When you live with chronic illnesses, sometimes your body can react differently than the average person’s would under normal circumstances. This can not only be confusing to you, but also to the doctors or other medical staff you may encounter when trying to seek treatment and can effect the care you receive. I had an experience with this when I needed to have my tonsils removed.
I had my tonsils removed when I was 23. They had gotten infected and I went to the emergency room for care. At the time, I couldn’t open my mouth because the infection had gotten so bad. The doctor on call tried to force open my mouth and this caused so much pain that I literally passed out. However, he told my mom that I just fainted because I was scared.
Grave’s Strikes Again
Year prior to this, when I was about 19 years old, I was diagnosed with Graves’s Disease after years of experiencing a lot of vague symptoms that no one had been able to figure out before. When I was diagnosed with Graves’, I had to take a lot of medications, 13 pills, to treat not only the disease itself and it’s effect on the thyroid, but also to treat cardiac symptoms and to help with the side-effects of all the other medicines.
After about a year and a half in the medications, my Graves’ Disease went into remission, but my overall health had suffered from all the medication I had taken during that time. Sure enough, I had gotten very sick. I had double pneumonia that lasted about three months. It took a lot of antibiotics, but I eventually recovered. At this point, I decided that I really just needed a break, so I decided to take a semester off from University and went to Aruba for five months to just relax and recharge.
A Break From One Problem is the Start of Another
While in Aruba, I started getting horrible throat infections. My throat would be bright red with white spots and extremely painful. This was accompanied by a very high fever of 40* C (104* F) or higher. I had been to the hospital multiple times for it, about four times in a five month span, and each time I would be prescribed antibiotics, but it kept coming back. Part of the problem may have been that Aruba, while beautiful, is a very dusty island, and when you breathe in the dust in the air, it can irritate your lungs and tonsils, making it difficult for throat infections like I had to resolve.
After 5 months, I went back to Holland because my semester was starting at University. I just got my first apartment in Amsterdam and I wanted to get back. Over the next year and a half, I was still constantly getting these throat infections and had been on antibiotics at least seven times. The antibiotics would work, but not well enough, and my tonsils kept getting infected.
At some point, the doctor told me that he recommended having my tonsils removed. As I was still young, he said it would be a fairly easy operation, so considering all the problems I had been having, he thought I shouldn’t wait until I was older, as it’s a much harder procedure on older people. Apparently, they almost peel out on a young person, but with older people, they are attached more to the body and therefore the procedure requires a lot more cutting. I reluctantly agreed, as I was having these severe throat infections almost monthly by then, and decided to go ahead with the surgery.
The day of the surgery arrived. I am very sensitive to all medications, so I advised the doctors not to use too much anesthesia. I knew just a little bit will do the trick and told them they should start with a very low dose. Prior to the procedure, I had a meeting with the anesthesiologist. Thankfully, he really listened to me, which made me happy and more comfortable about the procedure. Sure enough, when the time came, they really did give me a very low dose of anesthesia. I know because I can remember them talking during the operation. I didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t scared. I just felt a really weird sensation like I was sleeping, but I knew I was awake. I could hear the people around me, but I could not move or wake up or do anything. It’s a really strange sensation.
I woke up after the surgery. Everything went well, but it took me a long time to recover. It took me about eight hours to wake up after surgery, whereas I was told that most people wake up after only four five hours. I was told that after I wake up, if I could eat some ice cream and go to the bathroom on my own, I would be able to go home to recover. But I just couldn’t wake up. I couldn’t eat the ice cream. It was about ten hours after the surgery before I could manage to do what they requested and was discharged to go home with my mom to recover.
I went home, but the pain was still so bad that I could hardly tolerate eating the ice cream or even drinking. This progressed, and after three days, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even open my jaw anymore. So after three days I was in so much pain and I couldn’t really open my jaw anymore. I think it was a Friday evening, as I usually got sick on Friday evenings for some reason, and I called my mom and told her that I felt like I needed to go to the hospital.
A Rough Recovery
I felt very strange. I was in a lot of pain. I felt like I was floating and hallucinating. Something was very wrong. My mom rushed me to the emergency room and I saw a doctor. I’ve always been kind of jittery and anxious about anything hospital or doctor related, so I only go when I urgently have to. Well I was there and feeling anxious, but I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t really open my mouth, so I knew I needed to be there.
I told the doctor how I was feeling and that I couldn’t really open my mouth when he came to examine me. He didn’t take me seriously and thought I was being dramatic and exaggerating. I opened it as far as I could, but that wasn’t good enough. He told me to “ man up” and open my mouth properly, but when I was unable to do so, he took his hands and forced it open. This caused so much pain that I actually lost consciousness.
I woke up on the floor with a pillow under my head and my mom sitting next to me. There’s no doctor in the room at this point. I asked my mom what just happened. She knew the truth and was furious. Soon, the doctor came back into the room. He blamed the incident on me being scared and having and anxiety attack and then just walked away. I was stunned! I knew I had fainted from the pain and this doctor had the nerve to not listen to me and then blame it on anxiety. Just because I wasn’t screaming and carrying on, it doesn’t mean I’m not in pain. That’s something I wish people understood. When you have chronic illness or chronic pain, you tend to react differently to pain than most “normal” people. You can almost hide it and push through when other people would act like they’re dying.
Yet More Antibiotics
In the end, he gave me another round of antibiotics that I had to drink while my throat was infected and open after surgery. I can still remember the flavor and smell to this day, and if I smelled it again, I wouldn’t be able to take it because it was such a traumatic experience. The pain I had was the worst pain ever! It was even worse than childbirth! Drinking the gross antibiotics twice a day in my open , sore, infected, swollen throat was no easy task. They were a gross orangey flavor and I’d just drink it as quickly as possible while my entire head was wrapped in bandages and packed with ice. It was awful!
The antibiotics did help this time. It took me longer than normal to recover, but in the end, it was successful. To this day, I have never had another throat infection. And have only had sore throats maybe three times and they were nothing compared to the infections and fevers I had previous to the surgery.
Doctors, Please Listen to your Patients
While I must say the surgery was successful, this was just one of many stories of doctors who didn’t believe me or just didn’t take me seriously. Obviously, not all doctors are bad. There a lot of good doctors out there. This doctor probably meant well and really thought I was having a panic attack, but I would like to share this story for all the people living with a chronic illness and issues like these to know that these things happen everywhere. I also hope that some doctors will see this article and realize that what they do is very important. How they react and interact with patients and whether it seems like they believe them can make a huge difference.
I hope you enjoyed my crazy story about when I got my tonsils out. From this experience, I learned how important it is for doctors to listen to patients. It can make a world of difference in the patient’s outcome and, for doctors, can make a difference in their treatment plan and relationship with their patients. It is important to be your own advocate and speak up when something doesn’t seem or feel right. Especially when dealing with chronic illness or pain, what seems “normal” may not be, so we must advocate and educate on our own behalf’s to have the best possible outcome.