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.

Not Myself

nicole bullock melancholySuppose I said
I am on my best behavior
And there are times
I lose my worried mind

Would you want me when I’m not myself?
Wait it out while I am someone else?

Suppose I said
Colors change for no good reason
And words will go
From poetry to prose 

And I, in time, will come around
I always do for you 

– “Not Myself” by John Mayer

The past year has been full of awesome highs and awful lows. I’ve had 6 months of physical struggle that’s been unlike any period of my life. I didn’t know when things would get better…but I’m finally feeling like I’m back on my way up. Here’s the recap.

For the first 5 months of 2013, I felt like I was on top of the world. I had lost over 120 pounds and had regained a zest for life that had been dormant for a long time. My professional life was on fire and I was getting opportunities to be in the media, to speak at events, and recognition for my career that I’d worked for most of my adult life to achieve. I was feeling fulfilled, lively, creative, and happy. But I began pushing myself far too hard.

smcslc board ladiesWhen people describe me, they often say that I am “dependable” because I show up at so many events. I am guilty of  FOMO (fear of missing out) to my detriment. Working as a social media professional, I feel the responsibility to be everywhere possible to connect, network, gain knowledge, and have fun. Between work, serving on the Social Media Club of Salt Lake City board, church responsibilities, family time, and keeping an active lifestyle, many days I was on the go for 18 hours straight.

In April, Taylor was transferred to Detroit. After 4 years of commuting to SLC, we decided it was time to relocate our family to Detroit. On top of all my work and social obligations, I threw myself into a very dedicated job hunt. For the first month, I was getting a lot of responses, interviews, and positive feedback. I had a feeling I’d be accepting an offer soon, and made tentative plans to move to Detroit during the summer. Now it’s October and I’ve had no offers. And we still live in Utah.

Within a few weeks of my job hunt, with a pretty enthusiastic response, I suddenly felt like the life had been sucked out of me. I felt fatigue and anxiety beyond any other time in my life. I started cutting things out of my life trying to desperately hang on to what was important – my job, my family, and my health. But no matter what I did, I never seemed to be able to tackle my health. I went from being completely diligent to hardly functional. It was hard to make it through an 8 hour work day, and I often went straight to bed when I went home. I didn’t feel creative and I felt like a failure. But I kept pushing along. And I got better at saying “no.”

Most of the summer, I felt depleted. I gained a few pounds back, and it was frustrating. I tried to jumpstart my metabolism by more sessions at the gym, and would feel dizzy within 10 minutes. I saw several doctors, had lots of lab work done, and no sense could really be made out of my fatigue. I had a feeling that I was suffering from mono, but my “mono-spot” lab test came back negative.

I was struggling, but not in a way that a typical “depressed summer” goes for me. I know the point when I need to see a therapist, and I never got to that point. I looked to alternative means to handle my stress and anxiety. The last week of August, I went to a yoga class with some of my neighbors. It was my first time doing yoga, and I ended the class feeling strange. By the next morning, a gland in my neck swelled up so big that it was difficult to swallow. The sore throat persisted for days, and I eventually went to urgent care to find out what was wrong. I was diagnosed with a peritonsillar abscess, was given IV antibiotics and steroids, and was told to return to my doctor if it hadn’t improved in a few days.

And it didn’t improve. I spent the better part of the month of September suffering, seeing my primary care and ENT physicians, missing work, sleeping, mixing up medications, and trying to get the pain and discomfort under control. As the abscesses were under control, I developed the worse sinus infection of my life. As the sinus infection improved, I developed viral tonsillitis and tested positive for infectious mononucleosis. The tests indicated that I’d had an active round of Epstein-Barr virus for 5 months, and it was causing all of the throat issues. I finally had an answer for why I was so freaking exhausted – I DO have mono. And because the infections were viral, antibiotics would not help, only a tonsillectomy.

At this point, I was laid off from my job. As if 5 months of illness wasn’t enough, one more major stressor was added to the list.

I had two conferences on my calendar, and decided that I didn’t want to miss them and lose out on the money invested. I went to Atlanta for Type-A Parent conference, where I was nursing a recurrence of another peritonsillar abscess. I went to urgent care in Atlanta and was told by the doctor that my “throat looks like a horror movie,” and I needed my tonsils out ASAP. But immediately after Type-A, I had a paid speaking gig at the ObesityHelp National Convention in Anaheim.

tonsillectomy preopI scheduled the tonsillectomy for the first date my surgeon had available, and tried to not push myself too hard on my travels. I returned from California on Tuesday, and went under the knife for the adenotonsillectomy on Thursday. Today I’m on post-op day 2, and it’s been pretty brutal. I knew that the recovery from an adult tonsillectomy is much more difficult than on a younger person, but it had to happen. I’ve been surviving on ice packs, sipping icy drinks, cool mist humidifiers, sleep, Lortab, and limited soft foods.

The plus side of unemployment is that I have endless time to recover. I don’t know how soon I’ll feel like I could survive at day at the office, but it’s nice to not have to hurry back. I’ve thrown out another batch of resumes for open positions in Detroit, and am hoping to catch the eye of a potential employer soon. Once I’m feeling ready, it will be time to fly out to Detroit, look at neighborhoods, house hunt, go to networking events, and prepare for the next move for our family. After 7 months of job hunting from Salt Lake City, it’s hard to know if I’ll get a job without moving there. We’re going to make a leap, we may move before I have a job, and are running on faith.

It’s going to be difficult, especially after not feeling like myself for so long. But I think I feel ready to give the next chapter of life a try. I am confident that now that my tonsils are out, the viral infections will subside and I’ll be back to myself again. The optimistic side of me things it will only take a week or two to bounce back. I hope I’m right.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty


As most of you know, I’ve made my career working in healthcare. Spending 8 hours a day in a hospital seems normal to me. I’ve always had a morbid fascination with the internal processes of the body, especially surgical procedures. So what do I do on my day off? Research surgeries! I know, I’m insane.

I’ve only had surgery once, but I’ve had a long history of less invasive procedures. I had my sleep study last week, and I meet with my sleep specialist on Thursday to discuss the best treatment options for my sleep-disordered breathing. At my initial visit with him, he had listed a variety of surgical options that may be of value to my health (including Lap Band for weight loss, as my sleep issues will not subside until I lose at least 80 pounds).

This morning I’ve been researching UPPP – Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. It’s a procedure where my tonsils, uvula and part of my soft palate would be removed to remedy my very constricted airway. I have been wavering for a few years whether I would get a tonsillectomy because I have large tonsils and frequently get tonsillitis, but I know the recovery time and pain level is horrible as an adult. But since my breathing has been so labored since October, and my snoring (caused by a constricted air passageway) is out of control…it really may be time for surgery.

As I read about it on Wiki, I was freaked out by the following side effect:
Patients who have had the uvula removed will become unable to correctly speak French or any other language that has a uvular ‘r’ phoneme.

If I get the UPPP, I might have to give up on Le Français and take up Español.

Post-op Update

David’s surgery on Friday gave a few answers on his long term right leg nerve health. There was some definite trauma to the nerves, but despite the stretching and blood residue, the nerves are intact. The surgeon anticipates that within the next month, nerve impulses will return and he’ll have better control and feeling in his leg.

His TOSH experience was not very positive. He got to the hospital for surgery on Thursday, and then found out he’d have to wait until Friday at 10 am. He’d only brought his MP3 player to keep him occupied, and he had almost 20 hours at TOSH. He said that the equipment and comfort level of TOSH was about four years back. After being in a world-class hospital, and a new rehab center, TOSH seemed somewhat antiquated. Also, his nurse put his IV right in his wrist. Anytime he used his hand or wrist, the IV would dig in and cause pain. So this meant he couldn’t use his hands for lifting himself in bed or for wheelchair transfers.

Tomorrow he meets with Dr. Goodman for a checkup on his stump. The staples will likely be removed, and he’ll meet with a prosthetist on his C-Leg.

Surgery Postponed until Friday

I spoke with David tonight. He was supposed to have his surgery this afternoon, but when his blood levels were taken, the blood was too thin to operate. They transferred him to TOSH to stay overnight. They will be giving him some frozen plasma to bulk up his blood, and hopefully he’ll be set for surgery around 10 am.

In the surgery, the extent of his nerve damage will be discovered. Either the nerves are intact, and just need more time to heal…or the nerve injury was so severe that it is irreparable and he will have to walk with a spring-loaded brace to position his foot. He’s sad that this additional surgery will add time to his stay in Aspen Ridge, but hopefully they will be able to fix any damage, and he’ll have a better outcome for his right leg.

Today: David under the knife: part #6

Today David will be going in for another surgery at TOSH. He has been doing well with physical therapy, but continues to have difficulty with his right foot. Today the surgeons will enter the leg through one of the scars from the last surgery. They will do some nerve testing to see the extent of the nerve damage from the accident. The surgery will likely be an outpatient procedure, and he’ll return to Aspen Ridge this evening. Please keep him in your prayers…David NEEDS his right leg intact to be able to walk with a normal gait once he’s fitted with the prosthetic on the left.