My tonsils have been trying to kill me for decades.
They were abnormally large when I was a child, but my pediatrician during the late 1970s refused to remove them on account of them appearing to be healthy.
Around the same time there was public backlash against pediatric tonsillectomies as it was alleged doctors performed them unnecessarily in order to bill for the procedure. This year I turned 40, and my tonsils - my freakishly large, but healthy tonsils - often meet each other halfway across my airway while I’m sleeping to form a seal.
That kind of organ betrayal can kill you, and after years of telling myself it’s too late to do anything now my doctor told me I should have them removed - regardless of what I’ve heard about adult tonsillectomies.
When you're a kid it's a relative cakewalk: A three-day popsicle orgy while staying home from school. Conversely, you should only Google “adult tonsillectomy” if you are interested in an endless stream of horror stories. Recovery is significantly more challenging much in the same way that it’s easier to chop down a sapling than it is to remove an oak tree that’s been growing roots for decades.
So I was now faced with enduring what should have been a cakewalk 35 years ago, all because my pediatrician didn’t think it was prudent to make just two more cuts while I was already under anesthesia for an adenoidectomy that he deemed necessary. That fucking guy.
Google “adult tonsillectomy” if you are interested in an endless stream of horror stories.
I was told to take two full weeks off from work; the required incubation period for adults preparing for release into a tonsil-free lifestyle. For chronic sufferers like me the eventual perks include “swallowing food only once” and “not constantly clearing your throat” and of course “sleeping on your back without suffocating or dying.” The price of this freedom is that recovery period which I was promised would be extremely painful and a test of my emotional stability.
Another funny thing about tonsillectomy healing: Sleeping is bad. This may seem counterintuitive, but sleeping means you’re not hydrating, and not hydrating results in the cauterized scabs in the back of your throat tightening. There is no amount of scheduled narcotic that can ease the pain this causes without causing you to vomit - which, as you might imagine, also hurts like hell. #sophieschoice
Second, distraction: Since sleep is the enemy, I was going to need to be awake and constantly absorbed by anything other than the pain. Reading requires focus and lucidity, so television would do all of the heaving lifting here. I never got on board with Breaking Bad when it aired (I know, I know) so I was excited to consume that entire 62-episode series.
It also seemed appropriate to overdose on a mini-series centered around drugs while full of drugs. The key to enduring recovery is two-fold: One, hydration. Those scabs need to heal and gently slough off to complete healing. Not being hydrated means they could chunk off, which could lead to complications like bleeding. [CUE OMINOUS FORESHADOWING MUSIC]
And, of course, college football. My DVR is full of it, the Internet is a milky football bosom that never dries and I still own a VCR only because of the VHS library I accumulated during the 1990s.
My agenda was set: 1) Rip these germ-filled death magnets out of my neck and get sent home with enough narcotics to tranquilize a pachyderm 2) Shovel frozen dessert confections into my face like calories don’t exist 3) Watch all of Breaking Bad and as much college football as time allows.
I was actually looking forward to it, as I loathe my tonsils and love doing nothing. Here’s how last week went.
Monday, April 28
You lay down on a table, you go to sleep, you wake up confused: This is how successful surgeries go down and mine played out accordingly.
The two spaces where my giant tonsils had wreaked havoc for most of my life were replaced big white patches where the surgeon had cauterized the holes they left behind. Surgical site closure is challenging with tonsillectomy so they basically burn the shit out of it and let your throat heal that way.
I felt no adverse effects from the anesthesia, but I could not speak at all. After eight Flavor Ices they were satisfied with my appearance and sent me home. I went straight to the couch with a 64-ounce peach slushy from Sonic.
Breaking Bad, Season One
It was only seven episodes; shortened by a writer's strike. I’ve heard it gets better, which is good because I require more distraction than this. Seemed like the entire first season was dedicated to character development and backstory. I ate an entire tub of Neopolitan ice cream.
Ohio State vs. Michigan - 2013
Michigan’s offense couldn’t score in a brothel for most of the year yet here it was, doing whatever it wanted to the
Silver Bullets Ohio State defense. The defense looked as hopeless as it did during the Biakabutuka ambush of 1995 with the giant exception of Ohio State’s offense being the best unit on the field.
Carlos Hyde had the best day of any opposing running back in Michigan Stadium history - against the same defensive coordinator masterminded behind the Glendale Massacre, the single most destructive day to Ohio State's football reputation in history. My God we’re going to miss El Guapo. He’s a tank with ballerina legs. What a gift that guy was.
Painkillers: They're working but I’m told not to get too confident. The pain escalates very quickly and predictably. Sleep is for suckers, so I set an hourly alarm to jar myself awake, hydrate and take meds as needed.
I had several dreams about mobile desert meth labs. That was to be expected.
Tuesday, April 29 (Day 1)
My head and neck are pounding, which means everything is going according to plan.
Breaking Bad, Season Two
Thirteen episodes ate up most of the day. My mind isn’t blown yet, but it’s doing a good enough job of being distracting. Ate a box of creamsicles in one sitting. /bucket list
Ohio State vs. Clemson - 2014
I’m still not ready to watch the B1G title game - where the Buckeyes willfully decided not to give Hyde the ball at the end of the game which would have undoubtedly won it - but I have reached the point where I can accept watching the Orange Bowl - where the Buckeyes willfully decided not to give Hyde the ball at the end of the game which would have undoubtedly won it.
Having a hard time deciding if Ohio State’s 2013 pass defense was as bad as its 2011 offense. They both ranked nationally in the 100s, which with Ohio State’s resources and talent are crimes that should bring criminal charges and imprisonment - which could be pleaded down to being promoted to James Madison.
As the game wound down and Ohio State inexplicably leaned on a gimpy, battered Braxton Miller instead of Hyde the penultimate scene from The Exorcist popped in my head. Instead of men repeatedly chanting the power of Christ compels you they were saying give the goddamn ball to Hyde over and over again.
I started bobbing my head back and forth repeating the chant to myself silently as the Buckeyes squandered their chances in Miami in identical fashion to the way they did so in Indianapolis. I stopped when I noticed my wife's worried expression and stare in my peripheral vision.
Creamsicles don't do this to you. Drugs do. Give the goddamn ball to Hyde.
Wednesday, April 30 (Day 2)
Ensure shake for breakfast. Ensure shake for lunch. Ensure shake for dinner. Healing requires actual nutrients, which is the only hole in ice cream's otherwise flawless resumé.
Ohio State at Penn State - 1997
One of the most entertaining games that the Buckeyes have ever lost. Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine splitting the snaps, David Boston, Michael Wil —
A little trickle of something - air, saliva, not sure - caught me off-guard and I coughed once. Once.
Seconds later I felt something warm gushing down my throat. I swallowed it. Then it came back, and I swallowed again. And again. It was a strange and unfamiliar feeling. I opened my mouth and held my empty Sonic cup under my chin.
About a half cup of thick, dark blood gently spilled out of my mouth into it. And then another half cup. And another. And another, all in evenly timed waves. I calmly walked to the sink with the bloody cup and began rinsing my mouth with cold water to try to slow the bleeding. I was unsuccessful.
The cup was now half-full so I grabbed a plastic Ohio Stadium cup from the pantry (from the 2011 season as it turned out - how ironic, the year of “blood everywhere”) and climbed into the car as my wife drove me to the emergency room.
I walked into the ED holding my literally/figuratively bloody 2011 cup and received immediate attention. An ENT showed up with 18-inch metallic tongs holding gauze that he pushed against the back of my throat on the hole where my left tonsil had been to try and stop the bleeding. Like me, he was also unsuccessful, and I was losing copious amounts of blood. I was now surrounded by people in scrubs pushing medical carts and shouting instructions.
The last thing I remember was being wheeled on a gurney into the operating room with people everywhere and that metal thing still jammed against the back of my throat. A pen was thrust in my hand and I was asked to sign surgery waivers that were held up against the doctor’s sleeve so I could press down and sign my name. I could feel blood continuing to cascade down both sides of my face.
Don’t worry about the signature, sir. Just make an X - we have a witness.
My throat was full of holes and needed to be cauterized again, all because of one cough.
Bright lights. Anesthesia. Good night.
Thursday, May 1 (Day 1 repeat)
My hospital roommate was a man wearing a CPAP device who must have weighed over 500 lbs. We had completely different types of hospital beds, a fact made obvious by the few feet of floor space that separated us. He kept his television on Fox News with the volume as high as it would go. This briefly caused me to wonder if I hadn’t survived the surgery after all, and this was the unwanted afterlife’s new tenant processing department.
My IV was filling me with antibiotics, pain medication and sweet, sweet glucose. I had no access to Breaking Bad, Ohio State game tapes or any worthy distractions, which is far worse in the hospital than being at home due to the inescapable smells that accompany inpatient quarters. The air whispers poop was here while the placid wind behind it sighs so was death. There’s a lot of beeping. I timed my water sips to some of the beeps to pass the time.
The surgeon had recauterized my leaky left tonsil pillar and for good measure decided to cauterize just about everything else while he was in there, like a drunk Ghostbuster wildly zapping everything that looked suspect. It turned out that single cough had knocked loose a scab, which tore off a sizable piece of artery wall with it. Had I been a tough guy and not immediately gone to the hospital I probably would have bled out in my house. Fortunately I’ve never been a tough guy in my life and have no plans to devolve into one anytime soon.
He assured me that I wouldn’t bleed again. Maybe.
My uvula (that thing that hangs in the back of your throat) looked like the Liberty Bell, crack and all. It was swollen to the point where it occupied all of the space normally hogged by my big stupid tonsils. That being said, it felt normal. That space has been occupied as long as I’ve had it.
I don’t remember a whole lot about last Thursday, but I was discharged that evening and came home to find that 1997 Ohio State-Penn State game tape still next to the VCR waiting to be watched.
I won't ever watch it again. That game, 17 years after the fact, abruptly became a lot bloodier than it was at the time.
Friday, May 2 (Day 2 repeat)
Ensure shake for breakfast. Ensure shake for lunch. Ensure shakes are what they force feed hunger striking prisoners at Guantanamo through nasogastric tubes. I briefly considered trying to drink them that way, since it couldn't hurt worse than swallowing.
Breaking Bad, Season Three
Thank you, dramatized American meth trade. Thank you for being the high-quality distraction I dreamed you would be. I now understand why this series was so celebrated.
Ohio State at Illinois, 2011
I had to do it. The single biggest joke of an Ohio State win this century, with polite nods to all of those Tresselball Ws that were earned on the backs of no offensive touchdowns. I had to relive that afternoon because we will never see comedy like that again, and I desperately needed the humor.
There was nothing unfunny about this game: Ron Zook’s Illini were undefeated and ranked 16th in the country. Ohio State began running out the clock with the opening kick, as Jim Bollman complete inability to understand offensive strategy played out over the course of three now-hilarious hours.
Bollman attempting to impersonate an offensive play caller is similar to someone who doesn’t speak Chinese pretending they're fluent by making a series of guttural, obnoxious sounds that they think might sound like Chinese. But Chinese speakers know very quickly: This guy doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing at all. He’s shouting ching chong chang at his quarterback and hoping it turns out to be something good.
Smiling hurt like hell and laughter was impossible (I still hadn’t spoken since Monday morning) but my brain chuckled for the balance of the game as the Buckeyes knocked off the undefeated, ranked Illini in a mid-October game while completing only one pass.
Ohio State at Indiana, 2005
The let’s-see-how-many-touchdowns-Ted-Ginn-can-score-that-get-called-back-for-inconsequential-holding-flags game. It’s always fun to pick up O-H-I-O bouncing around other schools’ stadiums on TV.
Even when laughing isn’t possible, you can still hear it. You don’t even need ears.
Saturday, May 3 (Day 3)
MY EARS. BAH GOD MY EARS WHY ARE YOU STABBING ME IN THE HEAD INVISIBLE HEISENBERG.
This is the ear pain I was assured would arrive a few days post-op. Apparently the same nerve that’s affected by the trauma of tonsils being evicted impacts the ears. It’s referred pain, whatever that means. All I know is that oxycontin was totally ineffective against it and even silence was literally deafening.
Ensure shake, Ensure shake, Ensure shake - I was starting to really miss forks and knives. I also had a hankering for a bathroom visit that lasted more than 45 seconds. Stupid narcotics.
I took a one-day hiatus from Breaking Bad with my kids not in school, since they should wait a few years before diving into the academic rigors of unlawful chemistry. I don’t want to be one of those pushy, helicopter parents.
Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, 1995
Featuring one of the iconic snapshots in Buckeye football history as Eddie George outran the entire Fighting Irish roster (no flag) without any blockers as well as one of the greatest moments in unscripted live television history: Regis Philbin, fortune teller:
We got this! We got a lock on them! We're gonna win!
Which was immediately followed by:
Ohio State vs. Iowa, 2009
The defacto Big Ten championship game, with the winner clinching the Rose Bowl trip. Fun fact: Marcus Hall started that game at RT, blocking for Boom Herron, Brandon Saine and Terrelle Pryor. He also played for the Buckeyes during this current calendar year. Man, he was around a long time. I salute you, sir. Twice.
Oh, competent linebacker play - you are so sexy and arousing and I’ve been instructed by medical professionals to avoid arousal during my recovery so -
Ohio State vs. Iowa, 2013
Ah, much better. Like a cold shower.
Ohio State vs. Iowa, 2010
The game where Pryor put the team on his back and won in Iowa City, only to have Kirk Herbstreit spend the postgame chastising his “body language” and leadership skills, leading to Pryor’s famous Fake Buckeye, Fake as Hell comments. Herbstreit had a valid point: Pryor should have been less me-me-me and more of a team-first guy, like his favorite player he couldn't stop gushing over during the past two seasons, Johnny Manziel.
That’s a lot of Iowa for one day, but I had to fill in the void left by Breaking Bad with the B1G equivalent.
Sunday, May 4 (Day 4)
Ears are bleeding (figuratively) mouth is bleeding (literally, but not fatally) eyes are bleeding (see: ears) and taking a dump is a myth. It doesn’t exist, especially on a liquid diet supplemented by a constant stream of narcotics.
The only solid food I’ve had over the past seven days is Oxycontin. My mother shipped me 22 pints of Graeters, so despite not eating any real food I’m still managing to gain unhealthy weight. Painkillers are now being taken at 4-hour increments instead of six. I'm watching the clock.
Just have to get to Day 10, according to everything I’ve read. What is today? Day 4? Even though the surgery was seven days ago? Awesome.
Breaking Bad, Season Four
Some of the best television ever produced. I cannot recommend this series enough, and I’m already devastated there’s only one season left. Thirteen episodes in succession took me almost 12 hours to watch, but it felt like two. That's distraction.
Ohio State at Notre Dame, 1996
I attended this game and wasn't all that familiar with the game broadcast. There’s a point where Matt Calhoun scores on a swing pass in the red zone and the NBC Notre Dame booth guys start gushing about how the Buckeyes are an offensive juggernaut that cannot be stopped.
An offensive juggernaut that eventually scored nine points at home against 17-point underdog Michigan. You see, young people? This is why everyone you love over the age of 30 has unexplained bouts of depression. It isn’t clinical. It’s environmental.
Ohio State at Michigan, 2001
The first 30 minutes of this game comprise the most euphoric half of college football in my lifetime. The concept of the Buckeyes ever winning in Ann Arbor was mythical. Ohio State beating Michigan anywhere was nearly impossible. Jonathan Wells kicked off the great decade of Wolverine slaughter by prancing all over the field with body language that suggested he was practically giggling as he picked up yards.
Tresselball’s defining moment in its inaugural season was a 4th and 1 near midfield where the Buckeyes lines up in goal line formation and telegraphed this is going to be an off-tackle run that you cannot stop at the Michigan defense. It turned out to be an off-tackle run that Michigan could not stop.
That’s how it was always supposed to work on paper, and during that half it’s how it worked on the field.
I wanted to run through a wall after watching those enchanted 30 minutes, but that’s yet another thing I’m not medically cleared to do yet. The second half featured the darker side of Tresselball, as the Buckeyes turned a 23-0 romp into a 26-20 squeaker.
Didn’t matter. Myth busted. I watched that first half twice.
Monday, May 5 (Day 5)
One week ago this morning I owned tonsils. One week ago I didn’t comprehend the anxiety of a physically devastating cough, a crippling sneeze or a wound-shattering yawn. Now I'm familiar with one of those things, I'm aware of the other two and I’m terrified of all three.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself. I'm going to be a man about this and confidently face the danger for the duration of my recovery.
[snatches Ensure vanilla out of the fridge]
[rips open cap with teeth]
[is screamed at by wife for risking any further damage to face]
Breaking Bad, Season Five (finish)
I lack words - not because I’m still incapable of speaking, but because Breaking Bad exceeded all expectations. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece you’re robbing yourself of exquisite writing that’s equalled by its execution. The quality of popular music and movies may be conspicuously deteriorating, but television is doing just fine, thanks.
Ohio State vs. Buffalo, 2013
I just needed to see how good Khalil Mack was again. He’s exquisite. I’d venture to say he stole unwritten future salary checks from Taylor Decker that day, which makes him both a thief and a time traveler.
Ohio State vs. Michigan 2012
The tension and odd finality of having an undefeated season at stake against Michigan in a honeymoon year, and then realizing and having to embrace that defective perfection: We’ll never see it again. Thankfully. It's kind of spooky to resent an undefeated season.
Ohio State rode El Guapo with the game on the line to clinch the victory - hey, they should plan on doing that again in 2013 in tight games, especially late in the season.
[slams rusty spoon into throat to try and scoop out scabs]
Ohio State Spring Game
I still hadn’t seen it, as I was out of the country at the time. I learned nothing about the Buckeyes, which is generally the value of scrimmages. They should be priced accordingly.
Tuesday, May 6 (Day 6)
Spending the day cleaning the blood off my notes from the past week to put together what you've been reading. I’ve been able to reduce the number of painkillers I'm taking, which suggests I've turned the corner recovery-wise.
I was able to choke down some buttered noodles today, which is the first solid food I’ve had in nine days. There’s some irony in having a procedure done at 40 you’re better off having at six that turns both your palate and your palate into that of a a six-year old’s.
Still unable to speak, but at least my tonsils are no longer trying to kill me. I'm not craving distractions as much as I'm just ready to feel normal again. I've got a few days to kill before that's going to be possible, so maybe I'll get around to finally re-watching that Michigan State game.
Or perhaps I'll just watch Breaking Bad again. It's not as bloody and the ending is better.