Tonsillectomy… the thing that brings to mind vivid dreams of being able to eat only ice cream with a very valid excuse. Bed rest, lots of yummy frozen dessert, pudding, and sleep. Wonderful, right? Wrong. Especially as an adult. Everyone I spoke with before mine said that the recovery would be horrible. I would be in lots of pain. It would take forever… As you can see, they were all very encouraging.
But what is it actually like? Here are some (brutally honest) thoughts I had throughout my recovery.
1. “Oh, that wasn’t so bad!”
After I woke up from the anesthesia, nothing hurt too much. They were wrong! The adult tonsillectomy would be fine. I was fine… oh, wait. Why does my voice sound like that? Did I dream them telling me to think of a happy place? I have no idea where I am. Ha, I’m all tingly.
2. “Damn… I want some Cookout.”
For those who are unfortunate and don’t have any Cookout restaurants around you, it’s this incredible place were a big milkshake is around $3.00 and they have tons of combos. And about 20 minutes after waking up and being told I would be able to leave, I wanted one. Badly.
Unfortunately, my milkshake did not want me… I didn’t believe the doctor when he said I might not want dairy (it causes mucus production), but, boy! was he correct. So much for that lovely vision of ice cream for every meal!
3. “Oh my gosh. I can’t talk. What am I going to do! I need a white-board.”
About five hours after my surgery, I realized I couldn’t talk without it hurting… Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as I first thought.
4. “This pain narcotic is making me feel sick!”
The pain medication you get after a tonsillectomy is strong. It’s brutal on the stomach because you can’t eat any solid food so it isn’t absorbed as well and it makes you feel super queasy. It was horrible. But really necessary. I tried to take only Ibuprofen and I had to start the narcotic again because it was too much pain, and I have a super high threshold! You want to nap a lot, because then you don’t feel the icky stomach turning and are not as cognizant of the pain.
5. “That was the worst sleep I have ever had.”
Hate to break it to you, but you are going to sleep really badly for the next week to week and a half! Yay! Throat pain!
6. “WHY IS MY THROAT WHITE!”
If you are anything like me, or, really, if you have any little ounce of curiosity in you, you’ll probably look in the mirror and see what your throat looks like. Guess what: it looks super gross!
7. “I kinda feel like I am choking… all the time.”
Yep. This is a constant thing for about, oh, as long as it takes to heal. Your uvula swells and it hits your throat and that makes it feel like you are choking. For me, I constantly thought I had something stuck in my throat—or rather, the holes where my tonsils used to be.
8. “WHAT FOOD CAN I EAT?!”
Bad news… basically none. I lived on mashed potatoes, pudding, popsicles, and smoothies (made without dairy) for the first 7-10 days. Actually, I should have done that. But I tried to force some harder things and that went horribly. Don’t be me.
9. “Is it over yet?”
I wish… I wish…
10. “What is that smell? I brushed my teeth…”
Oh yeah, here’s the great part! Your breath smells like a dying animal for a while! Because your throat is now scabbed over and those scabs might start to fall off, your breath smells horrible. Brush your teeth as much as you want, it’s not going away.
11. “How could this possibly get worse?
Just wait. Day 7-10 is the absolute worst. This period of time is when the scabs on your throat start to fall off. Don’t worry, you can’t feel them! I thought I would feel them when I swallowed, but I didn’t even notice. It is probably because it hurts like hell to do anything since the throat is now raw and any sort of food or liquid makes it sting. Yes, even water.
12. “Why does my tongue hurt, too?”
When I went to my post-op, I was convinced my throat was infected and my surgery had gone wrong because I couldn’t eat or drink anything without wincing and my tongue hurt SOOO much. Nope! The muscles in your tongue are sore too because of the healing process and the way you hold your mouth when you adjust to the pain. The more you know.
13. “Wait, what about my ears? Why do those hurt so much?”
You know how your nose, throat, and ears are connected? That’s why. The nerves in your throat that got all messed up from the surgery are affecting your ears. The ear pain was, in some instances, worse than the throat pain, for me. This is when those horrible pain medications don’t seem so horrible.
14. “Water keeps coming out of my nose!”
Ah yes. Thank you to google for explaining to me that this was normal. Nasal regurgitation is a part of a tonsillectomy. I don’t know why. But it’s annoying.
15. “I think I need a nap.”
I napped around 3-5 hours a day. Healing takes a lot of work! Also, I just really like my bed. But mostly, I couldn’t stay awake.
16. “Was this worth it?
I had this thought a lot, especially through the really painful bits. But I kept telling myself yes, because it got me through.
17. “Am I done yet?”
As I am writing this, I am on day 12 of my recovery. One side of my throat still hurts a lot. But I am sleeping through the night more now! So yes, you will eventually be done. Just maybe not yet.
The verdict: you are in fact a survivor when you have an adult tonsillectomy. Don’t let someone tell you it is an “easy” surgery. It’s not. The recovery is super hard and you are going to want someone there to help you through it. But, in the end, if it keeps you from getting sick so much, you should probably go through with it — especially if your doctor says to! It sucks. I relate. But you can complain about it all you want. And then rant to internet strangers in a snarky (but honest) article about it, like me!
This article was originally written for and posted on The Odyssey Online in Aspiring Journalism Professionals.