It’s true: It’s been three years since I’ve had my tonsils and adenoids out and almost three years since my post (written a week after surgery) titled “Adult Tonsillectomy–Don’t Do It” went live. It remains my number one post week after week to this day. People Google about adult tonsillectomy and they find my post, and I’m glad to be of service! After so long, though, I thought it past time for me to follow up. If you’re thinking about getting it done, have scheduled it, or are recovering, hopefully this post offering hindsight wisdom will help you out.
To not leave you in suspense, I’m going to say yes, I am glad I did it.
The main reasons: I have not had a single bout with strep or any other tonsillitis-type infection since before the surgery. I have also not had sinus or ear infections, either (which I used to get fairly frequently as well). In fact, I rarely get a sore throat, and when I do, it’s caused by thirst or simple dry air and goes away immediately when I drink some water. My snoring is much improved. I haven’t had to take antibiotics since the surgery, and that makes me happy, if only because one day I might really need them and I’d like them to work!
Anyone who’s had the misery of strep throat, especially as an adult, knows that a life of not ever getting it again would be delightful. No missed work over it, no fear of children and others who are sick, no feeling of dread at the first hint of a sore throat. I teach college English and I used to be terrified of the coughing, sneezing 18-year-olds who went to class even though they were contagious and should have been in bed. Now that I think about it, I don’t even get colds the way I used to. I can remember one mild one in March of this year. That’s it. I’m not saying it’s a direct result of having my tonsils out–I do get a flu shot each year and I eat fruits and vegetables–but I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, those suckers were huge. Huge! Every new doc who peered into my throat would express surprise and ask me why I still had them. (And I would say, “You want ‘em? Take them! Please!”) I’ll bet those tonsils attracted and latched on to every bacterium and virus that floated by.
As I read through my post from three years ago, I was reminded of some pains and details that I’d forgotten. Yes, it did hurt for several weeks (months?) when I’d sneeze, hiccup, yawn, or cough. And the scabs that felt like hairballs were really, really gross. I’m trying to remember how long I had to communicate using a dry erase board (and later a whisper) but I can’t. And for whatever reason, I didn’t lose the 20 lbs. I thought I would–it was closer to five.
But knowing what I know now, I’d still do it again. The long-term benefits of being without those blasted things made the temporary (albeit terrible) pain worth it. My surgery was in July, but winter would have been better (to not be bummed out about missing nice weather). I didn’t have much of a choice, though as I had just been laid off from my job (thanks, COBRA!). Other than the season, though, I think I did it the right way: Without a job, I didn’t have to worry about having to return to work after only having a few days to recover. I had someone to take care of me and, more importantly, the house, errands, and my cats. I felt miserable for a good week and crummy for another week, but was very thankful that I didn’t have to force myself to work, drive anywhere, or really do much of anything. I had books checked out of the library and a lot of DVDs to watch. I’d also gotten a crochet lesson beforehand and was going to work on learning to crochet during that time, but not much reading or crocheting happened–I had a hard time concentrating. I watched a lot of DVDs but I couldn’t watch a lot of my favorites, like The Simpsons, because laughing hurt way too much. I was excited to watch my new Animaniacs DVDs, but even those were too funny. The weeks after a tonsillectomy might be a good time to catch up on The Wire or Southland. (Maybe Rescue Me. Or Burn Notice. You know, any shows that are decidedly not funny.)
Part of feeling crummy, I realize now, was poor sleep–the pain would keep me awake or awaken me, and I’d wake up frequently with a parched mouth and throat. Normally when that happens, taking a big gulp of cold water is the best thing (like when you have a cold and have to breathe through your mouth so you wake up with your mouth and throat all dry) but post surgery, even taking small sips hurts ridiculously. And I had to sleep practically sitting up because I couldn’t breathe lying down. It hadn’t occurred to me beforehand that there would be a lot of swelling. Duh! The swelling was bad, not just because it was uncomfortable but also because it made it hard to get enough air, and I’d often find I was breathing through both my nose and my mouth at the same time. This contributed to having a dry, parched mouth just minutes after I’d managed to fall asleep.
Hunger pangs would wake me up, too, and there was nothing I could do about them except sip some flat 7-up (or Gatorade after the first week) and hope the sugar was enough to trick my body into thinking it was food.
Surgery is not the same as being sick–when I’m sick, I lose my appetite. Not so in the week or two following my tonsillectomy. I was hungry and frustrated. Swallowing anything, including my own saliva, was terribly painful (imagine your worst case of strep times five). Anything too hot or too cold was incredibly painful to eat or drink, so soup was tough and Popsicles were out of the question for more than a week. Jello was perfect because it was cool (not cold) and smooth, and there are vegetarian versions. Applesauce was good, too, although the chunks were a little off-putting. Dairy was bad (and not recommended) for a while because of how it coats and leaves a film, so pudding, yogurt, and milkshakes had to wait a bit. (I needed about 10 or 14 days so that I could take reasonable swallows of water afterward required to wash dairy products down).
And all that stuff I said about pain medicine–oh, yes, that was a big problem. You need food in your stomach or the pain medicine will cause nausea, but eating hurts too much without taking the pain medicine first. (It makes me wonder why I didn’t lose more weight.) I now know not to even bother with the liquid Percocet; it was like pouring rubbing alcohol on a fresh rug burn. Just get pills and anti-nausea meds, I say.
I remember that it’s true that the first two days weren’t as bad as I was expecting, so I thought I’d have an easy recovery, but days three and four were brutal. And man, those headaches! Honestly, though, I forgot about the headaches until rereading the post recently. And I do know that those headaches were not a given–mine were caused by the adenoid removal, and most adults do not have much adenoid tissue. I did, which is why the adenoid removal ameliorated my snoring.
The thing that I didn’t mention in the previous post (but did mention in the comments a couple weeks later), was thrush. I had fur on my tongue. It was as disgusting as it sounds. (Thrush, in case you didn’t know, is a yeast infection of the mouth. It is an imbalance of the normally happy bacteria/yeast ratio caused by a dying off of good bacteria, perhaps from antibiotics, not unlike a vaginal yeast infection). There is a pill that takes care of it called fluconazole (brand name Diflucan). But for some reason, post surgery I was prescribed a thick and creamy oral medicine that I had to swish around and then swallow. The treatment was as bad as the symptom!
And, hey, since I’m talking about thrush (anyone considering a tonsillectomy deserves to know it’s a possibility) I may as well add that when I would get sinus or ear infections or strep all the time, the antibiotics I took caused yeast infections. It was to the point where my otolaryngologist would prescribe fluconazole whenever he prescribed an antibiotic. And then it was to the point where I didn’t have to go in; I could just call when I had strep and ask for my usual, antibiotic and fluconazole, which I would fill at the same time but not take the fluconazole until after the round of antibiotics. (Never having a yeast infection again, knock on wood, has made getting my tonsils out worthwhile by itself, truth be told. Ladies, am I right?)
For well over a month after surgery, maybe even longer because I was scared, I avoided spicy things and sharp foods, like chips. There was no pizza for a long time, and not much remotely delicious or interesting. That was okay though because for a month or more, foods didn’t taste right, as if my taste buds only registered some of the flavors (perhaps that was because of the thrush). All beer tasted like IPA and vegetables tasted like dirt. But I was lucky–other people I’ve talked to (including one woman who commented on my first post who said, “Tonsillectomy as an adult is like the Chuck Norris of surgeries”) have had complications I avoided like dehydration (it’s hard, but you have to sip water constantly after surgery) or even dangerous bleeding from the scabs coming off too soon. Some people have to be hospitalized for bleeding, dehydration, and/or to control vomiting. (Try to be sent home with a prescription for an anti-nausea drug, like Zofran, which dissolves on the tongue. It helped me control the nausea caused by the pain medicine).
In short: Tonsillectomy hurts. Hurts bad. Several people commented on my blog that tonsillectomy was the worst surgery they’ve endured, beating out C-section and breast reduction. That should tell you it powerful sucks.
But not having tonsils is wonderful. After three years tonsil-free, I’m so glad I did it.
1. No strep throat (ever again? dare to dream!)
2. No sinus or ear infections
3. No antibiotics
4. No yeast infections
5. Better sleep, less snoring
6. Less missed work
7. Fewer visits to the doctor’s office
8. Less fear of illness/sick people
9. Good story to tell at parties
10. A more fun life — I can make future plans without worrying or automatically assuming that I’d have strep or something and the plans would be wrecked.