My 3 and 1/2 year old son had to undergo a tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy and have tubes put in both ears. I did a lot of research online that I found very comforting, frightening and helpful. I decided to document what happened to use to help others who will have to deal with this with their kids. I’m using a simple diary format because I am writing it as I go through each step.
This was our journey.
First Dr. Appointment
We were sent to a specialist, an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to review my son’s ASTRONOMICALLY HUGE tonsils. I mean, these suckers are B-I-G. The doctor had my son go through a hearing test and to my surprise, he has a 20 decibel hearing loss in both ears. What? Yep, it’s like he has cotton balls in his ears.
Now, I feel like a schmuck.
All those times my son has said, “what?” and I ignored him, or worse — said, “you heard me.” Well, he really didn’t hear me. I though he was just goofing around and not paying attention.
The rest of the appointment only took a few minutes before the doctor said he’d recommend taking them out. Tonsils AND adenoids. And, by the way, we should put tubes in both ears. We went home to process the information, and spend hours on Google to finally make the decision to go forward with the surgery.
Between First Appointment and Pre-Op Appointment
Ordered the book Good-bye Tonsils and began reading it to our son in preparation for the surgery. This book was key to preparing my son (and us) for the surgery. It takes you through each step of the way.
This is when I get nervous and wonder if we’ve made the right decision. All I can think of is that my son is going to have surgery. What if something goes wrong? Did we NEED to do this? I remember the ’70s when everyone had it done. But did they need it? Does he need it?
Then I remember how big his tonsils really are. Oh, and the part about the hearing loss. And, that he doesn’t always sleep very well. These things can get better with the surgery. And, it’s better to have it done as a kid. They heal faster.
Then, I think about the recovery. I read tons online about how hard it is to recover. How badly his throat will hurt. He might throw up. He won’t be able to eat solid food. I picture his frail little body all puny, and hurting. How can I make this better? And, he hasn’t even had the surgery yet. This is what I think of every day.
I start to prepare a list of questions … one of the big ones is: How far can we go with him at the hospital? I’d accompany him into the surgery room if I were allowed. As I come up with questions, I write them down.
This is the appointment that makes this real. We are proceeding with surgery on my baby. He’ll undergo anesthesia, and have sharp instruments put in his tiny mouth and head in order to remove his tonsils and adenoids and also to put in tubes in both ears.
We were met by a clinician who went over the entire procedure. Everything from what time to get there, to how long we could stay and what to expect afterward. He gave us all the paperwork with all the information we’d need to prepare for a long weekend of doing nothing except making our son comfortable, making sure he drinks a lot of fluids and takes his pain medication.
I brought my list of questions and all were answered:
- Can we be with him until he goes into surgery? Yes
- Can he bring a stuffed animal or blanket? Yes
- How long does it take? 30 minutes
- Will he get an IV? Yes
This appointment made me feel better. I’m not certain why … might just be that now I know what to expect. The doctor told me he’s done thousands of these surgeries before. “Thousands,” I repeat in my head. I can’t think of much that I’ve done a thousand times. This makes me feel better. He knows what he’s doing. He has a pleasant, reassuring nod as he’s telling me it will be OK.
Tomorrow we will have a nice, big dinner, then no food after midnight. No breakfast Friday morning. Nothing to drink either. This will be fun. My son likes routine. He likes getting something to drink first thing in the morning. Then, have his breakfast. We have to be at the surgery center at 6:00 a.m. so I’m hoping this will help — figuring he’ll be so tired that he won’t miss not eating.
Eve of Surgery
Now I’m wondering what his voice will sound like. I’ve been reading, and people have been telling me their stories, how their kid’s voice sounds very different. We were told this in the pre-op appointment too. I love my buddy bear’s little child voice. I love hearing him talk. It’s the cutest sound in the world. What will he sound like after the surgery? I worry about this.
We read “Good-bye Tonsils” one last time and get a cake like they did in the book. My son really loved this part and I think it helped us all prepare for tomorrow.
We had to arrive at the surgery center by 6:00 a.m. for a 7:30 a.m. surgery slot. My son was ready.
After paperwork and the routine stuff for a doctor or hospital visit, they brought us back where we met the anesthesiologist. He reviewed how the medicine would work and what to expect. Before my son was given that, they gave him some medicine that made him very dopey. It was like he was drunk — couldn’t sit up, wobbly, slurring words, laughing. This meant he was ready to go to the operating room and get the anesthesia, IV and have the surgery.
Time to say good bye. We gave him kisses, but by this point he was out of it and didn’t really know what was going on.
My husband and I waited in the waiting room. Thirty-five minutes later the Dr. said the surgery went well and that we’d be able to go see our son in about 15 minutes.
We were brought into the “recovery room” to meet my son as he woke up .
This next part I have thought long and hard about whether or not to include. I decided to include it because I realize that I wish I had known more of what to expect. That I could have been better prepared emotionally. If you don’t want the details, just skip to Post-Op (Day One.)
They call this the “delirium stage,” and frankly, I wasn’t prepared. His face was swollen, his eyelids were red and puffy and he couldn’t open them. This scared him and made him cry and lurch around frantically. He kept trying to yank the IV from his arm. “This stage lasts 30 minutes to 1 hour,” the nurse explained to us.
I just ran my fingers through his hair, told him I loved him, that I was here, Daddy was here. We love him. He’s doing such a good job. We’re here, honey. It’s OK, sweetie. Mommy and Daddy are right here. We’re in the recovery room and it’s alright. You’ll start to feel better soon. I know you can’t see very good right now, but I know you can hear me and we’re right here. Mommy and Daddy are here.
We just kept talking to him. The nurse said it helps. Then, she said she could give him a tiny dose of morphine (I think that’s what it was, honestly it was hard to remember everything as my heart was breaking) if we thought he needed it. I just gave her what I call my mom look, nodding without moving my head, and she gave him the medicine. Then my husband picked him up and held him. He fell asleep for 30 minutes. When he woke up, he was fine. Tired, but fine. He was alert (groggy, but he knew what was going on now) and wanted to lie down.
They gave him a Popsicle which he ate, and then we were able to take him home.
Just before we were leaving, the nurse asked me if we’d talked to him about the surgery. I said, “Oh yeah — we even read a book about it.” She said she could tell. Some parents tell the kids nothing and I guess it’s hell in the recovery room (even worse than what we experienced, which I can’t imagine). I’m so glad we did prepare him for it by explaining it from beginning to end. I believe kids need to know what’s going on. Every time we’ve been in a situation that could be frightening or new, I tell him what to expect and it helps him relate and not be afraid. It also builds trust for situations like today where I *need* him to believe me. I know that he believes me when I was telling him I was there in the recover room with him. He knew I would help him.
Post Op (Day One)
We arrived home within two hours of the surgery. Once home, he slept on the sofa. We woke him for his first dose of medicine and to get something to drink. We also offered him a Popsicle, all of which he complied. He only sipped drinks for the next few hours, and didn’t really want much in the way of food, but we kept offering it every couple hours.
We also noted when he went to the bathroom. Drinking fluids and urinating are key to know he’s not dehydrated. And, fluids are key to recovery.
He slept on and off while watching TV all day long.
4:00 p.m. He was asking for dinner so I gave him some baby food (baby mac and cheese) since I didn’t know what he could handle. Mac and cheese is one of his favorites so I figured he’d try it. He took three bites and said he was done. That was fine by me.
7:00 p.m. He was hungry again so we gave him small amounts applesauce, cottage cheese and ice cream. He ate all three and asked for more of each. It turned out to be a good dinner.
8:00 p.m. Another dose of medicine to keep on the four-hour schedule to stay on ahead of the pain and off to bed. We’ll be waking him at midnight and 4:00 for more medicine.
The hardest part about surgery day is the first hour after surgery. The good news is that it’s over quickly. It’s just gut-wrenching to see your child in any amount of discomfort — physical or emotional. This is the part of the day where you may cry. I would recommend not doing this alone. Make sure your spouse or a friend is with you. You’ll need the emotional support of each other so that you both can be 100 percent present for your child.
I was unsure how today would go, but it’s been great. We dispensed medicine every 4-5 hours, even through last night. I convinced him to take two large squirts of the medicine instead of several small ones. We let him sip juice in between each sip of medicine.
Overall, he was pretty normal today, even wanting to jump around. We did a lot of indoor activities like watching TV and a movie. He didn’t eat a lot, but did manage to get some food in him — cottage cheese is a big hit as is apple sauce. And, of course, ice cream and Popsicles are popular.
Last night and tonight we told him what to expect the next day: That his throat is still going to hurt and that he is going to have to take medicine. This helps him know what is coming. I feel like since we told him this last night he didn’t wake up surprised this morning when his throat still hurt.
His voice is definitely different, although this was the last of what I should have been worrying about the other day. It is like a tiny child’s voice. Very sweet and innocent.
Tomorrow is the last of the days when they say it could be worse instead of better. We’ll see what it brings.
We controlled the pain with medicine and he did fine all day. He was still very tired, but was acting normal.
He’s says that his throat hurts still a bit.
Doing well. Back to school. He came home today saying that he sounds like a girl. This concerns me. He says that no one told him that, but I doubt he’d come up with it on his own. Saddens me, but each day his voice gets a tiny bit back to normal.
We are still having him eat only soft foods, but I think his appetite is getting back to normal. Although, he has lost a lot of weight. It is just now that he seems to want to eat more.
Things are back to normal at our house. You’d never know that two weeks ago I was in agony watching my baby boy go through surgery and see him in pain. We had a follow-up appointment and his hearing is normal, which is worth the trying time we endured.
- Tell your child what is going to happen. Talk about it. Prepare him/her by explaining in detail what you all are going to do.
- Read books about getting your tonsils out. We loved “Good-Bye Tonsils.”
- Plan to do nothing for 3-4 days, just staying at home. After a few days you can go out and about as long as there isn’t any physical activity.
- Plan for your child to be out of school for a full week. Since we did the surgery on a Friday, I thought he would be going back to school by Wednesday, but he was still really tired and his throat hurt too much to return to school that quickly.
- Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids, even if it’s only a few sips at a time.
- Make sure your child takes the pain medication as prescribed. We gave it through the night for several days, but could have not done that after the first or second night.