What to Expect After Your Kid’s Tonsillectomy

Luca’s tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy has come and gone and while I can say I never want to do that again, I can also say that I’m so happy we did it.

I received so many tips from other moms who went through this and while they were helpful and made a huge difference, it should be noted that nothing can fully prepare you for what to expect because every kid is different, every surgery is different, and every recovery is different. But based on my experience, this is what I can share.

It’s so worth it! Before I get into the trials and tribulations, I want to start on this positive note. I’m so happy we did this for him! Luca now sleeps without snoring and without sleep apnea (HUGE WIN!). He doesn’t choke on his food when he eats, and can breathe with his mouth closed for the first time since he was an infant. A few days after his surgery I couldn’t figure out why he looked so different and then I realized it was because his mouth was closed. He also can smell much better than before. I didn’t even realize that had been an issue but lately he keeps telling me that things smell good (like grass or food or even water, weird). This is likely because, according to his doctor, his adenoids were blocking 90% of his nasal airway.

The hope is also that this winter he is sick a lot less. I’m looking forward to that too!

Ok now onto the actual surgery and what worked for us:

The night before: He wasn’t allowed to eat after midnight the night before surgery and if you know our boy, you know he’s a big eater. So I had the (genius) idea to keep him up late with a movie and feed him basically an extra full meal including lots of peanut butter, cheese, and high-protein foods, so that he wouldn’t wake up starving. It worked! He didn’t even ask for food until after surgery which was a big win because most mornings he asks for eggs before I even get to his crib.

The morning of: We kept him as distracted as possible with toys and books in the morning, on the way to the hospital, and before he went in for surgery. While they were prepping him and us, we let him watch car videos on the iPad so that he would stay calm. Because he’s so young, he didn’t really know what was going on which worked in our favor. He wasn’t nervous because he couldn’t really understand what was about to happen.

Going under: The hospital allowed one parent in the room when he went under, and we agreed that it should be me because when Luca feels scared, he likes to have me near him. I was terrified of this part. Like shaking, couldn’t breathe terrified. BUT they had a wonderful Child Life Specialist who talked me through it and made me realize that it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. In the end we agreed that I would hold him to keep him feeling safe, but keep my eyes closed so I wouldn’t have the image of them putting him under in my head for eternity. Doing it that way was quick and painless for everyone. I didn’t even cry which was a small miracle, and Luca was out before he even knew what was happening.

Coming out of anesthesia: Watching Luca come out of anesthesia was easily one of the top 3 worst moments of my life. No one can fully prepare you for it but the noise he made was guttural, raw, awful, and I never want to hear it again. He had a hoarse throat from the breathing tube and was thrashing around and crying until eventually they gave him more pain killers because he couldn’t seem to calm down. Once he eventually calmed down after about 15 minutes, he slept on me and Anel on and off for 2 hours. During that time, his 02 levels kept dropping so we had to keep an oxygen mask on him which was challenging but we made it work.

This story isn’t to scare you though, it’s just to prepare you! Once he was out of that, it was fine. The second time he woke up, he wasn’t confused or crying and even asked for food and water. So the overall moral of the story is that it’s brutal but it’s quick and your kid won’t remember it in the long run (according to the doctors and nurses, anyway).

Stay on top of the pain meds. Every single person told me this and I, at a certain point, was like yeah yeah ok that’s not hard obviously I’m on it. But by day 5 when you’re getting up every 3 hours at night to give a kid medicine who doesn’t want it, you might think it’s ok to skip a dose or two. Trust me when I say… Do NOT skip a dose. We did it twice when he thought he would be ok without it and regretted it instantly. Losing sleep is far better than hearing your child cry out in pain “it hurts”. I promise.

Get used to lots of TV: I also heard from a ton of moms that we would be watching lots of movies and cuddling and making that sound like a cute thing. After a day of it, it was not cute. Luca got completely addicted to the screen and only wanted it but because he was in pain we gave in and let him watch it for multiple hours a day. It was worth it to have him calm because when he would cry, his throat hurt more. That said, weening him off of screens after he recovered was… special. We ended up having to go cold turkey for a full week just to get him re-regulated. It was kind of wild and now I fully understand screen addiction in kids.

The photo above was from approximately hour 75,000 of bus videos!

It might take longer than you think it will: Our doctor told us that it would take up to 14 days but I assumed that was just on the long side. I was wrong. It took a full 12 days for Luca to act like himself, eat like himself, and talk like himself again. Not all of those days were awful, but I wish I had known it would take that long so I could have planned a little better for it.

Expect ups and downs: On day two when we got home from the hospital (we had to spend the night because he is under 3 years old), he was happy and doing great! By day four, however, he started getting very cranky and angry and tired and wouldn’t eat or sleep and complained of pain. Then it went up and down like that until day 12. He also had lots of ups and downs each day. He might wake up totally fine and then in the afternoon be inconsolable. So my advice based on this is to not plan to do much during these days because you don’t know if your kid will be up for it or not.