[This post is a continuation of my series on my sex reassignment/gender confirmation surgery. See prior posts in the series here, here, here, here and here (now with pictures!)]
I forgot to mention a couple of things in my prior entry. I knew I would. It's hard to remember everything that happened over a week when you're lying on your back unable to type (except on the iPhone, but I didn't take notes). I probably latched onto most of the stuff that was easy to recollect, like the times I was in agonizing pain. Most of the first week post-op was tolerable if uncomfortable, though. Some of it was interesting in ways. All in all, it was an ordeal, but looking back at it now, I'm starting to forget the pain and misery and recall the parts that were almost pleasant. I could see how months or years from now, it might not seem like it was all that bad. I guess painful things go like that, sometimes.
The only things of real importance that I left out, though, were the phantom limb sensation and the orgasm. They're kind of related.
That first day when I woke up in my hospital room, my immediate sensation was not one of severe pain, but more of a dull ache. The weird part of the pain was that I could still feel every part of my former male anatomy, and nothing felt out of place. I wasn't really expecting that. I thought I'd lose sensation for the most part at least for starters, but it felt as though I still had all my nerves in place. Little twinges of pain were in easily identifyable parts of my body, and at the time, my mind was still identifying my old parts as being configured as they used to be. So, basically, when I woke up after surgery, I still felt like I had a penis, albeit one that felt pretty bruised up. I guess maybe that's not unexpected, but I hadn't really thought through what it would feel like after surgery. I'd describe it as feeling exactly the same as before.
My second night in the hotel (early in the second morning, really), I woke myself up with a shock. I'd been having an erotic dream, details of which I won't go into, but in my dream anyway, I had an orgasm. I woke up in severe pain with lots of blood rushing to my pelvic area. I was seriously worried I had ruptured something. It was not at all pleasant, and it hurt for some time after. I guess the orgasm (if it really was one) was pleasant enough, but I was asleep for that part. Kind of scary, really, when I'd just been through so many problems with bleeding. In the end, though, I was fine, and I guess my body knew what it was capable of handling. Probably having so much sensation and swelling in that area caused a bit of arousal once I had healed to a certain point, and then my unconscious mind sort of took the ball and ran with it (or so to speak).
In the end, I didn't like having that scare or the pain, but I was somewhat relieved that sensation in my newly-rearranged genitalia seems to be working nicely. That was actually a big fear of mine, losing sensation.
Day Eight (Tuesday, March 10)
Dr. McGinn gave me some instructions to get ready for taking out the catheter. Over the past several days, I was supposed to spend 4 hours at a time crimping the tube to allow my bladder to fill up. Something about training the bladder muscles so that when we take it out, I don't have trouble peeing.
I think my record over the past 4 days has been about 2 hours, and usually by the time an hour went by, I'd be in extreme pain. I spent a lot of time not following that instruction. It really, really hurt. I don't know why, but it might have had something to do with the fact that I was drinking huge volumes of water, and generating a lot of urine. I invented my own alternative exercise, which was less painful, which involved me consciously trying to pee and watching as the air bubbles in the catheter tube moved visibly. I did Dr. McGinn's shut-off thing when I could, but not very often, and I figured my bladder was still working as long as I could make the pee line move by sheer force of will.
Monday night I got more sleep than I expected. Good thing, because the catheter was seriously starting to bother me. It started to feel like it was jabbing me on the inside. Tuesday morning, I noticed that a lot of the tape holding the tube in place had come loose. That might have been why it started to hurt, from slight movements.
People had told me that getting the packing and catheter out were not all that painful. So far, almost everything that people told me wouldn't be all that bad had turned out to be all that bad. I went into my 9:30 am appointment with Dr. McGinn expecting the worst, but knowing that this was something I'd just have to get through.
I got dressed in the morning, had breakfast, and mom and I headed out to McGinn's office across the street from the hotel. It took me almost 1/2 hour; I was shuffling along at a snail's pace. I expected that. We got there early.
I closed my eyes for the first part of our check-up. Dr. McGinn made some comment about how I shouldn't look because she knows I can't stand the sight of blood. There was no need. My eyes weren't opening for anything at this point, and my whole body was braced. Dr. McGinn pulled out what felt like about 100 feet of ribbon from my vagina. I imagine it was covered in blood. It sort of tickled and felt weird, but it did not actually hurt. I was pleasantly surprised.
The catheter came next. Still, my eyes were firmly shut for this. It felt weird. Dr. McGinn fiddled with some things. I asked her if that was it, and she said no, that's just her deflating the balloon that keeps it inside me. Okay, take a deep breath. Zoom. Not painless, but quick. Not exactly painful, either. It's out. Thank god. Only, it didn't feel all that much better than having it in. I was expecting more relief. Oh well.
Last up for today was my dilation lesson. This is the part where my squeamishness really got in the way. Dr. McGinn held up a hand mirror for me to look at her handiwork, but I had a real problem not looking away. It looked like a big, swollen, gaping open wound. I needed a couple of minutes after the first glance, which was quite shocking. "Hey, you bought it. You gotta look at it." Okay, okay, just give me a second here to process this. Eventually, I got over it, and McGinn showed me how to insert the dilator. She made me do it myself to make sure I had it right. Aside from the shocking appearance, getting the dilator in wasn't all that difficult as long as I could find a way to relax my muscles. Hard to do when you're on edge, but I managed.
I left my first post-op appointment feeling okay, if a bit worried about my ability to do this six times a day. But, hey, I bought it, like Dr. McGinn said, so I better take care of it. I have good depth post-op. I don't want to lose it. Dilation is the only way to keep my body from trying to heal this cavity up. I'll figure out a way. I have no other choice here. Good.
The last thing Dr. McGinn wanted me to do before leaving was to make sure I could pee with the catheter out. Immediately after we took it out, I was feeling like I needed to pee. Now, not at all. I drank about 8 dixie cups of water while waiting in the reception area. Still nothing. Kathleeen, who had her surgery the day after mine, comes in to have her catheter out too. She gets it out a week after her surgery. I had to wait an extra day, because my swelling is so bad. Kathleen's wife Carolyn is there with her, and Kathleen seems to be quite a lot better at walking and standing than I am. I'm recovering slowly, I guess. Anyway, we chat and decide to get together tomorrow for dinner or something.
Lisa, Dr. McGinn's assistant, suggests I get a cup of coffee after Kathleen goes in for her appointment. The coffee does the trick almost immediately. I pee successfully, if erratically. I'm spraying all over the back of my thighs because of all the swelling. Anyway, I can do it. It feels a little weird, but the same muscles are involved as before. Everything still works. I'm happy. No big complications.
Mom and I grab lunch at SaladWorks, which is pretty good. Sitting is damned uncomfortable, but I can manage 20 minutes as long as it's in a booth. I pee again before we're done with lunch. This time's not as messy. Things are working okay.
The rest of the afternoon, I spend mostly resting and dilating. I figure Dr. McGinn's lesson counts as one dilation. I'm supposed to do six times a day, but today I'm starting after noon, so my goal is three more times, for a total of four my first day. That sounds reasonable. Tomorrow, I'll try for six. I decide to set up shop in the bathtub. It gives me a place I can lean back a little and brace myself with my feet. I sit on a towel (not a hotel towel; one I bought at Target for $4 when I was shopping for my supplies). It's kind of uncomfortable on my butt, but aside from that, it gives me a good place I can sort of relax my knees and sit my back at close to a 45-degree angle, which seems to be ideal for this.
Dr. McGinn gave me two dilators: pink and blue. There are 4 widths in all: purple (smallest), pink, blue, and orange (biggest). I'd heard before that she doesn't see the need for the purple one, which is too small to do much good, and the orange one is kind of frighteningly wide. You don't need that one, either, apparently. Anyway, I'm on pink for this week and next. Then maybe I move up to blue. We'll see.
I can get the pink one in pretty easily, as long as I relax my muscles. I'm very glad Dr. McGinn showed me how to do this. I'd have probably hit a stumbling block or two if I'd have had to figure it out myself. Anyway, getting it in isn't as tricky as I expected, but keeping it in for 1/2 hour is pretty much impossible. I'm too swollen. I manage almost 25 minutes before the pain is unbearable. I'm playing a game on my iPhone to try to distract me, and also keeping a countdown timer going. If I didn't have something to distract my attention, this would be horrible. As is, it's not really as bad as I expected, except for the part where I'm trying to last 30 minutes. The bathtub works well. I'll stick with that. Makes cleanup easy.
Mom suggests I try sitting on my foam donut we got to make sitting in a chair more comfortable. I use that my next dilation and it's much better. I get through my goal of three sessions for the day, although I don't make it the full 30 minutes any time. I'm getting it in deep, though. I'm doing what I can. This should work.
At the end of a pretty long day, I'm hoping to be a lot more comfortable sleeping without the catheter in me. I'm not. I'd kill for the ability to sleep on my side. I can't. I'm still too swollen.
Day 9 (Wednessday, March 11)
I'm going for six times today, and hoping I can make it close to 30 minutes now. Overall, I'm feeling lots more mobile than yesterday. Every day I'm getting much stronger. Climbing in and out of bed is almost not a project. I'm still spending most of my time lying down or dilating, but this is progress.
I try to stick as close to every 4 hours as I can: 2:30 am, 7:00 am, 11:00 am, 3:00 pm, 7:00 pm and midnight. Setup takes me about ten minutes. Cleanup about five. Since I'm struggling to go much past 20 minutes per session today, I'm usually done in under 40 minutes total. That leaves a lot of time to lie on the couch and try not to think about my next dilation.
I pop a couple of Tylenol or Motrin 20-30 minutes before each dilation. Motrin is supposed to help with the swelling, but I'm only supposed to take it every eight hours. Tylenol I can take every four. I seem to be losing stamina. I think my record today is about 25 minutes. I've got an appointment with Dr. McGinn tomorrow. I'll mention this problem and see what she thinks. Anyway, at least I'm getting the dilator all the way in. No problem there. It's only really uncomfortable after it's been sitting there a while.
Carolyn and Kathleen come over to our hotel for some wine and cheese and crackers and other assorted snacks my mom has prepared. We have a nice long chat. Kathleen is having more problems than I am at this point. She's not sitting, and gets tired after a while of standing around. I'm glad we scrapped our original plan to go out to dinner. I'm not really ready for that much sitting up either.
Day 10 (Thursday, March 12)
At 8 am, I have another follow-up appointment with Dr. McGinn. I'm up and dilating at 6:30. It only takes us 15 minutes to get over to the office this time. I'm getting a lot more mobile. I'm feeling good, even though the dilation really hurts.
Dr. McGinn checks me out and likes what she sees. I have good depth. Everything's healing really nicely. I'm still really swollen, which is what's causing me problems, but aside from that I look good. I can go home tomorrow if I want, but I should take it really easy, because too much walking around could make my swelling worse. I'm anxious to get home. My mom is, too. It's been a difficult past 10 days.
I get my paperwork from Dr. McGinn. I now have a letter officially proclaiming that in the eyes of the medical world, I am female. I don't feel a whole lot different than I did before the operation, but this is a big step nonetheless. I can get my IDs changed. I am physically female. Is it a dream come true? I don't know. It feels good though. It's reaffirming.
My friend Stacey from DC is up at McGinn's office for electrolysis today. She comes up here about once per month, doing not quite the full clearings I'm doing down in Texas at E3000, but close to it. She's doing about 7 hours of electrolysis today. Afterwards, she swings by and we go out for sushi. I've been craving sushi since I was in the hospital for some reason. We find a really good place nearby. It hits the spot. I spend all of dinner probably scaring the hell out of Stacey describing the ordeal I've just been through. She's going in November. She'll be fine, though. It's hard, but you get through it and in retrospect it doesn't seem like it was all that bad.
I'm ready to go home in the morning. It's going to be nice to get back to familiar surroundings.
Day 11 (Friday, March 13)
Friday the 13th. Good day for travelling, I guess. I dilate twice in the morning before we go. Dilate, shower, breakfast, pack, dilate. While I'm on my second session, my mom loads the car up. I'm not supposed to lift anything heavy for a while. I'm not allowed to help.
While I'm lying on the couch, my "Get Well Soon" balloon from my stepfather drifts right by the hotel window on its way to the freedom my mom has accidentally given it. It makes me laugh. I call her cell phone to tell her to make sure to be careful with my balloon because it's very special to me, but Mom left her cell phone here in the room. Joke spoiled. Oh well.
The drive back to DC is mostly not all that bad. We stop for gas and for lunch. It's supposed to be 3 hours. We should be hitting the beltway around 2:30, so we should beat rush hour. We don't. There's an overturned tractor trailer or something. We get home finally around 4:30. The last hour was kind of killing me, but I manage.
Dilate. Shop. Dilate. Cook. Dilate.
My time for the next 8 weeks is going to be scheduling my life around the dilations. Mostly at this point, they're not all that bad. But I don't have all that much time to do things with all this dilation. Oh well. Mom takes me shopping, so that I'll have some groceries for the week before she leaves tomorrow (she moved her flight up; my stepfather misses her). After eating out for a week, I really feel like eating a home-cooked meal, and I want to do something nice for my mom before she goes, so I cook us a corn and pepper frittata with homemade salsa, and some cauliflour and brocolli. It's pretty easy to make, and tastes nice and fresh, which is a good antidote to too much restaurant food.
I insist that Mom can't help cook, but she helps clean up anyway. It's our last night together. We watch a movie and I dilate again before bed. Five times today. Not bad, given that it was a travel day. Plus, it's getting easier now. I make it the full 30 minutes a couple of times.
Day 12 (Saturday, March 14)
I'm a little stiff and sore in the morning, but by afternoon, I'm feeling almost mobile. I can sit up for long stretches of time. I can make it the full 30 minutes on my dilations most of the time. Swelling's still bad, but down a lot. Things are healing nicely. I'm still taking it very easy. I think this is the point where a lot of girls get into trouble, thinking they're capable of more than they really are. I'm not looking for complications. I've had enough of an ordeal here.
My mom's flight is at 2:30. She's going to take the bus to the metro, since I probably still shouldn't drive her all the way there. I decide to drive her to the Metro (1.5 miles) when the bus doesn't show up, though. Of course, when my mom walks back to get my car, the bus comes, but hey. Driving's not really bad. I can do it. I'm not straining anything. I'm being really careful.
Several of my neighbors cleaned up my back yard (a catastrophe of weeds, and one of my projects for this recovery time) as a welcome back present. Sharen from next door also cooked me some chicken and brought it over. Everyone's been so amazingly nice and supportive throughout my transition. I know other girls who have become social pariahs with their neighbors after transitioning. My friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors have been just, well, amazing. I'm really lucky. These past couple of weeks have been hard, but they've reminded me of what a great support network I have here.
From here on for the next several weeks, I only need to take things easy and stick to my dilation. I can pretty much take things from here. I'm doing really well.
3 weeks ago