TONSILLECTOMY – a scary word for any singer, or even adult for that matter. Any kind of surgery is not fun but one that gets increasingly risky the older you get – with risks of bleeding out, hemorrhaging, etc.? That is scary. And being a singer who has to get a tonsillectomy? I was terrified. I don’t like people touching my throat – the outside of my throat. You can only imagine how much I don’t want people inside it! When I was told that I needed to get a tonsillectomy to help end my bout with HSP-Vasculitis, all I could think about was my voice getting messed up.
I did some research on tonsillectomies (hoping to find stories of positive experiences) and became even more scared. All I kept seeing was that this procedure was fine for kids but once you hit adulthood, it was all pain and risks. That is NOT what I wanted to hear. I decided to try and find success stories and tips from singers who had the procedure done. I was unable to find any accounts from a singer’s perspective! This not only disheartened me but also made me more afraid.
So, for all you musicians and singers out there, I am going to provide that happy story for you! WooHoo!
A lot of articles that I read about tonsillectomies included a day-by-day account of their experience. I will write one of those later (and will link to it here once it is live), but for now I am just going to list out some tricks and tips that helped me have a good tonsillectomy experience – or as good as surgery can be. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows but I didn’t cry in agonizing pain for weeks either.
This being said, your doctor should give you detailed instructions about what to do before and after the operation so listen to him/her first. This is just my account of what worked for me. So here goes!
TIP #1: Plan Ahead
Figure out what you will need for the first week post-op and get it in advance. I flew home for the procedure so I would have family around to take care of me. You will be highly drugged the first day and on pain medication for a while. Don’t drive on pain medication. Get family or friends to baby you for a bit. Once again, get everything you need before the procedure. I bought a white board, Expo markers, a coloring book, drinks that were non-acidic, straws, ice, soft foods, sorbet – basically anything to keep me occupied, nourished, and quiet.
TIP #2: Let People Know You Are A Singer
Tell your ENT in your scheduling meeting that you are a singer and express any and all of your concerns about your voice. Ask for a trusted anesthesiologist and the smallest anesthesia tube possible. On the day of the surgery, remind EVERYONE that you are a singer. I have heard of people making headbands that say “Singer” on them to wear into the procedure. I did not do this but it is a great idea!
TIP #3: Don’t Talk. Don’t Talk! DON’T TALK!
Let me just say it one more time: DON’T TALK! My ENT assured me that the procedure would not go anywhere near my vocal folds – except for the anesthesia tube, which would go between them. He said he did not see any reason why I couldn’t speak after the surgery but if I wanted to go on vocal rest that it would not do any harm. Other than answering nurse’s questions immediately following the procedure, I didn’t speak for 8 days. I was too drugged after the surgery to realize I was even talking but as soon as I was cognizant of my speaking, I shut up.
The magic number is not 8 – that is just when I felt it was okay for me to start phonating again. I had significantly less pain on the 7th day and decided that since it was still tolerable on day 8, I would speak. My voice was faint and it felt weird to talk due to the scabs and swelling but I supported my voice, pitched it up and spoke minimally until I could get it back to its normal level and stamina. It takes time so go slow.
TIP #4: Hydrate
The more you drink, the less pain you will be in and the less likely you are to bleed. While sometimes it hurts to drink, you just have to suck it up and do it. In my case, the only time I could tolerate swallowing during the first 24-hours was when I was drinking ice water. It numbed the throat and also kept things lubricated.
I recommend drinking a glass of water immediately after the meds kick in. That way you are drinking at least one glass of water every four hours. I drank more than that but this trick works wonders overnight. Since I had to sleep sitting upright for a couple nights, I found myself breathing through my mouth, which dried out my throat. If I set alarms to stay hydrated throughout the night, I was in significantly less pain in the mornings (the worst time of day for my pain). I also recommend having a humidifier run all night long.
TIP #5: Take The Pain Medicine
For the first 5 days, I set an alarm every four hours and took pain meds. Trust me, for the first few days it is better to be drowsy and numb as opposed to in pain. Don’t overdo it. Pain medicines are addictive. Listen to your body and take it as needed but I recommend taking it religiously at least for the first two days. You have to eat and drink. If you are in pain, you won’t want to do that.
TIP #6: REST
If you are anything like me, you don’t like to be unproductive for more than a day at a time – if even that. Well, post-op is your time to rest. Your body just went through surgery. It needs to heal and it has to rest in order to do that. So grab a book or TV remote and REST.
These tips are what helped me survive my tonsillectomy. It really wasn’t that bad! I learned how to tolerate the pain after about 5-6 days. I was speaking on day 8. The surgery was 3 weeks ago and I have not noticed any negative changes to my voice (speaking or singing). I actually think I have slightly more resonance now! The doctor says I will be 100% healed in about 5 days!
Check out my Day-by-Day Account of my post-op experience – since I found reading other people’s experiences helped me gage how well I was healing.
Good luck with your procedure!