Getting my tonsils out as an adult was worse than childbirth

"My uvula – a tiny organ I’d barely ever noticed – had swollen to the size of a small rockmelon. It was horrifying."
"My uvula – a tiny organ I’d barely ever noticed – had swollen to the size of a small rockmelon. It was horrifying." Photo: Shutterstock

"It's going to be really bad," said Tom, my ear, nose and throat surgeon. "You're going to hate me."

He'd just booked me in for a tonsillectomy, which is no big deal when you're a kid. But I am 50, not five, and apparently at my age it's a lot more complicated than a sore throat and bowl of ice cream. 

"I'll be fine," I said confidently. "I've got a high pain threshold."

Tom smiled at me sadly, like we smile at Married at First Sight brides who are convinced they're about to find love, and ushered me to the door.

A few weeks later, I was gowned up and ready for surgery. The anaesthetist introduced herself and gave me a look of rather alarming sympathy.

"It's going to be really bad," she told me firmly. "But I'll give you lots and lots of drugs."

"I'll be fine," I said breezily. "It can't be as bad as giving birth!"

She smiled at me sadly, like we smile at pregnant women who think a new baby won't change their lives, and slipped the pre-med into my arm.

Next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery ward. I choked a little as I came to, noting the tube in my arm and the rather handsome male patient in the bed opposite. I waved to him merrily in my drug-fuelled haze before realising my left boob was poking out of my gown. He didn't seem fazed. It's possible he was unconscious.

Advertisement

"What's your pain level out of 10?" a nurse asked kindly. I tried to think, but it was challenging, as my blood was approximately 75 per cent opiates.

I decided my throat was uncomfortable, for sure, but not agonisingly sore. Those doctors were such alarmists. I was going to be fine.

The next morning, Tom the surgeon appeared in my doorway, next to the sanguine giraffe that was almost certainly a hallucination.

"How are you feeling?" he asked. The giraffe stayed silent. "I'm fine!" I said proudly.

"It's not nearly as bad as you said it would be!"

He smiled at me sadly, like we smile at utter fools who think an adult tonsillectomy is no big deal.

"It'll get worse," he pronounced.

For the next few days, I had a raging sore throat, but really, it wasn't too bad. I could still nap, eat ice blocks, and sprawl in bed watching Netflix as my blessed mother tended to my kids.

But suddenly, on Day Four, I was in horrible pain. Peering into a mirror, I saw thick white scabs where my tonsils used to be. Even more alarmingly, my uvula – a tiny organ I'd barely ever noticed – had swollen to the size of a small rockmelon. It was horrifying.

I fell back on the bed, counting the minutes until medication time. Even sipping water was agony. My neck felt engulfed by a ring of fire. A sour taste raged in the back of my throat. I spat into a tissue to avoid the fiery hell of swallowing, and wiped tears from my eyes with the same tissue.

Day Six was pure torture. I burst into tears over a cup of soup. Day Seven was worse; I gave up eating entirely. I grew hot with rage as Tom's cheerful face danced in my mind. Why didn't he warn me about this hellish nightmare?

On Day Eight, I managed a little warm porridge. On Day Nine, I rallied, and went for a walk around the block. On Day 10, I started to improve, and actually ate a piece of toast, albeit dipped in tea and fairly soggy.

By Day 11, I was finally on the mend. My throat was still horrendously sore, but in the context of the previous week's apocalyptic horror, it felt joyously mild. I was almost elated with relief.

Two weeks later, I was back in Tom's office, perched on a stool as he gazed into the scene of the crime.

"It's healing well," he said, pleased. "So, how did you go?"

"It was shocking!" I glared at him.

"It was way worse than I expected!"

Tom smiled at me sadly. "I did warn you it would be bad."

I don't remember hearing that at all.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale April 14.