Having Your Tonsils and Adenoids Out as an Adult is a PAIN!

Jul 2, 2002 (Updated Feb 25, 2003)

The Bottom Line If you need your tonsils removed, you are a gazillion times better off having them out as a kid- and that's a fact!

“They need to come out,” said the doctor, a Harvard trained ear nose and throat specialist. “I can’t believe you still have them at all. Those are the largest tonsils I have ever seen, and you’ve had seven throat infections in the last year.”

I knew that this is what he would say, and I was half hoping that they would have to come out. My tonsils have tormented me since childhood, with frequent infection and constant discomfort. I have built up resistance to Cipro and the always convenient Z-pack (antibiotics). Things were getting worse rather than better, and so I decided to have my tonsils out as an adult. In addition to having my tonsils out, my adenoids were removed, and my nasal passages made larger. It was a painful experience in many ways, and here is my story.

Bad Timing
It used to be that most children with throat problems would have their tonsils out sometime between the ages of 4-7. When I was this age and already having problems, there was a change in the views held by doctors, and the surgery was discouraged. My mother wanted mine removed and saw three doctors. None of them would do the surgery, and discouraged her in further pursuing it. This held true into adolescence. It used to be the norm for me to have two or three bouts of tonsillitis a year.

It Gets Worse
In my late teens, early twenties, this number began to steadily increase. My glands were constantly swollen, as were some nodes at the back of my neck and under my chin. I was more or less always more tired than I should be, and I would catch any cold/fever/flu that was going around. My body was tired of fighting off the constant throat infections, and it took me longer than it should to recover from any illness. I graduated from college and began working. Soon I was using my vacation time to nurse sore throats, as I had used up all of my sick time. Having tonsillitis is more than a sore throat and I feel I should explain that- in case you are lucky enough to have never had it. My tonsils would become enlarged and covered with small white sores. With my mouth closed, I was okay, but to open wide, or yawn would cause the tonsils to push into each other, often triggering the gag reflex. Swallowing was painful, as was moving my head. The glands on my neck, underneath and on either side of my chin would often be painfully swollen, to the point that they were visible even without feeling for them with fingertips and it hurt to move my head. My fever would vary between 99 and 103 degrees, with a record of 104.2, which was rather scary. My eyes and head would ache, and I would feel lethargic. I’d had enough. I asked my doctor about having them out, and was told the same thing my mother was years ago.

To Cut or Not to Cut

Five doctors, from the time I was 13 until now, told me not to have the surgery. I was told that as an adult it is much more painful, more dangerous and takes longer to recover. The danger lies in the complication of bleeding after surgery. A colleague of mine had his tonsils out when he was my age, 4 years ago, and he was a bleeder. He work up bleeding, called 911 and by the time he got to the hospital, he’d lost over a liter of blood. When you have this surgery as an adult, you need someone to keep an eye on you, especially during the first ten days. If you bleed while you’re sleeping, you might not wake up. If you bleed while you’re awake, you may have a hard time calling an ambulance. The recovery time, while generally not more than a week in children, can take up to 6 weeks in adults. General anesthesia is always a risk. These were risks I was willing to accept, and I was happy to have found a doctor who not only understood that I needed to change my health for the better in this manner, but his incredulous tone in asking how I still had them made me feel less foolish for talking to the other doctors over the years who dismissed my requests for help.

The Day of Surgery
My boyfriend took me to meet my family at the Beth Israel Shapiro Center- an outpatient surgical center. We waited in the outer area for about an hour, and I was starving, not having been able to eat or drink anything since midnight the night before. My 8AM surgery had been moved to noon, so I was starving by the time they led me in. My dad came with me to meet the doctor and get my prescriptions for pain medication, antibiotics and a week of steroids. I was given a gown to change into, and was able to leave my panties and socks on. I pulled my hair up and they put a surgical cap on my head. I was lookin’ good.
The doctor came in and explained that I would be under for about an hour and a half. She explained what they were using on me, specifically, but I cannot recall what it was at this time. After going through a lengthy Q&A about when I had last eaten, my weight, and previous surgeries (hernia when I was 2, wisdom teeth when I was 21), They covered me with a blanket, had me lie back and put a needle into my left arm. They told me I might feel dizzy as they injected the medication into the IV, but I actually felt drunk. They kept on asking me how I was feeling, and told me to count to 10. By five, I couldn’t count because I was laughing like a maniac. I’m sure my father found this amusing! That is all I remember until...

I Woke Up in recovery, with an oxygen mask on my nose and mouth, an IV dripping fluid into my arm, and an intense pain in my throat. It’s a very different pain than anything I had experienced before, even with the worst infections. Imagine gargling very sharp shards of glass. I was cold, and I was crying, which hurt even more. The nurse came over to me, and told me not to worry about the crying, it was a natural reaction to the anesthesia- I couldn’t speak, but tried to notion to her that I was crying because of the pain. She injected something into my IV, noticed me shivering, and put some heated blanket on me, and I dozed off a bit. I woke up crying again, about 20 minutes later, and this cycle continued until they had given me all the medication they could. After two and a half-hours, they brought me to another room where my family was able to come in and see me. The oxygen mask was removed, but I still had the IV drip, and bandages across my nose. In another hour, after I had urinated, they released me. I was extremely nauseated, and as they wheeled me to the car, I prayed I would not be sick. I slept the entire ride home, and for most of the following week…

*Please note that some of the following is a bit, well, gross- read at your own discretion

Week 1
The pain in my throat was intense, and the Roxicet (liquid percoset) made me feel very nauseated- probably because it was combined with liquid antibiotics, and steroids. The thingy that hangs down at the back of my throat was massive, and caused me to gag from time to time- this only lasted a couple of days, and was due to the nature of the surgery, and it had gotten banged around a bit. The pain started at the top of the roof the back of my throat and went down to about where my Adam’s apple would be if I were a man. There were dissolvable stitches in place, and I could feel them, as well. My tongue had been scraped to the point that my taste buds were gone- my tongue didn’t look human- it was very shiny and smooth and pink- not a bump to be seen! This became a problem as the sensitive taste buds returned, making many foods intolerable. Chocolate pudding didn’t taste like chocolate pudding, but the individual ingredients. The consistency of everything I ate was bizarre and foreign. For the first week, all I could eat were Welch’s Juice Pops and luke-warm chicken broth. I drank as much water as I could, because it is important to keep your throat moist, or the scabs can fall off prematurely. Because my adenoids had been removed, some of whatever I would swallow would go up instead of down, and run out of my nose. I had bandages across my nasal passages for a week and a half to catch the small amount of bleeding and drainage and the occasional stream of chicken soup. I should note that the work done in my nose really didn’t bother my that much, though I think that the throat problem eclipsed it- like if you had a headache, and then accidentally slammed your hand in the car door.

I ate soup 3 or 4 times a day, and would eat one hour after I had taken my pain medication. I slept or tried to sleep for 18-20 hours a day. Constipation is a side effect of narcotic pain medication, but I fortunately didn’t have that problem. I couldn’t read, couldn’t watch television, couldn’t even listen to my family talking, I was so nauseated and pained. I just lay there the first week, watching the clock for my next dose of pain medicine, dutifully swallowing water, crying and praying for sleep. I was able to take a shower, with my sister’s help, five days after the procedure.

Week 2

The scab in my throat was forming, and along with it came vile breath- you can only imagine. The worst bit was being able to feel the scab- like something was caught in my throat, which was still agonizingly painful. I was now sleeping 4-5 hours at a time, instead of waking up every 2-3, and this was a blessing and a curse. By sleeping longer, my throat hurt more because it wasn’t being hydrated. I went to see the Dr. for a follow-up, and he said that everything was healing beautifully. He gave me another script for pain medication, and told me not to worry about how tired and nauseous I was feeling, that it was normal. He numbed my nasal passages with a spray and removed rather large scabs from each nostril with little forceps. It wasn’t until we were halfway home that I exclaimed to my sister that I had been breathing through my nose for the last 20 minutes- this had never been possible before!

I was still spitting blood (small amounts) and the stitches were beginning to come out. The back of my throat looked white.

I ate soup with noodles the second week, and ginger ale. I was hungry. Really, really, hungry. I hadn’t felt full in 2 weeks, and I had lost 8 lbs. If I yawned, I would cry the pain was so intense. I was able to read, but still couldn’t watch TV or take part in conversation without feeling overcome with nausea.

Week 3 and 4

I was supposed to return to work, but it wasn’t possible. I was still feeling tired, drained really. My throat was still intensely painful, but getting better daily. I would become dizzy easily, I was weak. I added over cooked pasta to the list of things I could eat. During the 4th week, I went to work part time, and was still easily tired, and often nauseous. During the healing process, your body produces a thick mucus to cover the wounds, keeping them from becoming scraped or open to infection. Every time I would eat, I would ingest some of this, and after a certain amount of swallows, my throat would feel raw. I believe this was a major contributor to the nausea, and stomach trouble I was having as well. I stopped taking the pain medication after the third week. Not that I didn’t still need it, but I didn’t like the idea of becoming dependent on it.
At the end of week four, I have lost a total of about 11 lbs.

Was It Worth It?
Time will tell. It was a horrible, horrible recovery, and I only started back to work full time yesterday. The hope is that I will be much healthier, and generally feel better. I never want to see a bowl of soup again.
The reason I wrote this is in the hope that if you have a child with recurring throat problems, as I did, don’t give up until you find a doctor willing to look at the big picture. If only I had had this done 20 years ago, I would have saved myself more pain than I care to think about. I knew that what was going on with my throat- with my body- wasn’t right. Doctor after doctor told me I was wrong, and it took me 20 years to find one who believed me and sent me to a wonderful specialist. No one ever wants to have surgery, but if you have a child who sounds like me, fight for it.

I’d like to thank my parents and sister for waiting on me hand and foot for the two weeks I stayed with them. They took time off of work, and got up at obscene hours to see to my comfort and safety. I’d also like to thank my boyfriend who listened to me complain and cry, and supported, pampered and cared for me. If you have this surgery as an adult, you need a support system. I hope you have one half as good as mine.

Please feel free to leave comments or E-mail me if you have any questions specific to the surgery or recovery. Thanks for reading my lengthy tale of woe!

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