Despite my husband’s repeated advice to not “internet doctor” my upcoming thyroid surgery, I scoured the web for information anyway. At the time it wasn’t clear if I was going to have a partial thyroidectomy or full thyroidectomy, but I wanted to know what to expect in either case.
(Googling “death by thyroidectomy” doesn’t bring up much of anything so you can skip that search and breathe a sigh of relief. I did the legwork on that one for you.)
Between the two years of pondering whether or not I should do this, biopsies and appointments with various surgeons, nothing really prepared me for how it really would go for me, which may be different from how you will recover. But, since my gum graft surgery recap seemed to help so many people, I thought I’d share my partial thyroidectomy experience.
In early 2012, my dental hygienist noticed a lump on my throat as she was cleaning my teeth. So, I went to my general practitioner who referred me to an endocrinologist—a specialty here that books out months in advance for an initial appointment. By the time I had an actual appointment and scan in probably around July, it was revealed that I had about a 4cm node on my left thyroid. The biopsy came back negative but I was advised due to its size that I might want to have it removed because they couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t keep growing. The bigger it got, the more difficult the surgery would be and I would never be as healthy as I am now.
Until I decided what to do, they would monitor it every 6 months or so. In the meantime, my dad passed away and I wasn’t in the mood to go under the knife. In 2014, a scan that revealed slight growth to 4.2cm so I received a very pointed letter from my endocrinologist that basically said, “You need to get this removed as soon as possible.” OK. Then came meetings with multiple surgeons. I found one I liked and decided to bite the bullet and have the surgery after the holidays.
My thyroid levels have always been fine.
My surgery was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. which meant a 7:30 a.m. arrival time. I wasn’t able to eat or drink anything from midnight onward. If you take medication, you’re allowed a sip of water with it.
I was also not able to take vitamins or or pain relievers other than Tylenol for the entire week prior (no one said anything about wine, so I drank it). I caught the world’s most horrible head cold that week so received an OK to take my normal cold medicine.
The anesthesiologist I met with in my pre-op appointment OK’d Xanax on the morning of surgery. Boy did that ever help soothe the nerves.
Basically, the early hospical arrival involved checking in, changing, reviewing medical history, meeting with the surgeon one last time, and getting hooked up to an IV. There wasn’t too much downtime and my husband was permitted to hang with me.
At “go” time, they injected anesthesia into my IV and rolled me into the operating room. I felt zero anxiety, due to the medication. I remember being transferred on to the table and that was it until I woke up in recovery with half of my thyroid gone. Easy.
I was told in advance that if I felt the slightest bit nauseous upon waking up that I needed to let them know so they could get ahead of it. I felt queasy. Benadryl was immediately injected into my IV. I woke up and fell asleep a number of times before finally being pretty much kicked out of recovery.
I went home the same day as surgery and ate a fairly normal dinner.
The Next Few Days Were the Worst
Apparently, I am not one of those people who handle anesthesia very well. I had migraines and nausea for several long days after the fact.
My incision? No pain whatsoever. The surgeon said it’s one of those miraculous things where they cut the nerves there during surgery and by the time you heal, there’s no pain. I couldn’t turn my neck very well for almost two weeks. I drove one week later but to turn my head required turning my entire body. Don’t play on driving for at least a week, if not a little longer. Energy isn’t abundant.
My incision was closed with stitches that would dissolve behind some kind of surgical tape that was supposed to fall off in 10 days or so. It never did so I used nail polish remover and a Q-tip to break the bonds and get it off (per the surgeon’s recommendation)… no big deal. I never saw the stitches and that was fine.
In regard to eating, because I felt ill, I only wanted bland food for several days after surgery. But, there’s no way that I’d recommend you chew a steak or anything like that in the days afterward. You’ll need to get used to your limitations, which include feeling a little odd when swallowing.
Recovery from Partial Thyroidectomy
Meeting with multiple surgeons results in potentially confusing the information regarding how long I’d be out of commission. One surgeon told me that my down time would be 2 days (which is a complete crock, on hindsight). Another said a week. My surgeon said that if I had a full time job outside the home, I should take off two weeks and if I worked from home on my own time, a week would probably be OK. As an otherwise healthy human, I figured that I’d land somewhere in the middle.
Wrong. Two weeks is about right. I was pretty much useless during the first week. I could do a little bit here or there during the second week, but not much. I was back to full productivity during weeks three and four but I did need naps and was still unable to exercise. Unfortunately, I caught a horrible cold during week four and the coughing really irritated my surgical site. Do whatever it takes not to get sick for the first two months after surgery because it will set you back.
Otherwise, my surgeon said people are back to normal pretty much at about the six week mark.
How to Prevent Scarring from Surgery
I asked my dermatologist how best to avoid scarring and she said that vitamin E and other scarring ointments are basically worthless. She had me buy over-the-counter, professional grade silicone strips. I chose (affiliate link) ScarAway and have been pleased from the results but they do require patience.
She said that the silicone basically prevents a new scar from popping out. But, everyone heals differently. Should I still scar, there are lasers that help and steroid injections should the scar pop out. So far, I can tell the silicone strips are working.
Things to Ask
While partial thyroidectomy is a fairly routine and simple (relatively speaking) surgery, surgeons seem to have different incision sizes. Ask how big yours will be and where it will be. Some tout a minimally-invasive technique with very small incisions. I was told that all surgery is minimally-invasive if you have a good surgeon because they will get in and out quickly with minimal damage.
My incision is about 2 inches. While it doesn’t seem like much, seeing it actually on your neck after the fact is quite a shock. If you have creases in your neck, they will try to put it there but do ask in advance. I might even suggest looking at photos in advance so that you can visualize and get comfortable with what your new neck may look like.
Minimally-invasive is worth looking in to if you’re a candidate. It is offered where I had my surgery but I was never given the option probably due to the size of my node.
Surgery in the Winter Is Ideal
It’s easy to cover the incision with a scarf or turtle neck in the winter, plus staying out of the sun will reduce scarring. I can’t tell you how glad I am that my surgery fell in January. I still wear the silicone bandages and probably will until at least April.
The Bottom Line
Don’t delay a thyroidectomy or partial thyroidectomy because you’re scared. The surgery itself is pretty easy. Have you had it?