May 11 means that I am one month post-op from my sex reassignment surgery (SRS). I am pleased to report that, at my second post-op appointment last week, Dr. Gallagher pronounced me to be healing nicely, with everything in order.
I am thankful for that! Yet, even as things are progressing as they should, and I am slowly and gradually feeling better, there are a few areas which have been tremendously challenging. I share these for two reasons, both in my ongoing desire to educate about that with which we transgender folks have to grapple and because I am getting feedback from trans women who have either also had SRS or, especially, those who are contemplating it or have it in their near future.
From least to worst, here are three areas which have plagued me.
To perform SRS, the surgeon has the patient’s feet in stirrups. While the stirrups are padded, and the surgery team keeps close watch over every inch of the patient, that the surgery takes at least six hours creates a troubling situation for the feet.
I awoke from surgery, immediately noting the tremendous pain in my left heel. The next day, Wednesday, the pain eased. On Thursday, I was out of bed and walking—and noticing that my left foot was almost entirely numb, with the numbness climbing my leg halfway to my knee. My right foot and leg were okay.
Touching my foot, I found it tremendously sensitive. Speaking with Dr. Gallagher about it, she explained that the condition—neuropathy—is a sometimes unhappy result of the feet so long in the stirrups. She said it almost always resolves itself in several weeks, with no treatment. If needed, there is a drug to help it, but the drug causes extreme drowsiness. I have opted, so far, to forego the drug.
Here’s the tough part. The nerves are waking up—yay!—but, where the problem is centered at the top of my foot I am being jabbed with intense pain. Not all the time, mind you. It comes and goes. But, when it comes, wow, it has at times been so severe that it has left me in tears.
It appears I am through the worst of that. The past few days, the jabs have been fewer and not so intense. At the touch, my leg and instep now have feeling. The neuropathy has not impeded me—it has not stopped me from my walking!—but, all should be aware that this is a real, ornery complication of SRS.
Take that! And that!
Not surprisingly, my entire bottom was numb after surgery. And swelled. Oh, boy, was I swelled. And I still am. As Dr. G said last week, the swelling has come down a lot, but it still has a ways to go.
I suspect that you can easily picture two rows of stitches running down either side of my urethra and neo vagina, a few inches long. At the bottom of them, the nerves have been playing a game of “I can jab you worse than your foot could ever do it!”
Before seeing Dr. G last week, I researched this to be sure it was typical. Yup. Totally. Dr. G confirmed it. Well, kids, typical does not lessen the pain. And, oh me oh my, but when I had the worst of these jabs they accompanied the ones in my foot . . . the evening of my birthday.
Blow out your cake’s candles if you can catch your breath!
With each stab, my body shook. With the worst jabs, I cried out in pain.
Then I was bawling.
I got up and walked around, trying anything to ease the pain and distract my mind. Poor Julie was so concerned, longing to help. We rode it out. Finally, both areas eased up by the time I wanted to go to sleep. That was eleven days ago. Almost every day, I notice that the jabs are less stabby, and the stabs are less jabby, and I am hopeful that this phase will soon be completed.
My song is out of hormone-y
My poor body has gone through way more than ever in its sixty years. Starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) nearly four years ago, I sought to bring my brain and body into harmony. As my testosterone lowered and my estrogen increased, the gender dysphoria-induced fire in my brain was largely doused. I just plain felt better.
I had my share of ups and downs, and keeping my hormones at good levels proved a challenge until about a year ago. Then, in a bit of news that almost made me want to halt having SRS, I was told that I had to stop taking my HRT a month before surgery. Why? Estrogen makes one prone to blood clots, and surgery in one’s mid-section does the same. To go off HRT would drop my estrogen to a safer level, but it also would allow my testosterone to return to that of a male.
I truly thought I would suffer a meltdown in the final days before surgery, as I would be fighting off the discord that had made me suicidal in 2013. That no meltdown arose was nothing short of amazing. Yes, a week-and-a-half before surgery I felt my hormones shift, even experiencing testosterone’s physical affects, but I remained at peace with myself.
On April 11, I faced the greatest shift of my life in my hormone production. My testosterone factory was about to be dismantled.
The testicles are the main testosterone producers, yet both sexes make a bit of the male sex hormone in the adrenal glands (that’s why genetic females also have a small amount of testosterone). By late afternoon on April 11, my testicles were gone. My predominant testosterone production immediately and abruptly ceased.
A few trans women, who have had the surgery, warned me that I might experience any number of emotions because of this. I’ll say.
It took a week, and then it hit me. It nailed me, well, like those jabs and stabs in my foot and mid-section.
I found myself feeling completely asexual. Neither female nor male. The sexual equivalent of eating food but unable to taste it.
My outlook on life turned bland.
I tried thinking about dressing nicely, in a skirt and heels. No reaction. I thought about dressing in a guy’s tie and sport coat. No reaction.
I thought about some shirts and jeans that I have, that either a gal or guy could wear. That sounded good to me.
And it scared me.
I tried to see myself detransitioning. I WANTED to see myself resuming my life as a male. And the weight of that came tumbling down upon me like that rock that Sisyphus never could get over the top.
I have cried many times in these days.
Despite this, I have not regretted having had SRS. Even more, I continue to feel strongly that I needed it. My body feels correct. It looks right to me.
I have had to talk with myself in a logical manner, just as with the jabs and stabs, that I am far from healed, but I am healing. My hormones will get back into order. I have every reason to believe that when they do I will feel as good as I did before my pre-surgery stopping of HRT. Indeed, I have sensed things easing this week.
This situation, as when my son died and my wife divorced me, are important teachers that one shall never say, “I know what you’re going through.” Even if you buried a loved one or lost a marriage, and even if you had the same surgery, your experience is your experience, and mine is mine, and the acts of observing others or having them explain how hard something is does not begin to approach the experiencing of it. Respect others for their burdens; don’t dismiss them with comments which only serve to offend.
This has been a mighty tough period. I am tremendously happy to have one month under my belt. Each of the three troubles of which I have written are way less than they were. I can now picture the day when I am fully healed.
Thankfully, I have gotten through each day, each terrible moment, in the strength of the Lord, to whom I turn in prayer innumerable times every day. He is always faithful to His promises to uphold me with His righteous right hand.
And, thankfully, I always have my Julie. She is my little Jesus, whose devotion toward me never ceases.
This is not a surgery through which one should try to go it alone.