Easy, simple, clean, and virtually painless: all words to describe my adenoidectomy in South Korea at Hanyang Hospital. Don’t get me wrong, I’m only on my third day of recovery and I feel horribly sick. The sickness, however, is because I just ate five liters of ice cream and I feel like I’m going to throw up.
What are Adenoids?
Adenoids are the tonsils most people don’t know about. Everyone knows about tonsils; the small punching bags hanging down from the back of the throat that catch, identify, and help fight bacteria and viruses. What people don’t realize is that they have tonsils behind their nose called adenoids, which perform the same function as tonsils. Tonsils and adenoids are believed to play a vital role in our immune systems during early development. As we age, however, they are not necessary and can be removed if they cause problems.
Adenoids tend to be very large in children. They shrink as children age and typically never cause any problems. In extremely rare cases, adenoids do not shrink and can wreak havoc for adults. They remain inflamed and enlarged. Due to their hidden position, a general practitioner can’t see them and will often misdiagnose any symptoms resulting from enlarged adenoids.
In my case, my adenoid tissue was so large it was obstructing 90% of the airway directly behind my nose. This means I only had access to 10% of the airway behind my nose for breathing and the drainage of my nasal and sinus areas. Furthermore, the adenoid was so large, my doctors could not rule out adenoid carcinoma (really bad cancer) as the cause. I still have to wait for the official biopsy results next week, but if the initial indications hold true, then this is a condition I’ve carried since childhood, not a disease caused from aging.
Below is a nasty image, but it is my actual adenoid before surgery. The small amount of space below the adenoid was only present when I breathed in. Plus, it was the only area available for the proper drainage of my sinuses and my nose. If you can imagine, that’s cause for constant infections, illness, and exhaustion. Not to mention, how in the world was I able to breathe? The doctors told me I was incredibly adjusted to the severity of my condition.
For my entire life, I have suffered from intense sinus issues and constant exhaustion. Any time I would get sick, it would turn into an infection and I would need to be treated with antibiotics to clear the infection.
Countless doctors and one ear nose and throat specialist attributed my constant illness and exhaustion to allergies and weak sinuses. For whatever reason, no one bothered to stick an endoscope up my nose to see what was going on. Finally, after a week of intense fevers where I had to turn my ondol (floor heating in Korea) to full heat and sleep on the floor to keep warm, I visited an ENT specialist in Korea.
The Best Adult Adenoidectomy in the World?
The ENT specialist at Hanyang Hospital treated my sinus infection with a straight month of antibiotics. In the past, I’d always been given antibiotics for five days. My specialist explained that while this made me feel better, it never completely eradicated my infection.
After a month of antibiotics, I had never felt so good in my life. However, the adenoid did not shrink. Since it had a 10% chance of being a malignant growth and obstructed my airway, surgery was recommended for the purposes of having a full biopsy and to clear my airway.
I checked into Hanyang Hospital on May 20th. In America, an adenoidectomy would be an outpatient procedure. In Korea, medical costs are less expensive so I checked into the hospital the night before my operation with the option to stay for four nights after the surgery. I stayed two nights after my surgery, and the total costs of both the surgery and hospital stay was 1.1 million won or very close to 1,000 dollars. My insurance covers 50% of all medical costs.
Before the surgery, I read recovery stories of adult tonsilectomies and adenoidectomies. If you are about to have either of these procedures, ignore the stories. What I experienced was an easy surgery and an extremely quick recovery.
The worst part of the surgery was the anxiety before hand. My doctor and surgeon met with me the morning before the surgery. They were graceful enough to skype with my parents overseas and answer any questions. They explained that if an initial and crude biopsy favored cancer, they would not proceed with the operation since radiation treatment was the preferred treatment for adenoid carcinoma. So, while I had fear of surgery, my biggest fear is that I would wake up without surgery due to the discovery of cancer.
At 10:05, the nurse came into my room to prepare me for my operation. They rolled me down the hallway and I entered one room. I stared up as six people were all around me. Nothing was being spoken in English so I didn’t really know what was going on. Someone put a gas mask over my face and that gave me a good chuckle. There was no counting down, that’s the last thing I remember. It’s a shame because I practiced my countdown in Korean.
People say when you are put under, that it’s like sleeping with no awareness of time. I remember two seconds after being given gas, and the next thing I remember were two women on each side of me saying, “wake up Brent.” I opened my eyes and asked them if I had the surgery. They shook their heads yes and I was ecstatic. I immediately sat up and gave them both high fives. I was in no pain – I wasn’t groggy, nauseous, or even tired.
They rolled be back into my room. The only pain I felt was in my throat when I swallowed. It registered at a five or six in my mind out of ten. Later, I discovered this wasn’t from the surgery, but merely from the breathing tube they put into my body.
As soon as I got to my room, I skyped my parents. I had so much adrenaline I walked in circles around my IV stand in disbelief of how easy the surgery was. As the day progressed, I was in little pain. The worst part was the taste in the back of mouth from the surgery. I met with my doctors later in the afternoon and they told the crude biopsy results favored adenoid tissue over cancer. Additionally, the surgeon said the tissue looked and felt like adenoid tissue as he performed the operation – This was great news. Afterwards, they gave me some mouthwash to gargle which got rid of the horrible taste and broke up some of the scabs in my throat.
The next morning, I ate kimchi, bulgogi, soup, and spicy food. It only hurt a little to swallow. I couldn’t believe I could eat spicy food the day after my surgery. The only bad part about eating was that the painkillers made my tongue numb. I didn’t realize that my soup was really hot and I burned my tongue. Later that day, my nasal packings were removed. They were placed in my nose during my surgery to help control the bleeding. When they were removed, it wasn’t painful, only slightly uncomfortable. I was released from the hospital a day later.
My surgery took place on the 21st, and I’m finishing typing this on the 25th. My tongue feels burned from the hot soup, but I have no other pain. I’ve been a little tired but that’s normal after surgery. Breathing is amazingly effortless and easy. As my swelling from the surgery diminishes, I’m amazed at how good I feel. My face isn’t sore, my head isn’t pounding, there is no pressure in my sinuses or nose. I feel like I uncovered a reservoir of energy that will allow me to become a super version of myself.
If you suffer from acute sinusitis and get 3 to 4 sinus infections a year, do yourself a favor and visit an ENT specialist to make sure there isn’t a structural inadequacy contributing to your sickness. Remember, normal doctors do not have the equipment to determine certain problems like enlarged adenoids or deviated septums.
If you are preparing for an adenoidectomy – don’t worry. Ask your doctor questions regarding pain and the relief of pain after surgery. The stories online are horrible and were polar opposites of what I experienced. Don’t read them. Trust your doctor and know you are in good hands. An adenoidectomy is a simple procedure with relatively few complications.
Finally, if you are a foreigner in Korea, I highly recommend Hanyang Hospital in Seoul. The patience, kindness, professionalism, courtesy and treatment I received were world-class. I would like to thank Professor Chang Myeon Song for his excellent work as my surgeon. Additionally, the treatment I received was far less expensive than what I would have paid in the United States.
I’m five days post-surgery and I’m going to take my bike for a spin on the Cheonggyecheon in my backyard. For everyone who comes across this article, I wish you the best for both the treatment of your illness and a fast recovery from your treatment. After being alive for 30 years, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Mom was right after all – it’s a beautiful day to breathe the fresh air outside!