I’d battled sore throats for as long as I can remember. As a child with allergies and a chronic post-nasal drip, it seemed like I couldn’t go longer than two weeks without a sore throat. I learned to manage my symptoms with ibuprofen and cough drops.
Fast forward to my twenties. As a new teacher exposed to all manner of germs from hundreds of kids, my usual sore throats progressed into strep infections. My white-coated tonsils became excruciatingly painful. With the high, debilitating fevers and enough rounds of antibiotics that I’d developed resistance to the first line, my quality of life was impacted. It wasn’t until my thirtieth birthday that I sought the help of an otolaryngologist, or ENT. By this point, I’d decided to go back to school for nursing, and I knew that being exposed to the various illnesses of my hospitalized patients would only result in more infections. I could not consider missing class or clinical rotations to stay home with my frequent bouts of strep throat.
Although I didn’t have a history with my ENT, I was able to provide him with documentation of my previous strep infections.
He gave me exactly the news I was hoping for: “The only way to deal with this at this point is a tonsillectomy, but at your age, the recovery is not easy.” I’d heard that tonsillectomies later in life were rough. Still, I reasoned that it would be worth it to get rid of strep throat for good. Plus, as a healthy, active female in my early thirties who’d already had two babies and a few ankle surgeries, how bad could it be? Despite being advised to expect 10 days of recovery time—surely it wouldn’t take that long—I only requested 7 days off work.
We scheduled the surgery two weeks after my initial appointment.
It took place at an outpatient surgery center. I was under general anesthesia as my tonsils were removed by laser (in my head, laser removal sounded easy and painless compared to the “cold knife” method, but more on that flawed logic later). I went home that same day after a few hours of post-op observation and monitoring. Immediately post-op, I didn’t feel pain. My throat felt very dry, but there was no pain.
I went home and slept well for a few hours. The only thing that woke me up was the feeling of my wet shirt, which was covered in drool. But then, the pain set in immediately. My throat was on fire. Swallowing seemed impossible. The pain radiated to my ears, and I became very sensitive to loud noises like the dog barking or the doorbell ringing. I swallowed only to take the liquid narcotic I was prescribed. I got minimal relief from the prescribed pain medication, but it did allow me to sleep. I spent days in this medication-sleep-drool cycle refusing to swallow any food and only drinking to keep myself minimally hydrated. By day 4, I couldn’t take it.
My husband called my ENT who informed me that by not swallowing, I’d been doing more harm than good. I needed to use those throat muscles to get them back to work. I was told that the more I worked on it, the easier it would become to swallow. This logically made sense to me, but it was horrible. At at my post-op appointment a few days later, the doctor told me I was recovering as expected. It was brutal.
It took me about 3 weeks to be what I would consider fully recovered in terms of pain. Things still tasted funny. My throat still felt dry. But there was no longer pain. After about a month an half, I finally felt normal. Although getting my tonsils removed was by far the most pain I’d ever experienced, I can now say with certainty, it was the right decision. It’s been 5 years since my tonsillectomy, and I haven’t had a single strep throat infection. Any sore throat I have is more scratchy or uncomfortable as opposed to painful and typically resolves within a day or two.
A tonsillectomy as an adult is no joke, but if you suffer from severe or frequent throat infections, it’s worth considering.
If a tonsillectomy has been recommended for your child, do it. I’d much rather have done it as a kid and skipped the decades of throat pain and the horrendous surgery in adulthood. Still, those three weeks of hell were worth it and have greatly improved my quality of life.