Pete Lee

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Back from the abyss. Mostly

Ah yes, it's been a crazy two weeks. Allow me to recap:

On June 9th, I went in for surgery to ditch the tonsils, remove a lower set of adenoids and reshape some structures in my throat. All in the name of a better nights worth of sleep.

Arriving at 6:30 AM at Providence Hospital in Portland, I was amazed at the speed and efficiency of how everything operated. I probably waited no more than 30 minutes without something happening.

The whole thing was an agglutination of first experiences. I've watched people get IVs for years, but this is the first time I've gotten one. It was also the first time I've ever been put under general anesthesia. My misgivings and weeks of general anxiety of being put under were, obviously, rather unfounded. I asked the anesthesiologist a few questions to ease my mind about the experience and, good doctor that he was, received excellent responses. In sum, one of my greatest fears was "coding" (cardiac arrest) under general. Dr. Brown didn't lie: in the last 2000 generals he's done, two patients have died. But, he pointed out that, despite the fact that I had been an avid smoker, I was still very low risk: generally healthy, of average weight, and younger. The two patients that died--well, he noted that their tickets were due for being punched anyways because they were in very poor health.

After six years as a volunteer EMT, this was the beginning to my first real patient experience. Sure, I've been to doctors plenty, but I've never experienced what it was like to be the supine member of the show. The world is a very different place when you're lying down in a hospital bed.

Just prior to the surgery, I remember seeing a mask over my mouth, breathing deeply three times, then waking up. As advertised earlier by the nurse, it really was just like waking up from a short, deep nap. The remaining seven hours were spent in recovery. The morphine was great, but the transition to the Roxicet (basically, a mixture of Tylenol and Oxycodone) was not so pleasant. Toward the end, the nurses were leery of feeding me too many drugs, perhaps because of the nausea factor on the ride home.

Otherwise, I have to say that nurses really are visions of loveliness. The ones I had at Providence were very compassionate, which was especially appreciated while I was coughing up blood and mucus and could barely move. Not one of my finer moments, that was for damn sure.

I have to give a lot of credit to my friend Samantha, who drove me home and spent the first few evenings post-surgery with me, and my roommate Rich, who regularly checked in with me during the next few days. Most of the experience was quite hazy: I felt very sedated. My memory was more or less non-existent, and I spent days watching TV for hours on end. Thank god for cable, that's for damn sure--I was watching it constantly, in and out of sleep, in between doses of pain medication. Sleeping sitting up the first few days was also not a fun aspect of recovery, and the TV was handy to have there.

The remaining days, my friends were nice enough to drive me around and help me with a few minor things here and there. Courtesy of good genes and an excellent surgeon (Dr. Michael Flaming), I healed up quite quickly. I stopped taking the prescription pain medication a couple of days ago; most patients would be taking it for another week.

In the event that you, too, end up needing a tonsillectomy, here are some things that you should consider:

* Friends or family to help take care of you. You can walk around and stuff, but accomplishing things like buying medications or driving around are simply impossible heavily medicated. Also, it gets very lonely to be stuck at home with your throat hurting, and I looked forward to having people visit.

* Ice. In many forms, ice was my friend. The ice packs I wore helped take the edge off the pain, especially after waking up. Also, after what must be an eight year hiatus, I rediscovered a love of the Slurpee. Even on high doses of Roxicet, my throat still hurt, but the Slurpee was very pleasant. Ironically enough, ice cream did NOT feel good. Not sure why. As an aside, I'd note that while the Ensure was not my favorite thing to drink, it wasn't unpleasant and probably helped speed healing with decent nutrition.

* Good pain management. The nurses at Providence were nice enough to clearly explain how best to manage pain with ice and medication. This is important, as being in excessive amounts of pain delays the healing process, in addition to just being plain unpleasant.

Anyways, I'm still a bit tired overall and my throat hurts, but am healing quickly. I already feel like I sleep much better: even after staying up late (with no urgent need to get up at any particular time), I'm waking up rested after about seven hours of sleep. That's in comparison to previously sleeping for 9 hours, and waking up groggy. I'll take it.


  • Man, I feel you. Getting your tonsils removed is less minor surgery than I thought. The abyss is right. I got mine removed last month and after spending 10 days semi-hallucinating from codeine that also made me have vivid nightmares from which I would awaken all sweaty and in pain, I got a gigantic infection that demanded more antibiotics than I was already taking...Thank god for cable, chicken broth, and my mom, who thinks that I will never be too old to go home when I'm sick.

    By Blogger rumpshaker, at Saturday, June 25, 2005 1:17:00 PM  

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