Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tonsillectomy According to Peter Ponsil

This cheery little musical interlude from the 1950's starts out with a chipper chorus of "Have you heard of Peter Ponsil?" A jaunty xylophone riff with breezy notes ascending and descending reinforces the carefree, whimsical mood.  Pete himself then chimes in with an upbeat tale of having his tonsils ripped out removed by the good ol' Dr. Sneeze&Blow. A pretty nurse cheerfully dressing the patient in a "Johnny Coat" also is described in Pete's upbeat, sing-song voice. It's an engaging little song that I hear repeating in the back of my head when I'm engaging some high minded activity like watching the Three Stooges. It was played for us in grade school as part of health class and it stuck with me all these years.

It's probably one of the pioneers in patient education, but the rosy picture it painted of tonsillectomy was bending the truth more than a triffle. Pediatric patients were told many half truths and outright fibs to gain their cooperation. Every old peds nurse knows that sneaky  trick of telling little Peter Ponsil that it's time to check his temperature and then administering a painful intramuscular injection. That old Vistaril pre-op shot used to burn like a branding iron  Misleading youngsters to gain their cooperation was just plain wrong, but I never had much of a say with older nurses.

Peter Ponsil conveniently neglected to mention some of the complications and post op pain discomfort associated with tonsillectomy. The procedure involved outlining the margins of the tonsil with a #15 blade, looping a snare around the offending tonsil and squeezing the mini beartrap of a snare closed to finish the -ectomy.

The most unusual complication I witnessed involved removing the uvula along with a tonsil. The surgeon told the family not to worry because the little thing hanging down in the back of the throat was unnecessary and just got in the way. He was half right - it did indeed get in the way of his snare.

Another youngster had to make an emergent trip back to the OR for a bronchoscopy because the eschar sloughed off a tonsillectomy wound and lodged in his  right main stem bronchus. I think our friend Peter Ponsil would be singing a different tune post-bronchoscopy.

Our pediatric unit was divided into 3 separate wards: pre-op, post-op, and isolation which was affectionately known as the diarrhea ward. The unsuspecting kids in pre-op frolicked about in their Johnny Coats consumed by blissful ignorance courtesy of Peter Ponsil and his ilk. Post-op was where the reality of the situation reared it's ugly head. Kids howling in pain suddenly aware of how deceitful their friend, Pete, had been. The more rambunctious were even restrained on papoose boards. Peter Ponsil was a spin doctor of the highest order.

There was a great deal of deception in old school healthcare and Peter Ponsil bunches it all up in his little song that represents an entourage of  hospital falsehoods. From nurses telling patients that a Bicillin injection would feel like a mosquito bite to surgeons obscuring an ominous finding, half truths and outright deception was everywhere. The pain word was beclouded by referring to it as discomfort. Of course this was all done for the patient's own good.


  1. Ye gods and little fishes!!! What a load of bull spit!

    And why do the little brats insist on screeching post-op?!?!?!

    {Can you tell I hate kids??}

  2. That is a terrible triune for sure. At least Nixon and Westmoreland have gone on to their great reward. Dr. Sneeze 'N Blow looks like a good guy in comparison.

  3. You pointed out one thing that still hasn't changed: MD understatement. "It will be a little uncomfortable" is doctor-speak for it's going to feel like a telephone pole being inserted through your midsection.

  4. I wrote a post about physician/surgeon understatement some time ago. I think it was called "Surgisplaining" One of the Gyne docs used to always explain D&Cs by claiming he was just going to do a little dusting and cleaning. The truth came out in recovery room when his patients were coiled up on their litters with severe cramps.

    Thanks so much for reading my foolishness and commenting. It makes my day!

  5. I listened to the entire song. By the end, I wanted to strangle Peter Ponsil with a Johnny Coat. Dr. Sneeze&Blow should have done something about his incredibly annoying voice while he was in there.

  6. I heartily agree. There is an equally annoying tune on the album titled, "First Trip to The Dentist," by Peter's clone. Perhaps a mandibular arch wiring would be helpful.