Tonsillectomy/Adenoidectomy for Adult Performers
I want to start this by stating that I am in no way a doctor, I am simply a 23 year old performer who faced a health challenge and want to help inform my fellow performers. When I was researching tonsillectomies in performers, I didn't find much. A performer views their voice (and everything that helps it function) as an essential part of our identity. This is my experience and I hope it helps ease your mind and answer some questions.
Why I Got My Tonsils and Adenoids Removed
As an actress and singer, I am constantly using my voice in many different ways. I have studied with many wonderful teachers over the years and I felt confident in the training I had received. Despite my best efforts (vitamin C and zinc apart of my daily vitamins), I found myself sick frequently. I had sinus infections 4-6 times a year (usually when I was a bit sleep deprived). I was constantly frustrated at my vocal quality when I was sick. Despite my frustrations, I listened to my body and laid off the heavy vocals when I needed to. In my final semester of college, I found myself playing Gertie Cummings (the girl with an iconic laugh) in Oklahoma! All was fine and dandy until I was diagnosed with tonsillitis during tech.
A local Urgent Care gave me antibiotics and a doctors note to sleep as much as possible. Two weeks later, I was able to get into my ENT (Ears, Nose, Throat Doctor) in Kansas City. My doctor did a scope of my vocal cords, and everything looked perfect. But not to my surprise, I still had tonsillitis. Exhausted and distraught, I was set to return in 2 week after a more rigorous antibiotic and endless fluids.
Two weeks later, I returned and STILL had tonsillitis. My tonsils were partly normal in the front, but the back looked just as infected as before. My doctor determined, that with my on going symptoms, I probably always had infected tonsils. It was just on the back and not easily visible upon a basic check.
After many conversations and thought, my ENT and I decided that a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy was the best course of action.
TIP: Find an ENT who has worked with performers in the past. It is always great to get a referral from a trusted friend. Finding an ENT that you like and trust is essential.
I scheduled my surgery for January 2nd, 20 days post my college graduation. My next contract started in late March, and I had a month before I had any auditions. I named the month of January "recovery month".
To help sooth my anxiety, I tried to set myself up for success at home. These are some of the items I had on hand for post surgery.
thermal water bottle (the cold water will help numb the pain)
sonic ice... seriously! Their ice is small, soft, crushed pieces that I ate like a snow cone.
pedialyte (hydration is key)
pedialyte popsicles (seriously)
small white board
Liquid Tylenol: (avoid blood thinners like ibuprofen) Adult strength is available at Walgreens
TIP: Get organized and be prepared to be a couch potato for at least 1-2 weeks.
My check in was scheduled for 6:30am with a 7:30am go time. When my mom and I arrived, I was sent back with the nurses for prep. My mom and I made a pact to inform every member of my team that I was a vocalist. Part of this was for my anxiety, and to let them know that this area was directly affiliated with my career. I spoke with my anesthesiologist about a smaller breathing tube (this sits next to your vocal cords and I wanted to avoid any extra pressure) and we were on our way!
I woke up about an hour post op, and immediately was offered water, ice, and apple juice. I was sit a bit dizzy but didn't feel much difference other than a dry mouth. After being awake for about an hour (to ensure there were no immediate complications), we picked up my prescription and headed home,
At Home Post Op
I made the decision early on that I would not talk for the first couple of days. I wanted to allow my vocal cords and new tissue to heal without force. So, I got my white board and camped out on the couch outside my bedroom for a week.
Day 1: I slept most of this day and felt no extreme pain
Food: mashed potatoes, apple sauce
Day 2: Sore throat kicked in, harder to swallow, pushed liquids and did not sleep as much this day.
Food: scrambled eggs
Day 3: About the same as day 2
Day 4: This day the anesthesia had fully worn off and I felt more pain than days 1-3
Day 5: Extremely nauseous, sleeping on and off throughout the day. This was the worst day.
Food: scrambled eggs and ice
Day 6: Tried drinking out of a straw- this did not go well for me. This day I started talking in short sentences.
Day 7: On the mend!
Over all, the days post op were not nearly as bad as I anticipated. Keep pushing liquids, set an alarm to take your meds (even at night), and give into being a couch potato,
Life Post Tonsillectomy
One of the oddest changes was due to the adenoid removal. The way I sneezed completely changed. Suddenly my nasal cavity was completely open.
Vocally, it is a journey you have to be patient with. At my two week check up, I was cleared to sing. I started to do some light singing in the shower (for the soothing steam) and working my way up to a belt. My full rage retuned after about 3 months. I always struggled with feeling a disconnect from my head voice. Post surgery, I finally am finding the space that my teachers had told me existed (but I couldn't seem to find). It has been a joy to explore this new aspect of my voice. I have found much more ease in my higher belt. Overall, the biggest change was in the consistency of my voice. Post tonsil removal, I have found that my voice finally has the health it needs to sing my best multiple times a week. I have not been sick since and my overall health is better than ever. The key is to remind yourself to be patient and allow your voice to grow at the speed it chooses.
The decision to remove your tonsils and adenoid is not one to be taken lightly. If you are looking into the surgery to gain a few notes- find a great voice teacher instead. If you are frequently sick with strep, infected tonsils, or sinus infections- you should visit an ENT. When making the decision have a conversation with your family, voice and/or acting teacher, general doctor and have your ENT explain the risks. The procedure is not cheap, be sure to collect all the information your insurance might need. Once you have all of the information, make the decision that is right for you!
A tonsillectomy is not a decision to take lightly. But if it's right for you, it can help support a long and healthy career,