A letter from Dennis Smith in Argentina
It's been a complicated year.
I'm not referring to our February move to Argentina after 33 years in Guatemala. God is good and we've landed on our feet. Mary and the boys are well and my work with our many mission partners in Brazil and the Southern Cone is an honor and a great blessing.
The problem has been with my voice. For the last 25 years I have lived with Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD), a neurological disorder that gives speech a broken, choked quality. For more than 20 years to alleviate these symptoms I have flown to the United States to receive quarterly injections of botulinum toxin directly into the tiny muscles that operate the vocal cords. For all that time my voice has been fairly reliable for about three months out of four, and I've tried to schedule my public commitments around that reality.
My physician in the U.S. put me in contact with a wonderful doctor here in Argentina, Dr. María Viti, who made it possible for me to receive the same treatment here. But the last four treatments, beginning with the injections received in the U.S. a year ago, did not give me the accustomed relief. It turns out that the human body can develop antibodies to botulinum toxin; the treatment had ceased to work.
I'm a communicator. Not being able to rely on my voice as I've adjusted to a new assignment has been frustrating.
Dr. Viti put me in contact with Dr. Domingos Hiroshi Tsuji, a Brazilian surgeon and renowned specialist on the human voice. Dr. Tsuji has developed a micro-surgical procedure to sever the nerves in the throat that cause SD's symptoms. The procedure doesn't “cure” SD but offers permanent relief from symptoms. Both physicians agreed that I was a good candidate for the procedure, so in November Maribel and I journeyed to São Paulo for the surgery. Since Dr. Tsuji operates through the mouth, it is not an invasive procedure and only requires one night in the hospital.
The surgery was a success; Dr. Tsuji prescribed a week of silence to let the wounds heal. I am now recovering my voice and for the first time in decades my voice is free. I'll be hoarse for the next couple of months and will gradually recover vocal quality similar to what I experienced with the botulinum treatments. Right now, my voice tires quickly and can suddenly break into the upper registers, so I feel like an adolescent! But even so, my voice is free.
I'm beginning to get my head around a whole new way of being. Family and friends came to know what to expect, so they weren't surprised if I came out with a silent squawk. But simple social interactions have been transformed. Suddenly I can answer the phone and expect that the person on the other end of the line will be able to understand me; I can order my own meal at a restaurant; I can participate in a Skype meeting on the Internet without having to rely on the chat function.
We'll take things a day at a time and see what I sound like in a couple of months. For now, it's enough to be thankful: for God's mercy; for family (Mary or the boys have never known me without my cycles of silence); for caring physicians; for the insurance company that didn't balk at picking up the tab; for so many of you who have accompanied us in prayer in this process.
One thing SD has taught me is that not everything I want to say needs to be said. Sometimes silence is just fine. Yet I'm still quite capable, far too often, of saying and writing hurtful things. As speech becomes easier, I don't want to forget that. Also, now it will be easier to say many things that always need to be said, especially how much I love family and friends, how much we need each other, how great is God's mercy.
As we read the lessons at church for the first Sunday of Advent a couple of days ago, I felt a little tingle run up my spine as I joined in affirming:
Let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
The one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
Give us life, and we will call on your name (Psalm 80:17–18).
My voice, too, has been—and will be—heard.
Under the Mercy,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 280
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, Argentina, p. 303
Dear Dennis and Maribel, I am so grateful that your surgery has been successful and you will regain your voice in time. May this Christmas and New Year 2012 bring renewal and strength to you and your family. Blessings, Susan Pfeil
Praise God, Dennis, for your healing and renewed energy and insight in your new ministry. We send all our love to you, Maribel and the boys at this Christmas tide. We will be spending Christmas with three fourths of our family with Sonja and Ray in their new home in Plainfield, IN.