Tomorrow at 10am, I’m checking in to the hospital down the road and getting my tonsils out. For those of you who know me well, you’ll recognise the enormity of this occasion.
Why? Because tonsillitis has defined a large part of my life so far. Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been plagued with sore throats and tonsillitis.
It got worse during Uni, escalated massively during the year I spent as ASEN coordinator and National Environment Officer for the National Union of Students, and then got even worse during the last few years of the AYCC, Make Believe and other climate-related projects. For the last two years, it got to the point where I was getting tonsillitis every two months at least, lasting weeks at a time. A large chunk of my Churchill fellowship (the entire UK leg and half of China) was sidetracked because I was too sick to go to all the meetings I’d organised. Three New Year’s Eves in a row, I’ve had early nights because I’ve been sick, with varying degrees of sore throats (one year, exhausted after the Copenhagen climate talks and sleeping in a freezing house full of climate activists who didn’t want to turn the heating on, it even turned into serious pneumonia).
Every doctor (and dentist!) that I’ve ever seen told me to get my tonsils removed. For years. And I don’t mean just a couple of years. I mean Over. Ten. Years. So what was stopping me?
It’s not that I didn’t want to remove these two little lumps that were causing me so much pain, suffering and lost productivity. This long-overdue operation has been scheduled in my diary and ready to happen twice before. Sadly, both times I had to cancel at the last minute. It wasn’t the operation that I couldn’t go through with – it was the three weeks recovery time doctors recommend after an adult tonsillectomy. I just did not have a spare three weeks lying around at any point in the last ten years.
But now, I have a rare gap. This week I finished my Asia recruitment work for Change.org (which went very successfully – thanks so much to everyone who helped!). And the ABC documentary and my book (Madlands: A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic) aren’t coming out until the end of April. Which gives me just enough time to get my tonsils out, recover, make a website for my book, and prepare for the onslaught of publicity and events that will follow. I’m also hoping to visit my friend Angeline in Byron, and go bushwalking in Tasmania if my recovery is speedier than expected – a great incentive to do everything I can to heal as quickly as possible!
On the eve of my operation, I’ve been thinking about what my life is going to be like without tonsils. It’s going to be so amazing to be healthy. I won’t have to avoid people if they’re coughing and sneezing because I know my tonsils will suck in their sickness and make me sick. I’ll have so much more time to do climate activism, to write, to hang out with my friends without days and weeks being written off by illness. I’ll be able to stay out all night if I want without the inevitable consequence of getting a sore throat the next day.
I should acknowledge the things that having recurring tonsillitis have taught me; try to find the silver lining on my last night with tonsils. I guess in a way, they’ve taught me how to take care of myself. That I have to take it easy sometimes, or I get sick (or at least, more sick than I otherwise would have been). Because of my tonsils, I’ve done a lot of research into nutrition, vitamins, exercise and other things that strengthen my immune system and keep me relatively healthy. Without taking these precautions, my tonsillitis would have completely taken over my life.
My frequent tonsillitis has also helped me develop empathy for people in similar situations – those who get sick really, really regularly. I know how horrible and frustrating it feels when your body seems determined to act against you, no matter how much you look after it.
I’m sure there are some life lessons that have come from being sick a lot. I suppose it’s reminded me (often) how vulnerable humans really are. And helped teach me patience. Because when you’re really sick with tonsillitis, you just have to wait to get better. I’m so achingly familiar with the stages of this illness – what my body has to go through to get from the first sign of a sore throat, to a head flu, to tonsillitis, to a chest infection, to healing – that it’s almost a comforting routine by now! I’ve learnt that I can’t rush it. It just takes a certain amount of time to heal (and longer if I don’t rest, rest and rest). You can’t negotiate with the laws of nature. So I should say thank you to my tonsils for the lessons and experiences I’ve had because they’ve been so crappy.
So now it’s past 10pm, and tomorrow is the last day I’ll wake up with tonsils. Ever. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a little scared about the operation. All this week I’ve had nightmares where the anaesthetic doesn’t work properly and I wake up in the middle of the surgery in extreme pain. And the stories I’ve heard (and read online) about recovering after adult tonsillectomies sound horrific. But I am immensely grateful that I live in a country where I can have this operation, have a good chance of it going safely, and look forward to a long and productive life without recurring tonsillitis.
So…wish me luck! And for those who’ve had their tonsils removed, or know people who have, what are your tips for an easy recovery? My surgeon has just told me to chew gum… surely there’s more to it than that?
(Oh, and what DVDs and books should I read while I’m bed-ridden?)