Remembering the Pain

Even more so than kidney stones twelve years later, my peritonsillar abscess was the worst pain I’d ever experienced.

About twenty-five years ago, one of my tonsils died.

It became a lump of dead tissue, joined with the other, still living, tonsil only by their shared infection in and around my throat. In the middle of a Friday night, I looked in the mirror and they were touching. My airway was completely closed off.

My wife drove me to the emergency room, where I sat for the next six hours or so, until their ENT specialist could be reached (and, I speculate, sobered out, but I digress). When he arrived, that Saturday morning (looking a little bedraggled), he settled in and looked at my tonsils. He then told me it was an abscess and brought out a tool by which he intended to drain the puss out of the infected tonsils. For all the world, it looked like Toilet-Aid Tongs for Self-Wiping.

Tongs for the memories.

This was to be the first of those three surgeries that the doctor’s note mentioned. He was sitting on a little stool with wheels, while I was seated in one of those wide-metal based dentist’s chairs with the attached armature and lamp overhead. After warning me that it ‘might hurt a bit’, he then proceeded to reach into my throat with the tongs.

And then he grabbed me by the tonsil.

At that point, the 9-out-of-10 pain that I had felt prior to the morphine in the ER returned, and then some. Like when the U.S.S. Enterprise goes from ‘Warp Nine’ to ‘Warp nine-point-one, nine-point-two, …” In fact, I started kicking with my feet, scooting us both—me in my chair, and the doctor on his little wheeled stool—across the room.

I pulled him along like that a good ten feet before he finally let go. He mumbled something and excused himself.

I just cried and begged my wife to do something. She didn’t know what to say or do.

The doctor eventually returned (presumably after another drink) and proceeded to sit down in front of me again. He grabbed the tool and once again reached towards my throat—

And my hand shot up and grabbed his wrist in a vice-like grip, while I locked eyes with him. Like the bell had rung, he set down the tongs and retreated to an opposite corner of the room.

I had made it clear: That was the end of that day’s “surgery”.

As you can see from the note, there were two other procedures to further drain the tonsils. I don’t remember much about them. The actual tonsillectomy was the following month. Even though I was cleared to go ‘back to work/school’, most of the month of May 1996, I spent sleeping. They couldn’t do the actual removal of the tonsils until the infection went away. So, for the next several weeks, I was in such pain that I could only sleep right after taking my Tylenol w/ codeine. After a dose, I would fall to sleep…in about two hours the pain would wake me up. Then I’d wait until my next dose and repeat the cycle. About three weeks this went on, while I took antibiotics and pain-killers. And slept.

While I was awake, it hurt so bad, all the time, I could tell you the number of times I swallowed in a given day.

I couldn’t eat, except for soup. Sipping water. That was it. I timed my swallows so that I did them right before a dose…

All this came back to me as this note fell out of an old binder the other day. I love reflecting on the passage of time, so this was a strangely satisfying piece of memorabilia. We are the sum of our experiences. Think about what we’ve all gone through this past year and how it might/maybe/should help us grow. In the immortal words of Roosevelt Franklin: “Everything is Everything!”

And our pain is just part of that.

It’s just—sometimes, y’know—all a bit hard to swallow.

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