24.02.2021 – Long Read
My Tonsillectomy Journey
Last year my anxiety levels went through the roof. Not only was the pandemic in full swing, but I was worried about my health. My glands felt swollen. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I panicked and made an appointment with my GP. It was a difficult time, the pandemic had reduced our normal healthcare services.
I initially spoke to a locum doctor who didn’t seem to be too worried about my concerns. “Your glands are probably just that size, I wouldn’t worry about it” she said. I wasn’t convinced but I left it for a couple of months and got on with my life. A couple of months went by in a blur and I just couldn’t shake that feeling that something was just not quite right. I called the GP again and spoke to one of my regular doctors. He looked at my notes and saw I had a history of lumps and bumps. He calls me in to see him.
I go to my GP surgery. It was empty and I sat there nervously shaking my leg in anticipation. My doctor calls me in to see him. He is fully covered in PPE. He examines my glands and looks confused. He wasn’t quite sure what he was suppose to be feeling. After another poke and prod he feels something “squishy“. He explains to me that what he was feeling did not feel like cancer in his experience, but to be on the safe side he refers me to the hospital ENT department for further investigation.
Over a week later I get a phone call from an ENT doctor at the hospital. They were only doing telephone appointments at this point. I explain my concerns and he tells me also that that was probably just the size of my glands but he was going to arrange for an ultrasound scan and refer me to the maxillofacial department as this was their area of expertise.
A week later, I see the maxillofacial doctor and he tells me that the gland that I was worried about was a little enlarged but it was still within normal limits. He wasn’t worried about it. I think he saw in my face that I was worried so he suggested I have an MRI scan just to put my mind at ease. He even said to me that he wasn’t suggesting an MRI scan because he thought there was something wrong, but because he just wanted me to have peace of mind. He was sure that the results would come back normal.
About a week later, I have the MRI scan – not the most pleasant of experiences but it was ok. The whole thing took about 40 minutes – they tell you to try and “sleep” whilst in the scanner but it is impossible. It’s claustraphobic in there and the scanner is super loud. After the scan I went home quite optimistic.
I went back to the hospital a few days later to get the results of my scan. The doctor wanted to see me in person rather than discuss the results over the phone. That was when I started to get worried. I mean, if the results were normal, why would she call me into the hospital especially with the pandemic in full swing? The hospital is limiting the amount of people it has in its building so to call me to come in was quite worrying.
It turns out this doctor just liked to give results in person rather than over the phone. She begins to tell me that the results came back normal. There were no lumps, bumps, growths in my face or neck. I was so relieved. However, she did point out that I was congested and my left tonsil was a little enlarged, but she didn’t seem to think it was anything to worry about. She referred me back to ENT to have a look at the tonsil but she didn’t think they would do anything about it.
I see the ENT doctor a few days later. I think he was stressed because he was a bit grumpy. He tells me my scan showed that I was severely congested – he prescribed me antibiotics and steroid tablets to help with that. He recommended that I have sinus surgery to help with the congestion. He also told me that he was concerned about my left tonsil. He tells me that it is unusual for one tonsil to be enlarged and not both. Asymmetric tonsils he called it – a sign of something sinister i.e. tumour. I was worried again. He suggested I have my tonsils removed – both of them. He wanted to send the tonsil off to histology to see if anything sinister shows up. Ahhhh man … surgery. Another surgery, I’ve had my fair share over the years. I agree to this and he tells me it will be done within the next two weeks … elective surgery he calls it.
I was scheduled to have my surgery on the 30th December 2020 but a few days before that I had developed a cold and I had an asthma flare up. I felt awful. I went to the hospital anyway and told the anaesthetist I wasn’t feeling well … they decided for my own health that the surgery should be rescheduled. When you have any type of surgery, they usually put a breathing tube down your throat or through your nose. If you are not in the best of health, you can develop a chest infection which can be fatal. They said that if I was to develop problems during surgery, there just wouldn’t be any intensive case facitlities for me due to the ongoing pandemic. They sent me home and the doctor would call me in a week or two to see how I was feeling.
A week later, the anaesthetist called me and asked how I was feeling, I was feeling better – he decided that the surgery should be postponed for another 4 weeks just to make sure the cold virus had completely left my system. Now it becomes the waiting game … my anxiety levels were through the roof.
On the 4th of February 2021, the anaesthetist calls me and asks me how I was feeling. I was feeling good. My congestion had cleared up immensely thanks to the steroid tablets and antibiotics. My asthma was also behaving itself. I hadn’t been using my blue inhaler often. The anaesthetist marks me down as fit for surgery – I was booked in to have the tonsillectomy on the 9th February 2021.
Moment of Truth
On the morning of my surgery, I couldn’t sleep. My husband asked me if I was scared? I wasn’t scared, but very anxious about the whole thing. I was suppose to be at the Day Stay Unit by 7:30am (it was a day case so I didn’t have to stay overnight in the hospital) – my husband dropped me off outside the building. I checked in and waited in the waiting room. Two other patients came in, checked themselves in and waited. One of them was having a termination – she told the receptionist across the waiting room floor.
Me and the other two ladies were called in to the Day Stay Room and we were allocated our cubicle. I was cubicle 1. It was a little cubicle with a comfy reclining chair. I had my blood pressure and heart rate checked, then I was given a gown to change in to. I was also given disposable underwear, a pair of compression socks and a pair of fluffy red socks with slip proof soles. They were cute and comfy.
The doctor came and spoke to me – he had to do his obligatory warnings such as risks and what to expect. The possible risk of bleeding in which case I should go straight to A&E and also there is a risk of infection. I also got the all clear from the anaesthetist so all was good. I was number 2 on their list.
I was called into surgery at 9:50am – I quickly texted my husband to tell him I was going into surgery. I was actually feeling very calm … not as anxious and scared as I thought I would be. I think I was just eager to get it over and done with. It’s been such a long and worrying journey – and now finally I am getting fixed.
I walk with the anaesthetist to operating theatre. There were about half a dozen doctors standing around the theatre – all looking at me as I walk in. I take a deep breath and walk towards the operating bed. They had put a cotton sheet over the bed and were blowing hot air under the sheet to keep the bed warm. Nice touch I thought, it was particularly cold in that theatre.
I lay down on the bed and try to get comfortable. This feels all too familiar … I’ve done this before. There is a trainee doctor and he is trying to put in a canula in the back of my right hand. He has trouble finding a vein … another (experienced) doctor is supervising him. They have trouble locating a vein, the trainee doctor finds one – pushed the needle in and it was at that point I knew that he did not find it. He kept pushing the canula in deeper and deeper – it was so painful I yelled out in agony. It was all abit too much. I get upset, the tears start rolling down my face. The (experienced) doctor apologies and states that “we sometimes don’t get it in first time”. I’m not new to this … they usually do get it right unless you don’t know what you’re doing. The (experienced) doctor switches to my other hand and he quickly puts in the canula, 2 seconds and it was in, pain free. He tries to talk to me to calm me down and take my mind off what was going on around me. He asked me questions about my family and my job. I knew what he was doing, I didn’t want to engage, I was still upset. He puts a gas mask on me, telling me it was a painkiller but I knew it was a sedative, I started to feel drowsy and my eyes started closing …
I hear someone calling my name … wake up, wakey wakey … who was that? Where was I? I slowly begin to open my eyes. The first thing I thought was “I made it!”. I have always had this fear that I wouldn’t wake up from a surgery … or I would wake up and something would be drastically wrong. I keep hearing the nurse calling me to wake up. I kept trying to open my eyes but my eyelids felt so heavy, they didn’t want to open. What time was it? I really wanted to know what time it was. It felt late … afternoon maybe. I noticed a clock on the wall in front of me so I tried to lift my head to get a better look. I managed a quick glance before allowing my head to fall back on the pillow. I felt dizzy.
The time was 11am … so it took about an hour. That wasn’t too bad. My throat hurt each time I swallowed. It wasn’t overly painful but my throat felt dry and coarse. I needed water. I think it took me about half an hour or so to wake up and feel better. Around about 11:40am I was wheeled back to the recovery room. I was escorted to my little cubicle … I felt a bit light headed but that’s to be expected after an anaesthetic. The nurse helped me into my comfy recliner and I just sat there … I was relieved. I checked my phone, there was a missed call – my husband had called me about 10 minutes previously. I quickly texted him telling him I was done and I was in recovery and that I was ok!
The thing about a tonsillectomy is that they won’t let you go home unless they can see that you are eating and drinking properly. Sounds crazy right? I mean I’ve just had throat surgery and they want me to shove food down my throat? The nurse came over with a jug of water and encouraged me to start drinking. The water actually came as a welcomed relief. The cold liquid soothed the throat and it made swallowing bearable. So I kept sipping the water and took too many toilet breaks because of it. The nurse then brought me over a little pot of jelly which was easy to eat. I hadn’t had jelly for so long and it was really tasty. I mean there is no chewing involved in jelly is there? I just let it slide down my throat and the coolness of the jelly soothed the incisions.
Half an hour later the nurse comes back and asks me if I wanted a sandwich? How they think a sandwich is palatable after throat surgery is beyond me, but I wanted to go home so I agreed to an egg sandwich. She brings me one over, it’s one of those pre-packed ones. I open it up, it was cut into quarters so I attempted to eat a piece. It wasn’t the easiest of things to eat. The dryness of my mouth made the bread thick and stodgy. I bit off a little corner of the sandwich and chewed it as much as I could but I couldn’t move my mouth much. I tried to swallow the sandwich but it got stuck at the top of my throat. I had to drink water to wash it down. I only managed a quarter of the sandwich but it was enough. The nurse was satisfied with that.
I rested for a bit longer and by 3pm the nurse said I was ok to go home. The words I was so excited to hear! I called my husband to pick me up and whilst I waited for him, I got dressed and waited for the pharmacy to issue my medication.
The pain after tonsillectomy wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I had read stories of people experiencing excruciating pain, swelling and bleeding. I was expecting the worse. But the actual recovery wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it is painful and I am not denying that at times I felt like it was never going to get better. But I persevered, listened to my body and looked after myself. Recovery is something that should not be rushed … believe that time will heal all.
The first three days I experienced swelling in my throat which made eating difficult. Food would get stuck at the top of my throat and I would have to drink water to help push it down. The painkillers did not take the pain away … it took the edge off the pain slightly and made eating a little more bearable, but don’t be naive in thinking that the painkillers would allow you a pain free recovery. The painkillers made me very sleepy and light headed, but that was ok because it allowed me to sleep alot and helped time pass quicker.
I stocked up on palatable foods such as jelly, ice cream, pancakes, yogurt, porridge, baked potatoes and beans. Nutrition wasn’t high on my list of priorities … food was food at this point. The doctor did warn me that at around day 7 post-op the pain will be at its peak, but after that it will slowly start to get better. It was around day 8 that I started to get pains in my left ear – it felt like someone was stabbing my ear with a knife and also I also had pain down the left side of my jaw – it felt like a bad toothache. This went on for about 4 days. It was making eating quite a chore … so I ended up not eating much (I didn’t poo in 7 days!).
The pain in my ear shifted from one side to the other … one day it would be in my right hear, then in my left. But it was always just there … it was only painful when I swallowed so it wasn’t a continuous pain so it wasn’t that bad. All in all … the experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was painful but bearable. The most difficult part in all this was not being able to eat properly for over two weeks. Living off jacket potatoes and beans with a side of jelly was not enjoyable. But I am happy to say I made it through another surgery.
Here is a little advice for anyone with an up and coming tonsillectomy – but as always, follow the advice of your health practitioner. Any advice given here is from my personal experience and what worked for me.
- Always listen to your doctors and health practitioners and follow their advice.
- Take at least two weeks off work to recovery – rest is so important so take it easy.
- Stock up on supplies before your surgery e.g. water, jelly, yogurt etc … any soft foods you like. Drink plenty of water – it helps sooth the throat.
- Avoid hot food and drinks for at least 2 weeks.
- Do not take hot showers or baths – the steam can cause your incisions to open up and bleed.
- Talking will be difficult so rest the throat and don’t talk too much.
- If you don’t already use one, buy a soft bristle manual toothbrush, brushing your teeth will be limited during recovery time.
- Your prescribed painkillers may run out after a few days so stock up on paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends with chores and errands. You need rest … make the most of it.
I also want to express my gratitude to the NHS and to my ENT surgeon. He has been amazing at pushing through my elective surgery even though the hospitals are over-stretched with pandemic cases. It saddens me when I hear people saying negative things about the NHS and how under-appreciated they are. Our healthcare system is one of the best in the world. It is not perfect and there are people that abuse the system … but when I have needed the NHS the most, they have been there and given me excellent care.
~ Boss Mum xx