A Week Without Tonsils

Athena Scalzi So, I got my tonsils out last week. A procedure which many of you know went a little sideways, but everything turned out okay in the end! Anyways, now that it’s been several days of relaxing and healing, I’m here to report on how recovery is going.

Before we get into it, I am someone who believes that everyone has a type of pain that is more unbearable to them than any other kind. I know a lot of people who get terrible migraines, and they have mentioned they would rather deal with anything else other than headaches. For a lot of people, it’s likely that stomach aches are probably the worst kind of pain to them. For me, it’s a sore throat. There is nothing in this world more awful to me than a sore throat. Ear pain is a close second, though (I got swimmer’s ear a lot as a kid).

That’s the biggest reason I was hesitant to get my tonsils out. I would’ve preferred any other kind of surgery. Knee surgery, wrist surgery, a nose job, I don’t care what, I would’ve taken anything over throat surgery. I was totally terrified, but utterly unsurprised when my surgeon told me that this would be the worst sore throat I’d ever had in my life. It would be worse than strep, and it would probably be nothing like I’ve ever really felt before.

Well, she certainly wasn’t wrong. It’s been really rough. She told me it’d be a miserable recovery, and it’s been unpleasant at the very least. One of my favorite things to do in life is eat food! You know how much that’s been impacted by throat surgery? Eating hurts so much. Just existing hurts. But trying to eat or drink on top of that? Rough.

The weirdest part of this pain is that it’s so different from what I imagined. When I think of a sore throat, like from a cold, I think of, like, scratchiness. Uncomfortable irritation and being hoarse, I think. It’s hard to describe, but this isn’t scratchy. It’s like I’ve completely overused a muscle, and every time it constricts or moves it’s like trying to use something that’s broken, or using a muscle that’s been hyperextended and worn out.

It’s such a unique pain, and I hate every bit of it. I just want it to be over already. Like jeez, talk about annoying.

I got told to take Tylenol and Ibuprofen, but was also given Percocet in case the pain was too much. The first few days wasn’t so bad, I guess, but yesterday was the worst it’s ever been, so I took my first Percocet. This was the first time in my life I’d ever taken prescription pain medication or a narcotic or anything, and let me tell you, it was a wild ride.

Did it help with the pain? Yeah. Did it make everything else about my entire body feel weird as hell? Also yeah. I was burning up, sweating, my limbs felt funny, and my head felt even weirder. I was woozy and a little sick feeling. I ended up taking a nap for a couple hours. Admittedly, my throat felt a lot better, but I think I’ll just stick with extra strength Tylenol four times a day.

Besides the pain, it’s been really annoying to hear my voice the past week. I sound quite different currently. My voice is, like, too thick, or I sound congested? It sounds like there’s phlegm in my throat, but there’s no way I’m gonna try to clear my throat or start coughing if I can help it (don’t wanna cough up the scabs, after all). My voice is deeper, which isn’t exactly a bad thing since I’m pretty nasally normally, but it is weird to hear. And I haven’t been able to sing in the car! Tragic.

Anyways, I’ve been doing okay, switching between copious amounts of ice cream and copious amounts of Jell-O, but I wanted to thank you all for your kind words and consideration the past week. All your well wishes truly mean the world to me, and I appreciate all of your support in this rather rough time! Thanks for listening to me whine a bit more, it helps with the pain more than this damn Ibuprofen.


57 Comments on “A Week Without Tonsils”

  1. Sounds rough! Never had my tonsils out, but I ruptured my Achilles tendon one time, and it was six months of painful and inconvenient, starting at “extremely” and ramping down to “slightly”. Just remember that it’s gonna get better — in three months you’ll eat something, and then stop suddenly and realize, “Hey, that didn’t hurt at all!” because it getting better snuck up on you.

  2. Over the winter I had a bout of vertigo that lasted from noon until sometime after I fell asleep at night, and it was the most miserable experience of my life. The act of moving my head at certain angles would trigger intense nausea and send me running to the bathroom. It felt like the ultimate betrayal of me by my body, as there wasn’t really anything I could do other than find the one spot that wouldn’t make the room start to literally spin around me (tried the rotation exercises and they just made things worse). So I completely sympathize with what you’re going through.

  3. Having had nose and throat surgery at the same time (deviated septum repair and T&A respectively), I’m right with you that the throat part can be pretty rough as an adult! But take my word for it: nose surgery is pain on an entirely different level. Between injuries and operations I’ve had pain in many parts of my body, and nasal surgery was worse than having part of an organ removed. So don’t wish for that!

  4. Sorry about the pain but glad you have an aversion to Percocet. I react to opioids exactly as you do and I feel that it has led me to avoid a lot of potential problems. I broke my back and took myself off the hard stuff after three days! Hang in there!!

  5. I hear you about narcotics. For back pain and one other reason I was prescribed Vicodin and a synthetic opioid (not oxycontin) on two separate occasions.

    The first time I got like an hour of pain relief and then five hours of headaches…and I sought weaker painkillers because I shouldn’t have to take aspirin to take my Vicodin.

    The second time, I was so nauseated after taking the pill that I decided the pain was better than what the pill was doing.

    So I feel you.

  6. Aaaaack! I hate to hear that your throat is your “thing” and then it went like it did. At least you sound like you’re recovering, even if it does suck. Here’s to improving soon!

  7. This seems to be tonsil season in my world; the 20-something daughter of some friends from church just had hers out.

    I really dislike how prescription pain meds make my brain feel; my most recent experience of those was from a Root Canal. Not fun, but it didn’t last very long.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  8. Sorry to read that matters are still troublesome. I hope that matters improve rapidly. I’ve been fortunate enough to have never needed surgery, so I can’t fully empathize with what you went through, but you have my sincere wishes for your well being.

  9. Hi Athena
    I am glad that you are on the road to recovery.
    The closest I have come to throat problems is having an impacted wisdom tooth out where my whole mouth ached for about a week and it was soft or liquid foods

    I haven’t had to take high level pain med’s but I strongly suspect your instinct is right to stick with what works for you

    I hope you continue to feel better as the days go along

  10. I had my tonsils out around the same age as you did. Luckily, I had no issues with the surgery itself. The procedure was done with a local anesthetic, so I got to experience the thrill of hearing the damn things getting cut out first hand. Ah those were the days.

    Anyway, like you, my throat hurt way more than I was expecting. But it went away fairly quickly. Hang in there. Hope you feel better soon.

  11. Hi Athena, I get what you said about the opioids, had my sinuses remodeled earlier this year and after the first three days it was easier to deal with the pain than the painkiller. Anyway, second week was better than the first, and third better than the second, so hang in there and I hope you feel better!

  12. I had my wisdom teeth out at 40+ years old and was looking forward to that sweet, sweet, prescription narcotic. It was terrifying. I was hallucinating and having nightmares–certainly distracted me from the pain. I had to stop taking them and just suck it up. Oh well. I am glad this will soon be behind you, forever (tonsils don’t grow back). Crank up the music. Make your folks crazy. If not now, when? ;)

  13. I’m glad you’re on the mend. I know what a miserable surgery it is.
    My daughter had her tonsils out at 23. She had had tonsillar and peritonsillar abscesses that caused her to have them out. She is the only person I’ve ever met who felt better after a T&A than before. So I can’t imagine how awful the abscesses were.
    Hope you’re back to normal really soon!!!

  14. I am glad you are doing better! Keep up with the ice cream and Jello!

    I was kind of glad for my neuropathy when I had major foot surgery a few years ago. Giant Game-of-Thrones-ish contraption with spikes holding my bones together? Can’t feel a thing!

  15. I hope your recovery is speedy! Interesting to see so many people who had terrible reactions to pain pills. I cannot stand them, and the nausea they bring about is worse than the pain. When I had kidney stones, I was in so much pain (and kind of out of control) that they shot me up with morphine (or something) against my wishes. It did disconnect me from the pain, but the hours vomiting afterwards were not worth it. Amazing how the stuff that’s supposed to help is so bad for you.
    Have some ice cream for me, and feel better!

  16. I am 100% with you on a sore throat being awful, that’s my personal least favourite pain. There are dozens of us! Dozens!

    Glad to hear you’re on the mend, keep that ice cream and jello close at hand.

  17. Hang in there–sending all the warm thoughts and supportive good wishes in the world.

  18. I can’t tolerate narcotic pain medications at all, so I totally sympathize with you! Hope the throat starts to feel better soon.

  19. Hang in there … and eat a half gallon of Chocolate ice cream for me since I can’t!

  20. Oh man, hard core pain meds are awesome/awful. The nausea, itchiness, and constipation make taking the kind I have not worth it at all. Glad you’re starting to feel better!

  21. Have you tried popsicles? Either regular stick popsicles or Otter Pops? Also Slurpees or Shaved Ice, but slowly. No brain freeze!

  22. Hi Athena, you can also take tylenol then 3 hours later some ibuprofen then 3 hours later tylenol again. So, tylenol 4x per day and ibuprofen 4x per day, but offset. They had me doing this layered approach after I destroyed my ACL. It worked pretty well for me, maybe it will do you some good as well. Hang in there!

  23. Far be it from me, under normal circumstances, to advocate anything that could even remotely be construed as substance abuse…

    …but, if you can’t get really competent pain control with acetaminopen or ibuprofen, and are reluctant–with very good reason!–to continue with an opioid like Percocet, let me mention two words you may already have heard at college: Jello-O. Shot.

    Note that pain itself is a hindrance to healing. I suspect you’ll do better if you acknowledge and treat it actively, rather than trying to “tough it out.” We already know you’re tough. Get well soon!

  24. Hang in there, Athena! I had my tonsils out when I was seven, and I still remember how that particular pain felt very different. On the plus side, that was, erm, a very long time ago, and I haven’t had any strep throat or other throat-related illnesses since then, so here’s hoping it’s the same for you and that you don’t have to deal with much throat pain in the future!

  25. I have no tonsil pain memories (at 5 years old my mind was overwhelmed by the treachery of dumping me off at the hospital with no warning), but I am horrified at the idea of swallowing scabs.

    Wishing you a painless future, with absolutely no reason to darken the halls of the local med center.

  26. I completely get where you’re coming from with the opioids. For me, the thing that really annoys me about them is that they affect my mental machinery; things that would normally be on autopilot required conscious planning when taking them.

    But that said, if Tylenol / Ibuprofen aren’t enough, you might try a half-pill instead. That might get you the pain relief / cough suppression without the side effects.

  27. Wow, it sounds like you’re having a rough go of it. I am glad you’re well enough to post. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

    I’m enjoying reading your work and watching you develop your voice as a writer.

  28. Glad you’re on the mend. Pain meds can be strange, and they don’t work the same in all people. Morphine is the basic drug we use the the ER, but some people are allergic and for some people it simply does not work. Pain meds can cause mood disruptions. Vicodin is fantastic for pain, but it makes me paranoid, so I avoid it. Hopefully the rest of your recovery goes well and there are no more hiccups in your treatment.

  29. So very glad you came through the surgery and subsequent excitement okay!

    Every pain is different, but indeed, post-tonsilectomy is a very specific and weird brand, made moreso because you can’t just not use your throat. That’s where you ingest nutrients and oxygen!

    Everyone’s reactions to different painkillers are different. Even people who are closely related! Percocet made my mother giddy (we called it “Perky-set” for her), but for me it doesn’t stop the pain and it makes me super sluggy but unable to sleep, which is a very special hell.

    Whereas for me, Vicodin (similar strength as Percocet) is THE BEST. Knocks down post-surgical pain to nothing, but leaves me in charge of my wits. My sister, otoh, hates Vicodin, because it does nothing for her. It’s like a placebo.

  30. Athena, I had my tonsils and adenoids out 58 years ago, so I obviously don’t remember a lot about it, but I do remember the horribly sore throat being completely, epically miserable for about a week.

    I’d say: Any concerns or worries you have, you deserve an answer from the doctors, and so should ask immediately. Knowing the answers won’t speed the healing but does make pretty much everything else better. Definitely take the Percocet if you’re really hurting. That’s what it’s for, and the doctors will monitor your usage and make sure it cannot become a new problem.

    The horrible throat and limitation to soft food only is going to get old and tiresome, but this too will pass.

  31. Commiserations for all of this, especially with throat pain being your worst. No wonder you delayed as long as you could!

    I’m glad to read that ice cream is working, at least. When I had my tonsils out the summer I turned 7, they promised me all the ice cream I wanted. But my throat hurt so much I didn’t want anything, including ice cream. I felt so betrayed!

    I’m sure Peter meant well here in the comments, but please don’t mix Tylenol and alcohol, or at least thoroughly research it first. Some credible websites say it’s okay as long as the alcohol is in moderation; my understanding is that there’s a non-trivial risk of liver and/or kidney problems. (Caveat: I am not any kind of medical professional.)

    I wish I had a time machine or other device that could fast-forward you to a month from now! Instead, I’ll wish you a steady variety of good distractions accompanied by a swift return to feeling great.

  32. I had similar surgery but they also took part of my uvula and surrounding issues (for sleep apnea, the back of my throat was narrow enough that I was slowly suffocating to death every night). For me the hardest part of that was the super increased gag reflex while I healed. Taking pills of any kind was very hard because if it even grazed the back of my throat I had an overwhelming urge to gag, which tends to make swallowing said pills very likely to cause choking on those pills which with a healing throat feels about as good as you can imagine.

    I’m sorry you’re in pain, but mouth/throat heals relatively fast compared to the rest of your body. You’ll be through this in no time.

  33. Ugh. Go ahead and complain here if it helps!

    Good luck with your pain meds: that’s scary about the Percocet and it makes sense that you might not want to take it any more.

  34. Stop eating the ice cream. It encourages phlegm production and will NOT help your healing. Clear fluids, ginger ale, Jell-O – that was what I had after I had my tonsils out when I was a kid, and I healed quickly with little pain and few complications. I can’t believe the doctor didn’t warn you about this.

  35. Admittedly tonsils are much easier to have removed as a child. Your take off the Percocet rollercoaster made me giggle (I apologize). I have chronic pain so narcotics just make me happy about the pain.

    I wish you the speediest of recoveries and send some virtual ice cream.

  36. For me acetaminophen (what’s in Tylenol) is a worthless drug, while ibuprofen is a wonderful anti-inflammatory (most of my pains being inflammation). But I second the suggestion of alternating and overlapping the two.
    My two memories of my tonsillectomy is
    1) my (4 years younger than me) sister was born in the same hospital while I was there, and I got to see her before my brothers.
    And 2) they lured me into the procedure with promises of ice cream, without bothering to mention that I wouldn’t feel like eating anything, even ice cream, afterward.
    Also, have you tried honey for your throat? I don’t mean huge spoonfuls, I mean tiny amounts more often.

  37. It will get better, but it does always seem like it takes way longer than it should! I don’t know if you can eat frozen popsicles, but if so I recommend the Outshine Fruit Bars. I had a popsicle addiction when I was recovering from a different surgery and on a very restricted diet for a month. The peach flavor tastes just like a frozen peach, not too sweet. Strawberry and grape are also good, but more similar to other brands I’ve had before. The watermelon was just odd. (You’ve apparently inspired me to write a mini food review!)

  38. I’m glad you’re doing better. All you can do is ride it out. Pity they wouldn’t give you liquid hydrocodone, I found it to be a pretty easy painkiller. Percocet sounds like a pretty over the top approach.

  39. Hey, bitch and moan all you want. Suffering in silence is absolutely ridiculous. Also, it always helps to pet a cat.

  40. My tonsils came out when I was six-ish which was close to thirty years before you were born. :-) No recollection, which is probably a good thing! I’ve had other surgeries since then and the worst thing has always been the anesthesia.

    Worst pain of my life: day after spacers were jammed between my lower incisors to make room for full-band braces. Having those in there overnight actually made my teeth loose. When the orthodontist went to pull them out so he could jam the bands on, I fainted. Almost gave the old guy a heart attack.

    +1 on don’t suffer in silence. And it does help to pet a cat (or dog). <3

  41. Worse than strep? Wow, ouch. I once had strep for a week or more before I got diagnosed and medicated (I was going through a bad time in my life and the associated fever didn’t help) and I was miserable.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  42. gently replaces the malpractice-suing stick into its protective casing

    Glad you’re healing up!

  43. Hang in there, Athena!

    I held back from commenting when you posted about your upcoming surgery, because I had my tonsils taken out at the age of 34 and it was AWFUL and I didn’t want to discourage you!

    I didn’t have any complications during my surgery (my heart just sunk hearing about what you experienced, that is so terrifying), but the recovery… was BRUTAL. This is from someone who has been through childbirth. Recovering from the tonsillectomy was way worse. At 34, I didn’t heal as quickly as younger people, and I spent about three weeks on Vicodin. My husband was understandably concerned about the length of my medication needs, but at my next post-op check-up my specialist confirmed that I was still very much in the zone where she’d expect pain levels to be severe. I explained to people at the time that basically, I had two inch and a half long scars in my throat that kept trying to scab up, but the scabs got ripped off every time I tried to eat anything. The first week I could barely even drink. I wasn’t able to sleep bc I had to sit up all the time to avoid the worst of the pain, and needed to wake in the middle of the night to take more meds anyways. I had to take all my meds in liquid form.

    Thank goodness, my Aunt was staying with us and helped my husband care for me and my young kiddos. I don’t know how we would have managed without her.

    At week 4, I was able to taper down to just Tylenol and Ibuprofen, and after 6 weeks I was mostly able to eat normally again. I pray that you will recover much more quickly than I did.

    Though unrelated to the reasons for the surgery, a side benefit was that afterwards, I rarely get as sick as I used to from normal colds and influenza. I’ve been far healthier. I hope the same is true for you.

    All the frustrations and pain you are having with your recovery are normal, and you are doing a fantastic job caring for yourself. Keep going, you’ll be on the other side of this eventually, and know that you have the prayers and good thoughts of all those who follow you and your Dad.

  44. Sorry to hear that the recovery has been so painful.

    Continue to pamper yourself with rest and lots of ice cream.

    I know something of what you’re experiencing, having gone under the big white lights multiple times.

    All I can tell you is take the pain meds when you need them and don’t try to tough it out.



  45. Sorry to hear about your Adventures in Surgery and also sorry that you are continuing to feel miserable in recovery. Hope things are better soon.

  46. I shouldn’t give-up on opiates completely. Vicodin and Percoset, I’ve found post-operatively, affect me badly, but a little codeine (which is weaker in commonly-used dosages) does me enormous good with that sort of pain.

    Opiates are terrible masters but can be great servants; it is my hope that neither the law nor addiction nor an exaggerated fear of addiction nor side-effects stand in the way of anyone who can net-benefit from this technology.

  47. This may be more your dad’s style than yours, but they say that swearing can help with pain.

    I haven’t had my tonsils out but have heard it’s miserable for adults. Luckily the last time I had strep (mid 2020 – I’m not sure how I got it with masking and all and it was the first time in at least a decade) the antibiotics kicked in within 12 hours. That shit hurt if not as badly as yours. Plus there was the “it’s not typical but what if it’s the plague?” thing, which only went away when the meds kicked in. Ahh, bacteria, you little assholes.

    I hope you heal fast!

  48. Feel better Athena! I had my tonsils out at…about age 5. All I really remember is the nurse gave me orange sherbert ice cream after I woke up…and I’ve hated it ever since!! Glad you’re feeling well enough to write and share. Best wishes!!

  49. Yowch, my sympathies. I haven’t had bad reactions exactly to narcotics, but after having three wisdom teeth pulled, I found out the hard way that I’m a non-responder to codeine. Just doesn’t work — it’s a genetic thing. Not a fun night….

    Currently I’m dealing with a new and rapidly-worsening ankle pain, and wondering if this is the dreaded “tendon rupture, can strike up to months after treatment” threatened as a possible side-effect from the antibiotics I was recently on. I already have a message in to the doctor, we’ll see how that develops.

  50. Glad to hear you’re home and recovering.
    I’ve had so many surgeries and have to agree with SM @ 4:05 – “…take the pain meds when you need them…”

    I don’t like the narcotics either but would sometimes take 1/2 pill to sleep without pain.

    You’re through the worst of it; every day will be a little better. And maybe you will never again have a sore throat.

    Be well.

  51. Athena, you should be past the worst of it. It sounds like the tissue on the surgical site already sloughed off, leaving nerve endings exposed. Things should improve a little faster now. Do what you need for pain management. Remember, the Mythbusters proved swearing can help pain tolerance. It was a howl listening to the fake swearing!

    Eat whatever feels good. More recent studies have shown dairy doesn’t cause increased phlegm. It just seems that way because it’s thicker than most liquids. Alas, when I had my tonsils out at 26, they didn’t know that, so I had sorbet the first week. Pedialyte popsicles work nicely and have good flavors. Frozen fruit popsicles are better if you want more exotic flavors like mango, coconut, or a real lime flavor. Liquid Jell-O works as well – just make it according to the regular instructions and drink it down when cool enough to drink, but it isn’t chunky.

    My ENT back then sounded almost cheerful when he told me I’d be miserable for two weeks. This is the same doc who told me my tonsils were impressive. You don’t want to hear that about your tonsils! After that time, I was very quickly better.

    Hang in there. You will get through. Let me know if you need anything, including a sympathetic ear who remembers the tonsillectomy clearly (1990s).

  52. Hi Athena,
    So sorry everything went sideways for you, but as someone who has needed opiates several times for various reasons I have two suggestions:
    First, lots and lots and Lots of water! As if everything else isn’t bad enough, opiates constipate horrendously.
    Second: many people experience dizzyness and nausea with opiates; your medical professionals can prescribe an anti-nausea pill that helps with the dizzyness as well. Ask for it if you ever need opiates again! (Or now, if you feel poorly enough to try them once more)
    Here’s hoping for a complete recovery soon ~

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