Child Tonsillectomy & Adenoidectomy Recovery Timeline Day by Day

My 4-year old daughter Evelyn recently underwent a tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy and bilateral myringotomy in April 2017. In layman’s terms, she had her tonsils and adenoids removed and ear tubes inserted in her ears. It was not an easy journey. In fact it was so traumatizing in moments that I had to write about it. This is for those whose children have had the surgery, will need the surgery, or those who are curious about why I turned into a zombie for a week in late April.

Looking for tips on how to help your child through their own tonsillectomy & adenoidectomy? Visit my T&A tips post here. 

Ear Tubes

Evelyn had ear tubes inserted about 18 months ago for the first time, after experiencing over a dozen ear infections in over a year. This was a very straight-forward procedure that required a days’ rest and had her back at daycare the following day. Those original tubes fell out, and our ENT specialist recommended we get the tubes reinserted. Some children outgrow the need for tubes, but others (like my daughter) have physiology that requires the tubes for a little longer to prevent chronic ear infections.

Why the need for the surgery?

My daughter has never been a good sleeper. In fact, she is nearly 4.5 years old and has slept through the night exactly twice in her life. (Ouch). Her sleep apnea has prevented her from having the kind of sleep a child her age needs. She snored. She startled herself awake more often than not, her brain deprived of oxygen while she slept.

She has always been a mouth breather, a picky eater (part of having enlarged tonsils/adenoids), and she wore dark circles under her eyes like unwanted accessories. Her ENT advised that the best course of action for her sleep and her health would be the removal of her enlarged adenoids and tonsils.

Inform yourself

The surgeon made it seem like the recovery would be straightforward. What we have learned is that a “routine” surgery does not equal “easy”. However routine this procedure is, it is still a serious surgery that is going to have your little one in pain, your patience stretched, mama heart hurting, and both you and your child deeply sleep deprived.

Our recovery time was nothing short of excruciating. I wished the surgeon had better prepared me for what was to come, but I’m not sure I would have believed him if he told me. What I found helpful throughout my daughter’s recovery time was reading blogs of other moms whose children had gone through this same surgery. I found great comfort in knowing that my child’s recovery was normal, and that the painful journey had been endured (and survived!) by others.

Day by day, Evelyn’s surgery and recovery experience was as follows.

Day 1 – Day of the surgery

Although she hadn’t eaten since 7 pm the day before, Evelyn was in good spirits pre-surgery. We had talked about it for weeks leading up to the event, and she was as ready as she could be. She went in to the operating room at 9:20 am and was finished by 9:50.

After the surgery, I visited her in the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit). She was disoriented from the anesthesia and got a little (a lot) upset and somewhat violent, kicking her legs uncomfortably. The nurses told us this was normal. She had some post-surgery complication of bleeding through her nose more than she should’ve been. So unfortunately, Evelyn had to endure some nasal spray a couple times to try and stop the bleeding.

We had to stay in the PACU & day surgery areas until nearly 4 pm. It was a long day for all of us. When we got home, Evelyn mostly wanted to rest & sleep.

 Day 2 – The “easy” day

In relatively good spirits this day, Evelyn was interested in eating all of her novelty foods – ice cream, popsicles, jello and was even asking for some of her favourite (non-soft) foods, which we didn’t give. Her nose continued to slowly drip blood, but a quick call to the doctor’s office told me this was within the range of normal.

The night was rough. At this point, I hadn’t learned to stay ahead of the pain, so I was only giving medication when she woke up, rather than waking her to give it to her. Big mistake. Stay ahead of the pain. Give doses of Motrin, Tylenol & prescriptions slightly before they’re due.

A moment of rest.

Days 3-4

Day 3 we said goodbye to my parents who came for the surgery and day after, and I naively thought I had a good hold on things and that we’d be okay without them (albeit a bit lonelier – Evelyn loves her grandparents!). I was wrong.

The nights were horrible and the days were…tolerable. Evelyn had pain and required her medicines around the clock, but she was still giggling. She’d often play with her dolls, her Playdoh and engage in quiet activities on her own or when we had company.

These days had me wondering if perhaps she’d be one of the “lucky ones” who got through this relatively well. Again, I was wrong. But I didn’t know it yet! Nights involved a lot of waking, kicking, crying out, shaking her head. It was hard for me to see and be helpless to do much for her, besides rock and sing to her.

Days 5-6

On day 5, she was doing so well I started to think I was getting my healthy Evelyn back. She spent several hours at my best friend’s house playing with her children, eating foods (including animal crackers!) as if she hadn’t just gone through surgery. I had read that this day could be one of the worst, but for Evelyn, that wasn’t the case.

After a sleepless night, on day 6 the “good” all came to a screeching halt. She started fighting taking her medicine, particularly the morphine because it burned going down. We tried administering it with honey (taste of honey, taste of medicine) but that did little to take away the sting.

She fell asleep crying with her hand covering her mouth, refusing the medicine

Misery began to set in, I suspect because the scabs in the back of her throat began to slough off and caused some pain. We didn’t sleep on night 5 or night 6. It was awful, and I was beginning to feel worn down emotionally and physically. I know Evelyn did too.

Day 7 

Hell day. Far and away the worst day of the whole experience. Evelyn “woke up” after getting a couple hours of broken sleep the night before, and she was miserable. She dozed off and on throughout the day, and when she wasn’t dozing, I was forcing her to take sips of water. That’s about all I could manage to get into her. She wanted a lot of cuddles, a lot of screen time, and did a lot of crying.

The doctor told me that she would be able to return to school on day 7 post-op but that was not the case at all. She could barely muster the energy to get off the couch, much less go to preschool. I sent an email to my boss letting him know I wouldn’t be making it into the office for at least a couple more days.

Day 8

We slept the night before – hallelujah! We woke up feeling refreshed, happy. Evelyn looked at me and smiled first thing in the morning – something I hadn’t seen her do in days. She told my best friend she felt like “a new girl”. She did want a nap first thing in the morning, but she spent the bulk of the rest of the day happy.

That said, she still wouldn’t eat much. She wanted to, but she had the additional “pleasure” of developing mouth sores (canker sores) which prevented her from enjoying food without (more) pain.

Day 9 

Our best day yet! As visions of sleep danced through my head, “Why did I do this?!” played on repeat in my mind. A quick exam into Evelyn’s throat shows me that her scabs are very minimal – a small amount of scab left on the right side, and virtually none on the left. I kept her home today, just to make sure she would really be ready to go to school the following day.

Scabs are healing

She woke up with a cold, which I think is bothering her more than her throat is at this point. She was able to eat normally and drink normally (after some coaxing in the morning). She played with my best friend’s children, went for a walk with me, and carried on as if it was a normal (weekend) day.

I moved her back into her own bed this night and I didn’t worry about constant wakings her her being in too much pain to sleep without cuddles.

Day 10

Back to school (for Evelyn) and back to work (for me). Evelyn has a cold now but is in much better physical shape. She made it through her school day. I picked her up a little early and she said, “Mama, look in my throat!” I did and discovered that her scabs are completely gone. She’s healed!

Stay tuned for more post-surgery updates in the coming weeks. Once this cold is gone, I’ll have a better idea of what sort of results we’ve seen from the surgery.

4 thoughts on “Child Tonsillectomy & Adenoidectomy Recovery Timeline Day by Day

  1. So sorry she had such a rough time. Riley had her tonsils and adenoids out when she was 3. She had to stay overnight only because of her sleep apnea. Our experience was the opposite. We didn’t even use the prescribed pain meds because she had zero pain. It’s odd how it can differ so much…

    She did have the crazy disoriented awakening after being asleep–that was not fun. She screamed/cried for 30 minutes while other kids seemed to wake normally.

    It is better post surgery in terms of sleep. Riley sleeps well and stopped having night terrors. It made a huge difference. The picky eating hasn’t improved sadly.


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