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Getting a Tonsillectomy as an Adult: What to Expect from Start to Finish

From Pre-Op Consult to Recovery

By the.unstable.siblingPublished 4 years ago 9 min read
Photo Credit: Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, PatientsLounge, eCreamery

All experiences are my own. This post should NOT replace medical advice. The procedure and protocol may differ depending on location; all information is from my procedure in Ontario, Canada.

When I first got told I needed to get my tonsils removed I was apprehensive. I was concerned about pain level, recovery time and going under with anesthesia. This was the first time I was having surgery and staying overnight in the hospital.

Pre-Op Consultation: Two weeks before my surgery date I went in for a pre-op consult. This was my chance to ask any questions I had, meet with a nurse, anesthesiologist and pharmacologist. At the pre-op consult, they reviewed my medications, took my weight, told me what medications I could and couldn't take and told me what I could expect when I arrived on the day of my surgery. I got an adenotonsillectomy, meaning they took out my adenoids and tonsils. They told me I would have to stay overnight for observation because I have sleep apnea. Upon request, accommodations were made for my mum to stay with me overnight. I had to stop taking all vitamins but could continue taking all other medications as normal.

The Morning Of: On the morning of my surgery, I had to do several things to prepare. I couldn't eat past midnight and I had to take a shower with unscented soap and remove all nail polish and piercings. I was not allowed to wear makeup, lotion, perfume or scented deodorant to the hospital. I packed an overnight bag with comfortable clothes, slippers, basic toiletries, medication and a comfort item. Before we left for the hospital, I was told to drink at least 8oz of clear fluid, I chose water; then it was time to go.

Arriving at the Hospital: At this point, I was very nervous. I still didn't know what to expect but I was comforted by being able to have a 'care partner' with me the whole time. My care partner was my mum. The preparation at the hospital went very quickly. I had a nurse ask me questions about allergies and if I followed the instructions given at the consultation. I met with the anesthesiologist and the surgeon who answered any questions I had before going in. This was extremely helpful. I asked about how the anesthesia works and what to expect when we go into the operating room. Both the surgeon and anesthesiologist put me at ease and made me very comfortable. Next, I had to change into a hospital gown. I was able to wear my own pyjama pants and slippers which made me feel better. A second nurse asked me a final set of questions as I laid down. The questions were fairly repetitive but ensured everyone had the same information.

Surgery: I left my mum and was wheeled into the operating room. It was very bright with two big overhead lights. I had to scoot from my bed onto the small operating table which was a bit difficult. The anesthesiologist put an IV in my hand as one of the nurses strapped my legs down gently. Until the anesthesia kicked in they were encouraging me by telling me I was doing really well. They attached a few monitors to my chest and sides before putting a warm blanket over me. They put an oxygen mask over my face which after a few minutes started to taste and smell different. Within seconds of me noticing the difference, I was out.

After Surgery: I woke up in the recovery room 2 hours later. I didn't feel too bad and asked for my mum immediately. Within 2 minutes of me being awake, my mum was by my side. I was given ice chips, cold water and liquid medication for the pain. The surgeon came in about 20 minutes later to tell my mum how it went and check on me. An hour after waking up, I was taken to the ICU (Intensive Care) for monitoring. I still had an IV for fluids and my pain level was pretty low, about a 2/10. I was able to talk and swallow relatively easily. In the ICU, the nurse let me change from my gown into my normal, loose clothes and hooked me up to more monitors to track my respiratory rate, heart rate and pulse. My blood pressure was taken many times throughout the day. My mum was able to come into my room once I was settled in. I was given Jell-O which I usually hate but it helped tremendously.

Overnight: We were staying in a private room in the ICU. The overnight nurse was fantastic; monitoring my pain, my breathing, and our comfort level. I was able to have a popsicle, more Jell-O and a lot of ice water. The IV was taken out when I could drink normally and I was brought a tray for dinner. I was offered juice which was painful and made me cough so I stuck with water. Every 4 hours my blood pressure was checked and every 30 minutes I was up to go to the bathroom because of all the water and IV fluids I'd been receiving all day. Pain management was a little tricky overnight with my pain increasing to a 7/10. Pain medication, Tylenol, ice packs and ice water really helped.

The Morning After Surgery: At 8 AM we were brought breakfast. I was able to eat cheerios soaked in milk. I was detached from all of the monitors and we were able to go home at 11. My pain level was back down to a 4/10 and the transition back home was very smooth. I was able to sleep, have a milkshake and my pain level stayed low. I slept propped up by pillows which helped with pain and breathing.

First Night Home: Oatmeal was my saving grace. It was warm and soothing for my throat. Drinking water constantly and following a medication routine kept me at a tolerable level of pain.

Day 2: I woke up in a fair amount of pain, a 7/10, because I slept through the time I should have taken more pain medication. Every 4 hours is the recommendation and I highly suggest following it, even overnight. The pain medication takes an hour to kick in so waiting for that relief was frustrating. I couldn't talk or swallow at first but as the day went on and I returned to my medication schedule and drank plenty of water, I felt better. In the evening, my pain level rose suddenly to a 9/10 and the pain medication wasn't helping. I took the full dose of pain medication and tried to sleep. After an hour of resting and icing my throat, I started to feel better. A warm shower also made a huge difference.

Day 3: Overnight, I kept with my medication schedule and stayed hydrated. I woke up in far less pain. I took it easy and used an ice pack all day. I primarily ate oatmeal and added a nutritional drink (boost) to my diet. In the late afternoon, my pain level once again rose to a 7/10 but was managed by Tylenol, an ice pack, water and Jell-O. It was helpful to keep trying to swallow and talk.

Day 4: I've noticed a pattern. Because I am continuing to take pain medication overnight, I wake up very drowsy and feeling like I can't keep my eyes open. When I can get up, usually around 1, I have no appetite and my pain level is a 3/10. Around 6, swallowing becomes more painful and I find myself needing to take the full dose of pain medication to get my pain back to a manageable level. After 9:30, my pain level is back down from a 7/10 to a 5/10; this time of day is when I'm most productive. Again, drinking water and keeping an ice pack with me at all times is helping beyond belief. Having family or friends who can help is very important. I'm very lucky to have my mum who is making food, getting me water and encouraging me to talk to keep my throat moving.

Day 5 & 6: I've gotten much better at pain management. Every 4 hours I take pain medication, drink water (more for overnight), and put fresh ice in my ice pack. I've had no appetite over the past days. When I do eat, everything seems to have an off-taste. The taste in my mouth and my breath is unpleasant. I brush my teeth at least 4 times a day to deal with this. I've been experiencing the most pain in the morning; it gradually gets better throughout the day. Overall, my pain level is 3/10 and I'm getting my normal voice back. I find it most comfortable to talk in a higher pitch or head voice as it seems to put less pressure on my throat.

Day 7: It's been a week since my surgery and overall I feel good. I have more energy and have been able to do schoolwork. The back of my throat is still white but I'm expecting that to fade over the next week. When my pain is managed, it's been quite nice to take it easy, sleep often and I've never been this hydrated. I'm still sleeping propped up which helps in breathing. With my medication alarm, every 4 hours, I turn over to avoid neck pain from sleeping upright.

Day 8: Eating causes severe pain. Normally my pain level is 2-3/10 but when I eat or drink anything thicker than water, my pain rises to 7-8/10. Even yogurt drinks, mashed potatoes and popsicles hurt to swallow; it feels like swallowing sandpaper.

Day 9-10: These past two days just sped by. I spent the majority of the time resting and was able to get some work done. I can do more every day and that's very encouraging.

Day 11: I'm decreasing the amount of pain medication I'm taking. I have noticed the swelling around my jaw and throat going down. I'm continuing to expand on the variety of food I'm eating but everything still has an off-taste.

Day 12-13: I'm almost back to normal. There's more discomfort than pain; kind of like a scratchy rawness. I've stopped taking pain medication every 4 hours and now only take it in the morning and at night at a lower dose. I take Tylenol as needed as well.

Day 14: I'm going to end this here because I'm mostly back to normal. My throat is still a little sore and white at the back. I'm sticking to soft foods for a little longer just to be safe. The only time I experience pain is when I yawn, and it's only a 1-2/10. I'm pleasantly surprised at how quick the recovery was. Overall, I know this surgery was worth it.


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