The 5 Things No One Tells you About Getting an Adult Tonsillectomy

Now that I’m fully recovered, there are a couple of things I learned from my experience getting an adult tonsillectomy with essentially no de-briefing from my doctor other than “go to the ER if you start bleeding”.  So here are some things that if you have an adult tonsillectomy like I did, you probably won’t be told:

Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy

1.  Everyone’s pain levels and recovery time are different.

When I told a lady I clean house for about my impending tonsillectomy, she told me that her sister had one in her late teens and had actually been bed ridden for about three weeks.  My bosses’ daughter had a similar experience.  And a quick Google search had me reading through any number of horror stories about how getting a tonsillectomy as an adult was an absolute pain-ridden nightmare.

Except for me it wasn’t.

I have the world’s worst immune system and I have a bad record with injury recovery, so I was definitely expecting a hellish experience.  Except I was really only in what I would count as moderate pain for about 5 days after the surgery.  After that?  Meh, not really.  I really think pain levels and recovery time are different for every person and my experience is definitely not representative of the majority of experiences.  For me, having a combined tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy was far less painful than the time my right eardrum burst or when I had H1N1 a couple years ago during the peak of the epidemic.  But for some people, an adult tonsillectomy will be incredibly painful.

Ice Cream

2.  You cannot have the same diet as a child during recovery.

Prior to my tonsillectomy, everyone was telling me: “Lucky you!  You get to eat ice cream for a week!”  Um, no.

Contrary to the popular myth, adult human beings cannot live on ice cream alone.  They need protein and carbohydrates to fuel their bodies.  Kids can seem to live on popsicles and ice cream alone but if you have an adult tonsillectomy and try that you’ll be so weak you can’t even get out of bed.  The best thing to do is drink cool or room temperature chicken broth because at least that has protein and calories that will help you recover.  Trust me, on the two days where I could only eat a bit of ice cream and/or yogurt, I couldn’t even walk to the kitchen to get more food because I simply did not have the energy.  My mum had to help me sit up just so I could eat properly.

Seriously: adult humans cannot live on ice cream alone and if you try you’re going to have a much longer recovery time.

Liquid Diet

3.  Your digestive system will hate you.

After being on a liquid diet for approximately a week, your digestive system will be very used to only processing liquids.  Needless to say that when you re-introduce solid foods, not everything will go smoothly.  Some gentle laxatives will definitely help in this regard.  I honestly don’t know how celebrities stand living on a liquid diet.  You’re constantly hungry for something more filling and you’re most definitely losing weight at an unhealthy rate.  Basically, if you don’t have to go on a liquid diet, don’t.  It’s not fun.

Swollen Nodes

4.  Your throat becomes incredibly swollen.

What would surprise most people is that immediately after my surgery I could speak just fine.  I was very tired but I could speak to my mum in between naps and when I was discharged from hospital the next morning I spoke with the doctors and nurses.  But around day 3 the swelling got really bad.  My uvula (the pink dangling thing in the back of your throat), tongue and under my chin were incredibly swollen so I couldn’t talk at all.  What really helped with the throat swelling was having an ice pack on my throat constantly, which (again) the doctor did not tell me about.  Another thing that really helped the swelling was drinking cool water.  It also moistened the scabs so that my throat was swollen but didn’t feel scratchy and/or excruciatingly painful.  If you let those scabs dry out, you are in for a world of hurt.

(Definitely no picture for this.  Google at your own risk!)

5.  It is absolutely disgusting.

When they take your tonsils out, they cauterize the tonsil beds at the same time.  This produces white scabs in your throat that are supposed to peel off naturally around day 7-10 post-surgery.  What no one tells you about this is that the scabs are absolutely disgusting.

Without getting into too much gory detail, let me say that the scabs seem to collect bacteria in your mouth.  Bacteria that feeds on the mucous that attaches to the scabs and produces an utterly foul odour that develops into a foul taste that permeates every single morsel of food you eat.  Brushing your teeth doesn’t help and mouthwash will aggravate your throat so you’re stuck with all of your food tasting like rotten cheese for about 7 days.  It’s so unbelievably gross.

And don’t even talk to me about what happens when the scabs come off.  They’re large enough that they’re uncomfortable to swallow so you essentially have to spit them up, along with all of that lovely mucous that has been attached to them.  I can’t overemphasize how gross this is and I’m someone with a pretty strong stomach when it comes to bodily functions.

Seriously, for me a tonsillectomy was more disgusting than it was painful.

In the end, I consider my tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy completely worth it.  It should have been done when I was a child (an argument I had with my parents many, many times) but I’m glad I got it done now.  After the chronic infections and the near-constant pain it became a quality of life issue and now that the stupid things are gone, I’m very happy.  I could have done without the disgusting recovery phase, but I’m not complaining now that I won’t be in the doctor’s office every month because I have tonsillitis again.

Update 04/06/17: Almost two years post-surgery and I haven’t had a single sore throat!  Getting my tonsils out was one of the best decisions I’ve made health-wise.  It has absolutely been a significant improvement in my overall quality of life.

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