How to survive an adult tonsillectomy – from a 30 year old who did (All inclusive tonsillectomy guide with a soft food diet shopping list)

I interrupt my typical maternity, birth, and newborn blogs for a personal update: I survived my end of year Tonsillectomy in Frisco, TX! Here’s my take on the whole experience…

It’s January 7, 2020, and I’ve officially surpassed the much anticipated TWO WEEK mark after my tonsillectomy surgery on December 19, 2019, and I’m almost to my three week Dr. appt. I’ll start off by saying that before my surgery I did my research to prepare – I read many articles around tonsillectomies (both child and adult) and looked at many soft food diet lists, preparation guides, and of course the doctor’s list, so already had a pretty good jumping off point. However, you always learn more by going through it! So…

This is me, first, thanking everyone who shared their experiences online to help my journey go better and second passing on my wisdom/guidance to *hopefully* help at least one person through this rough experience. I’ve broken it down into sections in case there’s a specific part you are looking for, and don’t hesitate to comment with any questions or thoughts of your own (I get notifications and will respond!).

Surgery and highlights – nothing held back

Caretaker – 100% necessary!
Having someone to take care of me was crucial, especially the first week. You are required to have someone drive you home after surgery (medicated and groggy) but beyond that, I for sure needed someone and was blessed to have my mother come into town to take care of me. In the beginning I just wanted to sleep a lot and barely do anything for myself but also having mom track my medication and when to take it was very helpful. Having surgery on your throat, doctors don’t want you bending over/upside down or lifting anything over 20 lbs. so having animals and needing to take care of them would have been pretty difficult without my mom. Also, I had to go to the ER once because of my throat bleeding so needed my mom to drive me to the hospital (some people call an ambulance when this happens but I was glad to avoid that).

Day of Surgery
My surgery was scheduled for sometime between 8:30am-9:30am on a Thursday. I think we arrived at the surgery center at 8:30am to do paperwork and prep but my actual surgery was at 9:30am. There were lots of parents sitting around on their laptops, tablets, and phones waiting for their loved ones to be done with surgery in the waiting room. I was called back to the prep room where I was asked to pee in a cup, had blood pressure taken, put the lovely blue gown on, and had an IV put in (which was a little frustrating since the nurse couldn’t get it in my vein in the back of my hand and had to call another nurse to do it – who ended up putting it in the top of my arm.) After that I talked to the nurse more, anesthesiologist, and doctor, expressing any concerns I had, and then my mom was able to come back and sit with me for a little bit until it was time. They rolled me into the surgery suite, transferred me onto the surgery table, and then shortly after I went under. When I woke up, my mom was by my side already. Pretty quickly after I came to I was nauseous and even with nausea medication I threw up a ton to get all of the anesthesia out of my system I guess. I stayed in the recovery area for probably an hour or so just because of how sick I felt. After I felt good enough to go home, we got in the car and I went straight to my room for sleep and recovery.

Pain and Medication
I’m going to preface this section by saying everyone has a different pain tolerance but I find myself to be average when it comes to pain – so hopefully if you can handle a shot like a champ, you will be in a similar boat as me in this area. So many people described their throat pain after a tonsillectomy to be unbearable but it honestly wasn’t That bad. I took my pain medication every 4-6 hours to keep full pain at bay, and still it did hurt to swallow, but not beyond a 7/10 pain level in my opinion. After taking the medication, pain would subside to a 4-6 depending on the day. If you’ve ever had tonsillitis like I did, I will say that the tonsillitis pain was worse for me when swallowing. When I had tonsillitis, not only did my throat feel super sore but swallowing fruit juices and anything acidic burned it. That wasn’t the case after surgery – acidity didn’t bother me at all with the tonsillectomy (tried and tested lol).

Medication was crucial – I was prescribed Hydrocodone and was told I could take Liquid Tylenol if it was too strong. It was. To set the scene – I am a 30 year old woman, 5’6, 127lbs with an athletic build, and a decent metabolism if that helps.

Every time I took Hydrocodone, I felt nauseous (also got a prescription to help with this) and would throw up if I took the full dose. We tried half the dose which did help but still gave me headaches, nausea, and then I started getting itchy from taking it – like full body itchy. So, I switched over to the red colored Liquid Tylenol that you can buy at the convenience store OTC. This was the best decision we made together (my mom and I). I took 1/2 of the dose recommended and was fine. Every now and then I would take the full dose for pain but usually was just fine every 6 hours taking the 1/2-3/4 dose. I would schedule it to where I took doses at 6:30am (woke up and before drinking breakfast), 12:30pm before drinking/eating lunch, 6:30pm before dinner and then throughout the night too. I did Not set an alarm to wake up during the night to take my medication because it wasn’t necessary as it never hurt enough to where I was in so much pain if I didn’t take my medicine and because I woke up enough as it was to go to the restroom that I would just take it then.

Hydration & Humidifiers
The major thing the doctors and nurses told me was to stay hydrated. “No matter how bad your throat hurts, you have to constantly drink water and stay hydrated!” If you go more than 6-8 hours without using the restroom, apparently that means you’re getting close to dehydrated which is bad because then you could end up in the hospital for dehydration.
During recovery, I actually Wanted to continually drink water because the ice water helped to soothe my throat. I drank so much water during recovery that I went to the restroom about 2-3x the amount I normally do on any regular day haha. Even at night if I woke up at all (which I did plenty), I would drink a couple sips of water – and then have to go pee 2-3x in the middle of the night. Ok enough about that, but I do want to say that at night the humidifiers were super helpful! I actually had 2 in the house already that are large and have amazing output (last 1-1.5 nights on full blast mode). I refilled and ran them every night (well my mom did it for me which was even better)! You can buy the ones I used on Amazon – humidifier. I also enjoy diffusing oils that are helpful for healing so I ran a diffuser every night too.

My visit to the Emergency Room
Complications happen even to healthy and hydrated patients. Going to the ER is never fun, especially when you have no signs of any issues ahead of time. My doctors mentioned that around day 7-10 the scabs in the back of the throat would begin to fall off. They said it’s rare but when a scab comes off, it could cause bleeding. Let me just say that it’s not as rare as I thought when listening to the doctor. I read articles and talked to adults I know who have had a tonsillectomy and about 40-50% of them said they had to go to the ER due to this! I was really hoping I would be the other half of people since I’m a healthy, athletic woman who typically heals well. That was NOT the case!

I woke up during the night having to constantly swallow (at the time I didn’t realize I was swallowing blood because I couldn’t taste it – taste buds fluctuated some) but when I kept having to swallow and drinking ice water wasn’t helping any, I realized what it was. So, if you’re having a tonsillectomy, be prepared for this to happen and it won’t be AS SCARY hopefully. Luckily I knew where the closest hospital was to me so we jumped in my mom’s car with my bloody spit cup, towel (to wipe my mouth), and ice water in tow. Unfortunately for me, the hospital didn’t have an ENT on call – or even practicing at the hospital so they wanted to transfer to their sister hospital ~25 minutes away to get it cauterized. However, after about 30 minutes, the bleeding stopped on its own. Nonetheless I was weak, pale, and nauseous so they gave me an IV, and called my doctor. My doctor could only practice out of Baylor Scott & White hospitals (not the same hospital chain as I was currently at)so they wanted to transfer me in an ambulance over to that one. By this time, the bleeding stopped, it had been a while getting IV fluids, and I was feeling better – I didn’t want to be transferred to another hospital when the bleeding had stopped so I made the decision to leave the hospital instead. Before I left, the ER Doc had me gargle with a blood coagulant just in case (something my doctor recommended). Instead of getting a shot of the clear liquid like normal, the ER Doc squirted it into my mouth to gargle and spit out a few times. We went home and everything was fine – for two days. Two nights later, it happened again. My mom and I discussed what we would do if it happened again, and we decided we would just wait it out this time instead of driving the 20 min to my actual doctor’s hospital. So, when it happened in the morning around 7am, I got my spit cup and ice water for round 2. Drinking a lot of ice water helped because the cold ice stops the bleeding (at least in my case). This time it only lasted 5 minutes – woohoo! Many people actually get theirs cauterized at the hospital. I’d discuss this with your doctor beforehand – I wish I had! This part of recovery was BY FAR the scariest and worst part. The funny part was, after each of the bleeding episodes, my throat felt more numb and less sore like it helped the whole situation – go figure!

Tonsillectomy Shopping List – more than just food

Prepare before you go into surgery. Purchase anything you think you will need ahead of time (Even Amazon Prime deliveries can take a week from certain vendors). Go grocery shopping the day before surgery to have the freshest food/liquids for recovery.

Tangible Items to purchase in advance:
Gel reusable ice packs to keep on throat
Oral surgery ice pack wrap – I used this EVERY day and some at night – a must have!
Humidifier(s) and diffuser
Bell (this was fun – I rang the bell from bed when I needed something/can also text caretaker)
Claritin – I have allergies so I took this every day to make sure I didn’t sneeze: sneezing=XXX
Yeti – Kept drinks with ice super cold – my Yeti was always at my side

Tonsillectomy Grocery Shopping List
My favorite thing to drink/eat was a PB&J smoothie (Peanut butter, strawberry popsicle (avoids strawberry seeds), almond milk, protein, water, ice) – of course any smoothie will do
Tomato/tomato basil soup
Chicken noodle soup
Broccoli cheddar soup (I used a blender to blend up any broccoli pieces)
Lots of ice cream in different flavors – push up pops, frozen fruit bars/ice, vanilla, chocolate
Pudding
Applesauce

After about a week or so I started to eat more things but not fully solid items yet – pastas, cut up chicken that I chewed pretty well first, prosciutto, etc. After about 16 days I was back to eating normal food completely.

Items I bought but didn’t want:
Jell-O – no matter how much you chew it, it still goes down in clumps without dissolving and doesn’t feel great
Sonic Ice – some people swear by this, and it was nice to chew on every now and then, but for me regular ice water was fine. I wanted to drink cold water from my Yeti constantly but wasn’t big on needing actual ice.

Photos of my throat (images may be gross, but they are real)

If you don’t want to see photos of my throat after surgery and during the healing process then refrain from scrolling any further, otherwise scroll on down

Images below…..

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December 20th – 1 day after surgery
At this point I could open my jaw normally and it still didn’t hurt much but after the second day until the 11th, my jaw was pretty tight and couldn’t open very wide

December 30th – 11 days after surgery
This is when I could finally open my jaw enough to take a picture – with flash and without, subsequently

January 2nd – 14 days after surgery

January 7th – 19 days after surgery (today) – with flash and without, subsequently

If this post helped you, please comment and let me know! If you have any questions about having a tonsillectomy done, don’t hesitate to ask.

I really hope it helps with your tonsillectomy surgery. I plan to follow up with more info/details on how my life has changed or improved within a few months to a year!