Julie Andrews reveals what she took from Mary Poppins set
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After medics were amazed at her remarkable four-octave singing range and an almost “adult larynx” when she was only a child, Dame Andrews was mortified to find out that she had to have surgery to remove a benign lesion. In what she thought was just a “routine procedure” after encountering some vocal problems when performing on broadway in 1997, the singer’s surgery also affected her mental health.
Speaking in 2015, the 85-year-old detailed some more information about the procedure, saying it fixed a “weak spot.” Assured by medics that it would not affect her ability to sing, she agreed to have the surgery, which took place in New York City. However, when she awoke the voice that millions of fans had grown to know and love had changed forever.
In an interview in 1988 her husband late Blake Edwards said: “I don’t think she’ll sing again. It’s an absolute tragedy.” The singer’s crystal clear impressive voice was reduced to a rasp and the future of her career was put in jeopardy.
In 2019, the star looked back on the experience and said: “I went into a depression. It felt like I’d lost my identity.” The effects on Dame Andrews was so severe that in 1999 she filed a lawsuit against her doctors and the hospital where the procedure took place.
She claimed that doctors had not explained the risks of the surgery and the results had “ruined her ability to sing and precluded her from practicing her profession as a musical performer.” In 2000, a confirmed settlement was reached between the two parties, but this did not replace the singing voice that Dame Andrews once had.
The botched surgery was common in the 1990s and often involved the use of forceps and lasers which had a high risk of scarring the vocal cords.
After going to therapy and confiding in friend Barbara Walters in an interview, the actress finally came to accept that her vocals were not going to change. Instead, she found solace in writing children’s books and most recently she was the voice behind Lady Whistledown in the massively popular Netflix series Bridgerton.
What are vocal cord nodules?
Vocal nodules develop as the result of trauma to the vocal folds. When vocal fold collide violently it causes them to swell. These swellings are often referred to as “soft nodules” and if ignored can progress. This persistent damage then begins to produce scar tissue.
If soft nodules are left untreated the affected area becomes stiffer and therefore they are less able to vibrate effectively. This is when they develop into “hard nodules” and are extremely hard to treat.
Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) states: “Vocal cord nodules are quite common – and are often in the news when a singer is affected.
“They can affect people of any age, but in children they occur when the voice is misused.
“Polyps are less commonly seen, again with a background of misuse or trauma.”
Vocal polyps are different to nodules. They are larger and are more commonly associated with smoking rather than singing. However, both nodules and polyps can cause long-term damage.
Signs and Symptoms
The British Voice Association suggests that when voices become “cloudy” or husky it is the first sign that nodules may be beginning to form. Common on opera singers, due to the strain they put their voices under on a regular basis, voices tend to lose pitch range and brightness.
This then starts to affect an individual’s speaking voice too. They may start to sound noticeably hoarse and breathy with frequent voice breaks.
In order to treat the condition, voice rest and voice therapy is common. If the nodules do not soothe or go away completely then surgery may be in order, but similar to Dame Andrews, this does come with potential risks.
Nowadays surgical techniques have dramatically improved and vocal folds are kept intact. With some voice therapy after surgery there is no reason why individuals should not be able to make a full recovery.
In some cases, symptoms that are seen with nodules could also point to laryngeal cancer.
This cancer affects the voice box and can lead to individuals permanently losing their ability to talk.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing the following symptoms it is important to seek medical attention:
- A change in your voice, such as sounding hoarse
- Pain when swallowing or difficulty swallowing
- A lump or swelling in your neck
- A long-lasting cough
- A persistent sore throat or earache
- In severe cases, difficulty breathing.
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