I had a lot of anxiety before getting my tonsils out and I found that reading about it helped, so I am going to post about my first week of experience in a journal type style. At the end I will post some general tips / things I found helpful.
I am glad I got it done, though for the first 4 days I wondered why I had been so cruel to myself. As cliche as it sounds, it does get better. I didn't believe that either, but now I know it's true!
I did it because I had 9 cases of bacterial tonsillitis that knocked me on my ass for a week or more all over a 14 month period. I also suffered from enlarged tonsils, tonsil stones, near constant sore throats and some sleep disturbances that were otherwise unsolved. I also have chronic fatigue symptoms and adrenal gland problems. Basically, my tonsils are disgusting bags of nastiness that need to go!
I had my surgery done in a private clinic near Seoul, South Korea so my hospital stay experience will be different from some.
Day 1: Day of Surgery Friday
After following the instructions to not eat or drink anything past 12am, I arrived at the clinic around 9am, was checked into my room which came with a tv, bathroom, sink, fridge, bed and a small couch for visitors.
They took my temperature and my blood pressure and I changed into the typical hospital garb. They brought me to the operating room and I laid down on the table. They strapped a blood pressure monitor to my arm and lightly strapped my feet down covering my legs with a blanket. They put a finger monitor thingy on me and they all started singing along with the radio. The anaesthesiologist asked the nurse if I spoke Korean, and at the moment I was about to respond she injected me with the “dizzy juice” and I felt like I was melting into a pond. It was delightful.
I woke up to people asking me if I was ok. I felt moderate pain in my mouth and throat and swallowing hurt. I made them pinky promise to reduce the pain. My nurse spoke enough English and I spoke enough Korean to get by, but mind you I read up A LOT about tonsillectomies and what to expect so my anxiety and stress wouldn’t be too bad. I also had a friend with me from beginning to end which really helped because she remembered a lot of info I didn’t.
They gave me a pan to spit in because I had so much phlegm in my mouth. So nasty. I was nauseous for about 2 minutes then felt well. They gave me a pain injection and some antibiotics and anti-mucosals and I just chilled out all day. I ate some blended up jjuk (rice porridge) and doenjang broth. At around 4, Dr. Kim came in and told me that my tonsils were the worst he’s seen in 3 years and I told him to make me world famous. He also showed me my tonsils and they were huge and gross and I was so glad he showed me because I was looking forward to seeing those hellacious things out of my body. He also showed my friend who was waiting for me to come out of anaesthesia and she was less than impressed, so maybe mention you don’t want the full show if you are a bit squeamish.
He is an incredibly supportive, gentle and kind doctor with an excellent and reassuring bedside manner. I told him I was at about a 4/10 on the pain scale and he said I would receive more meds later that night.
I was allowed some ice water about 30 minutes later and the moment I swallowed I noticed it was weird and that 2 giant holes were now in my throat. I seriously have 2 cm spaces on each side of my throat that I never had before. I can already breathe better than I could before and I am still incredibly swollen.
The worst part of this day is that they gave me all of my meds in powder form and because I was doped on anaesthetic and painkillers I just poured the powdered medicine right in my mouth and proceeded to see my life flash before my eyes. Worst. I later found the magic method is to dissolve the powder in hot water and add some Gatorade to make it more tolerable. (Still the worst thing I have ever tasted ever). My meds consist of ibuprofen, antibiotics, mucos thinning agents so I don’t hack up balls of phlegm and a stomach protector.
I ate more jjuk and broth for dinner and added soy sauce to the jjuk. I was surprised to see salty and somewhat spicy items on the ‘menu’ but I am not one to question the methods to the madness. I also kept an ice pack on the outside of my throat all day and all night to reduce swelling.
Worst pain of the day was definitely upon waking from surgery. I was surprisingly not nauseous and grateful for that because I am at ‘high risk’ for bleeding, and thus I need to keep an eye on my scabs and make sure they stay as cold and moist and mucousy as possible. Ice, ice baby. Ice on the inside and the outside. Reduce the swelling, reduce the pain.
Day 2: 24 hours after surgery - Saturday
Woke up at a 5 or 6/10 on the pain scale, mainly due to my neck muscles aching. Because my tonsils were so heavily embedded in my throat muscles it took Dr. Kim about 90 minutes to get them out. This is definitely pain I was not warned about, but it is tolerable. I am just waiting until tomorrow for the dreaded Day 3 pain I’ve heard so much about.
I ate jjuk, broth and soft tofu for breakfast. If you don’t like Korean food, you might want to bring some alternatives with you. I will list all of the foods I personally found helpful at the end of this.
I had a consultation with Dr. Kim and he was so kind to me that I started crying and then he told me not to cry because it will hurt more. I was told I am allowed to go to any clinic or emergency room and ask them for a pain shot if it gets too bad. I expressed to him that the pain (coupled with bleeding) was my biggest worry, and he was very sympathetic. I am out of the woods for bleeding until about Wednesday (had my surgery on a Friday) when the scabs start to come off.
I need to be vigilant that the scabs stay soft and gently slough off rather than come off abruptly. This will prevent them from opening up and bleeding. If this happens I need to have them cauterized again and start over from Day 1 essentially. In order to do this, I need to drink copious amounts of fluids, eat only cold icy things and strangely enough I am supposed to eat ice cream because the mucus will help my throat stay moist. Most people are recommended to stay away from ice cream because it will cause more coughing and gross hacking, but I was told to eat it, so eat it I shall.
They let me stay in my room until my friend picked me up and it was under W360,000 for everything, and they let me split the payment over 2 months. I was very impressed that the cost was exactly what Dr. Kim quoted it as being. I cannot praise him enough!
For lunch I had a mashed up banana mixed with ice cubes and some more soft tofu. And about a cup of ice cream.
Meds have not hurt my stomach yet and I feel about a 3/10 on the pain scale after taking them 2.5 hours ago. I was diagnosed with gastritis in August and I have pretty much recovered, but am a little concerned that this might bring it back again. At least pain shots in the butt don’t affect my stomach, so I might be asking for more of those as the week wears on.
It’s about 4:00pm and I am starting to feel some slight stabby pains that I read about. I am going to keep hydrating and icing and hope that they remain slight. I am allowed to take advil or Tylenol every couple of hours throughout the night to keep pain down and help me sleep so I can recover better. I am hoping to have some jjuk and mashed potatoes for dinner. So far I am really happy with my ability to eat and I am trying to stay ahead of the pain and eat lots before it gets too painful.
I ate some more and went to sleep around 11. Not too much more pain, woke up every 2 hours or so to drink water and took some ibuprofen around 2am.
Day 3 - Sunday
I woke up and felt about 5/10 on the pain scale. My muscle pains have gotten much better because I slept pretty well last night. Some minor coughs woke me up on and off but nothing I couldn’t handle and still no blood! I got up around 6:30 and took some more ibuprofen. I kind of fell asleep on and off again and finally got up around 9am. I felt ok until I ate and took medicine. I had some ear pain and throat pain. Still about a 5/10 pain wise. I have been super hungry all day and so I tried to just eat all day long so that my body has the nutrients it needs to heal and stay strong for the inevitable hell my throat is going to suffer.
I had a mashed banana and, while it didn’t hurt me yesterday, it caused a lot of pain today. Pain bumped up to about a 7/10 for a few minutes and subsided after I washed it down with a lot of water and rested for a while. In other food news, I ate a lot of ice cream (dr.’s orders!), some more peaches (very successful in cooling and keeping the throat moist and mucousy for the scabs) and some rice porridge with tofu to follow. I want to try some scrambled eggs later, or maybe some bread because I think my stomach is reacting negatively to all of this cold food, but again I am scared to mess with a good thing.
I can’t talk today without a lot of pain so I have resorted to using a whiteboard. It’s frustrating.
Other notes: I have been a little dizzy today on and off and feeling some weird random pains and stuff. I am trying not to think about it too hard. Early to bed tonight.
Running a humidifier is definitely helping me out a lot.
I have termed the gross smell emanating from my mouth as “death breath”. I can get rid of it for a little while if I gently brush my teeth and tongue with a small dab of toothpaste. I can’t imagine how much worse it’s going to get. Thankfully I have another week of not teaching so I don’t have to kill my kids with the death breath.
I have most of my pain while swallowing, but I have not lost my determination and I am still drinking so much water. I am going to follow my medication religiously for the next 10 days because I have read so much about people trying to ‘cut down’ on their pain meds and then regretting it because they are not in the clear yet. I anticipate tomorrow will be worse and that I will have more ear pain tomorrow.
I also have developed a fuzzy tongue that is losing a bit of sensation at the tip, but I also read that was to be expected so nothing too worrisome today, except the not talking bit and the pain. Hopefully tonight is successful like last night.
Day 4 - Monday
I was hungrier today than ever before and the pain was a bit more than yesterday. It seems to be worse around 8-11 am for me, despite taking pain meds religiously. I think I get used to the pain fairly quickly and it just tires me out.
My surgical site is healing nicely and is covered in lots of thick gross mucous and white, beigey stuff. My Dr. was pleased to see my recovery going so well and he was happy to see that I have not bled yet. It is my personal mission not to bleed this whole time. We will see what happens on that front.
The pain was worst while swallowing and for a little while after eating. I had a consultation with Dr. Kim and he said to keep eating more ice cream and drinking all the water and biting all the ice. Yes, sir. His advice has kept me comfortable so far. He said I am at highest risk for bleeding on days 7, 8, 9 which are Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I asked if working would be dangerous and he told me if I felt comfortable and rested I could. He also said that I shouldn’t strain myself at all during the high risk days and I should keep a low blood pressure and no sudden changes in movement, so I am thinking work is not a good idea for me. I will let my managers know asap.
Sleeping isn’t as much of a problem as I thought it would be. I have halved my dosage of sleep and mood medicines and I crush them up and take them before sleep. I find that I sleep for a couple of hours and wake up about 5 minutes before my drug/water alarm goes off. I take this as a sign of gratitude from my body for getting rid of the horrendous offenders.
I ate some fake crab and chocolate ice cream and blended up, overcooked ramen noodles while watching MasterChef and managed to convince myself it was a decent meal. Like I said, I was starving and unfortunately (only in this situation) all of the food I can eat is so low calorie and not filling at all. I was glad to feel satisfied after eating for the first time in 72 hours. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard, but it is difficult to want to eat something and not be able to. Especially when you’re exhausted and in pain.
Overall pain scale today: Highest 6/10, Lowest 2/10
Day 5 – Tuesday
Today is the day most of the Internet people said would be the worst. It has been the worst so far, but still bearable. Pain at one point was about a 7/10 for almost an hour, but only when swallowing. Again, the pain seems to be worst from 8am to 11am and is also worse when swallowing or eating. However, I was able to push through this morning (thanks to ice cream) and get some calories in my body.
I had a nap around 11-12:30 and that seemed to help the pain. I have suffered crippling bouts of tonsillitis before and somehow this seems to be equal in terms of pain. This makes me feel so much better about getting them out and moving forward with my health and happiness!
I am feeling some jaw pain and head pain, similar to a bad head cold and I anticipate it will get worse. Also the pressure in my ears is off and yesterday I had a few problems with pain there. I am able to talk much better than the past 2 days and the general swelling seems to have abated a bit. I have been icing my throat and jaw area every few hours and before bed, so I think that has helped immensely.
Today’s worst problem is definitely the lack of intestinal flow. While it’s only been 2 days of blockage, I am so bloated and ready to “go” that I am feeling a little crazy. I had some probiotic yogurt and it successfully stimulated things.
I had some scrambled eggs and there was a piece of shell in it and it terrified me and put me off the eggs. I am planning to have mashed sweet potatoes for dinner, followed by more ice cream.
Days 6&7 – Wednesday and Thursday
Both of these days were extremely similar. These were by far the worst days. Swallowing in the morning and before bed was the most painful time and it felt like there was a sharp razor in my throat and every time I swallowed it ripped the area from my throat to my ears. I had some moderate referred ear pain throughout the day which I dealt with by wearing ear muffs or covering my ears with a hat. The pain went away after a while and I was able to watch tv comfortably. Loud noises were bothersome at some points during these days.
This pain is all because the scabs are starting to come off. I had a very minor bleed on the morning of the 6th day, which was stopped quickly by holding an ice cube in my mouth and swallowing the ice cold water – just like the Dr. said it would. I ate an insane and diabetes inducing amount of ice cream over these 2 days. I was ravenous and I didn’t want to risk the effects of eating anything but smooth foods on my scabs.
I also drank between 3 and 4 litres of water each day, mainly due to my terror of having dry scabs. I think I am doing pretty well to avoid that scenario.
I have started eating room temperature foods like over cooked ramen noodles with an egg, and bread soaked in chicken stock. I am still eating the old, faithful instant mashed potatoes and applesauce as well. And daily I have a probiotic yogurt which is helping in more ways than I am probably aware of.
Day 8 – Friday
I had my next follow up appointment with Dr. Kim. He said I am healing well and that I should have 3 more days of pain, and then the risk of bleeding drastically reduces because the scabs will be mostly gone!
He was amazed that I didn’t come to get stronger painkillers during the week. I have been on just 600mg of ibuprofen every 6 hours and have found it manageable. I told him I feared the pain would be a lot worse – my tonsillitis is always extremely painful (much like the pain on days 6&7 and I’ve spent days unable to swallow) and I am a 16 year sufferer of severe menstrual cramps, for which I’ve received several intramuscular pain shots over the years.
He said eating the ice cream has definitely helped to protect my scabs. The mucous from the ice cream wasn’t a problem. It was annoying and thick, but since I was able to swallow (still painful, I just forced it) it wasn’t too bad. I’ve had cases of tonsillitis that rendered me unable to swallow, and the gross mucous laden spit I had to force out of my mouth was no pleasant feat. However, if your doctor specifically recommends you to do something, you do it.
He changed my prescription – antibiotics twice a day as opposed to thrice, and I suspect he lowered my anti swelling medication because things felt a little tight in there. I continued to ice my neck and then went to sleep and slept soundly (minus waking up every 2 hours for water or meds).
Helpful Tips & Tricks
Ice water is your best friend. It will keep the swelling down and keep you hydrated. Force it down. No excuses. (except nausea)
Put pliable ice packs on the outside of your throat constantly for the first week. The first 2 days I had them on for 30 sessions every 2 hours, and gradually the time between sessions got longer. This will help with swelling and pain management. '
Wear a surgical mask to keep the humidity in your breath and get a humidifier.
Find a doctor you trust and follow their directions. My Doctor was amazing. I did this in a clinic where hardly any nurses spoke English and I felt safe and secure because I knew the Doctor cared about his patients. Trust and comfort is key. Ask a million questions if you want. If the doctor seems aggravated or anything less than supportive - get another doctor. You don't need to feel insecure or anxious about this procedure. Follow the doctors advice to the letter. She/he is tailoring the care instructions for you specifically. If your doctor tells you to eat something, do it. Don't listen to internet sources that tell you otherwise.
Eat food. Some of the best foods for me were instant mashed potatoes, applesauce, chicken broth, silken tofu, boiled mashed peaches, ice cream, drinkable yogurt. After the first 4 days I added bread soaked in chicken broth, watery scrambled eggs and over cooked ramen noodles to the menu. Just be aware that while you are starving, soft foods will help protect your scab site. Not eating is hard, but bleeding is harder. Focus on the finish line.
Keep your activity level low. I was told not to bend over and not to lift anything over 5kg. I was also told to keep my blood pressure low and to move slowly and carefully over the next week. Just be zen and don't let any unnecessary stress in. Keep your main priorityin mind: healing! You went through something traumatic and your body needs a lot of time to rest. Don't assume you can go back to work in a week. Take 10-14 days off. Working through pain doesn't make your life any better. :)
Be patient and know that your efforts are worthwhile. You did this for a reason - to be better and healthier. Don't forget why you are doing this and stay as positive as you can. There are times when it feels like it will never end - and it won't end for days, but you have to believe that you are doing this for your body's benefit. No regrets!
Feel free to ask any questions or post any of your own helpful tips or tricks. We have all been through (or will be through) a very difficult time and we all know each other's pain. Stay positive and take it day by day!