Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tackling a Tonsillectomy

Well, I did it. It's over. I'm so relieved, but also still a bit ragged from it all. There were so many blessings that came along the way, but also some challenges that sort of caught me by surprise. I'll probably write more later, but today, I'm writing some practical tips for tackling a tonsillectomy for a friend who is soon to go through this. This one's for you, Brit.

- First of all, the anticipation is in many ways the worst part. Yes, this is a hard surgery, especially for adults, but it's also a rather predictable one. The process that your body will go through to heal is common and repeated. I did a ton of reading and the patterns I heard about played out for me. And so, as the scripture says, "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear." Or at least not fear as much.

- I will say right off the bat that I asked for priesthood blessings, and was completely shameless about asking for prayers. And I think that is why I went into surgery at peace. I also knew it was the right thing to do. That peace I exhibited surprised both me and my husband, but if that can happen to me, the queen of anxiety and worry, that can testify to you of the power of prayers and priesthood blessings and preparation.

- The recovery process is not like other surgeries where it's linear, getting better each day. The first few days are, relatively speaking, not the worst part. The worst pain hits around day 5 and can last for several days. If you know and remember that, it will make a huge difference mentally and emotionally.

- As such, I would highly recommend making sure you have help lined up for a full two weeks, somehow, if possible. I hired someone, a newlywed friend who didn't have a job, to come in. She did my dishes and picked kiddos up from school and helped with laundry and let me cry on her shoulder. I also had her read scriptures to me. That time listening and discussing my faith really helped me keep a better focus through it all. And she was just THERE so hubby could work and I could know that I was not going to be alone. I also knew myself well enough to know that having different people coming in and out would add to significant stress for me. I personally needed that consistency. Sadly, our plan to watch movies all day was eclipsed by the fact that I slept every late morning/afternoon.

- But happily, our plan to record all the crazy things I said on drugs never played out. I was scared spitless about taking narcotics; I've had a horrible experience with Lortab and was sure my experience with Percocet would be even worse (all of my sisters and mom get sick with these kinds of drugs). But I took anti-nausea meds faithfully throughout the time I took the meds, and they seriously made a HUGE difference during those hard days. I will say that I experienced the side effect of some pretty intense emotional downs, and that was something for which I wasn't prepared. There was one morning where I could. not. stop. crying. Again, knowing that this could happen is half the battle. Just factor in the weirdness of being on drugs as part of the process, and that can help. Figure out what amount you need for relief, and then stay up on that. It will help keep the pain at least bearable.

Other options to talk about that I had on hand to use are topical lidocaine suckers and/or a rinse/mouthwash. I didn't really use these, but I have heard others have. I bought Cloroseptic (didn't use that either). My doc uses Mobic (one a day is what I took) along with the narcotics. I think that helped during the worst days, and I used it alone as I weaned off the narcotics (my goal was to be done with the narcotics by the two-week mark, and I think I stopped taking them around day that point I was only taking them every 12 hours or so. I wasn't afraid to use them, but I also was anxious to get off of them.)

- One of the most important tips I can give you is to DRINK AND EAT (I'd say prioritize in that order) NO MATTER HOW MUCH IT HURTS. If you have seen Harry Potter, the scene from #6 in the cave was the mental picture I created for the woman I hired to help. "No matter what I say, Harry, you make me drink." That was her charge, and that was my challenge every day, every couple of hours. I bought cases of water that sat in my room, and had pretty much every known type of liquid nutrition known to man. I drank a lot of vitamin water, not so much Gatorade, a lot of regular water, some juices (don't do acidic ones! OUCH!), and some dairy (more later can produce mucus that isn't comfy at first -- you'll figure that out).

Follow your doc's orders about what to eat or drink (some say no dairy at first, and some say only soft foods, etc.) But force yourself to do both. (Mine said it didn't really matter, although my own ENT who also does surgery takes a very conservative, soft-foods only approach, which was my choice...I pushed that for almost three weeks because I'm paranoid like that). Keep hydrated at all costs. And for me, consistently eating food not only meant that I never took meds on an empty stomach, but it kept strength up, AND helped me emotionally and mentally to not let the pain take over my life. My surgeon said without question that those who eat and drink heal faster. The pain also gets more out of control if you get dehydrated. I didn't lose weight for the first week and a half. It's been the last couple of weeks that I've struggled to maintain because I'm doing more but still haven't been eating normally, or enough. Food takes time to get reacquainted with. ;)

- I filled my freezer with pureed foods...fruits, juices with yogurt and cottage cheese, soups, pureed oatmeal. I wish I'd done more savory foods...too many sweets got old really fast. I wish I'd done more good hot cereals for variety and substance. For the first few days, I did a lot of broth with Ritz crackers dissolved in it, but that got old. Gatorade with yogurt was an interesting creation that I liked for a few days. But I didn't really want more popcicles and ice cream; I wanted real foods. (I am still craving protein, still trying to catch up on what I felt my body took me a while to feel brave enough to eat, even though my doc said I could eat whatever.) If your doc is ok with it, and you can tolerate it, protein drinks are a good option -- lots of calories and protein in only a few swallows. I used the plus version for an extra 100 calories. But again, I got sick of the sweet stuff. So think about that..think about what foods you can puree that you can have on hand or have someone make for you. (Later in the process when I felt a little more brave I made a potato soup with a bag of shredded hash browns boiled to serious softness in chicken broth (enough water to cover potatoes and then with bouillon cubes to match the amount , then mixed a can of evaporated milk and shredded cheddar cheese until smooth and bubbly.) You'll want to let any hot foods cool. I'm still feeling a little tender with really hot or really cold foods.

- Other tricks I used -- vaporizer (don't know if it made a difference, but I wanted to do all I could to keep my throat moist while I slept), gum (keeps saliva going and is something for my mouth to do), sleeping a lot (even though you'll want to be careful about not sleeping for too long at one chunk...want to keep up on meds). I also gave myself a LOT of time to eat. It usually took me 1-1/2 hours from start to finish to eat my meals. But the more you can focus on just your basics - drink, eat, sleep, the more your body can do its job.

- Get yourself some prune juice. This can help counteract the effects of the meds. I mixed mine with my daily pureed oatmeal, and even once blended it with pureed cottage cheese. (I'm not sure if you want to call that creative or desperate.)

- I don't know if this is normal (and sorry if this is too graphic, but I wish someone had told me they had experienced this), but I had serious green post nasal stuff that worried me. I was given antibiotics, but I honestly think it may have simply been my body's reaction to the surgery, a sort of natural lubrication response. It got lighter and better as I healed. And I never showed symptoms of a sinus infection, so that's what I'm guessing. But it was that kind of unknown stuff ("Is this normal?") that was hard for me. Don't hesitate to call your doc's office and ask questions. My nurse and I became really good friends. :)

- I tried to be careful not to bend over. I also slept with my head slightly elevated. But I am not sure whether those are things that make a difference or not. I just tried to be cautious and to do things that to me logically meant keeping any unnecessary extra blood flow to my mouth. I hear ice packs can help, but I never used them. The meds helped me through and my mental preparation for the bad days made a difference, I think.

- Please don't beat yourself up if you get discouraged through this. Plan on having and asking for not only the physical help and support, but also emotional help and support. Call me if you need to, and let yourself need what you need for weeks. It's a big deal, and people around you might need help remembering that it's going to take some time for normal to come back. For sure plan on two weeks, but then another two weeks to slowly ease back into life. I'm four weeks out and still tired, but feeling a little more like my whatever-my-normal-was-before normal.

You are strong and mighty, dear Brit. You will do great. And as my friend said, ultimately, it's in God's hands. Lean on Him lots during this. Look for the little blessings each day. Remind yourself that this, too, shall pass. But be sure to give yourself the space to say, "Baby, this is hard. I need to hunker down, and I need help. And I need time to heal."

I hope this helps. If you have questions, please ask! Or if I remember more, I'll share.


  1. I'd always heard a tonsillectomy was harder for adults than for kids, but I never realized all that it entailed.

    Glad to hear you're on the mend, Michelle, and I am wishing Brit the very best of healing and recovery.


  2. Yes, prayers for Brit!

    It is quite an ordeal, but one of the things that I think makes it unique is that you can prepare for it perhaps better than with other surgeries that are a bit more random and individual. You just can know that at about day 5 the pain will peak, and that by about day 10 or 11, you'll start to feel like you can face it without meds. I benefited a lot from the experience of others, so I hope this is helpful to Brit or anyone else in this boat.