For most people, losing your voice is a minor inconvenience – lots of whispering and sipping tea, and then you're better. But for professional singers, actors and broadcasters, whose livelihood depends on their voice, losing it can cause major problems.
Doctor Helps SF Giants Broadcast Reporter Get Her Voice Back
Last baseball season, San Francisco Giants in-game reporter Amy Gutierrez, better known as "Amy G," lost her voice during a homestand. She contacted the UCSF Voice and Swallowing Center, which 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 and keep their pipes going for the long haul.
When Gutierrez called UCSF, she got an appointment that same morning, and by the first pitch that afternoon she was reporting live from AT&T Park.
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 (now NBC Sports) 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 managers' meetings to get lineup 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 your voice is not an option in my line of work. Since I'm a contractor, I'm paid for the games I work. If I'm unable to speak, it results 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 for the vocal cords. 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 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 them and explained my situation. I told them it wasn't a "real" emergency, but more of a work emergency for me. They got me an appointment that morning so I could be treated before the Giants game.
What did they do at your appointment?
The laryngologist took pictures and some video of my vocal cords. They were swollen and inflamed, so I received a steroid shot to help with the inflammation. My appointment was extremely short, since I had to be at the game. The effect is not immediate. The doctor said it would take about 12 hours to start working, and 24 hours to feel a difference.
She 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 Kruk and Kuip did the post-game interview instead of me.
Did you find out why you lost your voice?
The laryngologist explained that voice loss can occur for several reasons, but came to the conclusion that 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 the schedule for my husband – Paul Gutierrez, who works as Comcast's Raiders Insider – ramps up for football season. Plus, my kids go back to school and life in general is busy. The doctor didn't say it was common, but she said it may be how my body reacts to stress and changing hormone levels.
If you lose your voice again this season, what's your game plan?
If it happens again, I'm going to see an laryngologist! Thanks to her care, I had improvement within 24 hours. In previous years, it was days of healing with weeks of residual gruffness in my voice. The gruffness was not that big a problem. It actually makes my voice lower, which is better for a broadcaster.
Once 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.