Photo by Cambria Harkey
Wade Bowen Talks New Documentary 'Inconsistent Chaos' & Vocal Cord Recovery
2018 was one of the worst years of Wade Bowen's life. The Waco, Texas-based country performer, who released his 11th album, Solid Ground, in February, experienced a major health setback when his vocal cord hemorrhaged last year, forcing him to take a sabbatical from music.
What's more, his nephew, Chase Everett Cavender, who was a member of Bowen's tight-knit crew, passed away by suicide.
Fortunately, Bowen's vocal cords made a full recovery with help from the professionals at Vanderbilt Voice Center, a Nashville, Tenn. organization affiliated with MusiCares, which provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. Soon after, he began filming a short documentary chronicling his journey (watch it in full below).
Bowen was kind enough to sit down with MusiCares to talk about his journey to recovery and the documentary, titled Inconsistent Chaos, which is dedicated to his nephew.
When did you first realize you were having vocal cord issues?
I started having some issues in January of 2018 with a few shows here and there that I just kind of struggled through. But I got through them. Then towards the end of March it came back. I had a scratchy voice that just didn’t seem to clear up. I thought it was just bad allergies at first and took my normal steps to clear it up. It did nothing. I knew then something was wrong. I could just tell. Then I woke up one day in April and my voice was completely gone. Thats when I called my Godfather, Mace Brindley in Waco, Texas, who happens to be an ENT, and I went to see him a few days later on the way to a show. That’s when we found the hemorrhaging vocal cord.
What was the process of finding and receiving medical help like?
After my visit with Dr. Brindley, I fought through the two shows I had that weekend and then flew straight out to Vanderbilt Voice Center in Nashville, Tenn. They immediately shut me down for a minimum of three weeks.
Although she wasn’t sure at the time what was exactly going on, [Dr. Brindley] did inform me that my journey to get healthy was going to be a long one, so it made more sense for me to find a local Texas doctor since I was going to have to make so many visits. So she referred me to Dr. Blake Simpson in San Antonio. And it couldn’t have been a better choice. At first, he was hoping that simply time off would help and maybe clear up the hemorrhaging vocal cord. After two months it had not cleared up at all and the blood in the vocal cord caused it to be paralyzed. So my voice was still pretty much not working at all. Not even my speaking voice. He decided then that it was time for surgery to get a closer look.
So I went in for surgery on May 31, 2018. He was prepared for multiple scenarios. Luckily, when he went in, he found that the cause of the hemorrhaging was multiple leaky blood vessels in the vocal cord that would not stop bleeding. He didn’t know why. But the laser that he has on site is a very rare device and it actually got rid of the blood vessels completely, causing the vocal cord to finally start healing itself. I was back on the road (much to his dismay) a little over a month later. Although I was back, my voice wasn't normal again until November or so of that year.
What was your state of mind during all of this, faced with the prospect of not being able to sing again?
Well honestly, I cried alot…worried a lot…prayed a lot… I even started pondering what I was gonna do if my voice never came back. That was the scariest part: not knowing if I was gonna be able to support my family or the band and crew, and their families as well. It was beyond tough. There was literally a time when I wondered if I would ever be able to sing again. But my family and friends were so incredible and strong for me and stayed positive through it all.
When and how did you realize that you would, in fact, be able to resume a singing career?
Once the surgery was over, I had to be completely silent for eight days. I went back in and finally started seeing some results. The vocal cord was finally starting to not look red and bloody. And for the first time in three months, the doctor actually had some positive news for me. That was a huge sigh of relief. Dr. Simpson was brilliant and positive throughout the entire process and he kept me believing, even when I wasn’t sure.
I had a show at that time booked for July 3 that I had not yet canceled, hoping I could still do it. He asked that I not try it. He felt I needed more time. But I explained to him I was broke. [Laughs.] So we worked out a plan for me to do a 90 minute show, 45 of me singing, 45 with the band jamming and had special guests come out with me. I brought our friend Aaron Stephens out on the road to sing a few every night. My son Bruce was 12 at the time, and he came out with me and sang some as well, to help fill the time. It worked out great! We got through it and within a month I was doing the full 90 minutes again.
Do you have a new health regimen of any kind surrounding your recovery?
I drink a ton more water and watch what I eat, for the most part. I also have a steaming machine I use before the show that really helps to get my voice warmed up. And then I have the vocal exercises I learned through my speech and vocal therapy! During the three months I was out, I had to do speech therapy to help take stress off the vocal cord, voice therapy to do the same, learn how to take care of it but also how to get myself out of trouble if my voice starts to bother me again. It was a ton of help learning that long, agonizing at times, process, and I’m so thankful I did it!
Why did you feel compelled to create a documentary about your journey?
Multiple reasons. For one, to let my fans and followers know that I had recovered. I think that was a major concern for many. We tried to keep it somewhat quiet during the process, so we didn’t alarm people. Additionally, although painted on a somewhat unique canvas, my problems were/are far from unique. Fear and depression affect us all no matter what the cause. Because I’ve got a platform enabling me to speak louder than most, I wanted to be sure the world could hear that it’s okay, there is help…. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek it. Tell a friend, a family member, a loved one that you need help. It doesn't make you weak or less cool.
The documentary is dedicated to your nephew. To what extent were you aware that he was struggling?
I wasn’t aware at all. None of us were. That’s been the toughest thing through this process because he had everything he ever wanted…a beautiful wife and an amazingly perfect son. I remember almost feeling jealous of him at bus call cause he would walk on the bus beaming with pride and smiling so proud. I’m not sure what happened that fateful night. None of us will every know. But he was happy. I know that for sure. I want his wife and son to always know he was truly happy. He just seemed to forget it one crazy night and we will never know why or how it got to that point.
What do you think society has left to learn about mental health awareness and the stigma around seeking help? What are some positive steps we've taken, but where do we have left to go, in your opinion?
Mental illness is real and it’s very deadly. It’s horrible that it takes high-profile instances (Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, just to name a few) to prove there’s a severe problem. More funding is needed. Mental Illness is not going away. In fact, it’s getting worse every day. And it will continue to do so as long as there is a social stigma associated with the term. Those living and dealing with mental illness need to be rebranded as "courageous." If we’re successful in building advocacy for them, we will keep them from having to suffer in silence. We have a long way to go. So let’s get to work!