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.

Zapped

I’m not just tired – I’m zapped.

Almost a month ago, I started coming down with a sinus infection. My husband and daughter were also hit pretty hard that week. We spent time at urgent care. We made repeated trips to the pharmacy. We lounged around as a family, consuming ridiculous quantities of Kleenex, Netflix and popcicles. We fought over the thermostat because one of us had the chills or a fever at any given time. Within a week, they were back on their feet, with just a little residual cough.

But not me.

Sinus yuckiness migrated to my chest. I had full blown bronchitis and started another round of steroids. And the cough – the mighty walrus-barking, neighbor-wall-permeating, chesty cough was awful. Painful. Disruptive. Gut-wrenching….as in literally vomit-inducing. My sleep apnea worsened, but I couldn’t properly wear my mask through the night without choking on phlegm. It was gross.

All my doctors say that REST is the best medicine. But what’s a working wife and mom to do? I’ll tell you –  work, and try to keep my husband and daughter happy. I’d push myself to keep going and going until my body collapsed.

And if finally did. I was so exhausted that I started to sleep again. Long, glorious stretches of slumber that would last 5-7 hours! It’s been ages since I could sleep that much! Unfortunately, I also feel tired all the time. If I’m able to grab a nap in the afternoon, I do. I finished up my third round of antibiotics, and finally cleared up the chest yuck with a pill also used to treat anthrax and tuberculosis. Seriously.

So a month later, I’m 10 lbs heavier, weak from so much “rest” and desperate to feel healthy. I started a fitness challenge, Fitness Battle Royale UT (or #FBRUT on Twitter) and I’m trying to push myself without overdoing it. Wish me luck.

The First ER visit of my 30s

First off, I had an awesome birthday. And an awesome time Saturday at the #SLCTweetup. Sunday was a tough day.

The morning started out in a wheezing coughing fit. I went to urgent care as soon as they opened. After a quick exam, a listen to my lungs, chest x-ray, and review of my health history, the doctor diagnosed me with “bronchitis with reactive airway inflammation.” He gave me some narcotic cough syrup for the cough, and Advair to restart my maintenance asthma regimen. I spent the day in bed, coughing and wheezing. It felt like my chest was on fire.In the early evening, Taylor and I were laying down and talking. To ease my shortness of breath, I took another puff of Albuterol, which set me off in a coughing fit. After coughing so hard that I couldn’t control bodily functions, my breathing was sporadic enough that Taylor hauled me off to the ER. 15 minutes later, I stumbled into the Mountain View Hospital ER waiting room, with feet numb from lack of oxygen. The ER staff pulled themselves from the Super Bowl, plopped me into a wheelchair, bypassed triage, and took me to bed. They helped me peel off my clothes, dressed me in a gown, and started my examination. My pulse-ox was at 91 and I had a fever of 102.5*. Within 45 minutes, chest x-rays and nasal cultures were done, breathing treatments and steroids administered, and I was finally feeling some relief. They confirmed that my illness was not caused by influenza or H1N1, and concurred with the earlier diagnosis of bronchitis. They gave me a prescription for Z-pak, and told me to get lots of rest. I was in and out in 2 hours. That’s the way an ER visit should be.

Sounds dramatic? To be honest, I’m used to all the lung drama. I’ve mentioned my “organ recital” of medical history in a previous post. I’ve talked about how I got pneumonia after an accidental spray paint inhalation. I’ve talked about how I was “poisoned” at work from inhaling an industrial strength aerosol chemical. If something you can breathe in exists that can make you sick, I’m susceptible to it. This nasty Utah inversion air? Makes me sick. When I say I’m dealing with “SOB,” I mean shortness of breath.
I’ve had asthma since I was 11. I have sleep apnea. I’ve seen pulmonologists in 4 states. I have tried most of the inhalers on the following chart:
But as I went through my old posts, I realized that I never blogged about my biggest lung condition of all, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. ARDS is a life-threatening lung condition that prevents enough oxygen from getting into the blood, typically resulting from trauma or sepsis. I survived it after three weeks on a ventilator. Would anyone like to hear my story?

My last 24 hours…TMI Alert

Very ill.
6 hours at InstaCare.
3 liters of lactated ringers.
3 vials of blood.
1 shot of Toradol.
Most likely diagnosis? C. Difficile
Suggested diet? BRAT and popcicles

I feel significantly less ill now that I’m rehydrated. I leave SLC tonight for LAX. I pray that the other travelers are understanding. And I get an aisle seat near the lav.

Inhalation Hazard

It was inevitable. Every hospital I’ve ever worked at, I’ve been a patient at. I thought I’d be getting off easy with a freebie at U of M Hospital, but I proved my precedent correct yesterday.

I was feeling a bit exhausted from Sunday’s roadtrip, but otherwise with no illness symptoms. Right after lunch, I went into the tiny closet restroom across from my office, and was floored with a terrible smell. I really needed to relieve myself, so I thought I’d quickly finish and leave. Upon the throne, my eyes, throat, skin, and lungs started burning. My skin started to blotch up. I looked up in the air, and saw little particulates dancing around. I became lightheaded and dizzily fell off. Someone had used the industrial strength disinfectant spray (for cleaning bathroom surfaces) as an AIR FRESHENER, and sprayed it all through the air.

This chemical spray, which should only be used in a WELL VENTILATED AREA…not a little closet bathroom whose fan turns off with the light. And it wasn’t like a little shot of potpourri spray, it was full-on 80’s AquaNet-like sprayage. It was as potent as oven cleaner. There’s a demon sprayer in my department (I still haven’t figured out who) and I’ve left notes before to please be considerate when using this CLEANER to “freshen”. I’m pretty sure I hit the brunt for a very recent spray. For some reason, the environmental services team leaves this aerosol in the department at all time, just because it’s kinda far-flung from the rest of the public restrooms in the building. I started using those far-flung multi-stall public restrooms, but I didn’t yesterday. I learned my lesson.

I immediately sent an email to Safety Management services, who advised me to go immediately to Employee Health. They said they’d send out an “environmental industrial hygienist” to check out the ventilation in the room. My favorite coworker walked me to the Med Inn and waited for me to be evaluated. Employee health checked my vitals, gave me a puff of Ventolin, and had me rest in the lobby for 15 minutes. Still felt shortness of breath, chest tightness, and eye stinging. They suggested that I be evaluated in the ER. So they wheeled me down, I waited an hour to be triaged, another 45 minutes for chest xrays, and finally 3 hours after the exposure got the breathing treatment.

The morning after, I still feel yucky. My eyes still sting, my breathing is slightly labored, and I really don’t feel like working. However, I’ve got a dentist appointment this morning that I have to get out of bed for. They’ll be checking the tooth abscess from the root canal and see if it’s healed enough to do the crown prep. Haven’t I been through enough already?!?

Albuterol Jitters

This morning I was in urgent care for a few hours with an asthma attack. It took two nebulizer treatments and a shot in the butt of steriods to get my breathing calmed down. I still have chest pain, jitteriness from the albuterol, a headache and bodyaches, and an ear infection. The doc told me to stay off work for two days, but I think I’ll still go in for at least part of tomorrow.

With my health history of lung failure, I get pretty scared when I have severe asthma attacks. I was so short of breath that I could barely drive the 25 minutes to the only urgent care my HMO covers. I’ve been asthma-symptom-free since 2004, so it worries me that I’ve been having symptoms the last week. I’m trying to get a pulmonary/sleep medicine referral through with my PCP. Two months of sleeplessness has brought this immune system down, no doubt.

It’s one thing to get scary-sick….it’s another to have it happen when your husband is across the country. He needs sympathy too…his car got broken into last night. Grr.

So if any of you want to send me get well wishes, or come to my house and wait on me hand and foot…by my guest.