Disclaimer: My story is quite lengthy (I documented each day in detail); a summary of my tips are at the bottom, as is my conclusion. Also, there may be some typos- my apologies in advance!
My tonsillectomy story
Background: I am an 18 year old female. I’ve dealt with tonsil stones, halitosis, and annoying post nasal drip for the past three years. I’ve always had excellent oral health (brush, floss, rinse daily), and was hugely embarrassed to learn that people around me could smell my breath and it smelled absolutely putrid, especially because I couldn’t smell a thing! I then became obsessive about my breath. I scraped my tongue till it bled, rinsed with mouthwash twice a day and constantly consumed mints and chewed gum, all to no avail. My breath still reeked all day. It got to the point of me avoiding talking to friends up close and being unwilling to ask teachers questions one-on-one; essentially, my halitosis and recurrent, HUGE tonsil stones were ruining my confidence and self-esteem. I also began getting 2-day long, severely sore throats every couple of months after dislodging particularly large stones. As an aspiring doctor, I knew I had to fix this problem once and for all…I couldn’t fathom letting this problem control my life any longer, especially when my desired career path requires one-on-one contact with people and a great deal of confidence on a daily basis. After reading many horror stories, I put my fears and anxieties in the back of my mind and decided to get a tonsillectomy. I hope my experience can help you in some way, shape or form!
Initial Doctor Appointment: I was very nervous and apprehensive; I feared that my ENT had never heard of tonsilloliths and would tell me it was a mental problem, or that I just needed to improve my already impeccable oral hygiene. Luckily, my ENT knew exactly what I was talking about and agreed to do a tonsillectomy. He said I could either deal with the problem with the rest of my life, or have a two-week long period of excruciating recovery time. He left the decision completely up to me. I chose to go forward and have the surgery done. My surgical date was set for August 6th, 2012.
Surgery Day: Arrived at 8:30 a.m., took a pregnancy test (required by my ENT), was admitted back to my pre-op room. Changed into a hospital gown, got to keep my underwear and shorts on, and prepared myself mentally for what was to come. I received 1,000 ml of saline IV and made sure to pee frequently, so as to prevent having an accident in the O.R. Everyone was very nice; I ended up feeling very, very calm once I realized the surgery was inevitable and I would be better off in the end. I was fully awake/not medicated when taken back to the O.R. I found the O.R. to be fascinating! My anesthesiologist gave me some drugs (cannot remember what they were called…I think Versed and Propofol were in the mix) and all I remember is calling him a “great bartender”, watching the ceiling spin, and complaining that his “cocktail” was more expensive than any one I’d ever had. Needless to say, I was way loopy. Then I was out! I awoke in the recovery room and felt quite tired. I was given one ice cold Gatorade, and drank it all. Asked for another and drank all of it as well. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain was a 3. The nausea, however, was an 8.5. I got really, really pale and felt like I was going to throw up immediately. I was given a double dose of anti-nausea medicine and felt much better within half an hour. After those drugs kicked in, I got dressed, was discharged, and went home.
Day 1: Arrived home from surgery and immediately began icing my neck and consuming water (room temperature- I later learn that ice cold water feels much better). I go in and out of sleep, drinking when awake. I downed 2 protein shakes (made with strawberry whey protein powder and almond milk), a bowl of soupy mashed potatoes with cheese (no salt, no pepper) a tin of applesauce, and 2 mugs of orange sherbert. Eating wasn’t pleasant, but it is so, so necessary for a speedy recovery. A dehydrated, starving body will simply not recover as well as one that it both nourished and hydrated.
Day 1 realizations: Ice-cold water and cold foods feel the best. Even with pain medicine, my pain level never drops below 2. Swallowing is never comfortable. Food tastes weird. The scabs forming in my throat are uncomfortable, but can be ignored when I’m occupied with t.v. or books. VERY IMPORTANT: do NOT swallow pills whole. My anti-nausea medicine is in pill form. I tried to swallow it, and it got lodged in my tonsil bed for hours. I couldn’t gargle it out, so I continually drank and waited for it to dissolve. From here on out, I will crush that pill up and eat it in applesauce. Also, talking is very painful. I’ve been using a whiteboard and texting people to communicate all day.
Day 2: I made sure to wake up every two to three hours last night and drink water. I also woke up at the appropriate time to take my pain medications. When I awoke for the day, my pain level was at about a 4, only slightly worse than yesterday’s 3. Drinking and eating are never comfortable, but I know that both are vital to a quick recovery, so I continue to do both diligently.
Day 2 realizations: Eating and drinking are most comfortable 30 minutes- an hour after taking pain medications. Try to ingest the trickiest foods at this time. Because my throat is slightly sorer today, I am sticking with smoothies (protein powder, almond milk, bananas) and possibly pureed carrots, onions, and potatoes later. I’m also planning on drinking iced, decaffeinated green tea more frequently, as it has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. So far, I think protein powder is the most important thing for my recovery. Protein is necessary for the body to rebuild and recover, and drinking protein shakes isn’t too different from drinking water.
Day 3: Largely the same as day 2. Pain levels are about the same, but the hour before it is time to take medications again is extremely uncomfortable. I jump and wince with eat sip of ice water or bite of food and can’t help it- swallowing is very, very painful right before it’s time to remedicate. When I can’t take it anymore, I ask my mom if I can split my lortab dose; instead of taking 10 ml every 6 hours, I want to take 5 ml every 3 hours. She says yes, and I decide to give it a shot. I’m eating more today; further, I am forcing myself to eat real food (or as close as I can get to it). I had a protein shake for breakfast, a bowl of mashed potatoes for lunch, and some roast beef, roasted carrots, and creamed spinach (all minced) for dinner. I’m not going to lie- eating is damn hard. However, I feel that eating a fairly regular diet is key for a speedy, successful recovery, so I’ll push onward.
Day 3 realizations: SPLITTING YOUR MEDICINAL DOSE INTO TWO IS SO HELPFUL! I cannot even describe how much more comfortable it is to split my lortab into two, smaller doses! By doing this, I have banished the hour of misery that existed earlier and am now at a constant, comfortable pain level of about a 2.5-3. From here on out, I will be splitting my dosage into 2 doses!
Day 4: I am still waking up every 3 hours during the night to gulp down close to 3 cups of water and take my Lortab. Last night, I got a very funny feeling in my throat and quickly spit up a huge chunk of scab- it must have been the size of a quarter! It was extremely moist, and the process was painless: both signs, to me, that my constant hydration and fairly normal dietary habits are proving more beneficial than harmful. My pain level in the morning is the lowest it is all day, about a 1.5. My tongue, which has been quite swollen and bruised since the surgery, is starting to shrink back to normal. Today, I was able to eat: 1 bowl of mashed potatoes, ½ of a McDonalds milkshake, 1 hamburger patty (trying to get in adequate protein), 2 bowls of homemade tofu-veggie soup, and multiple puddings. Eating raises my pain level to about a 7- I wince and jump with each swallow, but I fight through! I’m drinking close to 15 cups of ice water a day, which greatly helps with the pain.
Day 4 realizations: Chloroseptic spray is very helpful in pain management when it comes to eating and swallowing! It tastes okay, and numbs the pain in my mouth by about 50%. You can buy it OTC at any drug store for about $6, and I really suggest you get it and use it before eating rough meals. It helps! Another thing I have realized today is that, despite everything I’ve read on the internet, the recovery from this isn’t as awful as I thought it would be. Sure, I’m always uncomfortable and eating/drinking is painful, but my breath already smells better than it did pre-op, even with rotting scabs in my mouth! I also feel that I have more energy already, which is strange. So far, the surgery has been worth the suffering.
Day 5: Well, I am eating my words today. Day 5 has, by far, been the worst day of my recovery. I felt okay in the morning, but upon sitting up I realized that my ears and head ached terribly. My throat was filled with phlegm, and I found coughing and clearing my throat to be a necessary measure to make sure that I could breathe! Everything went downhill from the morning. My throat ached terrible, and my pain level never dropped below a 5 today. Eating and drinking took my pain level to an 8.5 or 9- I found the process so unbearable that I was unable to eat much today. The most substantial thing I ate was a Chobani greek yogurt. Drinking has also been excruciating and difficult today. I think that the pain I’ve experience today is a result of over-doing it yesterday…in retrospect, I talked way too much and was up and doing things too vigorously as well. At lunch, my friend made me laugh mid-bite, which made me choke and then physically cry for the first time from the pain. I am SO tired of being in constant pain, it’s exhausting. Then, while watching The Office, I laughed so hard that I must have cracked a scab, because I tasted blood and it was present in my spit. I controlled it with ice water, although ice water is now excruciating to drink. Back to room temperature drinks and foods I go. As a serious foodie, I miss eating terribly.
Day 5 realizations: Recovery is not easy. I was getting a tad smug at the fact that my recovery was relatively manageable and not too painful; however, today proved me wrong. My dad brought me an electronic heat-pad, which helped immensely with my ear aches- so, I’d recommend heat for that. Also, chewing gum seems to alleviate some of my jaw stiffness/soreness. My tongue still feels huge, sore, and inflamed. There is an uncomfortable dangling, sharp tickling sensation in the back of my throat which is aggravating to no end. The searing pain and rawness of one side of my throat today makes me hope that my scabs are finally coming off. Here’s to hoping day 6 is better, because day 5 was absolutely awful.
Day 6: Woke up today in a better state than yesterday. Pain in ears had reduced quite a bit, and my throat ached minimally. I was able to eat a full bowl of buttered, unsalted, unpeppered grits for breakfast- they tasted amazing! I was so glad to actually eat some solid food. For lunch, I drank a slimfast (could not tolerate the taste of protein powder again) which burned all the way down. I forced it down. My pain today was actually fairly steady and low; it hovered at about a 1 when not swallowing, but at about a 7 when swallowing. At 5 p.m., I decided to try taking some Ibuprofin…BEST DECISION EVER. As it turns out, the swelling and inflammation are what have been causing my pain! I know some doctors believe that NSAIDS like Ibuprofin can cause bleeding, but my mom (a nurse) said it was fine, and I wasn’t afraid. My god…after taking Ibuprofin and Lortab, I felt like my old self again. It was amazing! All discomfort was gone! For dinner, I managed to eat a whole bowl of chicken and rice. By the end, I was wincing in pain from swallowing, but it was so worth it. I finally got to eat some real food. Afterwards, I was sitting on the couch watching The Office (recurrent theme much? Lol) when suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt a scab dislodge in my mouth and I was overcome with a violent urge to gag and throwup. Out and out the scabs came…not to be gross, but I was shocked to have filled my palm with HUGE (larger than quarter sized) gooey, white scabs mixed with spit. When I made it to the bathroom, I could not stop gagging and violently coughing; it wasn’t a painful experience, it was just very strange and somewhat alarming. Once the ordeal was over and I had brushed my teeth, I was amazed to feel no pain when swallowing water. There was a slight stinging from the rawness of my throat, but the razor blade sensation was gone! Visually, the back of my throat looks so roomy now. What was once a mire of thick, cream-colored scabs is now a cavern covered thinly in a cream-colored membrane- I can see pink behind this. I’m hoping I’ve turned a leaf today, seeing as I coughed up a considerable amount of the scabbing that has been irritating me to no end!
Day 6 realizations: Ibuprofin is extremely helpful and alleviates an unbelievable amount of discomfort. Seeing as I have had extremely minimal and sparse bleeding, I will be taking Ibuprofin regularly from here on out. The difference it makes in my comfort level is mind-boggling. Cold things no longer comfort my throat; luke-warm to slightly warm drinks and foods most definitely feel better. I’m headed off to bed now, for I am getting out of the house tomorrow and getting my mini-fridge for college in the a.m. I am optimistic about tomorrow, and am seriously hoping that I am over the painful stages and on the final road to recovery.
Day 7: Woke up in very little pain, and decided to try to start weaning myself off of my narcotics today. I took a trip to Walmart this morning and purchased a mini-fridge for my dorm; by the end of the short, easy trip, I was covered in sweat and feeling very, very tired. I managed to eat oatmeal for breakfast and went 6 hours without any Lortab. I was able to eat a bowl of chicken and rice for lunch. By the time my good friend stopped by, I was in pain from not taking my medications. Our decision to scope out a new store in the evening was a huge mistake. Within minutes of entering the store, my throat was stinging, burning, and constricting- I could barely stand from the pain. The full dose of Lortab I took upon returning went down like liquid fire! My throat feels raw. It probably is. Swallowing feels like debriding my throat with sandpaper. This sucks. I ate 2 pancakes for dinner, and even those hurt. I am tired of eating carbs all of the time…my dream from last night consisted of me eating an entire pan of roasted bell peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, and broccoli, crusted in herbs and shiny with olive oil…I feel so malnourished without vegetables! It’s driving me crazy! As the night wears on, the pain gets worse. My ears are throbbing and every swallow feels like I am smashing my inflamed throat closed and forcing it open again, and again, and again. I am sitting here counting down the minutes until I can take my medication again. Recovery’s end isn’t in sight. Today was bad. This whole journey, thus far, has definitely been a rollercoaster ride. My horoscope for today is terribly accurate: “Your fortune seems to be swinging back and forth today, like a pendulum. One moment everything appears rosy, yet a few minutes later you feel stuck. The optimism rises and falls, making you uncertain about your choices now. There's no need to be self-critical; just keep your goals in sight and continue to do the best you can to achieve them.” And keep my goals in sight I must.
Day 7 realizations: the cyclic recovery from this is very real. Days 1-4 were filled with steady improvement. Day 5 was terrible, 6 was mediocre, and 7 was awful again. Don’t skip medication doses early on- the repercussions aren’t worth it. I sincerely hope tomorrow (Day 8) is my breakthrough day. I don’t know how much longer I can stand being cooped up, uncomfortable, and in pain. It’s unnerving.
Day 8: Woke up in minimal pain and decided to not take my Lortab. I know I blatantly ignored my advice from yesterday, but the smell and taste of Lortab have become revolting. The constipation that comes with taking it is no fun, either. So I went without it for 6 hours and was fine…I decided to take some when my discomfort began increasing, and it went down like liquid fire yet again. I was able to eat oatmeal for breakfast; however, the main problem today was a searing, burning rawness in my throat. I must have broken off some more scabs, because my throat feels exposed and stripped. Swallowing today was very, very painful- I’d give it a 7.5/10 when swallowing any sort of food. Swallowing water is exceedingly difficult, too. Like I mentioned yesterday, my throat feels like an inflamed tube collapsing upon itself and being forced back open every time I swallow. The Ibuprofin isn’t helping as much today. I’m going to bed and plan on only waking up once (at 5 a.m.) to drink some water; I took a full dose of Lortab at 10 and plan on weaning myself off of it big-time, starting tomorrow. Wish me luck!
Day 8 realizations: The pain I had today was different than pain I’ve had over the past week, which I can only assume is a sign that I’m starting to heal. I am hoping that the rawness isn’t present tomorrow, but we will see I suppose.
Day 9: Went 9 hours without pain meds overnight, and awoke in a bit of pain. I’d say it was a 4/10. I drank some water and ignored it, although I did take Ibuprofen. My body is 100% back to normal, and my energy levels are climbing- my throat and ears just hurt. Same pain as yesterday- my throat feels inflamed, and swallowing feels like forced clamping. I was able to eat: ½ bowl of oatmeal, 1 bowl of grits, 2 puddings, and 2 packets of gummies. I’m craving spaghetti with meatballs, French fries, salad, shrimp…all kinds of glorious foods I will hopefully be reunited with in a week or so! I just checked my throat in the mirror and am able to see streaks of pink behind the thinning scabs! These spots and strips of pink sting the most when I eat and drink, presumably because they are fresh skin. I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel…the remnants of my scabs are slowly disintegrating, my body’s back to normal, and I get to move in to college on Friday- exciting! Also, I am able to continually stretch out the time between Lortab doses. I’m hoping to be completely off it by Friday. I’m at the point where each day is a bit better than the last…I’m hoping to be able to eat some pasta tomorrow!
Day 9 realizations: This recovery thing can’t last forever. The end is in sight!
Day 10: I fulfilled my Day 6 dreams last night; I had a pan of roasted vegetables and crunchy, crispy tofu for dinner. My tonsillectomy journey has come to a close! My throat is mildly sore now- pain level is 1/10. I had no pain killers today and only took Ibuprofen for the inflammation. I was able to eat normally today, and am most definitely thankful to have returned to the land of the living. I went shopping all day, was up and about, and never felt better. I iced my neck at night due to my muscles being a bit tired from talking so much today…oh, and my voice has returned to normal! I still have some thin scabbing at the back of my throat, but I trust that it will erode with time. One strange thing that keeps happening is that I keep getting the urge to yawn. I have to yawn every 4 minutes or so, no exaggeration. I think it’s my body’s way of stretching out my throat’s new tissues and keeping my jaw from stiffening up. All in all, today was fabulous- I am finally out of the painful stages and am able to resume normal life!
Conclusion: It’s day 11 now. I feel just as good, if not better, than I did yesterday. Pain is 1/10. I move in to my dorm tomorrow and am so glad to be feeling so well right now! For a while, I was honestly doubtful that I’d be able to move in and handle starting my college life while in such misery. However, the pain doesn’t last for forever. Days 1-6 were okay…I felt slow progression. Days 7 and 8 were awful, though. The stinging that accompanied eating and drinking after losing my scabs was nearly unbearable. Days 9+ (currently on day 11) have been wonderful! I just ate some wholegrain tortilla chips for a snack and had no problems. I’m eating lasagna for dinner tonight. Life is good.
All in all, was the tonsillectomy worth it? Yes!
Honestly, I had some very dark days and rough times in my recovery. I felt like the pain and misery would never end. Guess what? They did. I got the tonsillectomy to cure my tonsilloliths problem, halitosis, and lack of self-esteem due to my oral health. Even with scabs in my mouth, my breath smells better than it did pre-op! No tonsil stones in sight either. The recovery was pretty uncomfortable, but not unbearable. To have traded less than two weeks of pain for a lifetime of good breath and comfort was, to me, a worthwhile exchange. No regrets thus far, and I imagine I will see the worth in my tonsillectomy more and more as time goes on. So here I am, very much recovered and signing off. I hope my experiences can help someone in some way, shape or form. Best of luck to you all!
Summation of tips:
1) Drink ice cold water very often in the early days. It keeps the swelling down.
2) Ice your neck religiously for the first few days, it also keeps swelling at bay.
3) Chloraseptic spray is great for numbing your throat when the pain is bad
4) You must wake up at regular intervals to take medication and drink water…I think this is the key to not letting your pain levels get out of control.
5) Drink protein shakes when you can’t eat solid food; protein is necessary for healing.
6) Splitting your pain-killer into smaller doses and taking it more frequently can make pain much more manageable and bearable.
7) Ibuprofen is unbelievably helpful when it comes to reducing swelling and discomfort.
Wow, thanks for your detailed post!
It has been a few weeks since you posted this. Is your bad breath still gone? I am thinking about having a laser tonsillectomy, but I have read that it sometimes is not effective.
Also, how is your post nasal drip? I don't understand how it would stop because of a tonsillectomy, since it comes from...the nose. Unless your mucus was originating in your throat, which can happen on occasion?
Thanks again for your post!
You find a Dr who will. Just keep asking until they listen. They shouldn't get to decide what's best for you. I took pictures and video of my "clean outs." I also kept a journal to show how bad the problem was. Took almost 5 years of asking & a sleep apnea diagnosis before I got my claws in an ENT. I'm on day 14 of recovery. Worth it for me. Good Luck ;-)
My doctor was pretty willing to do the tonsillectomy- he left the option open to me. I made sure I stressed that this would be a life-long problem and that it was severely affecting my self-esteem (going in for the pity vote, haha), so I would definitely play that card. Also, make sure to mention that your throat gets sore when you get the stones...this happened occasionally for me, but I made sure to stress that it happened every time and was quite a nuisance. Best of luck! I had my tonsils taken out almost one year ago and have absolutely no regrets, it was one of the best things I ever did!
This really help I'm on day 4
So glad to have come across your post. I'm facing a similar issue. Can you please update me on your post nasal drip and bad breath issue now?
I'd be so grateful!