The Anatomy of A Tonsillectomy Recovery


A tonsillectomy. I’m sure you’ve heard about this procedure a dozen or so times. Maybe one of your kids has even had it done. A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils. The procedure is done for a variety of different reasons. My eight year old daughter has frequent infections, including numerous strep infections. All these infections led us to the ENT who advised us that it would be beneficial for her to have her tonsils removed. We scheduled the surgery during summer break and didn’t think that much of it. I feel we were completely naive in our thinking about how her recovery would go.  

My daughter, being the rock star that she is, went into surgery without a tear. She was actually excited to eat all the ice cream she wanted afterwards. My daughter is a very tough little girl which I think gave my husband and I a false sense of security going into this procedure. We thought she would just sail through and it not even phase her in the least. We were wrong.

Cool as cucumber waiting to go into surgery.

The Day Of:

Our daughter woke up in immense pain. She was agitated from the anesthesia and couldn’t get comfortable. She could barely eat enough for the nurse to give her pain medicine. I ended up sitting with her in a fetal position on my lap on a surgical chair. She was then finally able to receive pain medicine and we were sent home.

When we got home she seemed to have perked up and was eating a variety of soft foods. We even got a little attitude that only an eight year old can master. She said she wanted privacy and went up to her room. We thought “Ok she’s back to herself.” I went in to check on her at 6:30 p.m. and she was asleep. Like passed out asleep. This is completely not like her. We called the doctor because we were unsure whether to wake her up for her last dose of pain medicine. He told us to just let her sleep. Which she did until the next morning.

The Next Day:

She woke up the next day in horrific pain. She would cry because it hurt and cry even more because it hurt to cry. Her temperature was also 101.7. We were at a loss as what to do so we called the doctor again who advised us to give her the pain medicine and that a fever is common. We gave her a little bit of food, her pain medicine and antibiotic.

I went back to see about an hour later and she said she wanted ice cream. I brought up a bowl for her and she took one bite and said she was full. A few minutes later my husband and I hear her throwing up. We immediately run upstairs to find her getting sick to her stomach in her garbage bin. I never even considered this as a side effect. I’ve heard of anesthesia making people sick to their stomach but it was always immediately following the surgery. My daughter, whom we have to force to rest, slept for 18 hours that day.

The Days Following:

Our surgeon, and friends whose children have had the procedure, told us that the fourth post-op day is the worst. That wasn’t the case for us. Everyday was the fourth day. She would wake up in horrific pain and we had to force her to eat. We couldn’t give her Tylenol for the pain (and the fever which hovered around 101 for four days) until she had something in her stomach. 

The mornings were always the worst. Her throat was dry from sleeping so it would make the pain even more unbearable for her. She couldn’t speak, brush her teeth or even open her mouth enough to fit an entire spoonful of food inside. She spent her days on the couch hovering between tolerable pain when the medicine kicked in, to unbearable pain where she would just cry silent tears because it hurt to much to open her mouth to cry.

Turning the Corner:

Around day seven she started to feel better. She was able to wake up in the morning and not have immense pain. We had her first post-op appointment and the doctor said that her throat looked good (well looked good for one week post-op). He gave her one more week of soft foods and restricted activity. She still had scabs on her throat and he said once they came off she would feel a lot better. He told me she would either cough them up or swallow them. Thankfully she must have swallowed them because the description he gave of what they would look like was horrifying. 

The following week she really made a vast improvement. She found it annoying that she couldn’t eat anything other than soft food (the excitement of only ice cream wore off after day two). She was talking normally and no longer required any pain medicine. Day 21 was her last post-op appointment. She got the all clear from the doctor to go back to her regular diet and activity. I’m happy to say that she is back to her normal self, eight year old attitude included.

Lessons Learned:

I will never underestimate surgery again. A tonsillectomy is a routine procedure. However before my daughter had it done I focused on the word “routine” and not “procedure.” It’s still surgery. No matter how tough your child is, no matter how quickly children bounce back, surgery is surgery. Yes my daughter is tough, but she’s not invincible. My husband and I realized that there are just some things that will hurt. We know that recovery, regardless of age, takes time. The body will heal in its own time and all we can do is support it the best way we can.

Let me also say that my daughter’s recovery is specific to only my daughter. Just because my child had a difficult recovery does not mean yours will. Every child is different and every recovery is different. At least you can prepare for whatever recovery your child will have.


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