Collin's Surgery Story

What a whirlwind the past couple of weeks have been. Collin had his tonsils/adenoids out and tubes put in his ears and the ensuing recovery, coupled with a teething baby and-- oh yeah-- the same toddler who had surgery wanting to wear big boy undies a week later, which spurred full-on potty training, has had me a bit preoccupied. Whew! Praying for a more uneventful season ahead. Pretty please!

I thought I'd take the time to share a bit about Collin's surgery experience. I found reading about other people's stories helpful in the lead-up to his tonsillectomy. I know each child is different and older children have different experiences, but I can share what our little guy went through and hopefully help other parents of toddlers know what to possibly expect.

I'll preface this all by saying, every day there are parents who walk through much more serious, life altering/threatening surgeries with their kiddos. I am fully aware and thankful that this is the context in which we found ourselves at the hospital. Such a small procedure in the grand scheme of things.

I'll back up a bit. From this fall onwards, Collin suffered one cold after another. He would get over his sickness and seemingly get sick again in less than a week. He had multiple ear infections, lots of congestion and nighttime coughing. Some of it was allergy related, but what we didn't know at the time, was that his tonsils and adenoids were hugely inflamed and there was a vicious cycle of re-infection going on. He went through three rounds of antibiotics and nothing cleared up the fluid in his ears. He always seemed to have bags under his eyes and his speech wasn't as articulated or clear as other children his age. Come to find out it was because he couldn't hear us well through all that ear fluid! At night you could hear his grown-man-snoring down the hall, during the day there was a lot of Darth Vader mouth breathing. 

It was clear we needed to address the issue. We took him into an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist and it was confirmed that his tonsils, on a scale of 1-4, were a 4. Basically kissing. I managed to shine a flash light down his throat once, no easy feat when dealing with a squirmy 2.5 year old, and what I saw both scared me and grossed me out! It's a wonder he could even eat-- let alone breathe! Poor buddy!

So, it was determined he needed to get his tonsils and adenoids out and have tubes put in his ears for drainage. We scheduled the surgery for after our Seattle trip so that we wouldn't be dealing with recovery while traveling and blocked out a whole week of time where I had nothing planned so that he could leisurely recover at home.

I'm sure there are whole children's books dedicated to tonsillectomies, but we were fortunate enough to stumble upon something in our home library- a little vignette in Richard Scarry's Busytown "What do People Do All Day" about a bunny who goes to the hospital and gets her tonsils out. We talked a lot about what would happen at the hospital and all the yummy ice cream and jello he'd get to eat when he woke up from surgery. He was excited about the idea.

Typically they schedule these types of surgeries for first thing in the morning, in order of youngest to oldest, because the patient is not allowed to eat or drink anything for twelve hours prior to the operation. This can be hard on little ones. We got to the hospital and checked in at 6:30 AM, but he didn't get wheeled off for surgery until around 9:30 AM. I did not expect to have to wait that long and it was difficult keeping him from climbing the walls of the observation room where we waited. Plus, his blood sugar was low from having not had anything to eat since dinner the night before. Thankfully, there was a TV in the room and that kept him marginally entertained until they came and got him.

I will add, at this point, that Nick was able to come with us to the hospital in the morning and stay until about the time they took Collin, but he had to go back into work for a bit after that point. His vacation days are limited and if he took the full day off, it would mean shaving a day off of our August vacation or Christmas trip. I knew we'd be bummed about that in the future, so we decided I'd manage without Nick there.

I totally got a lump in my throat as they wheeled Collin off to surgery in a little wagon. He waved and smiled and said "See you later!" having absolutely no clue what was coming.

I went upstairs to a private waiting room with Killian, who decided he wanted to eat sooner than normal. This turned out to be a God sent. I'll explain why later.

After only 30 minutes, the doctor who performed the surgery came up to tell me Collin was out of surgery. He told me things went really well and that they found a ton of gunk, the consistency of honey, in his ears which had probably been there for a few months. Eww! Again, it's a wonder the child could even hear me and I was thinking I may have been a little hard on him for not coming when I called him on many an occasion. After five minutes, I was able to go down to the recovery center as he came out of anesthesia.

I could hear screaming and crying down the hall and right away knew it was him. Oh my heart hurts just remembering this! I steered Killian in his stroller right up to the bed on wheels (is there a name for these?) where Collin was hooked up to every kind of contraption (IV in his hand, heart monitor stickers on his chest, pulse monitor on his toe). He was a jumbled mess of cords as he lunged towards me. Poor little guy was completely out of it, totally disoriented and hurting. His face was puffy and there was some dried blood around his mouth/nose/ears. His eyes must have been taped shut because his lashes were all stuck together and funky looking. I just held him and rocked him, singing "Snuggle Puppy of Mine" (his favorite book/song) over and over. When he didn't calm down after fifteen minutes or so, they asked if I was okay with them giving him a smidge of Morphine. "Yes, absolutely!"

That took the edge off and eventually he fell asleep on me. Here is where I thank the Lord that Killian wanted to nurse sooner than normal. There was no way I could have tended to the baby during this intense time with Collin. It's as if he knew it would be a good time to take an hour and 45 minute nap, in the midst of all the crying and screaming and beeping and movement in the recovery center. Yep. The moment I picked Collin up, Killian snuggled his face into the side of his stroller and took a nap! I am so thankful! That was, beyond a shadow of a doubt in my mind, the Lord.

Soon Collin perked up enough to have a popsicle. At that point we were still waiting in the recovery center to be given a room in the children's wing. Things got progressively better. Collin decided he was hungry enough to have some pudding, ice cream and lots of juice. Nick was able to stop by on his lunch break and took off a little early at the end of his work day.

We finally got a room and Collin took a decent nap. They typically keep kids under 3 years old overnight for observation since dehydration is such a danger in young ones, but Collin had been eating and drinking really well all day so they decided to let us go that evening. We were super happy about that. When the nurse took the IV out of his hand he told her she should put his "Owie in the da garbage!"

They told us to give him Tylenol every 4 hours or to alternate Tylenol and Motrin every 4 hours. These meds, as long as they were in his system, were enough to manage the pain. Nothing stronger was needed. I asked the nurse if we should give him meds in the middle of the night, but she didn't think it was necessary to wake him (more about this later).

The first day home was great. He seemed to be almost his normal self. I was thinking. "Wow, what an easy experience for us!" Famous.last.words.

There are a few things I think might be good for parents of toddlers to know when going into a similar situation. Sorry if they are a bit all over the place!

1. Bring an iPad or tablet to the hospital, loaded with new apps. If you don't have one, borrow one. It's great for them to have something to play that is new or normally off limits/allowed on a limited basis. This was really helpful for us in distracting him from the pain and using it as a bribe to get him to drink. Have some new DVD's, quiet games, books and stickers for them to play with at home. Grandma sent him a prize box full of individually wrapped gifts for him to open when needed. Again, this was great for bribing him to drink.

2.  The doctors and nurses will tell you this, but I will say it too. Push, push, push liquids! It's less important that they eat. They will eat when they get hungry enough, but it's super easy for them to become dehydrated and if they are, you won't be allowed to go home or if you are already home and your child isn't drinking, they make you go back to the hospital for an IV. The doctor said to bribe him with new toys, special drinks, smoothies, popsicles, juices, chocolate milk, etc... Whatever will keep him hydrated. We had to follow him around, filling up his cup and prompting him to take more sips.

3. Days 2,3, and 4, post surgery, were the hardest for us. We quickly learned that mornings would be beastly if we didn't go in and pre-empt the craziness by giving him meds once in the middle of the night. He'd wake up screaming in pain and drooling because it hurt so much to swallow. I couldn't get him to drink or take meds at that point because he was too far gone. So, since I was already up at some point during the night feeding Killian, I'd just slip into Collin's room, have him drowsily sit up, and I'd then squirt meds into his mouth via syringe. He'd roll over and go straight back to sleep.

4. If they get tubes put in, you'll have to put drops in their ears twice a day. This ended up being quite the battle. I don't know if it's because it hurt him or if the drops were cold and felt weird. Either way, it was another necessary evil and we would just wrestle him down to the ground to put them in since no amount of coaxing or bribing helped and the process takes two seconds tops.

5. Don't plan any outings or activities for the first 5-7 days. Be willing to cancel plans if they aren't feeling well beyond that. Even if they seem to be back to normal, their bodies are still recovering and need rest. Protect their healing time. For reference, his surgery was on a Tuesday morning and he didn't go back to preschool until the next Wednesday.

5. Run a humidifier in their room at night to keep the throat from drying out.

6. Be ready for their breath to smell like death for a week or so. It's part of the recovery process. By death I truly and fully mean dog poo. It's awful:(

7. Some soft foods and beverages that were well received by Collin were: Hawaiian Rolls, chicken noodle soup, popsicles, ice cream, jello, pudding, rice, applesauce, small curd cottage cheese, shredded cheddar cheese, mashed potatoes, quesadillas, avocado, apple juice, milk. This is not a week to be concerned with healthy eating, in my opinion that's not the battle you need to fight. Eating and drinking is the battle. It will be much easier if they are excited about all the treats they don't normally get.

8. If you are having a hard time getting them to take liquid meds, try the Tylenol Meltaways. These were great for those instances where he was being difficult.

Hopefully this was helpful. I feel like I used the word bribe a lot. Ha! It's literally the only way we made it though. We are two weeks out and he is doing great! He's back to his normal self. He's been off the meds for a week. His speech is clearer, his complexion is rosier, he no longer snores or mouth breathes, his nose isn't runny, his hearing is better. I cannot tell you how happy we are to have made the decision to do this. It's rough at the beginning, but so worth it!

Feel free to comment with questions or suggestions you might have as well!


  1. oh mama! you poor thing and that sweet little one. it's so hard to go through things like this with our babies. i'm crying with you thinking about him going off in that wagon. also, what an amazing story about killian wanting to nurse earlier. thank God! praying that it was all worth it and that collin with be all the better for it. sending love and hugs!

    1. Thank you, Lesley! Isn't parenthood just full of these kind of tough moments? Places where you make the decision that's best for them, even when it hurts your heart and they don't understand? I am thankful he is better and it was absolutely the right thing to do. Glad it's over! ;)


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