Our 6 year old son got his tonsils removed and this was our experience.
Our Kid’s Tonsillectomy Experience
Our six year old son Luca got his tonsils out in November, two weeks before December. It definitely wasn’t the experience that I thought it would be, and like with everything in motherhood, every child has different experiences. From teething to switching schools, kids just adjust so differently. I was under the impression that our tonsillectomy recovery was going to be brutal. All of my friends warned me that it would be a rollercoaster where some days would be good and some would be terrible. For us, it really wasn’t that bad! So if you’re nervous about your child’s recovery and experience, just know that not all tonsillectomy recoveries need to be brutal.
But before I get into his recovery, let’s back up and talk about why he had a tonsillectomy.
Why Our ENT Recommended a Tonsillectomy
There are a couple of reasons why our doctor recommended a tonsillectomy. First off, in the late spring and early summer, Luca had a string of strep throat infections. They were back-to-back. In a handful of months, he had 4 infections. Our ENT said usually more than 5 in a year is grounds for a tonsillectomy, so we knew in the back of our minds that we might have to get a tonsillectomy based on that.
But then, in July, Luca had a peritonsillar abscess. By definition, a peritonsillar abscess is an area of pus-filled tissue at the back of the mouth, next to one of the tonsils. Basically, abscesses are very painful and it made it very hard for Luca to open his mouth and the pain near his tonsil was radiating into his ear. He woke up in the middle of the night complaining about ear pain and then when he woke up in the morning, he walked into my room clutching one side of his neck (near his ear) and when I took his hand off, it was so swollen and he could barely lift up his head. He also had a fever. I rushed him to urgent care, because I knew that something was terribly wrong and when he was able to open his mouth, they saw that his uvula (the little thing that hands at the back of our throats) was sticking to the side of his throat that was hurting. That apparently is the telltale sign. They told us to go to the emergency room.
Once we were in the emergency room, it all happened very quickly. Apparently with the abscess, it can swell so large, it cuts off airways and you can suffocate. They prepped him for general anesthesia for the surgery, because they had to drain the abscess by slicing it and for kids, that’s too dangerous to do awake. Ugh! He was totally fine afterwards, it was a quick recovery, about a week. At our follow up appointment, we were told that Luca would need a tonsillectomy, because the chances of the abscess coming back are now very high and more dangerous. So, we scheduled one!
Prepping Luca for His Tonsillectomy
Honestly, I definitely prepped Luca for this for weeks. I would talk about it in front of his teachers saying, “Remember Luca will be gone next week, he’s getting his tonsils out and he’ll be resting at home!” I think by talking about it with other adults makes it feel less scary, because other adults know to say things like, “Oh, enjoy the ice cream!” I definitely made it feel less scary by talking about it so casually.
I did tell him that it would probably hurt a little afterwards and he would feel a little nauseous for a few days, so I didn’t sugarcoat that part, but I definitely highlighted the other great parts more (We’ll get to watch movies together! We can snuggle on the couch! You get to be with Mommy at home! You can eat as much ice cream as you want!” We also went to the store together so he could pick out his yogurt flavors and ice cream. Altogether, I think that helped.
The Tonsillectomy Procedure
The tonsillectomy procedure went well. It was scheduled for 10am. Basically, it’s a lot of waiting around until it’s your turn and then I had to wait for the hour it took to put him under, perform the surgery, and wake him up. Luca had a tough time with the general anesthesia this time (I’m imagining they had to give him more because of the severity of the procedure?) It took him hours to feel like himself, whereas after the peritonsillar abscess experience, he was fine after an hour. So, that was a bit unsettling. Basically, I held him in a chair and he slept on me for hours. When he tried to drink anything, he threw it up which was so painful for me to watch. We had to stay in the hospital until he could drink something and keep it down.
I think it was 8:30pm by the time we left the hospital. He ended up throwing up in the car, but I attributed that to just all of the jostling and car sickness and everything he had been through, so I used my mama gut instinct to not rush back to the hospital. He also felt immediately fine after throwing up. We got home and he seemed fine, just a little tired (despite sleeping all afternoon.) We took a nice bath and he drank some water and he went to bed.
Our Tonsillectomy Recovery Experience
In terms of recovery, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. To be honest, the hardest part was managing meals with 3 other kids and Luca. Since they have to be on a soft foods diet for TWO weeks, it was hard to come up with meals and manage that. That’s why I’m excited to write this post and give some ideas for those of you about to go through it with your kids! Luca was required to stay out of school for one week and wasn’t allowed to do any strenuous activity (like sports, playgrounds, outdoor play) for two full weeks – that was hard too, especially because my kids are an active bunch!
I’m going to refer to the next day after the procedure as. Day 1. Days 1 and 2, Luca could only really manage to eat the really soft foods like yogurt, pudding, ice pops, ice cream, and apple juice. It seemed like he was almost afraid to swallow. He never complained about pain or any sore throat. I was very diligent about the medication (you’re supposed to give OTC pain medication every 4 hours even if they don’t complain about pain, you don’t want to miss a dose and then they have to suffer.) And yes, that means waking up in the middle of the night to give medication. Luca would take it and go right back to sleep, so it wasn’t a terrible sleep disruption. I kept the medicine on my nightsand so I could just wake up with my alarm, give it to him, and go right back to sleep.
We did this honestly for almost the first full week, just to be safe. And Luca never complained about throat pain, not a single day. On Day 10, he complained about some ear pain (which is just the pain from the tonsil area radiating into the ear) and we gave him some Motrin and he never brought it up again.
Days 1, 2, 3, and some of 4, he was pretty tired. He wasn’t his boisterous self and you could tell the toll the procedure took on his little body. Day 1 and 2 we laid around and watched YouTube and movies. But Day 3, he was antsy with the yogurt and the stagnation, so we ended up starting with soft solid foods like scrambled eggs and Pastina (little tiny star shaped pasta) and we went on a little road trip to our new house, where he walked around a bit. Nothing crazy, no running around, but he did climb up on our playset and go on the swing.
Day 3 to 5, he was starting to play with his siblings more and do more active play. I was always telling him to rest, but he sort of seemed like his normal self, just a little more weak – and his voice was still muffled. He didn’t talk fully well until about day 8 (when he went back to school.)
Day 8, he went back to school, but wasn’t’ able to do his after school sports. But he was fully back to his normal self energy wise, so it was hard to hold him back. We went to some playgrounds with him, but just discouraged him from running a lot. He got a little fatigued Days 10-14, but that’s probably his body reacclimating to being active again. By day 14, he was certainly totally healed, and we celebrated Thanksgiving. I’d say he didn’t eat crunchy sharp foods like chips until maybe day 16/17, because we were nervous.
Honestly, one of the toughest and most unexpected parts of his recovery was…. bad breath! I mean, the breath is horrible. We brushed his teeth twice a day and that didn’t help at all. It honestly smells like dead flesh, it’s from the scabbing of the back of his throat. It was pretty terrible, no sugar coating it!
Tonsillectomy Recovery Tips
Here are my quick tips for your kiddos recovering from a tonsillectomy:
- Just remember that all kids recover differently – if you have a friend whose child had an awful recovery, don’t automatically expect that for your child. Our recovery experience was very easy, but that’s not to say that if we have to get Roma, Rio or Sol’s tonsils out, it’ll be the same. Just know that kids are resilient and just be there for them!
- Buy some arts & crafts, Lego kits, and other lo-fi activities to do at home. Break out the card games and board games!
- Bring disposable vomit bags with you for the car ride home, just in case. I was so glad I had mine.
- Bring your kids a comfortable pair of gripper socks for the hospital.
- Keep on top of the pain medication, even if the child isn’t complaining yet of discomfort. Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure.
- Stock your fridge with your kids’ favorite juices, fruit ice pops, ice cream flavors (dairy-free, if possible) and puddings/yogurts (dairy-free, also) for those first couple of days, because they will fly through them!
- Even if your kid says they feel better, try to really encourage them to rest. Luca wanted to push himself on the 3rd day, and I’m glad I kept him on the couch – I think it helped in his overall recovery.
- If your kid chews gum, try bubblegum! Apparently it helps with the scabs, because they don’t form as tough.
- Try to go dairy-free with as much as you can – dairy causes phlegm build up and general inflammation.
- Know your child will talk differently (muffled) for about a week or more – but it goes away!
Tonsillectomy Recovery Food Ideas
Here are the foods ideas for once you make it through the ice cream and yogurt stage of recovery (after day 2 or 3):
- Scrambled eggs
- Mac and cheese
- Noodles of any sort cooked until soft (not al dente)
- Pearl couscous in a broth
- Soup with tiny chopped meat and vegetables (a minestrone or chicken noodle soup)
- Mashed potatoes
- Pancakes doused in maple syrup or butter
- Cereal that’s been softened in milk for 5-10 minutes
- Applesauce, raspberries, bananas sliced into thin sticks or rounds, canned peaches
- Smoothies (with almond butter for extra protein!)
- Roasted peeled sweet potatoes
- Cooked salmon
- Any flaky fishes (ie cod or halibut)
- Rotisserie chicken cut into small pieces and in broth for extra softness
- Chicken nuggets with the breading mostly peeled off (leave a couple crumbles for flavor if wanted)
- Meatballs cut into pieces
- Ground beef with mashed potatoes
- Blender muffins, warmed!
I hope you find this post helpful – and goodluck to all of your kids in their tonsillectomy journeys!