarer still in its enormous size, was penned in by his skull and pushing against his throat and tongue. 

The following week, after Keith met with his assigned surgeon, I asked my husband what I thought was a pertinent question (“How many times has the doctor performed this surgery?”), and received a vague reply (“Hmmm…”). Another meeting was scheduled, so that I could ask the questions. It did not go well. “8cm”…“Larger than a softball”… “risk of a stroke”… “temporary or permanent facial paralysis”… “breaking the jaw is the easiest way to get access to all of it”... “may need to take out one or two teeth”… “skin graft and transplant from the inside of his wrist and thigh may be needed”… were some of the highlights. And the answer to my aforementioned question? “Never.”

As the holidays gave way to a new year, our days were spent in pursuit of hope of a better outcome: soliciting friends and neighborhood chat groups for referrals, visits to surgeons in neighboring cities and online searches for alternative treatments. In late February, as Keith silently listened to his pre-surgery meditation tapes, we made our way through the predawn darkness to the hospital where two experienced Oakland doctors performed the 8 hour surgery.

His mother and I were there as the anesthesia wore off, and he greeted us with a weak hello and the voice of a 25 year old. The new voice, and its quicker cadence is a reminder of a larger cataclysm averted and a long journey to restored health begun. Unfortunately, the first step of that journey did not begin with Keith being wheeled out to my car, as he would have wished, resplendent in his two overlapping gowns (“They are remarkably comfortable!” he squeaked to the medical staff) but that was his only grievance with his hospital stay.

Yesterday, I took Keith back to the hospital to have his feeding tube removed. After that procedure, Keith, who sees the value in all things discarded chirped, “We have a lot of liquid food leftover. We should hold on to it. That way, if there is shortage of food due to the Coronavirus, we’ll be in good shape.”

The man may have lost his Barry White bass but he has gained jokes!


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