real life

Marie couldn't talk for 12 years. Then one day, she coughed up a coin and started moaning.

When Marie McCreadie was 13 she lost her voice.

She’d had a bad case of bronchitis, but when her illness cleared up, her voice didn’t return.

Doctors had no idea what was wrong. They did all the tests they could think of, and eventually put it down to a virus.

Marie was told to go back to school and continue life as normal.

Dylan Alcott’s Logies speech on disability representation. Post continues after video.

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“I was frightened because I didn’t know what was going on, and mum and dad didn’t know what was going on,” Marie told Mamamia.

Forced to get used to her new ‘normal’, Marie and her friends quickly worked out a way to communicate.

“We’d pass notes to each other,” she explained. “My friends thought it was funny. They knew it was real but they saw the lighter side which helped. They were my life support during that time.”

But for those outside Marie’s friendship group, what started as “you poor thing” soon turned to “what’s wrong with her?” when her voice just never recovered.

In fact, Marie spent the next 12 years completely mute.

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Marie (second from right) spent her teens and early twenties mute. Image: Supplied.
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"One doctor told us it was psychological. So it went around [the neighbours] that I was mad," Marie told Mamamia.

"Back in the 70s, psychology didn't go down very well. I remember my parents getting into disagreements with their friends over it. So it did cause a lot of trouble."

But her neighbours' gossip was nothing compared to the bullying Marie experienced at school - from her teachers.

"They accused me of witchcraft," Marie said of the nuns at her Catholic high school.

"We laughed at first, all the girls thought it was hilarious and we'd joke between ourselves, but it wasn't funny when they started separating me from the class," she said.

"They didn't want me influencing the other girls."

When Marie was 14 she overdosed on pills.

"I don't remember ever thinking I want to die, nothing like that. I just wanted to hit back... I wanted it to stop. It was out of sheer frustration," Marie explained.

"I had pills in my bag and I took them all."

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A troubled Marie aged 14. Image: Supplied.

After surviving that scare, Marie was kicked out of school. "I couldn't go back to school because to overdose was a sin," she said.

Life didn't get any easier for Marie. Finding a job was incredibly hard.

"Initially I'd been told not to bother looking for work because I wouldn't get anything and that I'd be better off getting married and raising a family," she said.

Eventually Marie managed to get herself a spot in a secretarial course in a business college and after graduating started working in the public service.

While at work one day in 1984, 25-year-old Marie started coughing.

"I remember having one of those coughing fits that you can't get over. I went to the toilet and started coughing up blood. I panicked," she said.

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Marie was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. She distinctly remembers feeling like there was something in her throat.

"The doctor pulled it out. It was a lump, and it was covered in blood and mucous. When they washed it off they found a threepence," Marie recalled.

The coin had been lodged between her vocal chords preventing them from vibrating for half her life. Doctors believe she might have accidentally swallowed it from drinking a can of soft drink.

Immediately, Marie started moaning - the first noise she'd made since she was 12.

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A 1959 threepence was found inside Marie's throat. Image: Ebay.

The doctor told her not to attempt to talk for another week so as to not strain her voice, but she didn't listen.

Marie was in shock when she realised she was no longer mute.

"I cried. I didn't know what to feel. It was mixed emotions. One minute I was happy and euphoric and the next minute I'd be on the floor in tears hating everybody," she said.

She didn't hate anyone in particular, just the situation. Even now, Marie considers that period of her childhood and early twenties "another lifetime".

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It wasn't until Marie turned 25 that the coin dislodged and she could speak again. Image: Supplied.
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"I didn't talk about it a lot. It kind of went into the background," said the now 60-year-old.

When people get wind of Marie's story they always question, "Didn't you get an X-ray? How could they not have known?"

But the doctors weren't looking as they'd already put it down to a virus from her childhood bronchitis. And yes, she did have x-rays but the coin was resting horizontally in her throat which made it easy to miss.

Re-learning how to exist after her speech suddenly returned took practice and even today, decades later, Marie looks at everyday tasks in a slightly different light.

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Decades later Marie looks back and thinks about those 12 years as a "different lifetime." Image: Supplied.

"You don't realise the little things like getting on the bus and asking where to go. Some drivers would look at me strangely and tell me to go and learn English [when I showed them a handwritten note].

"Or using a telephone. Before I had to actually go to the doctors or the hairdresser and make the appointment physically."

Marie knows exactly what it's like to live in our society with a disability.

"Anyone who is disabled, if they need help and no one is asking them I am always the first one there," she told Mamamia.

"They don't know why, they don't need to know."

Marie has written a book about her experience. You can buy Voiceless here.

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