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The Tonsillitis Episode

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This is a one-episode medical condition that seems to be prevalent in kids' shows. As such, it is played less for drama, and falls more into the category of Very Special Episode. The basic formula for such an episode is thus:

  1. The character (usually either a kid or someone sufficiently childlike) has a throat problem that turns out to be tonsillitis.
  2. The character angsts about having to have surgery, but is reassured by their loved ones and promised — and this is important — "All the Ice Cream You Can Eat."
  3. The operation goes off without a hitch. Whether loved ones actually come through with the ice cream is optional, and if they do, the patient may or may not feel up to eating it.

Sub-Trope of Sick Episode. Compare to The Dentist Episode. Something of a Forgotten Trope because since the late 1990s tonsillectomies are done much less frequently than they were in the past, and their effectiveness is debated. Nowadays wisdom teeth removal is often used in its place.


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     Comic Books 

     Fan Fic 

     Film Shorts 
  • The Little Rascals:
    • In the short "Men in Fright", Darla has just had her tonsils taken out, and Alfalfa is tricked by another boy into taking his place. Alfalfa doesn't know that the other boy is scheduled for a tonsillectomy, too.
    • In "No Noise", Mickey gets his tonsils out.

  • A major episode in (the novel, not the movie) Cheaper by the Dozen involves several of the children getting their tonsils taken out. Only the dentist mislabels one of the tonsil X-rays, and so one of the girls who thought she didn't have to get hers out is dragged to the dentist. In a separate, but closely related incident, Dad decides to get his taken out and have it filmed. The operation goes off smoothly, but the cameraman made a mistake and none of it recorded.
  • There's a Russian story about a boy with tonsillitis. The first time he's at the doctor, he bites the doctor instead. The second time, the operation works well, but afterwards he doesn't get the promised ice cream, because he bit the doctor the first time.

     Live Action TV 
  • As an example of the childlike patient, in an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar develops tonsillitis. Near the end of the episode, Hawkeye and BJ trade their precious portable bathtub in exchange for 10 gallons of ice cream for Radar... which then ends up being shared amongst all the personnel at camp.
  • The Brady Bunch: Cindy needs her tonsils out on the same weekend the family is planning on a trip on Mike's employer's boat. Then Carol needs hers out, too.
  • The Munsters: Eddie has his tonsils removed in the episode "Operation: Herman."
  • Even the Fonz caught a case of tonsillitis in the Happy Days episode (with the Incredibly Lame Pun), "Fonsillectomy." What makes that episode all the more jarring is the series Continuity Error. The Tonsil Episode takes place during Halloween, and the previous Halloween special (about Richie not wanting to date a tall girl, and getting advice about honesty from the Fonz) included a story about how when Fonz had to get his tonsils removed AS A CHILD, his Mom tried to pretend they were going someplace fun, but eventually admitted they were going to the hospital because Fonzie was getting suspicious. Not once does this episode mention that Fonz had already had that operation, nor do they include a Hand Wave statement about tonsils growing back. It is simply treated as if it were the first major surgery the Fonz had ever endured.
  • The Nanny episode "Deep Throat" has Fran getting her tonsils out. Maxwell and the Sheffield family stay with her through the procedure, much to the horror of C.C. Babcock, who hoped Maxwell would accompany her to her class reunion.
  • In an episode of Seinfeld, George is told he has to have his tonsils removed again. He laments that despite being promised ice cream the first time, he never got any.
  • Doogie diagnoses Vinnie with tonsillitis in an episode of Doogie Howser, M.D..
  • An episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had Will waiting to have his tonsils removed. He's so terrified of the surgery that he tries to escape from the hospital.
  • Bob has to have his tonsils out on Christmas Day in an episode of The Bob Newhart Show.
  • Played for Laughs on Get a Life. Chris has to have his tonsils out and no matter how many times people tell him it's routine and low-risk, he thinks it's extremely risky and he may die during the operation. Later, after the surgery, when he discovers he's unable to talk (a common temporary side effect), he starts a routine to get his voice back - which includes having his neighbor punch him in the face and hanging himself.
  • One episode of Hannah Montana features this. Miley comes down with a sore throat and despite her efforts to not talk and get better it turns into Tonsillitis. Miley is told she'll need surgery and she worries that her singing voice won't recover, everything turns out fine though.
  • Emergency! has one of the variant ones. Roy had his tonsils out as a kid, but his throat is getting sore a lot. After a lot of denial, one of the doctors confirms they grew back and he'll need another surgery. Johnny brings him a big milkshake at the end of the ep. The trouble is that he's in a room with Chet, who broke his shoulder, and won't shut up.
  • In the Adventures in Wonderland episode "Take My Tonsils... Please!" the Mad Hatter has his tonsils removed. This is an odd episode, as much of it takes place in a realistic hospital without any of the usual Wonderland wackiness, though by the end it reverts to the standard hijinks as the still hoarse-voiced Hatter tries to replace himself with an identical robot to host a TV show.
  • The B-plot of the Clarissa Explains It All episode "Janet and Clarissa Inc." revolves around Ferguson and Marshall having their tonsils removed.

     Newspaper Comics 
  • Garfield did a story arc where Jon had to go to hospital for a tonsillectomy. Garfield comes to visit, and inevitably makes a play for the ice cream.

     Stand Up Comedy 
  • Bill Cosby had a routine where he was going to have his tonsils taken out at age seven, meeting two other boys who were going to have the same procedure. After seeing one of them anesthetized post-operation, Bill thought the kid had died. From there, the routine becomes more Black Comedy as young Bill sees his life pass before him... in an instant.

     Web Original 

     Western Animation 
  • Played straight in The Busy World of Richard Scarry. Huckle even got his ice cream, too. Although he couldn't eat it because it still hurt too much to swallow.
  • Hey Arnold!:
    • The episode titled "Gerald's Tonsils," in which Gerald's operation leaves his voice permanently deeper and raspier. It was created around the time his voice actor hit puberty, and rather than replace him with another boy (or a woman), they used tonsillitis to explain the deeper voice.
    • Eugene got one by accident in "Eugene's Bike", though he was fine by it as they're an unnecessary pair of organs. He just wished the doctors left his spleen in, though.
  • This was used with Isabella in the Phineas and Ferb episode "I Scream, You Scream".
  • The Rugrats episode "No Place Like Home" had Susie Carmichael suffering from tonsillitis. Her stay at the hospital is a framing device for her slipping into an Oz-esque dream world.
  • Little Bill had one of these, as did Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
  • The South Park episode "Tonsil Trouble" begins with Cartman having his tonsils removed. He gets HIV from the procedure.
  • Dennis the Menace had Dennis in the hospital once for a "tonsil-neck-tummy",
  • An episode of Bobby's World had this happen to the title character his throat is very sore and finds it difficult to talk, he thinks he's going to die, once he gets them removed he's happy to get all the ice cream he wants.
  • King Bob had this in Recess, though it's not the entire focus of the episode. It's actually about Gus filling in for his king duties while he's having an operation for his tonsillitis.
  • Timmy in The Fairly OddParents! had an episode dedicated to this. He realized he could just wish the tonsils out, but it takes him the whole episode before he's able to do so, being chased by crazy nurses (Vicky) and almost getting killed in the process.
  • Molly in the Generation O!! episode "Devatated Tonsils". After getting them removed she is too scared to use her voice for fear it has changed for the worse and she is no longer able to sing.
  • Played with in the Alvin and the Chipmunks episode "Operation Theodore". A little boy at the hospital where Brittany is volunteering at is afraid of having the surgery and disappears, and Brittany has Theodore hide in the boy's bed so that the nurse won't find out that he escaped. Theodore ends up being mistaken for the actual patient and is taken out to be prepared for surgery. Alvin, Simon, and the Chippettes have to track down the missing boy and keep Theodore from having the operation.
  • First episode of Gravedale High (a show about an All-Ghouls School) has Sid the Invisible Kid going to the hospital as he has Tonsillitis. Smart idea from the writers considering that, as an invisible kid, his anatomy is the most human-like of the monster characters other than been invisible. Also because a Hospital is perfect for making jokes about the different kids' monster nature (a vampire that go to the blood bank, a mummy with new bandages, a zombie girl mistaken as a very sick patient, etc).
  • An unusual variation occurs in the Katie and Orbie episode "Sore Throat." Katie comes down with tonsillitis, but she doesn't have surgery; it's just treated as an ordinary Sick Episode. As outlined at the top of this page, this is more often Truth in Television than the surgery nowadays.


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