“Arthi…. Arthi? You can open your eyes now ma. Its over.” The voice came from somewhere close yet sounded from way far out. I was sedated for an hour or more and the doctor was waking me after the procedure. Wow. It was finally over. I willed myself to respond to the command. My eyes refused to open. I perceived the cold metal table on which I lay, exposed under the green hospital tunic, the plastic sock like things that were drawn on my legs up to my knees, the blood pressure monitor on my arm, the eerie ambience of the operating room. However, my eyes continued to remain shut.
When we checked into the hospital at 7 that morning, my husband was taken aback. The doctor who I was consulting was one of the finest in his area of expertise, and Ramesh was baffled with the choice of hospital for the surgery. We have lived in the vicinity of the hospital for over five years now and we had not noticed the obscure, insignificant facility. Not until we were told that that is where I would be operated. Ramesh had voiced his doubts about the quality of patient care that the hospital offered but I was resolute on going ahead with the surgery irrespective of his doubts.
After all, it was the doctor that mattered. And I trusted him implicitly.
He had been advising surgical removal of my chronic tonsils for over 4 years now. The word ‘surgery’ gave me a creepy feeling and I stalled it as much as possible knowing that I could always fight another infection of my enlarged tonsil with another round of antibiotics. I would promise about getting back with a convenient date. “Keep track of your cycle. Let me know five days after your last period. We will start you on medications and then fix a day”. It didn’t happen till the recent past when I finally gathered the fortitude and determination to heed to his advice.
I knew that I was overdue for the surgery even when I met him for the very first time. I was overdue by 30 plus years. My tonsils are the only vivid memory I have of my growing years; that and the incessant Penicillin injections at the BHEL hospital. The nurse there at the injection room, reminded me of a rat – she had a shrewd face, and didn’t smile easily. But she recognized me even when I was all grown up. I remember that she once pinched my cheeks, years later, when she saw me at the hospital under different circumstances. In retrospect, my mom finally agrees that maybe we should have had them removed earlier. At BHEL they didn’t charge us for the surgery.
I felt myself being shifted to the gurney next to the operating table and wheeled out of the room and into the lift. My eyes still refused to open. It seemed so peaceful to keep them closed and let them control the situation. My tongue felt heavy and my throat was parched dry.
Ramesh was waiting in the room that was allotted to me for recovery. I felt the cold sheet under me when I was shifted into the bed. Then the doctor’s voice boomed at me. “Arthi? Open your eyes ma. Arthi? ” I knew it was impolite not to listen to him and tried my best to open my eyes to acknowledge that I had heard him and thank him for removing the tonsil. My mind still did not oblige. “Can you put your tongue out ma?”
I gathered my wits and forced my tongue to show between my teeth. That seemed to work. The doctor then left the room, happy with my progress, promising to return later in the afternoon.
The next half hour was when I resuscitated. I felt weird. My head felt heavy. I had this awful empty feeling in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink after 10 the previous night as per the doctor’s orders. Through a blur I saw Ramesh next to me, prodding me gently to wake up and eat something. I remember arbitrarily tossing and turning on the bed and Ramesh had a tough time keeping me from falling. I heard myself moaning, trying to find my voice.
That, incidentally, was my only worry. I had this unwarranted fear that with tonsillectomy, my voice would change or worse, will be completely lost.
What if the doctor cut my larynx instead of the tonsil down my pharynx? Both are cartilaginous structures. Only the positions differed. One was at the top of the trachea; and the other was on each side of the oral pharynx. Wouldn’t you think that there was scope for confusion?
When I finally managed to sit up on the bed reeling from the after effects of the anesthesia, Ramesh tried to feed me some strawberry ice-cream. The nurse had come in to check if I had had anything to eat yet and in her best nurse-like voice told me that if I hadn’t had 100ml ice-cream by the time she came by next, she would have to call the doctor about it.
That was easy. 100 ml of ice-cream; how difficult can that be? I probably would be done twice as much when she came by next.
When Ramesh brought the spoonful of ice-cream near my mouth, I could not open my mouth wide enough to accommodate the spoon. With another fresh spurt of effort when I did manage to pry it open, the ice-cream inside would not easily go down my throat. My first brush with reality. Swallowing the spoonful of ice-cream was so effort intensive and such a conscientious activity that I dreaded the next spoonful. As I swallowed, I smelt a strange mix of odours of burnt flesh, gauze, antiseptic, tincture along with the sweet smell of fleshy strawberry. I gently shoved the cup of ice-cream that Ramesh was holding under my nose. He must have held it without restraint because a moment later he was scooping the cup from the floor.
“How much ice-cream has she had?” The nurse came back to the room. Ramesh had just opened a second cup- thankfully vanilla this time- and the nurse incorrectly assumed that it was my second serving. Ramesh told her about our ‘accident’ upon which she threatened to send Ramesh away from the room to feed me the ice-cream herself, if I did not comply. What ever happened to good old nurse-ly compassion? Where art thou Florence?
I grabbed on to Ramesh’s tee shirt and kept him close to me. The nurse took the hint and quietly walked out promising to check on my progress soon. I managed to gulp a few spoonfuls of the vanilla. By now, Ramesh had smartened up and did not chance on holding the cup anywhere in the vicinity of my nose.
I had heard the “ice- cream after tonsillectomy” story from many people in my younger days. When I look back now, I feel sorry that I trusted them. Now I know how ill informed they were. “You get to consume unlimited scoops of ice-cream in variety of flavours”. Little did they know how unspeakably painful it was to swallow even a spoonful. I wish I could meet all of them now and tell them not to spread the wrong word of mouth and encourage people to contemplate tonsillectomy. Not that it ever tempted me into committing to surgery for 38 long years. I was eating loads of ice-cream even otherwise.
By afternoon, I was feeling more myself, the effects of anesthesia finally having worn off completely. The pain while swallowing was torturous. But that was nothing compared to what was to follow in the days after surgery. The whole day I consumed only ice-creams and a few bottles of flavoured milk. When the doctor came by later, I smiled at him bravely hoping, that he would send me home the same day. He looked at the wound, gave an appreciative nod and a grunt. Like giving him a pat on the back for having got rid of the bothersome tonsil from the root, and said very matter of factly, “Why don’t you stay the night and leave tomorrow?”
It didn’t seem like a bad idea at first. At least, Ramesh would be able to claim the hospital expenses from his insurance company. Ramesh was not convinced of the stay nor of the claim; he agreed though, that I might need constant post-op monitoring. So we stayed.
That night I couldn’t sleep a wink. Maybe because I was drifting in and out of drugged slumber the whole day, but more because of the discomfit that the bed had become. During the day, when I was delirious, it didn’t seem as comfortless as then, in the quiet of the night. Not exactly ‘quiet’. The room reverberated with Ramesh’s snores. The poor man was worse off on a couch which doubled up as a bed. The only reason for the seeming deep slumber was the jetlag from two weeks of travel overseas. He had arrived a few days earlier just in time for D- day.
In the dead of the night I realized that the sheets (after all) didn’t smell fresh, the pillow (after all) was a trifle too hard and that Ramesh may have(after all) been right. I didn’t have the heart to snap him out of his state of rest just to let him know he was right. I waited for the clock to strike 7 the next morning to pack and leave for home. Thankfully I had brought along a book to read. “You aren’t going to be able to stay up and read after surgery!” said people at home.Thank God for foresight. I could read at least – anything to keep my mind from the deteriorating pain at my throat, the discomfit of the bed and the loud snores.
The days after surgery were unexpectedly more complicated.
Post –Op Day 1 and Day 2
The surgery happened on a Friday. Which meant, that I did not have to pack Akank off to school over the weekend and that my post-op would be peaceful. “The pain will wear off in two days ma” the doctor had said. Ramesh was home too. So that took care of someone who could talk to Akank whenever she had something to ask, which was approximately every five minutes. There was Amma, who was handling the kitchen and the other odd jobs around the house. There was constant answering of phone calls, door bells and receiving lovely floral arrangements with “get well soon” cards.
I slept badly both the nights. I was drooling a lot. “Saliva is antiseptic. Don’t spit even though you will be tempted” said the doctor. At nights I was not tempted to spit nor encouraged to swallow. Each act of swallowing was agonizing. It was difficult to breathe lying on my back which is how I like lying on my bed. So I had to constantly switch from sleeping to my left or to my right. I chose to switch whenever the pillow got a trifle too wet from my dribble. The throat was hurting from all sides. That was expected.
Everybody at home was taking turns to look at my wound with a pen torch. What they didn’t realize is that they grimaced when they saw “it” and that meant that I obviously knew how good or bad “it” was. I didn’t dare look at “it” myself.
I had started conversing in sign language. When I attempted to speak, like the doctor said I should, I could only manage a painful whimper of a voice. What was funny though was that everyone trying to chat me up, did in hushed whispers. Or worse, tried their luck with sign language.
I continued to eat a subdued diet. Mashed idlis in curd or mashed bread (with corners cut) in milk, along with huge servings of ice-cream. One way or the other they all tasted the same.
On the follow up visit to the doctor on Monday, he was pleased with the progress I had made. “You can start having regular food now. Just go easy on the spice” But the pain hadn’t shown any signs of ebbing. “Oh that will subside in another week.”
Week, did you say?
Day 4 and Day 5 Post-Op
I would have probably handled the disappointment of not feeling a shred better, but a lot worse than I felt on the first few days, had it not been for the sms’s that said, “Hope you are feeling better!” Was it normal for people to expect me to be better by now? If that was true, then why was I not feeling any better but far worse than I felt on the first few days?
I had stayed up most of the night with a burning sensation in my throat coupled with the pain inside my ears as well. “You may feel pain in your ear, which is a normal process of healing” the doctor had warned during my last visit. Ramesh had stayed up too. I have been binging (if you can call it that) on midnight ice-cream breaks to moderate the burning sensation.
By the evening of Day 5, I was sure that I would continue feeling the same way till I saw the doctor the next day. Ramesh wanted me to call the doctor for some advice.
“Have you ever been diagnosed for Gastritis” he asked. That was new. I had no clue.
“It can happen, you see. The stress of the surgery plus the fact that you haven’t been eating properly” the doctor offered. So is that supposed to make me feel better about feeling worse?
He prescribed an antacid and asked me to call him back in two hours before I went to sleep. As he predicted, the burning sensation did settle down after the antacid and I happily called him back to keep him abreast of my progress. I went to bed dreaming about a “peaceful, all under control it is only gastritis” feeling only to be rudely woken up with another acidic reflux in the middle of the night. Ramesh suggested another antacid and a big serving of midnight ice-cream and a couple of slices of bread soaked in cold milk for the stomach acids to be busy with, till I met the doctor the next day.
I did what I was told. I also did something else. I hit the panic button.
I was scheduled to meet the doctor at 3.30 in the afternoon. I was there in time. I took deep breathes fighting my panic while I waited. I will show the doctor the new ulcers that have erupted in my mouth and he will give me a remedy for that and I will soon be fine.
As soon as I was called in, though, I broke down. “Come on! You have reached the summit! Now you can’t lose heart!” the doctor smiled. Was I relieved to hear him say that. The pain or discomfort in other words can’t get any worse! I quickly gulped down the lump in my painful throat and mumbled something about going wrong with “expectation settings”. Let him guess for himself, who I was blaming.
He stepped up my antacids, cancelled my antibiotics, prescribed some pre and probiotics, recommended a mouth gel for the ulcerations and gave me the assurance that I was going to be ok. I faithfully followed his instructions that evening. I slept better. I had stopped drooling as much. I still found it difficult though, to breathe sleeping on my back without propping extra pillows under me.
Akank and I played a word game that evening. She commented that I would probably score 99% if I were to participate in dumb charades. Looks like I got better with my sign language.
Day 7 – Today!
Today, I feel better than I have felt in a whole week. The pain has tapered with the altered medication and I feel full of life.
The idea of writing my experience has been on my mind from the first night after surgery at the hospital. My fevered brain formed the ornate idea, framed sentences in eloquence that night. I finally decided to give vent to that idea and it formed what you just read.
If you are a 10 year old or under and reading this and have been diagnosed with a tonsillitis that could become chronic, I suggest get rid of it today. “Adult muscle groups are tougher to heal” says my doctor. If you are an adult and considering a tonsillectomy, please be warned that no amount of preparation is going to see you through. The pain is to be experienced to be believed. I feel sorry for you.
As for the ice-cream story tellers, tell them to stop spreading rumours.