The magnificent aroma had but to waft enticingly around my olfactory receptors, and I was seduced. The bubbly sound of plastic on plastic sent my senses into overdrive. Ravenous, I pulled the Lean Cuisine from the microwave, tore the clear wrap off my partitioned Salisbury steak and macaroni and cheese and shoveled a forkful of over-salted, formerly flash-frozen mystery meat into my mouth.
It was heaven. It was bliss. It required chewing. It was solid food.
For the 10 days previous, I had lain on the brink of starvation, clinging feebly to a few thin strands of life after having two long-cherished pieces of my anatomy taken from me: my tonsils. At 23 years old, I had to relinquish ownership of my throaty lymph glands in the name of good health.
I have now joined the ranks of thousands of 4-year-olds across the country who have suffered as I have: enduring weeks of nothing but pudding and Popsicles, being waited on hand and foot by doting mothers and bleeding profusely from the mouth. Little Timmy and Jennie, be not afraid, for I am with you.
Tonsillectomies aren't as popular as they used to be, of course, for either kids or adults. It's still mostly a childhood surgery, and it's not so bad for the little tykes. With a less-developed vascular system servicing their precious little throats, the recovery for kids is relatively swift and minimally painful. But for adults, with a Mixmaster of veins running throughout our throats, things are much worse. As my doctor told me: "Many people compare it to recovering from serious back surgery."
I felt a little better when he told me there would be liquid hydrocodone involved.
My troubles started a couple of years ago with a raging throat infection that kicked off my senior year of college. Mix that with two weeks of antibiotics and a roommate who made Gilbert Gottfried seem like a timid wallflower, lightly sprinkle with dorm-room bunk beds and you have something very close to hell. As time progressed, I found myself popping packs of azithromycin like Altoids. The tonsils could not be stopped; appeasement was clearly not the best policy. Left to fester, I suspected they would begin to develop their own central nervous system and attempt to annex the Sudetenland.
Looking back on it, the signs were all there. From my travels abroad, I knew how to say "I have a sore throat" and "antibiotics" in three foreign languages. More useful than "Yes, handsome European playboy, I would like a bit more absinthe," but not nearly as fulfilling.
Finally, enough was enough. I found myself sitting in an outpatient surgical center near Baylor hospital, wearing my finest Dr. 90210 chic. The women on that show always look fantastic before surgery in their little yoga pants, oversized sunglasses and hip knit caps. So I followed suit, pretending I was having my incredibly flat stomach being made even more incredibly flat by a handsome young plastic surgeon.
This bubble was burst when I had to fight for ownership of my tonsils at 6:30 a.m. with a pretty nurse in pink scrubs. To my dismay, I would not be able to keep them in a jar displayed on my mantel. I could donate them to science, or I could donate them to the hazardous biological waste bin. At first, the choice seemed simple. If I couldn't have my tonsils, no one could.
But who was I to deprive some strapping young Dr. McDreamy slaving away at groundbreaking tonsil research?
"What remarkable tonsils these are!" McDreamy would remark to the nurse he'd been mugging down with in the janitor's closet for the past three months. The nurse would politely agree, but McDreamy would be fixated. He would embark upon a journey to find the previous owner of those glands, engaging in various wacky high jinks along the way before discovering me in the crowded square of some Eastern European city. So, you know, I relented. In the name of science.
As luck would have it, I did meet a very dreamy McDoctor that morning. But, also as luck would have it, I was not in my thigh-sucking yoga pants but a less-than-slimming backless hospital gown and flanked by my very concerned parents. Yes, I had regressed roughly 20 years by the time my devastatingly handsome anesthesiologist—complete with English accent—rolled around.
My father fired off a barrage of questions at this Dr. McBlighty while I was poked with various needles and asked about my most intimate digestive habits. Why did this Englishman practice medicine in America? Why anesthesiology? Why Dallas? The correct answer to all these questions was, of course, "Destiny. I need to meet a beautiful young Texan woman with chronic tonsil problems and whisk her back to London so that we may bear beautiful little children who will melt hearts when they demand a pack of 'crisps.'"
But it was not to be. Too flustered to think clearly, I ended up pinching not the IV tube McBlighty asked me to squeeze after he inserted it in my arm, but his beautiful English index finger. He jumped. I turned bright red, and I knew that the only thing my future children would demand from me would be a new pair of Wranglers every Christmas.
A couple hours later, I woke up with two gaping holes in the sides of my throat and a temporary sense of euphoria courtesy of the lingering general anesthesia. I could conquer the world! I could eat two red Popsicles! I could promptly regurgitate them without warning! The possibilities were limitless.
Discharged into the care of my mother, I was fed a spoonful of neon yellow liquid hydrocodone every four hours. Over the next week, I competed with my cats for new records in consecutive hours of sleep, waking up to catch a glimpse of the Home Shopping Network or Food Channel before falling back into my drug-induced slumber. Slowly, I began to regain strength, although I was reduced to a pudding-and-chicken broth diet even Nicole Richie would find wanting—except, of course, for the pain meds.
I began to fantasize not about hunks of meat like the scrub-clad Englishman, but of steaks and chicken breasts. A mere seven days after surgery, I awoke one morning sure that that would be the day that solid food would return to my belly.
And then came the plentiful oral bleeding. It's a downer on any occasion, but especially when you have big plans for the Lean Cuisine in your freezer. See, I'd finally convinced my mother to leave me alone for the night. The next morning, somewhere between the couch and the kitchen, I realized that a mouthful of metallic-tasting bodily fluid was not going to be a sufficient substitute for a cup of tea. I proceeded to freak out.
Frantically dialing my cell phone and with a roll of paper towels stuck in my mouth, I called my mother, squeaking out the gory details of my condition. I grabbed a bag of ice out of my freezer and a jug of water, plopped down on the bathroom floor and started gargling ice-cold water like there was no tomorrow. Which, I figured, there wouldn't be if I died from a surgery children practically enjoy thanks to the increased consumption of ice cream it requires. Sitting 16 inches from a litter box and two family-sized bottles of imitation Pantene conditioner, I was forced to face my own mortality.
But I lived to clean that kitty litter and eat that Lean Cuisine another day. Sure, I'll soon enjoy the freedom of not being sick every couple of months, but my tonsils really taught me to appreciate the little things in life. Like frozen dinners. And pooper-scoopers.