This post is recapping my experience of having a tonsillectomy as an adult (I was 28 at the time). I know the internet can sometimes be a dangerous place, but reading others’ experiences going through this procedure really helped me prepare for my own. So I’m just going to drop this here in hopes that it may someday help someone else
Note: I am not a doctor and this post is just about my personal experience. Please consult your own physician for medical advice.
Visiting the ENT
I went to an otolaryngologist in February after experiencing the sensation of having something stuck in my throat. Imagine the feeling of getting a piece of food, like a cracker, stuck in your throat for weeks at a time. This had been happening off and on for the past 9 months but had become pretty consistent and painful beginning in January. Turns out this sensation was being caused by tonsil stones. I knew I had tonsil stones and they were very annoying and painful, but I didn’t realize they were causing this as well.
Deciding to Get My Tonsils Out
My doctor basically told me that my issues were never going to go away unless I had my tonsils removed. I weighed the pros and cons of the procedure:
Pros: The surgery is outpatient and extremely common and routine. There is only a 3% chance of complications (bleeding). I would not get tonsillitis or strep throat anymore. Surgery was pretty much the only solution to permanently eliminating tonsil stones and all of the issues they caused. I could say goodbye to all of my tonsil-cleaning tools, like my water pik:
Cons: Adults generally have a much harder time with tonsillectomies compared to kids, and the recovery can be very painful. My doctor spent more time talking to me about the recovery of the procedure than the actual procedure itself. He told me that many adults come back in his office and tell him that it was the worst pain they have ever experienced. This was the exact opposite of the impression I had of tonsillectomies, but the only experience I had with them was seeing my friends get them when I was in elementary school. My doctor said it was more painful in adults because of excess scar tissue building up in your tonsils over time and also just the fact that it is harder to bounce back from being hurt as you get older.
I was willing to do anything to get rid of the feeling of something being stuck in my throat, so I decided a week or two of pain was worth it.
The procedure itself was no big deal. I checked into the hospital at 7am, my surgery was around 9, I was in recovery by 9:30 and I was on the way home around 11:30. It was my first time going under anesthesia so I was a little scared about that, but it ended up being fine. My tonsils and all of the tonsil tissue (the skin that goes from the tonsils all the way up to the uvula) were removed. My adenoids were not.
The hospital staff was really great and my throat was practically numb by the time I was discharged. I ate 4 popsicles while in recovery and I took 2 more for the road.
Despite being warned of the pain of this recovery, part of me thought that I was healthy and that maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. I was wrong. So wrong. I experienced the worst pain I have ever felt in my entire life the week after this surgery.
Here’s my general summary of the two weeks after surgery:
Day 1 was okay, as my doctor had told me beforehand that I wouldn’t be in much pain because of the anesthesia. It started to get a little worse that night. I started taking my pain meds every 4 hours and ibuprofen every 4 hours.
Days 2 and 3 were awful. I cannot even describe how much pain I was in. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. I could not handle drinking any type of liquid, so I mainly ate jello and sucked on ice cubes. My pain was at a constant 7-8. Sleeping was the worst, and my pain reached a 10 on more than one occasion. It was miserable. I switched to a stronger pain med, which helped a lot.
Things started to get a little better Days 4 and 5. I was still taking pain meds every 2 hours and this kept my pain at a steady 5. It would spike to a 6-8 at times. I was able to start drinking very thin, cold liquids so I was able to drink Gatorade… this tasted amazing
At first, I thought Day 6 was a turning point. My pain was better and I started making “drinks” with a little bit of pureed chicken and low-sodium chicken broth. But then something happened that night and my pain shot back up to an 8. Depressing. This continued through Day 7.
Days 8 and 9 were up and down. Overall I was feeling better but then I had periods where I was in a lot of pain. I started trying to eat more solid food but it was painful.
Day 10 was a turning point. I ate pureed food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I slept for 12 hours that day (in 4 hour increments). I also drastically decreased the amount of pain medication I was taking during the day. I still look meds every 2 hours during the night.
Things started to slowly get better Days 11, 12 and 13. I think being able to finally eat soft foods made all the difference. I no longer needed to take ibuprofen around the clock. By day 13, I was taking the prescription pain med every 6 hours instead of every 4.
Today is Day 14. Last night was the first time I slept through the night… I slept 10 hours! My throat felt like it was on fire when I woke up but it was a huge relief to finally get a good nights sleep.
So as you can see, it has taken me about 2 full weeks to recover. I’m not 100% yet but I am feeling SO much better. I’m not going back to work until Friday, and hopefully at that point I will not be taking prescription pain medication anymore.
Recovery Tips & Advice
Talk to your doctor about your pain medication and different scenarios PRIOR to your surgery so you will feel prepared.
My doctor and pre-op nurse both stressed that it was important to stay on top of the pain (rather than “chasing” the pain), so I took my pain medication on a schedule. The times when I was in the most pain were when I overslept and took my medication later than I should have. I would recommend writing down your medications to help keep track of everything.
Communicate with your doctor if whatever he/she prescribes you is not cutting it. I started taking hydrocodone at first and it did not even *touch* the pain. It was a relief when I switched to something stronger.
I absolutely needed someone to take care of me the day of surgery because I felt pretty out of it. But it was nice to have someone there for the days after surgery because it meant I could rest more. I don’t think I will ever be able to thank my mom and husband enough for everything they have done for me these past 2 weeks. They crushed pain pills so I could mix them with drinks, brought me about 1 million cups of ice, kept track of my medication schedule, refilled my humidifier, refilled my ice packs before I went to bed, and got up with me in the middle of the night. There were a few days when I did all of that for myself, and it was overwhelming because I was also in a lot of pain.
This is a shot of my kitchen… aka pill-smashing central! My mom and husband put crushed pills in little foil wraps so I could just pick one up and pour it in my drink when I needed it.
It gets worse before it gets better:
I wish I had mentally prepared myself for this a little better. I started feeling better on days 5-6 but then things went downhill when my scabs started coming off. I would say overall that I did not actually start to feel like things were on an upswing until the 10th and 11th day after the procedure.
Be prepared for lack of sleep:
This seems counterintuitive because was always think of sleep as being important in a recovery. Just prepare yourself to wake up every few hours to keep your throat wet because you will be in EXTREME pain if you don’t. Make sure your caregiver knows this, and knows to wake you up if you sleep through an alarm. I had several times when my pain reached a solid 10 on the pain scale and they all were when I slept too long.
Some other helpful tips:
- Buy crushed ice to suck on. I could not open my mouth wide enough to suck on cubes out of my ice maker. I ended up purchasing ice from Sonic… I actually went through 4 bags!
- Make mini ice cubes from supplements. I made little baggies of ice cubes made from Ensure Clear. These were great to suck on for those first few days when I really couldn’t tolerate anything else. (I used these mini ice cube trays).
- A good blender will come in handy. I could not tolerate any solid food for over a week after my tonsillectomy. I purchased this Vitamix prior to surgery to puree foods and it was *amazing*. No regrets there. See my link at the bottom of the page for more about what I ate and drank during that first week. If you don’t want to splurge for a Vitamix, I have heard that the Ninja Professional Blender is a good alternative (note, I’ve never used this). If you want to keep things as cheap as possible, I also have this Ninja Master Prep and really enjoy it. It takes a bit longer to blend things than my Vitamix but it gets the job done.
- Have some cups ready that are sweat-free and won’t make your hand cold. I had a cup of ice in my hand 24/7 for the first week after surgery. My favorite were the Tervis Tumbler mugs (like this one with the handle).
- Ice packs were helpful to me. I propped 2 ice packs under my throat when I slept and I think they helped. I actually bought several different kind but mostly I used these and they were great.
- Use a cool mist humidifier and keep it blowing in your face when you sleep. The moist air helped keep my through from drying out. This one is good.
- Sleep at an incline. I could not comfortably sleep laying flat for over 2 weeks.
I felt prepared for my surgery but there were still a few things that surprised me… I knew ‘ear pain’ was a side effect of the procedure but what I experienced actually felt like a double ear infection. This lasted about a day. I got hiccups for 2 straight days. Hiccups + cauterized throat = wish you were dead. My tongue got really swollen and I bit it in my sleep. This resulted in sores all over my tongue.
None! I am SO glad I had my tonsils removed. I could tell immediately that I no longer felt like something was stuck in my throat. It has been over a year since my surgery and it honestly changed my life. I’m so glad I had this procedure, even though the recovery was definitely not fun.
Other tonsillectomy posts: