This Is A Voice

Vocal Surgery and Beyond part 2 - making the decision, going through surgery, how long before singing again

April 24, 2023 Jeremy Fisher and Dr Gillyanne Kayes Season 7 Episode 6
This Is A Voice
Vocal Surgery and Beyond part 2 - making the decision, going through surgery, how long before singing again
Show Notes Transcript

A World Voice Day Special
In part 2 of "Vocal Surgery and Beyond", Dr Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher interview singer Kate Bassett on why she decided to go for vocal fold surgery.
Kate talks through the decision and the second opinion, and the sentence that helped her decide (it involves rucksacks)
How the surgery went and how long she was on "voice rest" (it might surprise you!).
The voice therapy sequences she used and how Gillyanne built on them to move from speaking voice to singing voice
The deadline for Kate's next full-time singing role after surgery (3 months!) and the differences that Gillyanne helped her to embed
Red flags and boundaries for a singer
And Kate shares the one piece of advice she'd give herself and every other singer.

0:00 Introduction
0:36 Making the decision to have vocal surgery - the rucksack
3:25 Getting a second opinion
6:23 Getting financial help for the operation
7:45 Going through the vocal fold surgery and the risks
11:00 How long recovery took (it surprised us)
14:02 When did the singing start again?
15.11 Going back to full-time singing
17.15 Tour behaviour, tailor-made warmups & drunk Frida
20:29 What has changed since the voice operation?
23:56 What advice would Kate today give to singers?
26:32 Finding out more about Kate

This 2-part podcast is a #worldvoice day special. The theme for World Voice Day 2023 is Your Voice Matters.

You can watch Vocal Surgery and Beyond Part 1 here:

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TIAV S7 Ep6 Audio only

[00:00:00] This is a voice, a podcast with Dr Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher.

[00:00:21] Hello and welcome to This Is A Voice, season seven, episode six, the podcast where we get Vocal about voice. I'm Jeremy Fisher. And I'm Dr. Gillyanne Kayes. And we are back with Kate Bassett and her journey through Vocal surgery and beyond. And we are just gonna jump straight into the next part. So you were doing okay. Things had improved a lot. Yep. What informed the decision, why did you go for the Vocal surgery? 

[00:00:49] Right. Okay. we'd gotten to a really good place that when we were looking at the you know, the image of my Vocal folds, there was still a bit of a loose edge to, to the, ah, I always get muddled on which side it is.

[00:01:05] That's a good thing though, that I'm not sitting here going oh, it's this side. And uh, it was a, let me get this right, it was a pseudo, a pseudo cyst. Yes. So it was left left over. So where I had you know, had sort of had that hard sort of bump from the bruise from that, that initial hemorrhage, it hadn't healed completely.

[00:01:26] It was loose. It was loose and it wasn't going to go back. We weren't gonna get that straight image that we wanted on the screen. Yeah. So the edge of the Vocal folds where they have to meet on the mucosa, it wasn't straight. So we had this, you know, pseudo cystic bump Yes. If you like, which I think was probably from some scar tissue or the, you know, the incomplete healing.

[00:01:51] Um, yeah. Which had happened because unfortunately like many singers you'd carried on singing instead of being able to take that 7 to 10 days Vocal rest immediately, and Yeah. You know that you are not alone by any means. And what was the effect? Yeah. What was the effect of that? Right. Well actually, so we talked about this.

[00:02:16] So I, I remember the conversation I had with my speech and language therapist was know, you can go back to work and there are plenty of people, there are singers across the West End that have this and they're working and their, their careers in good shape, and you're gonna be fine. However, you will get tired more quickly.

[00:02:37] You're gonna be carrying it like a rucksack was the, uh, the analogy. Yeah. Nice. And we, and you know, she said, we've worked hard, we've done so well and we can get back to a hundred percent. We can do that if you have surgery, that terrifying word, you know, that no singer wants to hear. But um, that was the only way that we were gonna get back to, you know, A hundred percent sort of healing.

[00:03:06] I just, I wanna pick up that image because it's so clear. Basically, it's like being a dancer. You can do the whole routine, you can do all of the moves, you can sell it, but you are the only person in the chorus who is doing it with a rucksack on their back. So you are having to work a lot harder and you're gonna get tired much more quickly.

[00:03:24] Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. I was thinking that, you know, you and I talked about this and, and like most singers who trust their, their teacher or Vocal coach, you wanted to know if I thought you should have Vocal surgery. Which of course is obviously out of my remit other than to support you.

[00:03:44] I mean, even though I'd, I'd seen the pictures of the Vocal folds, it's, I can't make that decision. But one thing I knew was that in terms of what you used to do and what a musical theatre or a, you know, a contemporary music singer needs to do, I knew that you didn't, either were too afraid to sing with more muscle at the Vocal fold level, or that it, it wasn't gonna, you know, work.

[00:04:12] And of course now knowing that the, you know, the edge of the Vocal folds was a bit bumpy, of course that would always be problematic. And that, therefore, for you to get back to the full function it might need surgery. And I wanted you to get back to that full function. So you, I encouraged you to get a second opinion.

[00:04:34] And I would say this to any singer. If you are in doubt about advice to have surgery, no matter how much you trust that clinical team you were working with, and they were great, get a second opinion just to get another viewpoint. And that's what you did, isn't it? Yeah. And that was a huge, huge thing for me.

[00:04:56] Mm-hmm. It was you know, it, you just need that information and like you said, there was never a question of trusting the people that I was working with. Mm-hmm. But it just opens out that, that, that sort of visual that you've got, you, you just, you could take all of that in because it's something you just can't take lightly.

[00:05:18] Um, and there are risks and, you know, we, we, we discussed the risks. Mm-hmm. So it's just something I recommend. And, and this is something as well that I think is really important that there is expense. You know, when you're doing these, when you're going on this journey, when you are, you are seeking out advice.

[00:05:35] When you're seeking out people's time, it costs money. Yes. Mm-hmm. But this is, this is a long term thing. Yes. So you've gotta think long term. And that second opinion was just such a great, great investment in just making me feel comfortable with what I was going to do. Yeah, yeah. Because it was a clear yes from them. Yeah. Yeah. That's important. Made me feel comfortable because I knew both the clinicians concerned and the, uh, speech and language therapist is a friend of mine. So I think I shared with you, I hope I did. I imagine I would've done that I had a quick chat with her and I said, you know, I gather, you all think, and she said, without question.

[00:06:18] Mm-hmm. She needs it, she should do it. Mm-hmm. And that set my mind at rest. And Kate, just as a little diversion, you're talking about financial things. Yeah. You had help from the wonderful Help Musicians organization, right? Yeah. Can we give a little shout out for them? Absolutely. This, this is such a big part of you know, why I'm, why I talk about my, uh, my journey.

[00:06:45] Um, you, you know, Help Musicians were amazing. You know, we, my, my husband now and my now husband and I, we sat down, we had a meeting and we told them, you know, what had happened, who I was. And they said, we're gonna take this on, and what do you mean? We're gonna pay for everything. The surgery, all your appointments, your physio. They took, took me and they, they financed everything. It's so important again, that singers know that this is out there, this is what's available to us. Yes. If we, if we are full-time working singers there's so, there's so many resources available and I don't, again, I think as much as we are not clear on what injury means, I think we're also not clear on you know, the community that's there to support you.

[00:07:30] Yes. So important. Yeah, and I'm so grateful. And we'll put a, we'll put a link to Help Musicians in the, in the notes so that people can go and find out about them. Because they fund not only singers, but other musicians. Yes. To take them back to health, which I think, I think is wonderful. Should we talk a little bit about what happened post-surgery and you know.

[00:07:51] Mm. Oh, do you know what I'm gonna ask you? How long was the period for you from the surgery? Hang on, hang on a minute. Oh, I think you're jumping. I am jumping. Yes. Okay. I want to know how it felt to go through surgery. Yikes. Okay. Oh wow. Okay. Yeah, that was, oh, so one of, oh, there's so many things. Just the risks.

[00:08:17] Um, Julie Andrews has mentioned. Yes. Now I've gotta say Julie Andrews is my childhood icon. I remember it being on the news. Mm-hmm. When, when she lost her voice as a result of surgery. I could tell you where I was watching the news with my parents, and there I was, young Kate was absolutely devastated. And he said, you know, this happens.

[00:08:38] I think the, the number was one in, one in 100. You know, it can happen. And so that was a big fear for me that even, you know, with somebody doing a great job that things do go wrong. So that was on surgery that was probably at the top of my mind. Yeah. Another risk was teeth and my mine are quite big.

[00:09:00] So they said they can get broken. Yes. Especially if they're, if they're larger, they're normal, which apparently mine, mine are. But as you can see I came out in one piece, both vocally and dentally. I never thought I would hear a sentence quite like that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have had the privilege of watching a laryngeal operation, so I understand why the teeth are an issue.

[00:09:27] Woo. Yeah. That was, you know, that obviously I was more worried about the voice, but I thought, oh, you know, how am I gonna wake up? You know? And this is one of the really hazy memories that I have. And, and it, again, there was anaesthetic involved, so it might not have happened. But as I was sort of coming to, uh, you know my surgeon said, look, great success.

[00:09:48] And there was an image, you know, this is what we've done, you know? And so I just remember being yeah, just waking up and sort of so slow, but knowing what am I waking up to? And it was good news, which was, you know, that's nice. Wonderful. And actually there's another aspect, which was a spinoff of the Vocal surgery, which, you know, when you and I were chatting informally the other day I hadn't realized, which was the surgeon said through the surgery, they were able to take a really deep close look at what the problem was, and therefore Yeah. And that's a kind of close look that you sometimes can't take in any other way. Can you remember enough to tell us a bit about that? Yeah, yeah. Actually, thank you for reminding me because you know, we, that was another thing about should I or shouldn't I have the surgery?

[00:10:41] And, and I, I forgot that important detail that that was another way of getting that information. You know, that is the, the best way actually, that you can really find out what you are dealing with at sort of Vocal fold, layer by layer, yes, level yes. Yes. It's the closest close up you're gonna get.

[00:10:59] Yes. Okay. So what happened after the surgery. After the surgery. Oh, right. So I had one week of complete voice rest, and as you know, I love complete voice rest. So yeah, no talking. And that was purely because, because of the surgery, obviously constant contact means that you can't heal. So it was, it was just to make sure that, you know, that I could heal.

[00:11:26] And then I was a bridesmaid in that time, which was fun. I can't imagine going to a wedding and not saying anything at all. Oh, brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And then what was the first step once you started talking? I mean, did, were you given particular instructions or did you not talk until you'd been back to the clinic and they checked everything was okay?

[00:11:49] Yes. How did that work? Yeah. So again, don't, don't speak until you've seen us, get that image, take a look, uh, very positive outcome again. And then you know, that gradual because of that, that voice rest and the tension that comes with it. Mm-hmm. You know, gradually easing back in. But I think what's important to mention here that my, road to recovery after surgery was quite short.

[00:12:16] And my speech and language therapy said, you are not gonna take as long to recover from this because you've already done so much of the work pre-surgery. Yeah. So actually we were able to bounce back quite quickly and I'd already learned a lot of the steps. And my body knew the direction it was going in.

[00:12:33] So we were sort of jumping through those, those little milestones quite quickly at that point. So, to get from Surgery day to comfortable, healthy voice. We were looking at three weeks, which was, wow, that's really short, fast. Doesn't that show because they're, they're you know, they say in the clinical world now that having the habilitation period before surgery can be super important, particularly for voice surgery.

[00:13:00] I want to pick up on something again, which is a week's voice rest. Mm-hmm. But a week's voice rest after Vocal fold surgery. You expect it to be weeks or months. And, and yet that was enough and three weeks to functioning, speaking voice. Yeah. That is amazing. Yeah. Yeah. And these things were surprising to me.

[00:13:20] I had no idea that the voice has a wonderful ability to heal itself. Mm-hmm. And he said one week from that sort of the, this recovering from surgery we don't know that. Singers do not know that that when, when you are doing, doing everything correctly, step by step, that the voice, the voice is a wonderful, wonderful heal healing properties.

[00:13:44] Mm-hmm. Yeah. Which was news to me. Mm-hmm. I think the cellular regeneration of the Vocal folds, that's my understanding it, it's a very quick turnover time. Mm-hmm. Yeah. So that if you do have that voice rest it can heal quite quickly. Of course it depends what's been done. Yeah. you'd had the surgery, you'd had the week of silence, you'd had some of the exercises that you were then doing to get your voice back in. Mm-hmm. When did the singing start? Yeah. When were you able to have a first session? I can't remember. Oh, I can't remember Gillyanne! And I wish if I'd known we were doing this seven years later, I would, I would've kept a journal. Ballpark figure, uh, right.

[00:14:27] So I've sort of got, there were sort of two, two timelines. So in terms of singing with you, I think we were given the green light quite early mm-hmm. To, to work with you. And again, it's lovely when you've got practitioners, practitioners that know each other because they obviously they trusted you.

[00:14:42] Mm-hmm. That I would be in the studio with somebody that wouldn't suddenly, you know, get me leaping before I could walk. Yes, absolutely. So that, that was, yeah. So with that kind of trust, I think we, I think we started quite early, so Ooh. And I think I was gigging, but again, planning, consciously planning. You just dropped that into the conversation.

[00:15:04] No, I, I was gigging at the time. Yeah. Can you remember which month you had the operation? Right. I had the operation in mid-July, and one big date that I've got in my mind was that my full-time rehearsals for tour started in October. Yeah. That's so that's when I was back to full-time theatre, touring, rehearsals every day.

[00:15:30] Yeah. Singing. Amazing. And I remember those rehearsals because I was cautious and I was really mindful of, of what I was doing. So I definitely, that was the point at which I was a full-time working singer again. Yeah. And then that reminds me that you and I were already working in the August. Yes. And, you know, getting you habilitating you towards that gig and that tour. And we used it as a text because it was something that I'd already done. I had that muscle memory. Mm-hmm. And so there was elements of low pressure. I understood the workload, I knew what I was going into. So we, you know, working with that, that sort of knowledge of what it was going to be and training up for that was great.

[00:16:18] And then within that time, there might have been some low key gigs, you know, maybe something like an hour of singing at a care home or something like that. You know, just keeping things ticking along, but nothing where I would be forced to suddenly jump in before I was ready. 

[00:16:36] I think that the whole business of, of working on a show that you already knew and that you already had physical experience of, there's a, there's a real positive there, there is also a negative, which is you had a muscle memory for doing it with the voice pre-injury. Mm-hmm. Yes. And now you were doing it with a voice post-injury, post-surgery. And so there would mm-hmm. There would have been some, uh, ways that you would need to change what you were doing. And I think that's the part of that is the being careful and being aware of what you were doing. You were now much more aware of what you were doing.

[00:17:07] Yeah. And I was on it, I was on that case. Because it's something we talked about, isn't it? And it was, it, it was during this period, wasn't it, that we talked about tour behavior, which is everybody talks at breakfast, what should I be doing? And all day and the rehearsal. They're all talking to me on the coach, ambient noise.

[00:17:31] So how did you handle that? What you know, tell people what, what we did. Oh, do you know what? It's so funny. But we had, you know, I love you Gillyanne because you're so, you tailor made everything to work where I was going. Yeah. Where we were headed. Mm-hmm. Okay. We're gonna, this is your breakfast warmup.

[00:17:48] This is your warmup for saying hello at the breakfast buffet. Mm-hmm. That's it. Just if you wanna say hello before you were ready, before you've woken up. This is your, yeah. That's your breakfast warmup, you know, and then get, when you get on a tour bus, it's, it's perfectly Okay. Put your headphones in. We talked about this.

[00:18:05] Mm-hmm. Go under, go underground, you know kind of find ways of kind of economizing throughout the day with how you use your voice. And, and then, you know, maybe around soundcheck time, you know, sort of after lunch that might be a good time to sort of start getting your voice ready for your soundcheck.

[00:18:25] Mm-hmm. And that was another thing, you know, not sometimes on a just bad habits, but you might just throw your soundcheck out and then warm up before the actual show. But no, you know, warm up when you've got time. If you've got an hour in your room mm-hmm. Take your time, you know, make it a nice, relaxing part of your day.

[00:18:43] You know, enjoy it. Enjoy the therap therapeutic things that you can do to help your voice the efficient. So you know, starting with gentle humming in the shower right at the beginning of the day, and then maybe kind of a bit of time with your Dr. Vox. Uh, I have a Dr. Vox by the way. Yes. You know, nice bit of massage and things like that.

[00:19:03] So just looking at your day and deciding and making the decisions that work for you on how your voice is gonna feel. Great by the end of the day. And not forcing yourself to use your voice too hard and heavy before you are ready, because then you start the day with some stress that, oh, my voice isn't quite right.

[00:19:24] I feel a bit tired. I've go to a show tonight. That's not the best way to start a working day. You know, give yourself some time. Mm-hmm. That's lovely. I think I, I sort of said a lot there, but, uh, love it. No, I think it's, I think it's, that's really valuable and also having a cool down if you need it. Yeah.

[00:19:41] Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Especially, particularly with that show, you know, I was singing quite a lot lower than my voice naturally sits. was sort of quite aware of, of that as well. And Not sort of gripping and, and that's really relaxing and un unhooking all the time. Unhooking relaxing.

[00:20:00] Mm-hmm. We talked a lot about drunk Frida. Drunk Frida. Oh, did we? Ok. Right. Do you remember that? I came back to the other day. Yeah. Drunk, drunk Frida drunk. I was very drunk. No. I don't, I'm not saying drink lots of alcohol to relax. That's not what I'm saying. But just that feeling of just, you know, just so much easing of tension throughout your entire day.

[00:20:21] Yeah. Not just when you are in work mode, but the whole day. Yeah. Love that. That's very interesting. I'd completely forgotten. Maybe now is the time to ask. What has changed for you as a result of having been through that experience? Because it's clear you are a very happy working singer now.

[00:20:43] It's, you know, this has been a really great outcome, but what's changed for you apart from becoming a mom and getting married and all of that stuff? Um, you know, I it was just a complete shift of priorities. And I, I look after myself so much better now. I I put myself first. and I think we are worried about doing that.

[00:21:08] I think we're worried about being seen as being divas, being, you know, difficult artists. And the opposite is true. If you're forced to do it it just completely changes your outlook. I'm not gig chasing anymore as in trying to do everything. Mm-hmm. Uh, I've got a much better measured sense of what, what is a balanced amount of, you know, work, you know, my Vocal load, my workload. I've just come at it with new eyes and it forced me to do that. But I have a healthier, healthier attitude now, and I'm Yeah, you are right. I am so much happier, which is why I'm desperate to tell people about my, my Vocal injury.

[00:21:49] It's almost like a great thing that happened to me, which is a strange thing to say. Yeah. But I feel that, I think it's wonderful thing to say. I understand that. Yeah. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Because it, it changes your mindset. it makes you look after yourself. It's a wake-up call. And do you think your career is better and that you are happier as a performer than you were previously?

[00:22:10] Would you say that? Absolutely. My voice does more. It does more. I have artistic and technical freedom that I didn't have pre-injury. Mm-hmm. I'm not people pleasing anymore. it's not problematic. It's not problematic in the sense of I have a, I, I'm, I'm probably more aware of, of how I work and who I work with, you know, and not, not, you know, if a little red flag comes up, I think before I was worried that I would, I would be the person that might cause somebody else to raise a red flag, and then you realize, no, I can look out for them too.

[00:22:50] I can look out for when somebody isn't looking after me, as, you know. So it's it's something, uh, oh, it's hard to make it sound like I'm, you know, not, not Confrontational with that. Yeah. It's just about looking at the relationships that you build and working out which ones are healthy. Yes.

[00:23:10] And good for you. Yes. And which ones aren't. And it's also bringing in boundaries. Very nicely put. Yeah. Yeah. I was just going to say it's about boundaries. It's bringing in boundaries to say, I'm perfectly okay with this that you are doing, but actually you've just stepped over one of my boundaries and I don't like the way that you've just dealt with me.

[00:23:25] So can we change that please? Yeah, yeah, yeah. it's okay to change if it's not right. You know? Change is good. Yeah. It's good. You know and I'm, I, I'm so happy. I'm so fulfilled. it's because, you know, I, I looked at what I wanted and I wanted a long career, longer term career.

[00:23:45] Yeah. And if, if anybody threatens that, then it's my job to look after it. Very good point. Yes. Beautiful point. So I'm wondering if, I mean, you've already given so much advice to other singers, but if I would say to you, what is your advice to other singers who might be worried about their voice? What, what would you say to them?

[00:24:11] Okay. this has to come from, from my experience. And it's the, the one thing that I, I did wrong. Stop. It's simple. Stop. If you are not sure, stop. Even if you don't need to stop. But you were cautious. You know, I could have stopped for 48 hours and I might not have had the journey that I had.

[00:24:37] And, and the outcome was fine. You know, we, we, we recovered and we are great. But we could have done it in two days, not, the best part of the year. Seek help, get a visual. Mm-hmm. And if you're not sure, get that visual first. Mm-hmm. You need to see, and, and we all do things where you know, if you are on tour with other colleagues and, and, and ev people are probably going to try and put your mind at ease.

[00:25:07] And someone said to me, oh, I mentioned what had happened, that first impact. And sometimes you just caught your throat, Kate, don't worry about it. You probably just caught your throat. That happens all the time when we cough. And if, if you are a singer that's looking for something, you need some reassurance, you might take that and go, yeah, I'll take that. And if that's wrong, you know, so the best thing you can do is to just shut out all the noise. Doesn't matter what your calendar says, it doesn't matter. Doesn't matter. It's irrelevant if, if you are, if, if you've put your career at risk, it doesn't matter if you've got jobs for the, the rest of the week.

[00:25:46] Yeah. You, it's, it's so, so easy. Yeah. You come and you come first, and what you're saying is if in doubt. Yeah, if in doubt. Shut up. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I think that's, that's just so profound. 

[00:26:04] It's been a pleasure. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you, finding out so much more about your story.

[00:26:11] Mm-hmm. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. Oh, well, as I said, I it's, so, stories are important. I've just, if my story means that other people can, confront this face, face these difficulties that singers face with some, some hope, you know, there, there aren't just horror stories is what I'm trying to say.

[00:26:31] Yes. Thank you. So thank you for letting me share my story with you. Yeah, it's a pleasure. And thank you to Kate for, first of all, being so open and also for being very clearly an advocate for other singers. 

[00:26:46] How can people find you? Do you have a website? Do you have a Facebook, do you have an Instagram? How can they find you?

[00:26:51] Mm-hmm. Yes I do. So my name is Kate Bassett - double S double T. Uh, and you can find my website that's Mm-hmm. I am on Instagram at Kate Bassett Singer. Uh, and if you'd like to check out Gatsby's Jukebox, we're, we're on Instagram as well at GatsbysJukebox and we are currently recording some arrangements that we'll be putting on Spotify soon.

[00:27:20] So it would be wonderful if people want to listen to and enjoy those as well. Brilliant. We will put all of those links in the show notes. Mm-hmm. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here. Amazing. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you. Okay, bye.

[00:27:34] This is a voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher. This Is A Voice.