StoryCorps at SHC: Chris Atkinson

Instead of letting this bring me down, I actually let it change my life for the better.


Chris Atkinson: In my time, when I was young, smoking and drinking the finest liqueur and being out in the nightclubs were the epitome of a good time.

I was diagnosed with throat cancer and the doctor suggested that I have a laryngectomy surgery. I really trusted him from the very moment that we met and so I feel that he was giving me the best advice, you know, and he is, he is a doctor, so I went along with him.

Thirteen days later I went to the hospital and had my surgery, so I really had no time to really investigate what this was all about. So, I kind of, walked in the day of the surgery just having a very trusting attitude. When I did finally wake up, and I found myself in the hospital room alone, I was not in a lot of pain, but I was, kind of, in a state of shock.

As soon as my brother could come and visit, when they let him in, he came in, he took one look at me and turned around and ran out of the room. He was horrified by the way I looked. You know, me, I hadn't looked in a mirror, I had no idea what I looked like, but for him this was something very scary. He thought I was going in a for a minor operation and that I would be fine.

After my throat had healed up to the point where the doctor thought he could do an implant, that's when I got, came back to the hospital and went in for another, and he had another surgery to put my prosthetic voice box in. My parents were both here waiting for me to come out of that operation 'cause they were so excited to hear me talk again.

I came out of the surgery and I was being rolled down the hallway on a gurney and Dr. Damrose was holding my hand. And he says, "Well- well what are you waiting for, I wanna hear you talk." This had been seven months since had I spoken a word. And so, when I put my finger to my throat and said, "Hello," I could not believe that I could actually talk, that this was the sound of my voice.

And so, I began to cry, and he said, "What are you cryin' for, this should be the happiest day of your life." My parents were waiting to see me, so I didn't want them to see me crying. So, when I came out and actually could have a real conversation with them after so long, it was just ... I could see the look in my mother's eye and she was so very happy.

Some people are ashamed of this surgery and they try to cover it up, and they try to hide behind the fact that they, they're different and their lives have changed. Me, on the other end, I'm very proud of it, I, I'm so thankful that I'm alive, that I want people to see why I'm alive and what I went through. I asked Dr. Damrose was there some way that I could, you know, pay this forward, what can I do? And he said, "Well come with me, you can, we'll just go visit my patient that I just did the same surgery on yesterday." He introduced me and I reached up to my neck and said, "Hi, my name is Chris, I went through the same surgery as you did. It's been almost a year now and I'm really here to tell you that it's not as bad as you might think today. You know, I was devastated, like I'm sure you are, but I came to just show you what this prosthetic can do."

The look on this man's face was just, he was just so overwhelmed. He grabbed his iPad and started typing a message to me, thanking me for coming to visit. This was the first time I had done that, and when I could show somebody that while there's, uh, a lot of hope after the surgery, that it's, uh, it's not the end, it's the beginning of a different time in your life.

Well, that's been almost five years ago, and I have talked to so many different people over that time, so it's just been a- a great experience. Instead of letting this, uh, bring me down, I actually let it change my life for the better, and I think I'm actually, in my heart, a better person today. I don't take a lot of things for granted like I used to do. I really treasure my relationships with friends and family.

Sound Editor: Carolina Correa

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