Uh-oh. Save your pipes, kids.

22 April, 2008
Rat Fink

I read this morning that American Idol (barf) winner Jordin Sparks is on vocal rest after suffering an acute vocal cord hemorrhage before going on tour with Alicia Keys.

As many of you know, the Fink herself had vocal cord surgery back in ’95. I was an assistant marching band director, and spent 6 weeks in the summer shouting at 130 kids on the field. I was also a singer on the weekends, so that royally bit. The more I yelled, the more the cords bled…the more I sang, the worse everything got.

So I was way past where Miss Sparks is right now. I had to have surgery to remove what are called “vocal nodules” or “singers’ nodes.” Check out the grotesque pictures:

These photos are taken by putting a camera down the patient’s throat, so you’re seeing a bird’s-eye view. Notice the small callouses on both vocal folds. From overuse/misuse and muscle strain, these “nodes” appear, usually one on each fold — and if they get big enough, they don’t go away. This picture is of a person at rest; that is, she is just breathing and not singing.

The next picture is taken as she tries to sing. Notice how the vocal cords — which are supposed to fit perfectly together like a set of closed curtains — are forced apart in places by the nodes. That causes a mammoth air leak, which is where the “hoarse” voice sound comes from. Therein lies the danger, my friends. If you’re ever going to talk or sing correctly again, you need to have them scraped off. That’s what happened to me, and it wasn’t pleasant.

Unfortunately, vocal nodes are more common than you might think. Lots of famous singers have suffered with them, and many had to have surgery to get them removed. Check this list:

  • Natalie Imbruglia
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Whitney Houston
  • Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)
  • Julie Andrews
  • Bette Midler
  • Joss Stone
  • Luciano Pavarotti (WHAT? Opera singers with nodes? What’s the world coming to…)

So, like I always tell my singers (many of whom are cheerleaders and athletes who scream themselves silly at games): Those nickel-sized pieces of skin are the only means by which you can make sound for the rest of your life. Take care of them.

Peace (and vocal rest),

Dr. Fink

Photo credit: voicedoctor.net

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13 May, 2008 1:23 pm

I have the same problem with my vocal folds. Do you know who THE doctor is to do this surgery? Who did Bette Midlers? I think Dr Gerald Berke but I am not sure, is best around – opinions?


2 July, 2011 4:48 am

Hi, Dr. Fink. I was really intrigued about your blog, and frankly, has been the most informative coming from someone who actually went through this process. I do have a question, how much did the nodes impair your singing and speaking? Also, did the nodes wear your voice out alot? My last question is how much did it cost you to get the surgery as well as speech therapy afterwards? I’m sorry, I have so many questions! Please and thank, happy fourth of july! ReplyRat Fink Reply:August 15th, 2011 at 8:39 pmHello John, and sorry about the delay on my… Read more »