Calluses, Meniere’s, and Large Uvulas

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2016

Like a professional athlete, a professional musician must stay in shape, or else you do things like pass out on stage, pee yourself on stage, or get weird leg cramps in the middle of a gig that make you fall over your guitar amp. So every day I walk my dogs and do these awkward stretches I learned from a 1985 Jane Fonda exercise video. One fine day in 2009 I developed this bizarre ear problem which felt like a head cold, except I did not have a cold. It’s like when you get off an airplane, and you’re walking through the terminal trying to figure out where to get your luggage, and your ears haven’t popped yet. That not-popped-yet feeling is how my ears feel all the time. It comes in handy when my husband starts talking about mortgage rates and kitchen paint colors.

Lots of doctors have lots of theories on this, from Meniere’s Disease, to allergies, to stress, to Rock Star ears. They have also given me lots of drugs. Not one single drug on this entire planet has cleared my ears, and believe me, I have tried them all. They crackle, and itch, and burn and ring – all the time. This may or may not have led to some bad decisions in the recording studio. Cloudy, rainy days are the worst so I figure I must be in-tune with the natural elements, but not so much with pharmaceuticals. On these days I just want to sleep and sleep, but I don’t have time to sleep. I have the day job, and have to cook dinner, learn new songs, have band practice, and all that stuff. On these days, I’m the one who looks like Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” after they shock him.

Doctors also noticed I have an extremely large uvula. That’s the thing that wiggles in the back of your throat.

My friend Tina has known this since the seventh grade. She used to get particular joy out of watching the thing flap back and forth when I laughed. So this medical mystery was no big deal to me. But apparently, it had grown to epic proportions, and was interfering with little things like swallowing, and breathing. On bad days, I take about six Advil to keep it under control. I pretty much feel like I’m going to drop at any time though, especially at night. My monstrous flap of skin sometimes causes me to completely stop breathing so I often wake up reaching for a huge gasp of air. As my friend Rob says, “Well, it must not be life-threatening, because you’re not dead yet.”

The best part about the ear and throat problem is, and yes, there is a best part! – I haven’t had a cold in over two years! All this blockage is well, blocking, the bad stuff. The last time I had a cold I had a gig at the local Borders Book Store, with the purposes of selling my CD of course. There is nothing worse than having to sing with a cold, with all that crap running down your face and sounding like that comedian Gilbert Gottfried with the whiny voice. So it was basically, the worst gig ever. People sat in the comfy chairs, and kept reading, and tried hard to ignore me, and silently begged for me to go away. I have not been back to a Borders in any town. I blame it on their own bankruptcy.

So in addition to the constant ear and throat problems, in this poor, poor, pitiful me column, are the DAMN CALLUSES guitar players must deal with! I don’t know if there are any books on this subject, but man oh man are these things a pain in the butt! I am constantly peeling off pieces of skin and leaving them everywhere – I mean everywhere. When you play guitar, you have to constantly press the strings against solid wood. If you think this is painless you are wrong! The more you play, the harder the skin on the tips of your fingers become, and everything eventually becomes less painful. But here’s the kicker – if you peel off the calluses in between gigs or practice sessions, you have to start all over with the callous building. It’s a vicious cycle that never ever ends!

My living room floor always looks like there’s potato chip crumbs everywhere, when in fact, it’s just all my dead skin.

There are also a number of other physical ailments that crop up out of nowhere the older I get. There’s this pain that goes up and down my right leg and into my back. It makes it uncomfortable to sit, lie down, or stand still. So I pace back and forth a lot which keeps the dogs and my audiences entertained. I do a lot of moaning and groaning in the night, which keeps my husband entertained. A guy told me it’s my sciatic nerve and he showed me an exercise for it. You lie down on your back, cross your right leg over your left leg making a triangle, then lift your left leg up and hold it there. Yes it’s as awkward as it sounds. I think he just wanted to look up my shorts.

I also can’t see very well anymore. This comes in handy when I start the wrong song on a set list and I yell, “Sorry! I couldn’t see!”

One time I had a urinary tract infection, also known as a UTI, also known as worse than pushing out septuplets all day and all night for a week while you try to eat, cook for everybody else, take care of the dogs, and go about your daily life while convincing yourself you can survive a simple bladder problem. It had burned and hurt when I peed for five days and when I couldn’t pee at all and was completely bloated and near death I went to the doctor. When you go to the doctor with a UTI you have to be able to pee in a cup so the girl with no gloves on can pick it up and look at it and tell the doctor you need the good drugs. You know you really want the good drugs so you try really hard to pee in the cup. I fill the cup and I am proud. I was given some meds, and sent on my way.

I had a gig that night, and it was going to be a long one: Two and a half hours for setup, a three and a half hour show, then another hour and a half breakdown. I was thrilled. Throughout the night whenever I had to pee I just had to psych myself out by chanting “You’re peeing in the cup for the doctor, you’re peeing in the cup for the doctor, you’re peeing in the cup for the doctor.” If I didn’t chant those words I would just get more bloated and start to crouch when I walked. Nobody wants to look at a bloated and crouchy lead singer so I got it done.

The show went fine and no one knew I was dying in front of their eyes.

Then I got Lyme Disease.

When you live in the Northeast, everybody gets Lyme Disease, or you know 10 people who’ve had Lyme Disease, and everybody’s always checking themselves for Lyme Disease more than they’re checking themselves for ticks in the first place. The residual effects of this lovely disease never truly go away so your normal aches and pains are just magnified times ten and make you super tired, blah blah blah. Band practice tonight? Heck no! Write some songs today? Heck no! Gig tonight? THE SHOW MUST GO ON. Stay healthy people! (If that’s even a thing.)