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Succumbing to Western Medicine: Peritonsillar Abscess

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik4 trips to the hospital in 5 days

4 trips to the hospital in 5 days

I am an avid, natural healer; however, there are times in my life when I have been humbled, in dire need of, and thankful for western medicine. This past week has been one of those times, as a week long annoying sore throat turned into an abscess on my tonsil causing excruciating pain, inability to swallow, and began to constrict my airway.

My journey into the medical world began last Sunday. I had had an annoying sore throat for a week, then it evolved.  After 24 hours of excruciating pain swallowing and in my ear, I decided a I couldn’t wait to see the family doctor on Monday.  I drove the hour and half to the closest ER from my mountain home. This small hospital has a poor reputation, but the wait is short and I felt all I needed was some antibiotics. The doctor spent about three minutes with me. He looked in my ear, looked in my throat, wrote me a prescription for pain pills and antibiotics, and sent me on my way. He said I had an infection.

24 hours later, I was in even more pain, and there were times when breathing was hard. The pain pills were ineffective, I could not eat or drink, and I was dehydrated. I read online that it takes 48 hours to start feeling better after being placed on antibiotics. So I waited.

48 hours later, it was time to seek medical attention again. This time, we drove two hours to an urgent care facility located at a hospital on the coast. The doctor and nurses were wonderful. They gave me fluids and steroids through an IV and switched my antibiotics in case the strep I had was resistant. Of course, I’ve heard about antibiotic resistance, but this was the first time in my life that I became seriously frightened by it.   How could a common sore throat turn into this?  They also had me drink an anesthetic for my throat pain. It was advised I stay in town.

Wednesday morning, I wanted to go home. We started driving down the road, and quickly turned around and headed back to the hospital. Urgent care said they did all they could for us and wheeled me to the ER. This time an x-ray revealed I had epiglottitis.  An antibiotic shot in the bottom and stronger pain pills, and I was sent home with confidence this would do it.  Foolishly, we drove back into the mountains.

The Vicodin made me vomit.  I still could not eat or drink. When I swallowed my pills painfully, water would flow out my nose. The pain was so severe, I was ready to give up.  My beautiful children running around me could not give me hope or optimism.  I was weak.  I had not had any food for five days.  I felt like my body was shutting down (although my vital signs were always good when checked).  I wasn’t in a dark place; the suffering had worn me completely down.

Following the ER’s recommendation, we visited my family doctor Thursday afternoon (another bumpy two hour drive). She said I needed to be admitted to the hospital. My pain and breathing had become worse.  With epiglottitis, first you can’t swallow, then you can’t breath.  We hurried to a packed ER. There was a woman who had been hit by a car, multiple stab wounds, meth addicted junkies, and me.

This time, I was given morphine and steroids right away. Then super antibiotics were pumped into my system.  Tons of blood work, blood cultures, etc.  followed while the man in the bed next to me kept having diarrhea all over his bed.  A cat scan revealed I had an abscess on my tonsil.  Tuesday’s doctor had mentioned this as a possibility, but he couldn’t see one at that time.

There’s only one Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor in all of Humboldt County.  We were lucky he was on site, or there was talk of transporting me to Redding.  He came in with confidence ordering nurses and doctors around with his tools that looked medieval.  A five-inch needle injected adrenaline and numbing agents into my mouth, then a scalpel was used to scrape the abscess away.  It was extremely intense. I was shaking, but it was what had to be done.

Four days later, I am doing better. I am still really weak, as I lost about ten pounds, but I am off of the pain pills.  I can eat soft foods. I can swallow.

So that is my life lesson for the week…I feel like I have been to the edge of pain and acceptance, and I think we should never hesitate to get the help we need from western medicine.  Perhaps I tried my alternative therapies for too long and could have gotten relief sooner.  I am just thankful this happened to me and not one of my children.

Natural, alternative methods of healing are powerful, but we can’t let them stand in the way of getting the care we need.  The overuse of antibiotics have led us to this place where common infections are becoming harder to treat. Finding the balance between the two practices on healing to optimize their effectiveness should be a goal of our health care system.  Thank you to all of the doctors and nurses who helped me!


  1. Ouch! Feel better! I had my tonsils out at 18 years old after 13 strep infections within 12 months…my ENT told me that my tonsils were so huge and infected that they had crossed to the opposite sides of my throat.

    But I never had the abscess issue…it sounds so painful. Actually, this is the second time I’ve read about this issue. Here is the first: http://www.keeperofthehome.org/2009/10/a-trip-to-the-er.html

    Now that you’re on the upswing, I recommend mixing Really Raw Honey with Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar and water and drinking that daily. It’s soothing and naturally antibacterial. Also, probiotics and olive leaf capsules are helpful in restoring bacteria and immune function. Good luck!

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