Our US hospital experience for a tonsillectomy

By Karina Rook

Well, first off, the entire operation only cost us $36. My daughter has had several operations in Australia (to insert tubes in her ears), and even with private insurance we were several hundred dollars out of pocket. I couldn’t believe how little we had to pay here. Because we are part of a private network paid for by my husband’s employer, we only have to contribute a ‘co-payment’ for some medical services. Yes, we get a limited choice of doctors and specialists, and we have to drive a few miles to the surgery, but these are small inconveniences compared to affordable health care.

The operation was performed in a newly-built hospital in Santa Clara, with beautiful landscaped gardens, huge windows overlooking the mountains and modern art on every wall. It looked more like a corporate HQ than a hospital, and there was no trace of that funny hospital smell that sets your nerves on edge. My daughter was admitted and then began the four hour wait for surgery. Being almost 12 years old she spent a lot of that time playing and reading on her iPhone while I kept re-reading the same page of my book over and over, trying to act like this was just a normal day.

Recent studies had shown that keeping a patient warm before and during surgery improved their recovery, so a heated air blanket was set up on my daughter’s bed, keeping her warm and toasty. The hospital staff also allowed her to keep her very large teddy bear (1 meter tall) by her side the whole time, and it was even with her while they put her under. A nice touch I think as tearing that teddy away from her would have required several nurses. When it was time to insert the IV into the back of the hand, they brought a different nurse in to do the deed – more of a ‘no nonsense’ nurse instead of the affectionate, caring nurse who had looked after us so far. The task was completed quickly and soon it was time for her to be wheeled off to the operating room. This bit didn’t really happen like it does on TV, with hand-holding and loving gazes, instead she was whisked away quickly and I was guided, in tears, to the waiting area.

In Australia, this is the part where I ball my eyes out in a private waiting room with bad coffee and ancient magazines. This time round I was seated in a large waiting area that was full of people, and I didn’t feel comfortable letting all those emotions out. A hospital volunteer brought a pet therapy dog around, chatting to people and encouraging everyone to pat her dog. It all got too much for me so I went off on a coffee hunt to distract myself.

Eventually I was called into the recovery room to see my daughter hysterically crying and panicking as the drugs made her feel out-of-control. They had her on Vicodin which made her feel drowsy and nauseous. She was extremely thirsty, but couldn’t keep anything down – sucking on ice chips was all she could manage. It took 2 hours for her to calm down and be ready for discharge and they put her into a wheelchair and wheeled her to the car park. I was pretty shocked that they would release her even though she hadn’t drunk anything and was so woozy, but I just wanted to get her home. She slept the whole way home (thankfully) and the next day she still couldn’t keep anything down. After some Googling we took everyone’s online advice and stopped giving her Vicodin – there was an immediate improvement.

She recovered fully within a week, and no longer snores. She can (finally) breathe through her nose and her sleep apnea has gone. She can eat food without having to open her mouth to breathe and we can now see a clear, wide airway where previously her tonsils blocked over 70% of that space. Her metabolism has increased so she is returning to a healthy weight (there is some connection between sleep apnea and not burning calories normally, and our daughter was overweight). But best of all her improved sleep has meant that we no longer have to wake her up every morning, which always seemed such a cruel thing to do to a child, even though it was sometimes pretty funny.