I wasn’t nervous. Talking with me, one might have thought it was just another morning.
I enjoyed a marvelous peace in the days leading up to surgery. I never came close to a meltdown, and one was virtually expected as every major transitioning step had brought one. A few days before surgery, Julie said that she had been waiting for it. The only thing I experienced came a week-and-a-half before surgery, when for half a day I felt pulled apart. That arrived soon after I sensed my hormones shifting. Even as my testosterone had risen, causing me extreme physical discomfort, it still did not affect my mental and emotional stability. That it did not was, in a word, astonishing. I have thanked the Lord innumerable times for this.
The morning of the surgery, I remained at peace. I did not even have the kind of nerves one gets when highly excited about something—and I had a bit of that the morning of my January vocal cord surgery. I was as calm and collected as can be. My blood pressure even reflected it, sitting right on what is normal for me. You could have knocked me over with an IV bag.
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The operation lasted something over six hours. One can easily imagine that it is a serious surgery. The area in question, the amount of restructuring, and the possible complications all play together to put this near the top of serious scale.
Dr. Gallagher has quickly gained a reputation as a skilled surgeon. Before surgery, and especially after, those on the surgery team raved about her work. One scrub nurse, who paid us two lovely visits afterward, marveled at the quality of Dr. Gallagher’s talent.
Indeed, I suspect her fine work is why I have experienced very little bleeding post-surgery, and why things progressed perfectly in the three days from surgery to dismissal, so that I had the shortest possible hospital stay. My thankfulness is through the roof.
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Coming out of sedation was crazy hard and very weird. I spoke to Julie about it as soon as I could, so that I might retain some memory of it. That I can write the following is only because I told Julie; otherwise, it has been wiped from my memory.
Waking up from surgery was as if I were at the same time trying to break through a door which was impossible to open, as if I were busting apart the most infuriatingly intertwined vines, as if I were doing this while standing in thick mud, as if dozens of hands were pawing at me, and as if something were trying to suck me away from my task.
I came out of anesthesia only very briefly. After I awoke a second time, the nurse told me that I had been crying when I came out of it the first time. I know that I was talking, and I even remember thinking at the time that I wanted to be logical in what I was saying so that I might be taken seriously. What did I say? Sadly, that is lost.
When I awoke a second time, I asked for Julie. When I told her what had happened, she said, “It’s no wonder what you experienced. It sounds like the summation of your entire life. Trying to break through. The total frustration you experienced. The many ways things held you back.”
I find it impossible to disagree with her.
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As I write this on Saturday and Easter Sunday, four and five days after my surgery, I am pleased to report that nothing unusual has transpired. This easily is the biggest surgery I have experienced. When I say that I am doing well, it means that everything is as it should be, and as expected. But, wow, I sure have not felt good!
My constant discomfort is only very gradually easing. This begs the question: how much should doctors, or those who have gone through the surgery, discuss the pure misery which is the recovery period, what one experiences in her body, how it can deeply impact one’s emotions, how this is just plain hard in every way? On the one hand, a person doesn’t want to keep from something so important to her because of some very challenging days or weeks—goodness, no one would take on any of life’s huge challenges, like having a baby, or getting a college degree, or marriage—yet, one should never enter into things like this with any naivete, whatsoever. I was not naive, yet no one could have adequately explained what I have been experiencing.
My bodily functions have been completely out of whack. The bloating, which continued for three days, was easily the worst, most painful which has ever plagued me. I could feel hungry one moment, and the next moment nothing sounded good. Thankfully, I was able to consume a decent amount of calories, and have gotten back to eating at my regular breakfast, lunch, and supper times. Since Saturday afternoon, the bloating has ceased.
Saturday afternoon, I was unable to nap. I felt crappy in every way. Recovery felt like a road that wound around the world a dozen times. Lying on the couch, I cried. Hard. It took more than an hour to come around. When I did, Julie was, as always, there for me. I poured out my heart to her.
Julie’s marvelous love for me is on constant display. She hesitates at nothing on my behalf. Jumping into nursing duties has come naturally for her. When my dressing needs changing, she’s on the task like a seasoned veteran. My love for her continues to grow to a level I never knew possible.
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I have always been an emotional person. That has intensified the past four years. I thought there was a high chance that when I came out of anesthesia I would cry profoundly from a sense of relief and joy that I finally had completed the surgery which I never could have imagined for myself.
I did not cry. I did not experience anything profound. I have remained very even keel. I think I know why.
A year ago, when I got my name changed, I did not walk out of the courthouse bouncing with joy. It was a relief to have it done, but I had wished I had not needed to come to changing my name. When I left the courthouse, a lot of work remained regarding my name—every place my name exists, from drivers license, to credit cards, to you name it, had to be changed—so instead of having accomplished something it was more like I was only beginning something.
That’s how I have been feeling, post-surgery. My recovery is so long, and so intense, I cannot yet experience it with joy. As I did after vocal cord surgery, I have asked myself, “What did you do to yourself?” because the road to recovery is so steep and long.
I am confident the joy will come—it did with my name change, and with every other step in transitioning—but it is many days to weeks off.
I am thankful for the gift of patience, even as I have fallen into tears a few times because of the general misery which is my existence right now.
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Wednesday brings the next step.
Surely, it will come as no surprise that a Foley catheter was inserted, a first for me. On Wednesday, that will come out. Because there is a lot of swelling, and the swelling will take months to reduce, I am told that urinating will be an adventure. Woo hoo!
Read the next paragraph only if you are okay with learning a bit more specific info. If not, skip to the paragraph following.
After Dr. Gallagher created my neo-vagina, she packed it. On Wednesday, she will unpack it. She will teach me how to dilate. Dilation’s purpose is to gradually increase the width and depth of the neo-vagina. Dilation will be a rigorous exercise at first. The size of the dilators increase over time. Eventually, the need to dilate will level off and be required less frequently, but will need to continue to keep the skin healthy. Though she said it will not be painful, dilating will be uncomfortable. I cannot say that I am excited at the prospect of it, but I knew what I was getting myself into.
Assuming I get a good report, which is what I expect at this point, it will only be a few days after Wednesday that I will be permitted to drive. I will remain on low-impact activity for four weeks. (Julie has already mowed the lawn.) By the first week of May, I hope to feel good enough and to be allowed to get out and walk as fast and as far as feels okay, and want that to also mean I can mow and work at the garden as feels okay to do. Dr. Gallagher has told me that I might be jogging again at the six week mark. That is my goal.
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I am not a worrier, and am thankful to be a logical person. Even so, two complications were very real possibilities for me during or after surgery: infection and blood clots. I ran a low grade fever for a few days, but it never became a concern. My temp has been good the past few days. I remain on an antibiotic for a few more days. Infections can rear their ugly heads at any time, but my confidence is good that one will not bring me down.
Blood clots can be peskier. Two years ago, they nearly took the lives of my son and my sister. In the hospital, I had compression sleeves on my calves. They felt like blood pressure cuffs. Every minute, one calf, then the other, were constricted and eased. Since I was allowed to walk on Friday, I have gotten up and out many times, at least every few hours. I don’t go far—and I wonder what our neighbors are thinking about my short jaunts at such a slow pace, especially when they’ve always seen me as the runner!—but the regular movement is vital to keeping any blood clot from forming.
Finally, the thing that I loved hearing the most, both before and after surgery, from both nurses and doctors, was that I am a very healthy person. Though I carry too many pounds, Dr. Gallagher said that she found me very physically fit. I beamed each time someone took note of my good health! Taking care of myself is paying off big time as I move through recovery.
I am quickly approaching sixty years of age. Bring it on! I intend to grow into a fine specimen of an old person!