Toddler Tonsillectomy Recovery

After I learned my two year old would need his tonsils removed (here’s why), I scoured the Internet looking for other children who had undergone tonsillectomies at such a young age. I came across a few articles and blog posts, but seeing as how my son’s experience was so different than those scare-you-to-death accounts, I thought I’d recap his experience to give a ray of hope to any other Mamas out there who are dreading this procedure for their little one.

To his credit, my two-year-old (28 months) Beau is a rough and tumble little boy with a relatively high tolerance for physical pain.

beau pre tonsillectomy

Surgery Day // Day 1:
We begin the pre-op process at our local children’s hospital at 7 a.m. Beau has not eaten since 6:30 p.m. the night before, and despite that, he is in good spirits playing with toys. But he becomes suspicious as they take his temperature and blood pressure, as if he knows something is about to happen. Due to his history of respiratory issues (wheezing), they ask me to give him a breathing treatment, but I could barely hold him down to do it by myself, and I’m still waiting on my husband to arrive as he is stuck in Atlanta traffic. A nurse gives him an oral sedative 20 minutes before surgery, but Beau is a fighter and it does nothing to calm him down. I could not get his gown on him and the nurse could barely hold him to take him back to the OR. After hearing his screams in the hallway for 10 minutes, we are informed that he is finally asleep and under anesthesia.

The ENT surgeon removes his tonsils and replaces both ear tubes (because the one with the working tube had become infected overnight). She updates us immediately after the procedure and tells us it went well. We then move to a post-op room and a nurse brings Beau to us shortly. He is beginning to wake from anesthesia and only wants Mama to hold him. After roughly 30 minutes, he is alert and thirsty, and he gulps down four apple juice boxes during the next 1.5 hours. Soon after, he eats yogurt, applesauce and a popsicle. He eyes my husband unwrapping a chicken sandwich for lunch and it’s clear he wants to eat solid food, but we send my husband out of the room and distract Beau with soft foods.

beau tonsils juice box

I had read so many moms advise staying on top of meds and even waking up their kids to make sure they got meds every four hours, so mentally, I am prepared for the worst. But Beau completely surprises me and does not seem in much pain, so I decline the Hydrocodone and instead a nurse gives him Tylenol. I was a bit worried because once he has Tylenol he cannot have the Hydrocodone for four hours since it contains the same drug in Tylenol. But Beau was just fine with the Tylenol.

For children under 3 years of age, it’s my ENT’s protocol to keep them in the hospital overnight to ensure they are getting enough fluids. Luckily Beau was drinking plenty but they still kept him hooked up to IV fluids until bedtime.

Around dinner time, my mom and I took him with us in a stroller down to the cafeteria at the hospital to buy dinner. Despite the nurse’s insistence that he eat only soft food, he was starving. He ate the cheese off the top of my slice of pizza then easily downed half of a large turkey sandwich. The nurse was a little taken aback when we got back to his room and she heard what he’d eaten, but I think that this is when you have to pull your Mom card and make the right decisions for your child because you know him best.

After dinner, he was still feeling great so we went to the activity room on his hall, where he played with toys and smiled and cut up just like our normal Beau.

Beau CHOA FB page
Before bed, Beau was still feeling good so the nurse only gave him Tylenol again. It took me a while to get him to sleep that night in the hospital, but once I did, he slept the whole night (despite the nurses and techs checking on him every two hours) and woke up relatively refreshed at 6 a.m. I cannot say the same for myself. Once the cafeteria opened, we went to eat breakfast and Beau enjoyed pancakes and yogurt. He was feeling so good he sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Start with me. Then it was back to the activity room to play until he was discharged at 9:30 a.m.

Day 2-5: Despite filling the Hyrdocodone prescription, we did not give it to him once during his tonsillectomy recovery. We gave him Tylenol or Ibuprofen when he woke in the morning, after lunch/before nap and before bedtime. He did wake up from him naps a bit disoriented and unhappy, but this is normal for him. Sometimes, he doesn’t get his full nap out and sometimes he just wants to be held and will often go back to sleep if I hold or rock him.

Day 3 post tonsils

Day 3 seemed to be the hardest day to get him to drink liquids. That night, we took him to see a Clifford show to which we had won free tickets and he was absolutely fine. Even though he took only tiny sips of liquids throughout the day at our prompting, he finally downed a full juice box at the Clifford show that night. That night, we forgot to give him Tylenol before bed. Though he slept through the night, he was more unsettled and tossed and turned more than normal.

From other moms, I had read that Days 5-8 were often the worst, as that is when the scab from surgery begins to peel away, which is incredibly painful. Our ENT nurse called to check up on Beau on Day 4, and even though I reported that he was doing so well, she warned that worst was likely yet to come. So once again, I braced myself for a few rough days, but again Beau amazed me. His breath smelled the worst on Day 5, but there were no other indicators that he’d had recent surgery.

Beau won’t sit still long enough to watch TV, color or do puzzles, so he rarely gets any rest if he’s not sleeping. We pretty much resumed all normal activities for him by Day 3 because there was no other option. He chased and tackled big brother in the yard; he rode laps on our driveway with his riding toy; he jumped on the couch cushions (even though he knows it’s against the rules); he played his heart out at a local park; he fought his brother with pretend swords; he cheered Bubba on in his morning soccer game in 35-degree weather.

Even though he wanted solid food instead of soft food from Day 1, I tried my best to avoid feeding him spicy, sticky or acidic foods. But by Day 3 he was eating citrus fruit, spoonfuls of peanut butter and venison pepperoni. I had also intended to put a humidifier in his room post-surgery, but it completely slipped my mind.

tonsillectomy Days 4-7

I’m not typing all this up to to brag on my son’s resilience, because I already know he’s a trooper 🙂 And I don’t want to discount others’ experiences because any pain for your child is also pain for you. But I wanted to let other moms know that tonsillectomies aren’t always as dire as those posts that pop up when you Google toddler tonsillectomy recovery. Every child is different and every experience is different. Sometimes really young kids get tonsillectomies, and sometimes they do just fine. I’m so thankful for our experience and can’t even imagine what it feels like for Beau to be able to breathe and swallow without any obstruction. Now, if I can just keep him healthy this winter!

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