For most people, losing your voice is a minor inconvenience — lots of whispering and sipping tea, then you're better. But for professional singers, actors and broadcasters who depend on their voices to make a living, losing it can cause major problems.
Last baseball season, San Francisco Giants' sideline reporter Amy Gutierrez, better known as "Amy G," lost her voice during a homestand. She contacted the UCSF Voice and Swallowing Center which is the only center of its kind in San Francisco. The center treats patients with voice, swallowing and airway disorders. The otolaryngologists, head and neck surgeons, speech pathologists and vocal trainers collaborate to help professionals like Gutierrez regain their voices to keep their pipes going for the long haul.
For Gutierrez, she called UCSF and got an appointment that same morning so by the first pitch that afternoon, she was reporting live from AT&T Park.
We caught up with Gutierrez to ask about her ailing vocal cords and treatment.
Can you describe your job for those who aren't San Francisco Giants fans?
Talking is my job. I'm a broadcast member with CSN Bay Area for the San Francisco Giants. Before the game, I'm visiting the clubhouse, talking to players, gathering ideas for broadcast reports, going to manager's meetings to get line-up and injury information. By evening, I have my first "hit" or on-air game report and usually do several hits throughout the game. After a win, I do a post-game interview with the hero of the game.
Losing my voice is not an option in my line of work. Since I'm a contractor I am paid per game I work. If I am unable to speak it will result in a financial loss.
Have you lost your voice before?
I usually lose my voice about once a year. I was actually taken off the broadcast in 2009 after my first hit in the game, around the second inning. I started having trouble with my voice the night before and it rapidly declined. My broadcast partners Kruk and Kuip (Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper) said I did my best Marlon Brando impersonation, but I wouldn't be able to finish out the game. Luckily, the one other time I lost my voice, the team was on the road. Since I only work home games I didn't have to file any reports.
How do you usually cope with losing your voice?
I drink lots of tea and try to not speak at all, not even whisper, since I've been told whispering is stressful on the vocal chords. The tea remedy is a long process. It definitely helps soothe the throat, but once the voice is gone only time brings it back.
How did you learn about the UCSF's Voice and Swallowing Center?
I went to a colleague, Giants' radio announcer Dave Flemming, and asked what he does when he loses his voice. He referred me to UCSF and his voice doctor. I called the office directly and explained my situation. I told them that it was not a "real" emergency, but more of a work emergency for me. They got me an appointment that morning so I could receive treatment before the Giants game.
What did they do at your appointment?
Dr. Katherine Yung took pictures and some video of my vocal chords. She said they were swollen and inflamed, so I received a steroid shot to help with the inflammation. My appointment was extremely fast since I had to be at the game. The effect is not immediate. Dr. Yung said it would take about 12 hours to start to work, 24 to see a difference.
Dr. Yung told me I might see a slight improvement by game time, but the best thing would be to rest my voice and body. I was limited to three hits in that game and I did not do the post-game interview. I was taken off and Kruk and Kuip did it.
Did you get answers to why you lost your voice?
Dr. Yung explained that voice loss can occur for several reasons, but came to the conclusion mine was most likely caused by stress. I believe this is something that can occur regularly not necessarily because of my work, but because of how I handle stress during hectic times in my life. The last three years it's happened in August or September, when my husband's — Paul Gutierrez, who works as Comcast's Raiders Insider — schedule ramps up for football season. Plus, my kids go back to school and life in general is busy. Dr. Yung didn't say it was common, but she said it may be how my body reacts to stress and hormone levels changing.
If you lose your voice again this season, what's your game plan?
If it happens again, I'm going to see Dr. Yung! I had improvement within 24 hours. Years prior it was days of healing with weeks of residual gruffness in my voice. The gruffness was not that big of a problem. It actually makes my voice lower, which is better as a broadcaster.
After I get my voice back to a certain level the stress is gone, because I know I've been through the worst of it and it's not going to go out again for a while. It's like recovering from a cold — gradually improving every day.
Okay, tell us the truth. When you lose your voice, does your husband complain?
My husband Paul loves it when I can't talk. What husband wouldn't want his wife to stop nagging?
Interviewed by Kim Wong.
Photo by Tom Seawell.