The Laryngectomee’s Tale

Tales from End to End
The Laryngectomee’s Tale

(or Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk)

by Clifford Hughes

Long-time talker

Ten years ago, after enjoyable voice-based careers as a Teacher, a Singer and a Preacher, I went under the surgeon’s knife for the removal of cancerous tumours on my vocal cords – a total laryngectomy. The cancer was successfully removed but so, too, was my voice! I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit as a ‘neck-breather’, unable even to whisper. Following the attentions of Speech and Language Therapists, the encouragement of family and friends, and the very basic need simply to be able to communicate, I gradually learned to speak again – and my morale was hugely boosted by a lady in my Congregation at St Mary’s, Haddington ( East Lothian’s ‘cathedral’ ), who confided that she found my new throaty voice ‘really rather sexy’. Now, I relish the opportunity to mount the pulpit steps to deputise for absent Ministers, and thoroughly enjoy lecturing to Speech and Language Therapy students about ‘the life of Lary’. Once again, I can Talk the Talk!

Long-distance walker

But what about the Walk? At a later stage, I was involved in clinical trials after Radiotherapy for Prostate Cancer; cancer at both ends… how about that! Half of us old codgers were instructed to take vigorous exercise after each shot of Radiotherapy; the other half to rest. Apparently, the pulse-raisers benefited more than the slumberers. Then, following further surgery, I was given two new knees. No excuse now – I must Walk the Walk.

As on the road to Emmaus, walking is more fun done in pairs, in company. I am particularly blessed by the fact that a long-standing friend lives in a neighbouring village to the north of Rumbling Bridge; I’m at the southern end; he, let’s call him Al, has been actively involved for years in the Scottish Rights of Way Society and frequently invites me to join him in expeditions to renew and update sign-posts or to check the viability of footpaths.

Clifford Hughes
Clifford Hughes

One such expedition lingers in the memory. Al wanted to check the condition of a footpath stretching from Callander to Comrie, a distance of some 14 miles. We drove to midpoint and parked the car. I would follow the shorter track (a mere 6 miles) back to Comrie and make my way to a pre-arranged pub rendezvous at the Royal Hotel. Al would take the more challenging route to Callander, would return to the car, and join me in Comrie for a foaming tankard, or two, and a debriefing.

But ‘there’s many a slip’… and there was! To start with, I strode off confidently in the direction of Comrie. It’s beautiful countryside, and I had the incentive of arriving first at the log fire in the hotel. Then the path led me to a stretch of woodland on the side of the hill. Recent heavy rain and lack of usage resulted in the path becoming less and less distinct until it petered out altogether, disappearing into vigorous jungly undergrowth.

I splodged and spladged up and down and round about. Where’s the b…y path? I passed a dead sheep. I tripped and measured my length in the heather. Call for help? No! Larys can’t shout. A whistle? Haven’t got one, and, in any case, Larys, being neck-breathers, can’t blow whistles! Oh Well!! Keep Looking. I won’t say I was beginning to panic, but… oh! there’s that dead sheep again; if it couldn’t find the way, how would I?

Then suddenly, the sinister silence was broken by the chatter of female voices approaching me. Six ladies, members of a local walking group, gathered me up, pressed a bottle of high-octane water into my muddy and sweaty palm, and between them, located the path out of the wood and onwards towards Comrie.

In the meantime, Al had reached our rendezvous where he had expected to find me with my nose deep down in a jar of Angus Ale. Ignoring his own need for sustenance, he set off manfully to find me. Imagine his face as he saw me emerging from the wood, grinning from ear to ear, with an entourage of willing female attendants on either arm!

We enjoyed our pints – and, next time, I’ll take an alarm.