Tonsillectomy Recovery – What to Expect

What You Need to Know About Tonsillectomy and Recovery Day by Day

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I wasn’t always this healthy. As a kid I ingested more penicillin than a corporate-raised chicken. I was in the doctor’s office several times each year with a sore throat. As the doctor or nurse peered into my mouth, the reaction was always the same: “Whoa, those are some big tonsils!” The diagnosis was usually tonsillitis, or strep throat. As the doctor wrote the prescription, he’d explain that years ago, tonsils like mine would have been removed, but, “these days,” we try to hang onto them. “These days,” were the 1970’s. I guess the tonsillectomy pendulum had swung back from the days when kids got their tonsils out because their brother was getting his out.


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Aunt Kate’s reassurance helped, but I still wrote out some just-in-case instructions for my brother and hid them in my closet. I sheepishly told him where they were, just in case.

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As an adult I continued to suffer from frequent bouts of tonsillitis. It seemed that I caught every bug that passed through my house or workplace. I guess those big ugly tonsils were a nice home for those nasties. It wasn’t until my 40’s that I also became aware that I suffered from something called, Obstructive Sleep Apnea -a condition in which a person stops breathing while asleep. I snored often and would awake abruptly, gulping in big breaths. I felt tired most days. After raising four babies, I had come to accept fatigue as a normal part of life! One day at a routine physical my doctor remarked about the number of episodes of strep throat and tonsillitis I’d had. We also talked about the sleep problems. While he didn’t formally diagnose obstructive sleep apnea, he suspected that I had it. He recommended a tonsillectomy, because of all the tonsil problems I’d had. As a bonus, I might find relief from the sleep apnea as well. If not, I’d undergo a sleep study. Forty four years old and father of four boys and a doctor finally said it: Those tonsils are doing you more harm than good! As much as I hated those tonsils, I was terrified at the thought of going under the knife. I started reading about tonsillectomy on the internet and talking to friends. That didn’t help. “My cousin knew a guy who got a tonsillectomy and bled to death.” “At your age, tonsillectomy is dangerous.” When I met with the ear, nose and throat specialist, (an otolaryngologist), he told me that the risks are the same for an adult undergoing tonsillectomy surgery as for a child, but the recovery is longer and more painful. He was right about that!

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Deciding to get a Tonsillectomy

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I scheduled the surgery for the day after Thanksgiving. A traditional day of feasting in the United States. If it was to be my last meal, I planned to make it a good one! As it turned out, I was so nervous and scared that I could hardly eat on that day. I was recently divorced and had shared placement of my four boys. So many people counted on me that I began to question my decision. What if I died on the table? How reckless to leave behind a family, simply to avoid frequent tonsillitis? My aunt, a registered nurse reassured me about how simple the surgery was, and how far anesthesiology had come. I had nothing to worry about. Aunt Kate’s reassurance helped, but I still wrote out some just-in-case instructions for my brother and hid them in my closet. I sheepishly told him where they were, just in case

“My tonsils were like a 400 pound gorilla on my back. I don’t miss them at all. Ever.” -from the forum ________________________________________________________________________________

I took a week off from work, asked my ex wife to take care of the boys that week, and asked my uncle to drive me to and from the hospital. (a requirement with anesthesia) That was about all the preparation I did. I was about to learn a lot!   Surgery went fine. I awoke in recovery with a serving of Jell-o in front of me. (“Jelly,” to my British friends) The nurse said that I had to finish it before I could check out. I swallowed it with great relish. It was divine! I called my uncle and we were out of there. I felt ok. I told him thanks and not to worry. I’d be fine. I believed this. Aside from a couple visits, I spent the next ten days alone in misery. The pain set in after about 24 hours. Streaming movies and television shows were my friends. Sleeping became my worst enemy. I’d wake up with my mouth dried out and my throat on fire. Oh my God. I was not prepared for this! I ran out of Popsicle’s on day three. I ran out of pain medicine on day five. The pain peaked on day seven. I broke down and cried in front of my brother on day eight- a combination of pain, drug induced depression, and sleep deprivation. Since then, I’ve read thousands of similar accounts on the tonsillectomy forum I created. It didn’t have to be so hard. If I’d known what I do now, I could have done so much to make my tonsillectomy recovery better. I hope to reach as many people as I can to help guide them through the tunnel. It has been my passion and taught me more about compassion and the amazing strength of the human spirit than any other life experience. When you shine a light for others, you also light your own path.

In the pages at follow, I’ll share with you what I learned from my tonsillectomy experience and years of coaching others through tonsillectomy and recovery. More about tonsillectomy…read more

444 thoughts on “Tonsillectomy Recovery – What to Expect

  1. The Narcotic meds will plug you up and make you miserable. Drink lots of fluids and the stool softer should help. Pain will increase. Take the Pain meds as ordered. I hate to say the worst is yet to come but you will get through it. We all did.

  2. Day 2 after day of surgery. Pain highest yet of 5-6. Had to ice throat a couple times. Talking is difficult (so is not talking, I love to talk). Very constipated ( I tried to squeeze off a bowel movement—NOT RECOMMENDED. I’m lucky the straining didn’t cause a bleed. If you think “hey, I can push without straining”, you can’t do it when you’re plugged up. I’m getting someone to get me some stool softeners tomorrow). I’m also burping a lot– didn’t think I swallowed much air but I must have. Sometimes it hurts to belch.

  3. Wish I would have bought a wedge. Wasn’t sure what to look for, so I bought 3 body pillows. Those, along with more pillows and blankets should be enough to prop me up. I’ll find out once I come home. I hope the cat doesn’t barf on them in the meantime : ). I didn’t get a humidifier, but I’m stocked up on popsicles, powerade & gatorade, cheapy mac n cheese, instant mashed potatoes and eggs. Oh, and I have a good bit of honey…I’ll eat that, too. I have ice packs in the freeze.

  4. Surgery today. Almost 4:30 am and I’m wide awake–I’m scared. I’ll be leaving for the hospital in about four hours. I don’t like going under (who does? It terrifies me, even though I know if I don’t wake up I won’t know it anyhow, but rational thinking doesn’t help take away the anxiety) and I’m afraid of the bleeding risk. I’ll be staying overnight so that they can monitor my oxygen levels (ent thinks I might have obstructive sleep apnea–these things are large enough to cause a problem and removing them will also get rid of my recurring tonsil stones). I’m hoping I’ll be happy with the results. I’m hoping to sleep better, have more energy and have fresh breath when this is all done and I’m healed up. Good luck to everyone going through the same, especially as an adult. I wish someone would have taken these things out when I was a kid, but I didn’t get infections. They’ve been huge as long as I can remember. Besides the likely worse recovery, I’ll have to worry about adult things like money. Oh well, it’s getting taken care of now. Better late than never. Take care, everyone! You aren’t alone.

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