How I Survived My Adult Tonsillectomy

surviving adult tonsillectomyThree weeks ago I had a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Much to my surprise, I’ve had people ask me to write a blog post full of TMI and the gritty details of recovering from an adult tonsillectomy. So here’s the full story…you may want to skip this post if you have a weak stomach.

I feel like I have a pretty good pain tolerance, but this surgery knocked me down good for two solid weeks, and I’m still not quite normal. I’ve had a few surgeries, and this was definitely the worst.

The Backstory

I had spend the previous 6 weeks battling peritonsillar abscesses. Three rounds of antibiotics (IV, shots, and oral) didn’t help. I was not positive for strep. Steroids only worked as long as I was taking them (and I gained 15 pounds in a week from them). In addition, I had a bout of viral tonsillitis and the worse sinus infection of my life within a 2 week period.

On my 3rd visit to urgent care, the doctor did a large variety of viral testing. The abscesses were cause by Epstein Barr, which meant I had an active episode of infectious mononucleosis. My ENT doctor said the only way to stop the abscesses was to have a tonsillectomy. So I scheduled it as soon as I could.

The Procedure

My tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (T&A) was done at a surgical center under general anesthesia. This was a relief to me, as an urgent care doctor has suggested that I go to the emergency room to have the abscesses lanced (and would probably just numb me up and take out the tonsils). My doctor used electorcautery, which basically cuts out the tissue and seals it by burning it. Pleasant, eh?

The average T&A takes 20-30 minutes to complete. However, my procedure took 45 minutes because there was so much swelling from the peritonsillar abscesses. I was numbed up pretty well when I came back into consciousness. The nurse gave me a few refillable ice packs to help with swelling, and those became some of my most necessary items on my recovery.

Post-op Recovery

I got a prescription for both tablets and liquid Lortab Since my gastric bypass surgery, pain meds absorb differently. The liquid works more quickly, but the dose doesn’t last as long (about 4 hours). The tablets are harder to swallow, but tend to last closer to 6 hours. So I played around with a mixture of half-doses of liquid and tablets at once so it worked fast, but didn’t drug me out too much.

On my first night at home, I was surprised at how well I felt. I are some mashed potatoes with no problem, and came under the false assumption that recovery would be easy. Boy was I wrong.

tonsillectomy popcicles

Between post-op days 2 and 8, my pain and misery became progressively worse each day. I kept to a strict dosing schedule for my pain meds, but it never seemed to be enough. For the breakthrough throat pain, I gargled with “mouth magic,” which is a combination of viscous lidocaine and liquid antacid medicine. Unfortunately, the liquid numbs up your whole mouth. I was glad when the numbness wore off so it didn’t make me drool.

Eating and Drinking

The day before surgery, I did a lot of shopping…sports drinks like G2 and Propel, popsicles, mashed potato mix, cream of wheat, and broth-based soups. I am a big fan of the real fruit based quality Popsicles, but they ended up being far too acidic for the first two weeks. So many people recommended cheap twin pops and Otter Pops…and they were right. The artificial flavoring and slushy consistency was easier to swallow. Sometimes I mashed up the popsicles and mixed it with diet ginger ale.

One of the strangest things for me was how my tease buds changed. I hated the taste of plain water because it tasted like dirt, so I used sugar-free Italian syrups to flavor my giant cups of icy water. I craved black licorice, black olives, and anything really salty. I also craved curry, and it was funny how the slight burn of the mild yellow coconut curry I drank was soothing to the burning pain of the tonsillectomy. I also craved pumpkin at first, but got burned out on it after making pumpkin smoothies and pumpkin protein pudding.

sonic iceComfort Measures

Two of the items that were the biggest comfort measures were ice and a good humidifier. My friend Julie offered to be on ice delivery duty, and brought by gigantic coolers full of pebble ice. When she wasn’t able to be there, I got bags of Sonic’s pebble ice. Between the bags and coolers of ice, I went through over 100 pounds of ice in two weeks. Obviously some of the ice melted in the coolers, but it stayed a better non-clumpy consistency than it would in the freezer.

I used a cool mist humidifier constantly. I had it propped up on a table so the mist hit me directly in the face while I laid in bed. When I sipped water or sucked on ice, my throat stayed moist. But when I couldn’t handle swallowing, the humidifier helped make up the difference.

The day that surprised me the most was day 10…the day the scabs started coming off. Scabs in your throat sent like scabs on your skin. They are not thick and hard and red. They are white, thin, and slimy. And they hurt like a mother when they slough off. This will happen a few times.

Miscellaneous Details

Insomnia was a big issue for me. Because I was dealing with acute pain, my ability to sleep was dependent on how long my Lortab dose lasted. I spent a fair amount of time sleeping through the first 10 days, but never more than about 4-5 hours at once. I watched a lot of Netflix and read on my iPad, but dozed off really easily. I wanted to delve into some shows that I’ve been meaning to watch for a while, but my attention span was so short. I ended up spending most of my time watching Gossip Girl and 90210. Don’t judge.

Expect to drool a lot. Make sure you have something you can spit into when it’s too hard to swallow your saliva. For me, it was thicker than normal, and was much easier to spit out.

Around day 5, I started a gargle routine. First I would swish with warm salt water. Then with the viscous lidocaine. Then with water again. Then with mouthwash. That seemed to keep funky tastes out of my mouth…and keep my bad breath at bay. No matter how much I brushed my teeth, my mouth was not a happy place to be around.

I had a hard time with food getting stuck on the healing pockets of my throat once I was back to solids. They would fill up and have so much pressure, it could make me dizzy. I figured out this way to get them out with this open-mouthed gagging neck-scrunching move. It sounded frightening and looked even worse, but it was the only way I figured out to her the stuck food out when gargling wasn’t enough.

Three Weeks Later

At three weeks out, I still think a lot of food tastes funny. I want things that are strongly flavored…spicy (but not too spicy) and very salty. I crave drinks with lots of ice, and sip often to keep my mouth moist. My pain comes and goes, and is manageable with Tylenol. The only time it REALLY hurts is when I yawn…it feels like I’m stretching and breaking the newly healed tissues. There are some slightly raw spots in my mouth where the most recent scabs came off. I still feel fatigue, but I think it’s due to all that I’m doing (traveling, moving, etc) instead of just the surgery recovery. I’m up 10 pounds since August, but I know that’s a combination of so many weeks in bed, steroids, and being limited on physical activity. Once I’m back to the gym, I’m sure it will come off without too much hassle.

If I’d had the chance to get this done as a child or teen, I would have preferred it. So many years of strep throat and tonsillitis episodes have been rough, but it’s never been frequent enough to warrant surgery. If you ever get a peritonsillar abscess, get those tonsils out ASAP. Don’t wait 6 weeks like I did.

  • Diana

    Nicole, I hope you are 100 percent soon. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot, and right before moving probably drags the healing out longer. Get well soon.

  • asclavijo

    thank you for sharing… my 18 year old daughter has been battlng mono since the end of August. she’s been on 3 rounds of steroids and a round of antibiotics. her tonsils become so enlarged she has a difficult time breathing and often chokes on her tonsils. the ENT said the mono is causing the tonsils to become so enlarged and now we are contemplating having the tonsils removed. my only question is how would we know when she is over the mono? the Dr said it could be several months. I’m just concerned she will suffocate…

  • Reinhard Gouw

    Thank you for sharing! I’m on post-op stage day 8 and this helps.

  • Allison B

    I’m almost to 2 weeks recovery and am pretty much back on solid foods. How long can I expect food to keep getting stuck?? Its so gross and for me almost impossible to get out!

  • Kylee

    I’ve had mono for a while now and just had my tonsils removed the other day because they were so massive. Ontop of that I have a badly deviated septum too so breathing was too difficult for me so I didn’t have much choice but to go through with the tonsillectomy. I’m also 18 and the recovery is extremely harsh

  • Kari p

    Thanks for this!! so many post are Terrifying, Yours is straight forward and honest but not horrifying. I’m having a hard time getting the money together for my surgery but I am anxious to get this trip to hell over with 🙂

  • Christine Hubbard

    I waited 3 years after I started to get peritonsilar abscesses to get my tonsils out- it has been two weeks today since I’ve had them out and the one thing that is killing me the most is yawning!!! I spent the first week and a half in so much pain that I couldn’t eat, and ended up losing 20lbs, but am finally back to most solid foods. Tmi but I had a really terrible days 10-13 where I had nonstop diarrhea… couldn’t figure out what was causing it because I didn’t eat, but it’s gone now, just wish I had done the surgery three years ago, without all the pain these last few years due to strep and abscesses smh…

  • Angie

    Thanks Nicole. I had a UP3 eight days ago for sleep apnea (removed tonsils, almost all of uvula, and cauterized the turbinates in the sinuses). I am trying to wean myself off the pain pills and find that I’m sleeping almost all the time during the day. I don’t think scabs have come off…yet. I was told that you feel better once that happens, is it true?

  • chuck

    Mine taken out when I was in the 2nd grade and at 21 years of age ,16 years absess !? you got off Lucky

  • Amanda Martinez

    How are you feeling now? Update please? It’s been five weeks for me and I have no taste and still have pain.

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  • Kana Crumby

    Another tonsillectomy story…. | CounselorNayNay

    I had a similar experience. It’s been two weeks & I’m still not healed!!!

  • Kim

    Oh wow, this is a super old post, but I just found it today as I’m going through an adult tonsillectomy myself. I’m on day 7 and holy cow, the pain spiked soooo bad today. I just wanted to google and see if anyone else had more pain a week out. I’m sure you’re so far recovered from this you’re not even thinking about it anymore, but thanks so much for the resource.

  • Great post Nicole- those are great tips!

  • Reza

    I am on day 7, to be honest I regret doing this procedure and rather just get sore throats often than suffer through this pain. It have been a terrible experience and one I just can’t get over. I can’t even swallow my own spit with out causing such pain in my mouth, jaw, tongue, and even my ears. When will it go away? Days are even longer and with such little sleep there is no light in the tunnel to see any progress so far.

  • Idris

    I had tonsil stones for years and surgery was the only permanent solution for me. I had my surgery done on December 23, 2016 and it was not nearly as bad as I expected from reading people’s experiences online. I might be one of the lucky ones but the wort part of my recovery was side effect of my anti inflammatory pills. I’d recommend a humidifier though, as night time is when it hurts the most from dryness. I’ve been keeping a daily blog to document my recovery with pictures. If you’re interested you can check it out here:

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