When my 2 ½ year old had a tonsillectomy (and adenoidectomy) I wanted to be as prepared as possible for what was to come post-surgery. Hopefully it helps for me to share some tips and successes, so that what worked for us might help you figure out what will work for you and your little one. It probably goes without saying that this is by no means to be considered medical advice. It’s merely an account of what types of things (activities, foods, etc.) helped us to get through those very long post-operative days.
I knew that our little guy was going to have to remain pretty inactive for a while after his surgery, but I knew he would need something to do to fend off boredom and also to distract him from his pain. We gathered lots of crafty activities and quiet games. I bought lots of Dollar Store arts and crafts such as color by number pictures, sticker books, and flash card games. I also ended up making multiple trips to places like Michaels and A.C. Moore looking for some items to paint, Model Magic (by Crayola) and more coloring activities. We went through these pretty quickly, but he enjoyed it and it was a good, calm distraction. After a week or so of recovery, we ventured outside and gathered leaves and rocks to paint or make crafts with. Sidewalk chalk also turned out to be a pretty good, low-key, outdoor activity that, once he was feeling up for being outdoors, we used quite a bit.
We were warned in the hospital that making sure he had enough fluids would be a challenge, but we rarely doled out juice boxes, popsicles or other similar treats, so we figured that it would be easier to entice him to drink these ordinarily restricted treats. We were extremely wrong. However, we did learn that he would not dehydrate in the first two days or so, and once we learned that, we began to relax and let him drink and eat when he was ready. The fluid intake does help with recovery in other ways, but we no longer feared dehydration. We quickly learned that about a half hour after we gave him his pain medicine, we had to act fast to take advantage of his willingness to consume! When he was ready, we tried everything we could think of. We tried different color juices, we bought him a new cup to drink from, and we offered him his choice of any glass, mug or cup. We also found that, with food or drink, when we just left things around the house, on the coffee table, near his toys, or wherever, he would eventually wander over and take a sip or a spoonful. In the end, the thing that was most appealing was drinking juice boxes with a silly straw (the curly ones you can get as party favors, etc.). Whatever works!
Some other foods that were particular favorites were yogurt, applesauce, chocolate milk, Jell-O, pudding, mashed potatoes, McDonald’s milkshakes, and Dairy Queen soft serve. Unfortunately, he never was interested in popsicles, despite the fact that I stocked the freezer full of them pre-surgery! Oh well! Additionally, dairy products were on the list of things to try to avoid, as they can create phlegm and be irritating, but he preferred mainly dairy products (yogurt, milk, etc.), and so we followed his lead.
Your child’s doctor will likely prescribe a pain medicine to fill and take home with you. Ours was Tylenol with Codeine. One tip I received and followed to the letter, was to not let the pain get ahead of the medicine. In other words, don’t wait too long for your child to be miserable before dispensing the medicine. If it says every 6 hours, it’s probably a good idea to stick to that. At least in the beginning, we gave it at least every 6 hours, then as the week progressed, we alternated regular Tylenol and the Tylenol with Codeine. We even woke him up at night to give him the medicine. It was totally worth it, even though many nights he was hysterical about actually swallowing it. The actual dispensing of the medicine was very challenging for us, which I did not expect. We did ask the pharmacy to flavor the medicine, which we hoped would help make it easier to tolerate. In the early days, he would spit it right back out, then we wouldn’t know how much he had gotten. There was a lot of crying, sometimes by both parties! We tried droppers and cups. We tried straws and spoons. The nurse at the doctor’s office suggested mixing it with yogurt or using a syringe dropper and squirting down the side of his jaw to the back of his throat so he’d be forced to swallow it. This often worked, but he could still spit it back out. It ended up that the best way to get him to take the medicine was to use a “big boy medicine spoon” (the kind that Rite Aid distributes with their prescriptions). He ended up taking that pretty willingly, but like I said, it was a rough beginning. Once we switched to plain acetaminophen (Tylenol) he was much better about taking it, whether because the flavor was better, or maybe because the pain was managed better at that point.
In addition to having some low-key activities on hand for our son to do, we broke out a ton of DVDs, both new and old ones. We picked some out from the library and from our local Redbox. We let him watch shows way more than we usually do, because it helped distract him. Ordinarily we do try to limit his TV watching, but knew that this was not the time to lay down the rules. The combination of his favorite shows, and even a few new ones, definitely amused him enough to make some of his troubles go away.
I hope that these tips and anecdotes help you and your family prepare for and cope with the recovery from tonsillectomy. It’s a rough ride. It’s hard to watch your child be in so much pain, and it’s even harder to not be able to do much to make it better. It’s got to be immense pain for them as well, so be prepared to dish out a whole lot of patience.