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The Tonsillitis Episode

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The realities of tonsillitis: medical diagnosis, surgical procedure, and ice cream.

"What's the big deal about a guy getting his tonsils yanked out?"
Richie Cunningham, Happy Days, "Fonsillectomy"

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, or the Ruptured Appendix.

It used to be very common, since it is usually something that's temporary and doesn't have to make the character Delicate and Sickly for the rest of the season, people usually recover within a week or two. However, it has become 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. The main difference is that characters getting their wisdom teeth removed tend to be older and there's often more gags about characters acting weird while under anesthesia. This is because patients who've had their wisdom teeth removed can return home before the anesthesia has worn off.


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     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.

  • This happens in the first Adrian Mole book, which serves as an illustration of the woeful state of National Health Service hospitals. At the age of fourteen, Adrian suddenly finds out that he has been on the waiting list for a tonsils extraction for nine years, and has had to endure tonsilitis all that time. Grandma and Bert Baxter both tell him they knew someone who bled to death after a tonsils extraction. No ice cream is mentioned, and after the operation, Adrian is in so much pain than he cannot eat anything for several days.
  • In his autobiography Boy, Roald Dahl describes having had his adenoids removed in 1924, without an anaesthetic, as was common practice at the time, as happened with tonsil removal as well.
  • 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, but 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.
  • The Partridge Family has "Anatomy of a Tonsil." At first Danny is almost excited about the upcoming operation, but after his best friend Punky Lazaar tells him how horrible it was, he worries he won't survive. Afterwards, he finds that his voice is raspy, and he becomes so convinced that he's lost his singing voice that he can't sing even days later when he's fully recovered.
  • In episode 258 of Sesame Street, a Muppet boy named Farley is heard crying because he must have his tonsils removed. Gordon and Susan comfort him by reminding him of how Gordon had his own tonsils removed a year-and-a-half earlier.
    • One of the Season 10 episodes also has Big Bird go through a tonsillectomy.
  • An episode if I Love Lucy dealt with Little Ricky having to get his tonsils taken out, but the focus of the episode was more on Lucy, who couldn't bear to be separated from her son, even for a little bit.
  • In the Family Ties episode "Diary of a Young Girl," Jennifer is afraid she won't survive getting her tonsils out. She has flashbacks to times she was mean to each of her family members.

     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!:
  • 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.
  • The The Incredible Dennis the Menace episode, "Hospitality" had Dennis in the hospital for a "tonsil-neck-tummy", frightened by mis-informed medical "facts" his friends have given. However, when Mr. Wilson accidentally winds up as his roommate, Dennis forgets about his own fears, and sets out to "protect" his friend.
  • An episode of Bobby's World had this happen to the title character. His throat is very sore and finds it difficult to talk, so 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.
  • The 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 being invisible. Also because a hospital is perfect for making jokes about the different kids' monster nature (a vampire that goes to the blood bank, a mummy with new bandages, a zombie girl mistaken for 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.

Examples involving Wisdom Teeth Extraction

  • In the first book of the Children of the Lamp series, John and Philipa Gaunt get their wisdom teeth removed. While they're under anesthesia, they have a shared dream where they are visited by their uncle, who tells them they are Djinn.

     Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Just Shoot Me! has Maya get her wisdom teeth removed. Elliot promises to take her home after surgery, but ends up blowing her off, forcing her to walk home. When he finally shows up for her, she calls him out for leaving her on her own. He tries to claim that he did come get her, but she was too loopy to remember. It doesn't work.
  • In The Middle, Sue and Axel both get their wisdom teeth removed over spring break. While in their post-anesthesia state, Axel admits he loves Sue. Their brother Brick films this and tries to use it to blackmail them. Sue isn't phased, proud of the fact her brother loves her, but Axel folds. This causes Sue to be upset at the fact her brother doesn't want to admit he loves her. In addition, their mother was hoping to take care of them while they recovered, but that was handled by Sue's friend Brad. This causes her to worry that her kids don't need her.
  • An episode of Modern Family has Manny get his wisdom teeth taken out. His girlfriend takes care of him, causing his mother Gloria to get jealous, having expected to be the one to take care of him.
  • In Suburgatory Tessa gets her wisdom teeth removed so she can skip class. The usually intelligent and rational Tessa spends most of the episode drugged up. This leads to her getting together with her love interest Ryan when he comes over to take care of her.
  • Trina gets her wisdom teeth taken out in Victorious and is in extreme pain for the rest of the night. Tori is forced to take care of her when their parents leave town at the same time.
  • In the Broad City episode "Wisdom Teeth," Ilana is supposed to take care of Abbi after she undergoes surgery. Ilana and her roommate Jaimé accidentally give Abbi a double dose of Vicodin, then give her a pot smoothie, which causes her to hallucinate a giant version of her stuffed toy, Bingo Bronson. With his encouragement, she leaves the apartment and spends $1,487.56 at Whole Foods.

     Web Comics 
  • Whats Up Beanie: When Mike gets his wisdom teeth out, he's so loopy from the painkillers that he tells Beanie he needs to change his ice pack at 3:60 and 3:75 p.m.

     Western Animation 
  • Downplayed in The Loud House episode "Any Given Sundae", where Rita goes off to pull Flip's wisdom teeth and returns later to take her kids out for ice cream. Flip then reappears, talking in a garbled way due to the surgery.
  • Happens in Sabrina: The Animated Series. Sabrina is nervous about getting her wisdom teeth removed, so she uses magic to cause them to vanish. Turns out, this was a bad idea, as she ends up taking out her wisdom with them.
  • In an episode of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Dr. Katz's son, Ben, gets his wisdom teeth removed. Dr. Katz ends up giving him antihistamines instead of painkillers by mistake.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Tonsillitis Episode


I Scream, You Scream

Isabella has gotten her tonsils taken out, and Phineas and Ferb want to make a surprise for her.

How well does it match the trope?

4.11 (9 votes)

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