About a month ago, I shared that my 2.5 year old had his tonsils and adenoids removed. Long story short, they were so big that we thought they might be contributing to his swallowing problem. (Read more about his background and swallow issues here.)
One of the reasons I wanted to share our toddler tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy recovery experience was that when I went looking to find other stories from the toddler’s perspective there wasn’t much out there. Which isn’t surprising, because toddlers can’t write or blog, but I can so I thought I’d share our experience so maybe it could help others.
My first post was the day of his surgery. I was so surprised with how well it went, and was very hopeful we’d have an easy recovery. Leading up to the surgery when I shared what we were doing I got one of two reactions:
- Oh don’t be so worried. It’s such an easy recovery for them when they are that little. It barely made a dent in our daily routine.
- Recovery was HARD. My child was miserable for weeks.
Luckily both scenarios had one sentence in common. “I’m so glad we finally did it – the change has been great!”
One thing I knew would be different for us, was that my son can’t eat most foods due to his oral aversions and certainly couldn’t have ice cream due to a diary allergy. So food in general will be missing from our recovery process. For that I can only give my adult point of view (I had mine removed 7 years ago). I lived off of applesauce, pudding (I preferred it to ice cream), and jello. At week two I could do softer foods like soups and pasta. Nothing with a high acid content because it stings a lot!
Well, turns out we had a bit of both. On day 1 I wrote my blog post while he was finally napping after surgery. He woke up from that nap in major pain. He was sweating profusely and miserable. We probably should have asked for some Tylenol before he fell asleep, because the only thing that keep this whole ordeal from being just awful was round the clock medication.
We spent the night at the hospital and no one really slept. I counted hours until D could have his medicine again. I was slightly upset that they were only giving him Tylenol too. I mean, we were at the hospital if there was ever a time to give him the good medicine – that would have been it. Even the nurses were surprised that was all he was prescribed.
Day 2 we went home. He was thrilled to be out of the hospital, and insisted on walking through the halls. He wasn’t really smiling or talking much, but he was happier then when he was stuck in bed or on my lap due to his IV.
I set my phone to every 4 hours to give D his medicine around the clock. I timed his naps and bedtime by making sure I could give him meds before he fell asleep. However, by hour 3 you could tell he was just in so much pain. He’d resort to screaming fits until it was time for his medicine again and was miserable until it kicked in again.
He wasn’t drinking anything at this point either. I was giving him 1-2 syringes full of Nuun water with his medicine to make sure he was staying slightly hydrated. (Gatorade is too sweet for him, and he was refusing water. Nuun tablets dissolve in water and have electrolytes in them making them a great option for us.) We had lots and lots of cuddle time over day 2 and 3. By the end of day 3 I was tired of seeing him in so much pain and called the doctor’s office to see if there was anything else we could do. Since it was past the 48 hour mark and the risk of bleeding had gone down, they allowed us to start adding in Motrin(*) to our pain prevention.
(*) Standard blogger disclosure:I am not a doctor, nor am I suggesting this will work for your child. DO not give your child this after surgery unless your personal doctor has cleared it. Each child and surgery is different. I am simply sharing what we did.
The combination of Motrin and Tylenol made a big difference. D was now starting to play more, and be a bit more active. Nights were still hard. I experimented with letting him sleep without waking for medication – this did not go well. So I continued setting my phone to wake up and give him his medicine. These days were relatively uneventful. He had good moments and not so good moments. He was finally to drink some his formula again (He’s on elacare for FPIES and oral aversions) and also watered-down apple juice or Nuun as well.
Something that wasn’t previously mentioned to me before the surgery and that we struggle with was that he wouldn’t be able to use his Nalgene sippy cup due to the stopper that prevented it from spilling or any sippy cup with a stopper or straw. I knew about the no straws rule, but the sippy cup was something that didn’t occur to me to think about. We tried removing the stopper, but it was a giant mess and the flow was too fast for him. So we went back to Pura Kiki with a silicone sippy which we only stopped using once he started to chew the silicone and we also used the tilty cup for juice/nuun water.
One word… AWFUL. He was just miserable, and upset for pretty much all three days. He was having a hard time sleeping, he virtually stopped talking and held his mouth closed all the time unless he was crying. All he would say to me was “Mommy ouchy” or “Mommy, hurt, medicine”. He was clingy, and didn’t want to see anyone but me. I wish the doctor would have broken down the timeline of healing a bit. I realize every child will be different, but I did put a call into the office and the nurse informed me that this was extremely typical of where he was in the recovery process. He said that once his scabs fell off around day 10 he would get better. I know one of his scabs had already fallen off on day 8, because he pretty much choked on it during a crying fit and spit it out. (GROSS!) I just held him a lot, and made sure to just keep him as comfortable as I could. It hurt to see him so miserable. He took naps next to me in my bed while I would work because he didn’t want to be alone. Being consistent with fluids and medicine was the only thing that I could do.
On day 10, he woke up and he was SO MUCH BETTER. He was smiling, and making jokes. He played more, and started to talk again. He didn’t even ask for medicine until 4 hours after he woke up in the morning. From that point on, since he could ask me for it, I only gave it to him at night right before bed and when he asked which was maybe 1-2 times a day if that. When I looked in his throat I could see that the other scab was gone too. Each day only got better and better from day 10. He was still pretty cautious with food and drink, but he was finally asking for it instead of me just offering it to him.
The major changes for us have been:
- A clearer voice: (Sort of…) He has started to bundle his words up a bit, but I’m confident that speech therapy will help that. However, the actual tone of his voice is so much different and less stuck in the back of his throat. I still catch myself thinking how cute his little voice is.
- Swallowing: The verdict is still out on this one. He doesn’t willingly swallow a lot of his food still, but he has swallowed a few things and there has been no gagging as a result. Again, speech/food therapy will be needed here.
- Sleeping: I haven’t noticed much of a change here yet, but to be honest unless I turn up his monitor I often miss his night wakings. Usually, I’d wake up to him crying, but he’d put himself back down easily.
I’m happy with the results of our surgery. I don’t think his recovery was abnormal in any way, I just wish someone had shared a pain/recovery timeline so I knew more of what to expect. Hopefully if you are reading this, my timeline will be helpful to you.
Things I wish I’d Known Before:
- The pain timeline. Again, every child is different, but a heads up about days 7-10 being the worst would have been nice.
- The sippy cup valve. I think if I had known that we could have switched back prior to his surgery and maybe he would have taken his formula a little bit sooner instead of being frustrated at the flow.
- Buy a lot of medicine. Buy multiple bottles of children’s Tylenol and Motrin (if you doctor allows this later on after the risk of bleeding has passed). When you are giving your child Tylenol every 3.5-4 hours you will go through it quickly.
- Returning to daycare/activities. If your child is in daycare, they will not likely be able to go back to daycare at the week mark. Someone in the doctors office mentioned they could return after 7 days. But given that 7-10 days is often the worst time – it’s unlikely. Unless you get really lucky and have one of the super easy recovery times. This is the same for any extra curricular activities. Skip them for 2 weeks.
- Syringes. Ask your pharmacist for extras. You can use them to help keep your child hydrated when they are refusing liquids.
- Have a conversation with older children. I told my 6 yo what was happening, but I wish I would have gotten a book from the library or had a longer conversation. It was really hard for him to remember that he had to be hands off brother, and that brother still loved him even if he didn’t want to play or even have K touch him.
Things That Helped:
- Lots of movies and iPad time. Usually I limit screen time, but while he was recovering I just let him have what kept him still and comfortable.
- Stock up on library books. When screen time was done or not appealing we spent lots of hours reading books. I got lots of ones about puppies since those are his favorite animal.
- Meal Planning. My husband was deployed during this process, so having everything I’d need food wise for me and my older son was very helpful. I also bought some easy dinner stuff since I knew between work and long days with D cooking was the last thing I wanted.
- My toddler lillebaby Carry On. When we did have to go out, the last thing my son wanted to do was walk by himself, or ride in the cart. I just put him on and let him get in extra snuggles. The toddler carrier makes all of his 33lbs feel pretty weightless.
Okay, so I know that was super long. If you have any questions or tips you think I missed – leave me a comment below. If you think someone would benefit from reading this, feel free to pin it or click that tweet box below to share! I really just hope that our toddler Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy recovery timeline and tips will be helpful to someone else down the road!
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