Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Big Yank: Lessons from a Tonsillectomy

As far back as I can remember, I've had some kind of throat problem. When I was a not-so-little-kid I'd catch bronchitis every year smack in the middle of hoop season. I remember one case that brought with it some bronchial spasms that pretty much prevented me from breathing and caused me to miss three days of basketball practice. Whether or not you're trying to cover 94 feet in less than 4 seconds, you kinda need to breathe in order to be alive. Thankfully for me, I didn't stop living. And I didn't miss any games either. Just practice. That time.

More recently, I've been the beneficiary of what appeared to be a chronic case of tonsillitis. Two or three times a year, I'd get some sort of sinus congestion that would drip into my throat thereby irritating my least favorite body part. Once it was irritated, my throat would stay sore for...a while. Back in August, I was diagnosed with inflamed tonsils. The day after Halloween, they were still inflamed.

It's taken me several years, several sore throats/inflamed tonsils and several visits to several different ENTs (I've moved around a lil bit and I don't have a primary care physician) but earlier this fall, I finally heard the words I'd been waiting for: "So, do you wanna get your tonsils removed?"

By all accounts that I'm aware of, doctors do tonsillectomies on adults only as a last resort. It's supposed to be painful and it allegedly takes a long time to heal. Some urban legends even say it's risky. I cared about none of those things when I heard those eight beautiful words. My tonsils, as far as I could tell, had reached the point of diminishing returns and were no longer of any positive use for me.

(Except for the part of the sore throat experience when my voice sounded raspier than Miles Davis. That part was pretty cool. For about a day and a half. Until all the coughing was a lil more important than all the cool.)

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, I went under the scalpel (or whatever tool they use to reach way into the nether regions of your mouth to yank out your tonsils) for a long overdue tonsillectomy. Since that day, I've learned a few things about what it takes to recover from The Big Yank.

1) You're gonna lose some weight. The doctors advise you to begin eating things like mashed potatoes as soon as it feels comfortable to chew and swallow. Which may take a week. Or more.

2) Drink lots of fluids...that are fortified with something. Bolthouse Farms smoothies, Sobe Lifewater, Propel and Gatorade kept me alive for the first couple of days.

3) You really don't wanna eat a lot of ice cream. Or maybe any. Your throat will be too sensitive to all that damn'd cold. For the first week at least.

4) Pudding is your friend. Somewhere in the middle of day 2, I discovered that pudding was the most soothing thing I could swallow. Applesauce seemed like a good idea, but really wasn't. Oatmeal, on the other hand, slid down nice and easily. It just wasn't as satisfying as pudding.

5) You're not gonna be able to use your tongue for a while. Stretching it just a little to scrape debris from your molars won't feel good.'re gonna need to devise some other way to

6) Shut up. Don't talk to anyone for a couple of days. (Except for your smokin' hot S.O. who has volunteered to take care of you.) It's just not worth the effort. If you've stocked up on pudding, smoothies, water and instant oatmeal, you don't really need visitors during the first day or two anyway.

7) Sleeping may be the hardest part. Getting there and staying there can be kinda unpleasant as you may simultaneously experience pain in your ears and in your throat. You can take a painkiller to aid this process. But if you're staying superhydrated, you'll invariably wake up to pee. Which will start the whole process over again. And will probably trigger the other unpleasant end of the sleeping process.

8) Waking up isn't fun either. For the first week, your throat will be hella dry, but it'll be extra hurt-y to try and swallow anything to relieve your dry mouthedness. Again, painkillers help. But they'll reduce the pain from double-you-over-spasms to take-the-Lord's-name-in-vane-exclamations. Until they kick in 15-20 minutes later and take you to that happy place where the soundtrack is provided by the Grateful Dead and Snoopy D-O-double-Gizzle.

9) Stretch. A lot. By day 3 or day 4, you're gonna start getting restless and maybe a little bed sore. Or couch sore. Unfurl that yoga mat and do a mini-routine. Your back and legs will thank you later.

10) Stay clean. Bathe and change clothes once a day. Brush your teeth and do a mouthwash treatment, too. Change your bedsheets every 4-5 days. Those will accumulate a lot of funk.

11) Read something breezy and captivating. I recommend this and this to get started.

12) Laughter is not the best medicine. Until day 3 or day 4, it's gonna hurt to laugh. Even as I discovered that, I inexplicably killed a lot of hours watching sitcoms. 30 Rock. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Better Off Ted. Parks and Recreation. On the plus side, I'm all caught up on each of those shows. Also, I've watched Michael Clayton 45 more times.

13) Work from home as long as possible. Email is your friend, too. (Although its not nearly as friendly as pudding.) You can be as verbose as you need to be using your fingers. The voice is gonna be weak for at least a week. Maybe two. Unless you host a talk show, your office can miss the sound of your voice.

Truth be told, the only thing you really truly need in order to recover from The Big Yank is time. As long as you don't do anything dumb--like eating homemade bread the day after the procedure--you'll probably be okay. The doctors are going to prep you pretty thoroughly. And it's simple enough to follow all their instructions for what to do, what not to eat, where you can expect to experience pain, etc.

As long as you do that, you should be cool. It's gonna suck for a while. But you'll eventually get past it.

With the help of lots and lots of pudding.