Hi everyone, I know I intended for this blog to be travel related and a tonsillectomy recovery guide is a little left of field for most of the people reading this but I feel when a lesson as big as this one is learned, it's helpful to share it.
As a teacher who has been working with small children for years, I'm obviously illness prone and I've had a large variety of illnesses over the years, which I could handle, even when I was getting sick at least once a month or so. But it was the combination of finding out I had Tonsil Stones and a Christmas Day –> New Years Day gastro + tonsillitis back to back bender that made me make the resolute decision to get a tonsillectomy.
So I booked the surgery date, knowing I'd feel so much better when I wasn't sick all the time and it would hopefully prevent me from succumbing to some menial illness in my travels.
Little did I know what I was getting myself in for. I knew the basics of the surgery and I had heard horror stories about the pain, but I never truly thought I'd be one of those horror stories, and to be fair, I'm not. I think this is just the norm. I'm on day 9 of my recovery and desperately needed to distract myself with something so I decided to write this blog post.
So here is my day by day guide to help you through – because my doctor didn't help me with any of this and yours probably won't either.
- It sucks for everyone, and there's nothing you can do about it
- Drink lots of water, don't let your throat get dry
- Work out which combination of your meds works best and don't let the meds wear off before taking more
- Ice pack on the neck for swelling, meditation helps to soothe the panicked feeling when you can't breathe
- What worked today probably won't work for you tomorrow
- Don't talk, it just makes it hurt more
- Don't stock up on 1 or 2 foods, you'll hate ice cream and jelly after 2 days of it
- Eat slowly and sip water between bites
- Record the times you take your meds
- Think ahead- get more prescriptions BEFORE you run out
- Settle in for a recovery that seems way too long
- Jaw exercises, try not to clench when it's painful as the jaw pain makes it worse (chewing gum is apparently helpful but I preferred to just wiggle or make chewing motions)
- Custard, jelly, ice cream, zooper doopers, soup, mac and cheese, tinned spaghetti, mashed potato, rice pudding, risotto, soggy toast, ice chips, tea and as much variety as you can purée is what I would consider a normal post tonsillectomy diet
- Avoid dairy if possible
- Weight loss is about the only silver lining
- I was lulled into a false sense of security a lot
- Weird heart rates and palpitations make you feel crappy but they pass
- I couldn't focus on much at all the entire time, couldn't read, most of the time I couldn't really focus on the TV either
- Hang in there! 2 weeks feels like forever when you can't do anything
- It will get worse before it gets better and then it will get worse again
- No, it's not infected, it's supposed to feel this painful
- The white "slough" is normal and is what they refer to as "scabs" but it's not scab like
- Save tonsillectomy guides so you can refer to them often, you'll want to constantly check on your progress and see what's in store for you next- you've got nothing else to do.
Pre-op: I was nervous, didn't sleep the night before and waiting around in hospital all afternoon in a gown with other people in gowns was boring- take a book! Just enjoy the painless free time, and no, that's not hunger you're feeling, not yet.
Post-op: I woke up in recovery with a mildly sore throat- I think I said it was a 4 out of 10 for pain- in a room with a bunch of other people, watching each one wake up, come to and be wheeled out while I waited for my blood pressure and heart rate to come back to normal. A Zooper Dooper fixed that pretty quick. Couldn't really sleep in my semi-private room that night because of all the drugs in my system and the constant observation checks from the nurses. But I felt pretty good, I even ate a sandwich, jelly and ice cream for dinner. Pain score 4/10
B/f: n/a (fasting)
Lunch: n/a (fasting)
Dinner: ham and cheese sandwich + jelly + ice cream
Day 1: My hospital breakfast arrived and I was so excited, I wasn't very sore so I was keen to eat but found it difficult to eat anything but weetbix and soft fruit. I tried to eat normally as recommended by my surgeon so I tried the toast and quickly realised that was unachievable. I was discharged by 10am feeling like the worst part was removing the sticky tape from the two drips I had in my arm. Managed a sandwich and other soft foods like custard and rice cream which I was delighted about. Pain score: 4/10
Day 2: First day left on my own, I was fine, more painful, but bearable with the medication from the hospital it takes a long time to get food down so get used to eating cold food or constantly reheating things. Drink lots of water!! Difflam throat gargle and ice chips are my friend. Porridge was good. Pain score: 6/10
Day 3: Painful today, can't sleep at night because inner throat is swollen, best to sleep sort of upright with an ice pack on the front of your neck (frozen corn in a ziplock bag with a chux tied around my neck like a scarf- my new best friend) Slept a fair bit during the day to make up for lost sleep at night. No earache but the pressure in the ears is a strange feeling, most prominent after taking meds.
Pain score: 6/10
Lunch: rice cream
Dinner: scrambled eggs!
Day 4: What even is food any more? Not eating because the pain is too much and the endone/ codiene combination is making me wig out, very lightheaded. I thought this was the most amount of pain I could manage, I thought this was a 10/10 at the time. Also worked out dairy is no good any more as it creates phlegm which just constantly needs to be swallowed which hurts. Switched to dairy free options like scrambled eggs (without milk and cheese) and tinned spaghetti which was divine. Pain score:
B/f: tried custard
Dinner: tinned spaghetti
Day 5: Ice chips and cold foods are no longer my friend, they burn! Opt for warm foods where possible. Warm sweet tea is nice but makes the throat dry. Keep fluids up regardless of pain, dry throat is the worst. Vomited today as well which is as horrible as it sounds. I started "sleeping" on the couch from day 5 because I couldn't lay flat without the feeling of suffocation which induced panic attacks. Remember the corn scarf, keep that on in the swelling times- ibuprofen also good to reduce the swelling. It's always best to sleep propped up with mouth tilted down and closed- that way you dribble on the pillow instead of down your throat. I started staggering my pain killers: endone and panadiene forte every 2 hourly instead of 4 hourly but the pain was consistent. Had to put an alarm on to wake me up 2 hourly to take pain meds- don't wait for them to run out! Couldn't use the Difflam gargle any more as it just burns the raw skin and it's not worth the 30 mins of numbing. Pain score: 10/10
B/f: tried tinned spaghetti (too spicy)
Dinner: pea and hamsoup
Day 6: Razor Blades!! I can't do this any more. Cried most of the night, because the pain killers don't seem to work over night, completely sleep deprived and in absolute agony. Also ran out of panadiene forte at about 3am and didn't know what to do (didn't want to take more endone because it's addictive) had to call in the locum for more prescriptions. Locum basically said suck it up. Rang hospital about pain and how to manage it and they suggested taking the steroids that were on my list of prescriptions which I was already taking, and told me I should turn the corner soon. Called in reinforcements- dad came to look after me over night- he slept. But he did bring KFC potato and Gravy which was a godsend. Had to start dissolving panadiene forte in water as I couldn't swallow the tablets any more. Didn't dissolve the endone though as I believe it's a time release tablet. Started adding benefiber to my food for obvious reasons, to no avail. Pain score: 10/10 miserable
B/f: triedscrambled eggs (couldn't get them down)
Dinner: KFC potato and gravy!
Day 7: Having company helped but I still didn't sleep much. Alarm on hourly for pain meds over night. Too scared to sleep because pain on wake up was excruciating and the suffocating feeling was still present. Pain wasn't as bad, needed a lot of sleep today and not a lot of food. Couldn't get KFC potato and gravy down, could only eat small amounts of jelly. Pain score: 9/10
B/f: Tried KFC potato and gravy
Day 8: Starting to feel slightly human again, pain completely under control with meds, reinforcement left this morning and I managed a shower and actual clothes by myself, felt optimistic about having turned the corner, began reducing pain meds to ease myself off the endone- bit worried about having withdrawals but felt ok. Went for an evening walk across the street to check out the river- apparently we'd had some rough weather ?? Felt fine at the time but very fatigued later. Ran out of panadiene forte again so opted for an over the counter lower dose and staggered that with ibuprofen 2-4 hourly. Was still dissolving the tablets because I couldn't swallow anything. Not much food today, warm rice cream for brunch, mac and cheese for dinner. Sucking on salty chips because the salt is good for the wound and tastes amazing. Pain score: 6/10
B/f: tried tinned spaghetti (too spicy)
Lunch: warm rice cream
Dinner: mac and cheese + potato chips
Day 9: Vomited at about midnight which caused my scabs to bleed- despite having taken anti-nausea meds- tried not to panic but went into total melt down mode and couldn't cope, shaking fit and eventually fell asleep beside my mum who helped me take my meds for the rest of the night. Woke up feeling terrible- pain 9/10 in the morning so had to introduce endone back into the med mix. Hoping last nights vom has removed the last of the scabs but I haven't checked. Not keen on food, had a few mouthfuls of pumpkin risotto but mostly just feel like I've gone 3 steps backward, very dejected and feeling crappy today. Water water water! Don't let those scabs dry out. Night/ early mornings are the worst, I seem to feel best in the afternoons/ evening which is when I manage most of my food. I've actually become afraid of sleeping due to the dried out pain on wake up. Still adding benefiber to food and beverages, still to no avail though. Pain score: a very raw 9/10
Lunch: pumpkin risotto
Dinner: mash potato + gravy
Day 10: When I woke up I was surprised to find out the throat pain has decreased a little and even though it took me most of the morning to get going, I actually got up and managed to do some housework and a tiny bit of cooking. I felt quite energetic and optimistic and reduced my pain medication during the day. Pain score: 6/10
Dinner: Thai noodles (the spice less kind)
Day 11: Actually managed to sleep longer than the pain killers overnight which was glorious, although the pain on wake up was still present, it wasn't quite as painful and I wasn't as desperate to wince down some medication. In fact I only needed panadol and ibuprofen on day 11 so I was feeling jovial. I did lack energy and motivation though. I have also lost all interest in food, and have no appetite Pain score: 4/10
Lunch: Thai noodles
Day 12: Felt flat throughout day 12, pain wasn't too bad in the morning and having a visit from family helped perk me up but I ended up talking a bit too much and my throat was quite sore in the evening. Also went for a nice walk to get my strength back and found out I feel really weak in the legs. Still only took panadol and ibuprofen throughout the day and really only as needed. Throat was more uncomfortable than sore for most of the day and only sore when swallowing or talking. Also still taking a low dose of paracetamol + codiene overnight. Able to eat with a bit of discomfort although I still have no appetite nor desire to eat. The slow cooked beef stroganoff was beautiful but the meat did get stuck in my throat even after a lot of chewing and tiny bites and it was also a little too spicy. But still amazing. Most of the "slough" or scabs as most people seem to call them, have come off, although I keep getting a sharp pain on my right side (mostly when food gets stuck) that is irritating, otherwise the pain is no worse than a normal sore throat. Pain score: began at 2/10 ended at 4/10
Lunch: Thai noodles
Dinner: Beef stroganoff
Ok so I'm now 4 weeks post surgery and I finally have no pain in my throat when swallowing (woop woop) however I do still have pain when yawning and according to the doctor that will disappear at about week 6. Overall those first 2 weeks were horrible but I managed to lose 6kg and at week 4 I've only put back on 2kg so I'm pretty happy with that.
TLDR: It bloody hurts, don't do it if you don't absolutely have to, but if you do, prepare yourself for feeling terrible for a decent amount of time.