Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

February 4, 2012

St. Blaise Day 2012

Filed under: Austin,Spasmodic Dysphonia — Janice @ 9:09 am

I wrote about St. Blaise Day last year and why I go to this Catholic service once a year. I had it in my intentions all this week to again participate in St. Blaise Day on February 3. I was even thinking how great it was that it wasn’t icy and snowy like it was last February and I didn’t have to worry about that issue this week.

But Friday, St. Blaise Day, rolled around yesterday and I completely forgot. I expected to go to a noon mass again and at 12:45 I looked at the clock and remembered! Shoot. With the help of my Catholic friend Denise and the Internet and a call or two, I discovered a couple of after work services that would have the blessing. Denise says I am lucky that it was First Friday or churches might not have been having these services.

I made it to the south side of town to the San Jose Catholic Church by their 5:45 service in the Sacred Heart Chapel. I wanted to see what their big cathedral looked like inside, but I guess I’ll have to go another time for that. The chapel was very nice, though. Plastic movable chairs instead of pews and no kneeling benches. I think Catholics must get to live longer because they keep their bodies limber by kneeling so often. Over and over and over during a service. I don’t/can’t do that. I was surprised that they DID get all the way on their knees when there are no kneeling benches.

The priest this year was a very small berry brown man and I assumed he was Mexican since this church is in the heart of a Mexican community, but when he spoke I realized he is probably Indian. He had a beautiful soft British accent.

It was a long long service with lots of responsive readings and ceremony and ritual. One thing (well, several things) I’ll give to the Catholics:  first, it isn’t a social hour when they come to church, before or after the service. When I go into a church I like to get my mind right and think and relax and prepare for worship. Catholics know how to to that, especially with the holy water and the kneeling as they come in, etc., but mainly with sitting quietly or praying before the service. Baptists (if you haven’t been in a Baptist church) do a whole lot of greeting and talking and visiting as they sit in the pews and come up the aisles before the service gets started. And I appreciate the Catholics for not making me declare that I am a visitor and filling out a card and fearing that they are going to come to my house to visit me. I have several horror stories related to such things I won’t go into today, but it is a huge relief to not even have to worry about that moment of the service where they say “Can we have all the visitors stand so we can welcome you?” Augh. Catholics do have that part of the service where you greet one another and say “Peace be with you,” but no one says “And who are YOU?” or “You are visiting?” or even expects you to introduce yourself. I like that, too. Yes, I like anonymity. But the Baptists do have much better music and much less audience participation so don’t think I’m slamming Baptists. We have our good parts, too.

They did the blessing early in the service and the priest did every one of them (no assistant priest) and said it loudly and clearly so I could really hear the words, asking the bishop and martyr St. Blaise to intercede and prevent diseases of the throat and all other diseases in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There were at least 75 people there so it took a while.

One thing I liked, too, in this mostly Mexican-heritage congregation was several women with lace scarves on their head. One woman that assisted in the service and communion had a beautiful black and red one that really was beautiful with her black hair and eyes.

Before the service I went into the little store there at the church. Lots of churches (even Baptists) have little stores in their churches these days and I’m not so sure I “believe” in that, but I did appreciate this one last night. I have wanted a St. Blaise medal for years. I have a St. Christopher medal that a listener once gave me and I appreciate it because of her, but I wanted St. Blaise because of this yearly ritual. I had looked online and have seen gold and silver ones for $25 and up, so I haven’t ordered one. Last night I found this store with just about every medal of every saint you could want and got a St. Blaise for all of 50 cents. Score!

Next year St. Blaise should fall on a Sunday again and it might be a long service. I will call ahead to make sure that there will be a blessing since my last Sunday experience didn’t have one. It will probably be Superbowl Sunday, too, but I expect and plan to be there again, unless I forget. 

November 17, 2011

An Austin Legend

Filed under: Austin,Radio stuff,Spasmodic Dysphonia — Janice @ 10:30 pm

Joe Gracey passed away today. I did not know him personally, but I had a keen interest in his life. Joe was a disc jockey in Austin in the era that I so desperately wanted to be a part of all things Austin – the 70s. That was the era I discovered Willie Nelson and Texas Monthly and read voraciously about the Armadillo and all the fun things, and wild things, people were doing in Austin. I didn’t know about radio and wasn’t thinking about going into it at the time, I just wanted to be a part of this fun musical community.

I did end up getting to play the music of Austin on a station in Amarillo called KBUY-Texas Country. It played Jerry Jeff and Willie alongside Dolly and Conway and even alongside Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was patterned after KOKE in Austin where Joe Gracey was making a name for himself.

I heard of him after I was in Austin radio, but didn’t know much about him. But after I had the diagnosis of spasmodic dysphonia and was finding it more and more difficult each day to do a radio show, to talk on the phone, or to even order through a drive-in fast food microphone, I read an article about Joe. He had cancer of the tongue and lost his tongue and parts of his mouth and his larynx as they tried to get the cancer. They did get the cancer, but removed his beautiful voice, his livelihood, and his ability to communicate.

I read how had would buy a stack of the Magic Slates like we all had as kids (where you can write on it and then lift the top page and the writing goes away). He would just those to scribble words and communicate. Having already been scribbling and using sign language or clapping my hands to get someone’s attention, I could only imagine how hard that would be to know that was your fate forever. Joe was voiceless for over a dozen years before the Internet came along and email became commonplace. He wrote that that opened up whole new worlds for him and finally gave him a way to communicate with friends at a distance. Since email came along, it is certainly my favorite mode of communication and I can imagine how joyful it would be to have it open those long silent lines.

My voice, fortunately, got better and I don’t think about it on a daily basis, just occasionally when I have “bad days” that affect it. But I still remember the fear of how it would be to be a disc jockey that can’t do an air shift anymore–not because of being laid off or quitting or the known fears of the world, but from losing a voice and having no control over the situation. I greatly admired Joe Gracey for finding a way through his career changes and life changes. I read today that more recently he was somehow given his voice back with a larynx implant that gave him a voice he didn’t like and didn’t recognize. In a very small way I could relate to that, too. My voice is not the same as it was 10 years ago and I miss the voice I once had. It isn’t noticeable to anyone but me, but it is different.

Joe’s cancer came back in the form of esophageal cancer in recent years. I had not really kept up with his story and didn’t know he was sick again, so it was shock to know that he had died. I want to revisit his story and his blog and see where he was these last few years as he again battled through whatever challenges he faced. It’s quite a story and another amazing, interesting Austinite is gone.

February 4, 2011

St. Blaise Day

Filed under: Austin,Spasmodic Dysphonia — Janice @ 12:46 am

For us non-Catholics, our list of identifiable Saint days on the calendar is probably limited to Saint Patrick and Saint Valentine. As for identifiable Saints that may or may not have days, we are all pretty clear on Saint Nicholas and we’ve heard a lot about Christopher, Jude, and Michael, though we might not be able to tell you much about them.

I’m doing my part to lift St. Blaise and his feast day, Feb. 3, up to the level of St. Patrick and St. Valentine. When Hallmark offers a Happy St. Blaise Day card, my job is done.

I only heard about St. Blaise when my throat difficulties first began in 2004 or 2005. I don’t know if my best friend Beth told me about it when I first started having troubles or later when I had the diagnosis of spasmodic dysphonia, but I do remember talking about my throat troubles and Beth casually either recommended I go to church on St. Blaise Day or mentioned that he was the saint that helps with throat issues. She grew up in a Catholic family and said that on St. Blaise Day the priest holds two candles to your throat and blesses it.

Even after the diagnosis, I still didn’t have a cure or good answer to my troubles, so when St. Blaise Day, Feb. 3, 2006, rolled around, I decided to check out St. Blaise. The weather was quite different that year from this year, because I walked from the radio station over to the church on the campus of St. Edward’s University, a Catholic school, and went to their noon mass. It was my first Catholic service outside of weddings and funerals. I liked the priest and the service and the message and he talked about St. Blaise and prayed for people with throat problems and colds and diseases, but there was no individual blessing with candles. I felt blessed, but I also felt cheated.

I chickened out in 2007 and thought about St. Blaise Day, but it was raining and it was a Saturday so I didn’t go.

In 2008 I was in Dallas for the weekend (maybe a Superbowl?) and it was a beautiful bright sunny day. I had decided to try the big Catholic church in Coppell, St. Ann’s, for St. Blaise Day. I thought maybe the blessing with the candles was something that got done more when the feast day was on a Sunday. My sister went with me and we sat with about 1000 others in a beautiful modern church through a lot of ceremony and sermonizing, but NO mention of St. Blaise (…that I heard, anyway. One of the priests was foreign and I might not have understood his accent if he mentioned him). We waited through all 1000 people taking communion, hoping for the blessing at the end of the service, but no luck.

Finally, in 2009, I had a good Catholic Austin friend in Denise. She regularly attends lots of the Catholic churches here and was very familiar with their services and told me that if I went to a St. Blaise Day service again and they didn’t bless the throats, I could ask a priest afterward and she was sure that they would do it for me individually. When St. Blaise Day arrived that year, we were working together downtown and she went with me to the beautiful St. Mary’s Cathedral downtown, the old, historic church. Finally, she’d led me to a service and a priest with the candles and the true blessing. She also taught me that, as a non-Catholic, I didn’t have to stay back and not go to the front of the church for Communion. I could go without taking communion, but still get the blessing by putting my arms crossed across my chest. So I was doubly blessed.

Last year again we went to St. Mary’s downtown (I think anyway, I looked in old diaries and they are sketchy on some of these details).

With this week’s cold weather, I probably would have ditched on St. Blaise if Denise weren’t there to go with me. This time we met at St. Ignatius in South Austin because they have good parking. It is another beautiful church and I liked that their priest had a microphone so you could hear him clearly and he seemed aware that many of us were there on our lunch hour. I didn’t even have to wait in suspense to know if I would get my throat blessing. There were the crossed candles waiting at the front. And the priest early on said he would do the throat blessing first thing in case someone came for that. So I got my throat blessed and then stayed for the rest of the short mass.

What they do, for you non-St. Blaise blessees, is they have a couple of lines coming up to the priest and an assistant priest. You step up and they have two big white candles that are tied together in the middle, forming a cross. They place them to your throat and say a blessing. Before I had no idea what they were saying. This year, I had plenty of time to hear them each several times as the line moved forward. They said it slowly and clearly. Interestingly, they were saying slightly different things. I assumed it was a standard blessing that priests learned, but maybe there is some leeway. The older priest said something about “maladies” in his and the younger one (that blessed me) had diseases and illnesses in his, but no maladies. Either way, they asked for St. Blaise’s intercession to protect my throat. I also went down for the communion blessing (without taking communion). A woman was the Eucharist with the wafers and the wine, but when she saw my crossed arms she dropped the wafer and did a very sweet “Bless you my dear.” It was very comforting. And I like women having roles like that in a church, I must say.

My friend Beth (who started this whole thing) made a comment today about “cafeteria Catholics.” I’m not Catholic so I can’t be accused of that, right? But as I pick and choose the pieces of different religions I observe, I like St. Blaise Day and I like having a Saint watching over my throat.

April 19, 2008

Botox Day

Filed under: Food,Spasmodic Dysphonia — Janice @ 1:15 am

People give me a funny look when I tell them I am going to get Botox. The assumption is, almost universally, that I am going to get Botox for wrinkles in my face. Even people that know me and know that I have voice problems and know the Botox is the accepted medical practice have WRINKLES pop into their head before anything else. But it was for the voice and I made the trip to see Dr. Simpson today. And, no, there was none left over that he could pop into my forehead or crow’s feet (people always ask that, too.).
Again, I’ll tell the whole story one of these days in the blog, but I have spasmodic dysphonia, but I have had a reasonably good voice for the last couple of years. It is an effort to talk, however, and I am trying Botox again to see how much ease it might give me. I have given people the analogy (I love analogies) of walking through a swimming pool. One person has to walk the length of a swimming pool  . . . wait, let’s make it the width, we wouldn’t want them to drown in the deep end . . . the width of a swimming pool. Another person is going to race them alongside the pool, out of the water. Who wins? Sure, you CAN walk in water, but it is a struggle and takes effort and it isn’t the easiest or fastest or most comfortable way to get somewhere. That is how my spasmodic dysphonia feels. Lots of effort.

Dr. Blake Simpson is my otolaryngologist and he teaches at the UT Med School in San Antonio. I never quite understood what the deal was today, but it was a trade show and educational seminar for ENTs. They had meetings and seminars, but my part was in a small conference room at the Gunter Hotel where they had tables set up with the latest and greatest advances for ENTs. Dr. Simpson was demonstrating his techniques of administering Botox for the visiting physicians (some were from Mexico, I don’t know about the others, but it wasn’t just local).

I met a lovely woman from Corpus Christi in the lobby/waiting area, Mrs. Munoz. She has had Botox treatments for just the last four years since she had a growth removed from her larynx. She had gone a year since her last dose and was very soft-spoken and strained. We discussed our luck with Botox and she was surprised that I have my shots administered down the throat. She has hers “stuck” in through the outside of the neck. I was surprised to hear that because Dr. Simpson practically pioneered (or maybe he DID pioneer) down the throat and thinks it is much better. I asked and he said that some people gag so badly that they can’t do it the way I have it.

So they called me in for the demonstration and in this highly sophisticated medical gathering, they had stacked three hotel chairs on each other for me to sit on. Not quite the medical facility I am used to! And where Dr. Simpson usually has a resident working with him to hold and direct the scope, this time he took a volunteer from the audience! Yikes. I THINK the guy was a doctor. Maybe I should have asked for credentials. Dr. Simpson introduced me with the anonymous name “J,” which seemed so silly to me. Is there a reason I need to have my identity hidden? I guess medical people are so used to all the HIPPA rules they are careful.

Maybe when I go into the whole story I’ll go into every detail of the procedure. It isn’t for the faint of heart, that is for sure. But first there is Afrin sprayed up in my nose, then something akin to antifreeze to deaden the nasal passages, then sprays in the throat to deaden the throat. Once they get all that deadened (and so far it is uncomfortable, but not horrible) they run the scope up the nose and down the throat. All the doctors could then see the whole procedure on a bigger screen. Not huge though, they were all crowded up around me (and I thought I’d be up on a dais!). Now he takes a syringe and drips Lidocaine down into my throat onto the vocal cords. Drip drip drip. Yes, this is very uncomfortable and makes you gag and choke and cough. I looked up Lidocaine and it is used for skin rashes and such, but it is a local anesthetic as well. He kept dripping and dripping until he demonstrated to the audience that he could poke around my vocal cords and everything that should make me gag and I didn’t notice. Then he took a long syringe and went down and injected two places on the vocal cords with Botox, the deadly poison. There is all the makings for an “accidental” death plot to a novel, isn’t there? I know in the past he has pulled the syringe out and gone back for the second shot, but today he did it with just one “down the throat.” I asked and he said he has gotten better with practice. I guess that’s great, but I hate to think that we are all being “practiced” on by doctors. But then, they do call it “practicing” medicine, don’t they?

Okay, maybe 15 minutes and I was in and out. I think in his office things are lot more slow and there’s a lot more hand-holding and checking “are you okay?” although I still got an abundance of that today, too, which is absolutely necessary to have when someone is shoving sharp instruments and poison DOWN YOUR THROAT!!

Oh, the funniest part was before he did the procedure, Dr. Simpson said, “Now you say you want a bigger dose this time?” I said, “Yes, I want the biggest dose so I can see how it does” (since previously we have been very conservative, hoping for little or no side effects). He said, “Okay, but you’re going to regret this,” then, to the audience and me, “That’s just what you want to hear from your doctor, isn’t it?” He felt like I would regret it in these first few days of choking. We’ll see.

The choking has not begun yet and that concerns me. Maybe I have forgotten when the choking part starts. On the way home from San Antonio I was having some choking problems so I just quit swallowing! The vocal cords aren’t working well to prevent liquids from coming down the windpipe, so even swallowing your saliva can start choking as your windpipe says, “Wait! What’s this?”  Once I had waited the hour he asked me to wait before eating or drinking, I got a chocolate malt at Whataburger. Thicker liquids are easier to swallow and SO soothing. (Although my rant about the demise of the American malt will be published one of these days.)

I got home and napped a good nap. When I got up I drank a glass of water, well, chugged a glass of water, and then realized that I wasn’t choking. That may start up again once the Botox has actually taken effect. Today’s choking was from the Lidocaine and the next choking will be when those nerves die that were controlling a lot of the vocal cords. We’ll see, I guess.

Interestingly, there is a possibility I don’t have SD at all. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Since I have had such a rebound and good voice for a period of time, though it still takes effort, Dr. Simpson said it possibly could be MTD, muscle tension dysphonia. I’m just beginning to read up on it, but it could be very likely when I think of what all has happened over these four years. Either way, Botox can help it, but if it is MTD there are other treatments to explore.

Thanks for all the well wishes for today. This step went fine and I have voice tonight pretty much like I had last night (possibly a little worse). Tomorrow or the days to come will the interesting ones to see if it gets breathy  or high or whatever. And again, thanks to Veronica Aleman, who works with Dr. Simpson, for getting me into this demonstration and always being so sweet in setting up these appointments (none of this is like a regular doctor where you just simply schedule an appointment). She was kind enough to even escort me to my car and was prepared to pay for my parking. At $16 a pop for the Gunter valet service, I was happy to let her, but the nice people at the Gunter saw that I had only been there an hour and said, no charge. Nice people everywhere you go in San Antonio!


Aside from the Botox, I also had lunch with Scotty, who many of you know. She was the promotions director at the station for several years and I wasn’t the only one that cried the day she left. She was phenomenal. She really put heart and soul and huge effort into a thankless job. I was never so amazed as I was when she took over. She was fresh out of college and never once asked “How do we do this?” or “What should I do?” She just DID. I wish I knew how she became what she is. She had no fear. She set me up with a great outside gig one time and when the people were jerks about paying me, she got on the phone and I had a check by FedEx the next day. She made things happen. It was wonderful to see her and to see her doing so well. She got married to wonderful Clifton and they have a happy life. And we had lunch at Chris Madrid’s, a place that Scotty has raved about to me for years, so I was glad to experience it with her. Man, that tostada burger is GREAT!

April 16, 2008

World Voice Day

Filed under: At home,Spasmodic Dysphonia — Janice @ 11:53 pm

I understand that today is World Voice Day. I learned that from Trisha, who discovered my blog this week and commented. She has a blog HERE. Like me, Trisha has Spasmodic Dysphonia. Unlike me, she is suffering from it a lot more right now than I am. I wish her well.  I got a lucky break concerning my voice today, and it is funny that it happened on World Voice Day.

Since I got laid off, I’ve thought about having a Botox treatment on my vocal cords again. I was always super conservative while I was on the air because I didn’t want the breathy voice result and have to be off the air for two or three weeks waiting for the voice to come back. Since I no longer HAVE to talk daily, I thought I would let Dr. Simpson just give a normal, full dose and see what it does to me and if it makes talking easier for a good long while. So I made an appointment. In the past, the co-pay was about $35 for the visit to this doctor. Things have changed on my the insurance now, though, and I discovered, just days before the appointment that I now have a deductible of $1000 or so. So, basically, none of the treatment would have been paid for this time, but it would all go toward the deductible. But finding $1000 during unemployment would be difficult and I didn’t see that it would be worth it either. I can talk, I don’t have to have the Botox, so I canceled the appointment. But the good folks in that office are so kind. When Veronica discovered why I was canceling, she offered me the opportunity to be a guinea pig for Dr. Simpson to show his technique to other doctors (I am quite sure she didn’t use the words “guinea pig”). I said I would love to do that, could I please make a speech beforehand and answer questions, too? I didn’t know if we were confirmed or not, but she called today, on World Voice Day, and confirmed that Friday afternoon I will get a big ol’ shot of poison in my vocal cords.

I will make a recording of my voice tomorrow so I will know what it sounds like pre-poison. It sounds fine to listeners, I know. Everyone tells me that it sounds fine. I have a lot more voice than I did a few years ago. But I know it doesn’t sound like it did in 2003 and before. It is more strained and has the “catches” that identify SD. And, very often, it is still a struggle to talk. Using the phone is a huge pain and I avoid it most of the time. I get the breath and make the effort and say something and then get a response of “What?” from a friend or loved one (yes, mostly dear-and deaf- Mark) and have to work through it all again to get it out. I hope the Botox can ease some of that for a while.

If you are in the dark about Spasmodic Dysphonia and my struggles with it on the radio since 2004, that story is still to come. I can feel it coming on, maybe this weekend. Who knows, it may even have audio examples to delight and amaze you.

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