I’ve recently undergone a tonsillectomy - the process of removing the lymph node tissue hanging idly at the back of your throat. I know I write mainly technology articles, but I thought a departure was warranted from the usual faire.

My main takeaway from having it done is twofold: it’s not as bad as you think and it’s as bad as you think. They seem like contradictory statements, so I’ll need to explain myself right? Okay.

Not as bad…

Firstly it’s not as bad as you think because everyone on the Internet exaggerates. If your like me - you’ve spent countless hours researching and reading the experiences of others. That’s a very bad idea for one of the most common surgeries performed in the world today - overwhelmingly most of the experiences will be rare cases (bleeding, extreme pain etc) because people like to tell horror stories. I can’t explain that facet of human psychology but I can say this: statistically speaking you’ll be extremely unlucky not to be in the bunch of people who do just fine after the surgery.

As bad as you think…

It’s as bad as you think because these things aren’t a walk in the park. I almost gasped when the surgeon told me I’d need two weeks off work. Two weeks? Two weeks?!? It turns out all those years of medical training means he’s actually right! You’re going to experience a lot of swelling and pain and there’s very little you can do but take the pain-killers and anti-inflammatory medication and hope they work. You’ll sound ridiculous, people will find you hard to understand (and will find it hard to empathise because you’ll be grumpy through sheer frustration with eating and a horrible diet). You’ll also probably get a very erratic sleep pattern and feel tired from that and the medication. It’s no cake walk and at times you feel very frustrated with yourself for imposing this burden on your life (why did I choose to have this operation?!?!).

Why I got a tonsillectomy

The back story as to why I got the operation is I had tonsillitis for two and a half months straight, yes two and a half months! I’d lost count of the painkillers and antibiotics I’d taken in that period, but it’s safe to say in 90% of that timeframe I was taking pills daily to stave off illness. It worked, I wasn’t sick from tonsillitis when I was taking the medication, but I did get sick from the medication itself and I lost a whole lot of weight (with my friends commenting on how thin I’d gotten). I also felt tired all of the time from the antibiotics - I could never get enough sleep to offset this. In fact I was almost as physically drained when I was not on the medication and just suffering from tonsillitis. This is clearly no way to live and my GP agreed and so a consultation was arranged which led to the surgery.

Breakdown by day

  • Day 0 Saturday - Day of the operation. Surgery is quick, I was wheeled in approx. 9:30am and woke at 11am in recovery. I was given morphine during the surgery so the first day was absolutely pain free. I tried to eat but got sick due to the morphine, so I was given anti-nausea medication. I ate toast and drank tea (which I was later told the tea was a mistake, cold drinks only)

  • Day 1 Sunday - Day after the operation, I was discharged from hospital around 11am. I had been taking diphene1 twice a day, using Solpadol2 as required (got a prescription for these two medications). Also lots of water and Ice, ice, ice.

  • Day 2-4 Monday-Thursday - Little to no pain, took medication as directed and sucked on ice every waking minute it felt like. Stayed with family as directed in case of bleeding (mandated by the surgeon). Scabs starting to form. Diet mostly liquid. Found dairy bad for mucus (hindering speech) so decided to almost cut it out completely. Slept about 12 hours a day.

  • Day 5-11 Friday-Wednesday - Pain starts to really bite, as I start to eat more then liquids and the scabbing gets intense. The smell from your throat is wickedly bad, try chew gum! Sleep goes totally AWOL, still probably sleeping 12 hours a day but in pieces due to the pain and constant need for liquidation of the throat. I ran out of medication the Wednesday, luckily a quick call to the hospital and a repeat prescription is issued by fax to a local pharmacy (phew).

  • Day 12 Onwards - Taking the medication as directed so no real pain. Around day 18 I’m forgetting I ever had them removed, the only time I remember is in work when I I forget to drink water for a period and my thorat is dry. If you suffer from dry throat (I don’t, I drink a lot I think normally throughout a day) I’m sure you’d describe this like any other dry throat.

I’m having a follow up visit which will be four weeks almost to the day after the operation soon - I don’t expect any surprises, it’s healing really well and I have forgotten at this stage the pain even!

  1. Diphene is a pain-killer and anti-inflammatory. Taken twice a day in my case, I found it indispensable for the very bad swelling I had. 

  2. Soloadol is also a painkiller and anti-inflammatory. Paracetamol and codeine-based, it’s the pain killer taken throughout the day. I found it particularly useful before stressful events like eating to offset pain before it will occur.