Firstly, let me start with #NotADoctor. This is based on my personal experience. Please make sure you follow the clinical guidelines set by your doctor above all else. You can read about my surgery day itself here.
(A quick look around the internet will tell you the advice varies a lot, which is why it is so important to follow what what given to YOU. Also, looking around the internet seems to show people who won’t ask their doctor questions, which is weird & stupid and just ask your doctor if you have real issues, ok? You’re an adult with a genuine medical condition.)
Tips for Adult Tonsillectomy Recovery
1) Sleeping hurts
Most of the first week I woke up in pain at some point from midnight on & had to take another dose of painkillers. Consider scheduling an alarm to take a middle of the night dose.
2) Conserve energy
Things like showering will be plenty of activity. I cried in the GP waiting room on my 5th day post surgery because I was so tired from going 2km down the road & sitting still in a chair.
If you have a partner, make sure they understand prior to the surgery that they will have to do everything for you, including cooking and bringing you drugs & water. Pretend you are wicked and rest.
3) Stay hydrated
I started having a fizzy hydralite (or whatever they are called) drink when I woke up in the morning. I figured that’s when I’m most dehydrated from not drinking overnight & I could make it a good start to the day. The hospital also gave me two hydralite icy poles so I kept them in the freezer for the really bad times.
The rest of the day I used a small cup & kept it filled with cold water from a jug in the fridge. Cold water is your best friend now, ok? Your partner, pets & friend from school have been bumped down your love list & cold water is now at the top.
4) Ice packs rule
Keep a few bendy ice packs on hand. Very good for the sore throat and the referred nerve pain that will shoot out to your ears as you heal. Also have a heap of clean tea towels or other such items on hand to wrap them in. Don’t give your face freezer burn.
5) Don’t skip drugs
I found that if I maintained a good dosage level, I was much more comfortable. More importantly, I was able to eat & drink more which is key for healing. My hospital told me to take paracetamol & oxycodone (and no anti-inflammatory medication due to increased risk of bleeding).
When I had a follow up call with the hospital two days after surgery, I told them I’d fallen asleep & missed some doses which made it painful. Then I told them I planned to try and keep a good dosage level for a few days until I knew what I needed.
What this meant for me was taking two paracetamol, then in two hours time, taking an oxycodone… rinse & repeat. As I could take these roughly every four hours, this worked well. The nurse on the phone agreed it was a good strategy.
AGAIN: #NotADoctor and ALWAYS follow the maximum dosage instructions on a packet.
Make sure you understand what drugs (screw brand names, learn the ACTUAL DRUGS you are taking, it’s smarter & safer and yes it’s a pet peeve of mine when people don’t understand the drug they are putting in their body) you are taking & when. If you ever are confused about what you can take and when, just call the pharmacy where you filled the prescription & ask your questions. I’ve done this many times in the past & they are always happy to help.
6) The pain is random
I’ve had days where I took only paracetamol & thought “woah yeah, look at me kicking recovery’s ass” … followed a few hours later by “holy crap that hurts pass me the fucking oxycodone NOW”.
7) Ask for a repeat of your narcotics
I’ve rarely taken prescription narcotics in my life & had never been given oxycodone before. Thankfully I tolerated it well. However, on day 5 I was down to my last 3 tablets so I had to make a trip to the GP & get another box.
Like I said, I’ve rarely had anything strong so I don’t know the laws & policy around this, but if you can get a repeat of whatever narcotics you are prescribed, then it will save you sitting in a doctors surgery around sick people when you need to be bingeing on Netflix in bed. Small things like this make a really big difference.
8) Consider Children’s Liquid Painkillers
A great pharmacist suggested this to me. I bought some children’s paracetamol so I had it on hand in the first few days. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to swallow, so the theory was to take the liquid paracetamol, then hopefully that would kick in enough to get a stronger tablet down. Thankfully I didn’t need this, so I gave the bottle to a colleague who had kids. The only caveat with this is that you’ll have to adjust the dosage yourself to get an adult dose – so please ensure you understand how to do this safely!
9) Swallowing Is WEIRD
I tried to look up how tonsils impact the action of swallowing, but I found frustratingly little useful information. For at least the first few days after my surgery, it felt like I had to swallow twice to actually get things down. I don’t know if this is because my throat had to learn how to swallow without tonsils, because of the wounds being sore, because the muscles needed to re-learn how to swallow… like I said, I tried to look this up to understand why it felt this way but I really couldn’t find anything useful. For me, it fixed itself quickly so I’m going to make a guess that it’s something to do with the wounds? Anyway, like everything, if it is bothering you then make sure you talk to a doctor.
Is it bad?
Yes, the pain is bad.
They don’t prescribe oxycodone for shits & giggles. There were times I was on both paracetamol & oxycodone & had an ice pack on my throat & I was still in pain.
Is a tonsillectomy recovery worse than tonsillitis?
Yes and no.
Yes – because you will be in pain.
No – because I didn’t feel that constant awful viral feeling. My temperature was more normal than it had been in months. I also never got the razor blade, crying in agony to swallow water feeling that I’ve had in severe bouts of tonsillitis.
I think this one is even more based on personal opinion & experience than everything else I’m writing. To me, pain can be managed, and it’s for a fairly finite amount of time, so it’s doable. Being vaguely viral for months & having to force myself to attend work & pretend I felt ok because no one gives a shit when you’ve been sick for months – that was harder for me.
Will you miss eating corn chips for a few weeks?
Fuck yes. I love corn chips.
Over time, I’m hoping to add links to other accounts, so you can get a wider perspective outside of the Quora type “OMG I’M IN AGONY HELP” type of posts that google likes to show.
- Grasping for Objectivity – the main difference I would say here is that I was explicitly told not to exercise. Again, much of recovery means following the directions your health team gave you, over and above what you read on the internet. Maybe they were told it was ok to exercise. That’s cool too. The swallowing parts were really well described here.
- Yet Another Bitter Infertile – very good list of Dos and Don’ts
Any tips for a tonsillectomy recovery from your personal experience?