Following on from my last post, I have now been through the momentous event of having my (cosmetic) gender reassignment operation to make the anatomy between my legs match the rest of me, the woman that I should have been from the start of my life… and all it took was two hours of expert surgery! Obviously, there was a long lead up to the operation, with an assortment of pre-op tests, admin, and I suppose when I think about it then the last four years have all lead up to this… but I find it amazing that that is all the time it took to give me the shape I have desired for so long.
I flew over to Brighton (in England for any of you non-UK viewers) on the morning of Monday 22nd January, once my boyfriend had dropped me at the airport. I guess I was a bit nervous, because I went through security and left my boarding pass in one of the trays that my stuff had been in and headed off into duty free… only to rush back in a mad panic – security staff looked through a load of trays, but it eventually turned out a nice lady had handed it in. Then I had a nice breakfast of pancakes with bacon, maple syrup, and berry compote… and splashed my top with berry juice… which I then made ten times worse trying to sponge it off in the Ladies; emergency wardrobe change required, thankfully I had a spare T-shirt. By 1.00pm I had landed at Gatwick airport and then taken the express shuttle train to Brighton, a town I have never been to until now… but my appointment wasn’t until 6.00pm and so I pottered around for a while, struggling a little with my whereabouts until I eventually found a big shopping centre to find my bearings. I had a nice snack lunch (avoiding certain food groups as I was at this time under instruction to be on a low residue diet), did a bit of shopping, but by 4.00 I’d pretty much had enough of wandering around pulling my cabin bag behind me, so I found the appropriate bus stop and was soon heading up to the Nuffield hospital in Woodingdean (on service 22) where the op was to take place. Of course, I arrived rather early, but by 5.00 I had been shown to my (private) room and had a leisurely hour unpacking my bag and making my room ‘home’ for the next few days (a pleasant enough room, with a good size bathroom and a flat screen TV) but I had just a couple of nervy moments – not “are you doing the right thing”, “should I be here”, but “ooooh, big op almost upon me” kinda feeling. At 6.00 I received my gourmet, low-residue-diet dinner (a plate of white egg mayo sandwiches :-/) and shortly afterwards my pre-op assessment took place – mostly expected things like height, weight, blood pressure, medical history, a check of allergies to anything (including penicillin), and so on… and once that was out of the way I washed my hair (for I knew it would be a while before I would feel like doing it again) and settled in for the evening with a bit of TV, with nurses popping in now and again with info about the day ahead as well as a surgical dressing test patch, and then later rang my boyfriend for a good half hour of comforting chat; my head hit the pillow at around 11.30, by which time I was fasting; unsurprisingly I didn’t sleep that well.
I woke about 6.30am, showered with an anti-bacterial sponge from neck to foot, dressed in a flattering hospital gown, and took my earrings out which are not allowed during surgery. Not long afterwards a nurse arrived to take blood pressure, apply surgical stockings, and confirm I had no allergies (again), and then the anaesthetist arrived, a nice though slightly tatty chap (well, it was early morning, I’ll give him benefit of doubt) and did a thorough job of assessing me for the general anaesthetic. At 8.15am Mr Thomas, my surgeon, came in and succinctly went through my consent form, confirming the option I wanted (cosmetic, no vaginaplasty), obtained my signature, and lightly shook my hand as he left. Soon enough the anaesthetist and a nurse arrived, put the back of my bed down, and steered me out of my room and towards theatre – as I was carried down the corridor, a cool motion breeze caressed my face, and I felt just a tiny panic… but then I closed my eyes, thought of positive things (including my bf, and the fact that my journey had arrived at such a key point), and soon enough I was within the theatre area. Two canullas were inserted with a sting into my left wrist, one for a drip feed for assorted things during and after op, and the other for the anaesthetic, which he began to administer, encouraging me to talk away, and I just bumbled anxiously about goodness knows what and eventually I went to medical-sleep…
…and came to, lying on my back on my bed in my room, within 3-4 hours, feeling sore but not excessively uncomfortable. When I had the energy I peered down and could see the dressing pack around my groin area, looking wonderfully smooth and free of bumps and bits and pieces that should have never been there; I’m sure I smiled with contented glee through the pain. I was on drips during the day for antibiotics and liquid “food”, while a catheter emanated from my dressing taking waste away. I spent most of the day resting and listening to music from the TV’s radio channels, and giving an update to my parents to reassure I was okay. Several times nurses and doctors came in to check blood pressure, and also looking at the wound site, leaving happy that there was no excessive bleeding or anything of concern. I lay on my back the whole day (I was not allowed to move owing to drains being in my wound), periodically receiving painkillers, and it was lights out soon enough; I slept little, buzzing nurses during the night for more painkillers.
The next day, with drip eventually out, I was on a liquid diet, consisting of a succession of clear fruit juices, peppermint tea, sorbets, and fruit jellies; I could also have had consommes but I didn’t feel up to them that day. Consuming any of this was physically quite difficult with me being flat on my back; straws helped… well, not with the jellies! Regular doses of painkillers were also on the menu; pain most of all seemed to come from somewhere around either the catheter or clitoral area. The day after was similar, except with me incorporating chicken consomme into my diet – however, a major bonus in the afternoon was the removal of the two drains from my wound site (which essentially remove unwanted liquidity, primarily blood, I think, during the immediate recovery), which was not too painful; this meant I could then lie on my side, a welcome relief for my achy back… and gave me a bit better sleep during the night. During that afternoon I had a very stressful time arranging travel via the NHS helpline in Northern Ireland for both my trip home and also my friend Kirsty who had kindly agreed to come over to accompany me home; at this stage I was also back on solid food, albeit on low-residue food.
Friday around midday saw me having a suppository to get my bowels going (not so bad), and I was encouraged to potter around and gently sit to try and get things moving… which they eventually did; at lunchtime I had a very tasty ciabatta. Early afternoon saw the arrival of my friend Claire, who had driven all the way from Cornwall – well, not just to visit me, but it was the primary reason for her trip; she was so kind to bring me two little presents, how kind. While she was there a nurse removed my catheter, which was probably the most uncomfortable part of the whole treatment, with a very unpleasant stinging sensation… but once out my overall discomfort was lessened, and I was also able to finally start sitting upright. And then came the greatest moment of my stay… weeing with my new anatomy!!! The first time I did so I almost cried, not just with weeing without an unpleasant (to me) appendage but also just seeing my smooth anatomy. Ideally one has to wee half a dozen times before departure, passing a reasonable amount of urine, to ensure the bladder and urethra are working satisfactorily – well, by bedtime I had gone five times, and by 3.00am I had gone another two times, the last ‘event’ very plentiful, and so that was a relief; talk/documentation of going home with a catheter had worried me. Early evening I enjoyed a really tasty pork dinner and soon after saw the arrival of my second visitor of the day, Kirsty; it was lovely to see her and catch up, telling the tale of my stay.
The next day I returned home. By 11am I had had final medical checks, had mostly packed my bag, and had a shower. Kirsty arrived at around 11.30ish and an hour later I was pretty much ready to go, with a little bag of meds provided to keep me ticking over. I was also given a couple of pieces of admin, both of which were screwed up (sigh) – the sick note was made out for only 10 weeks instead of 12 and the letter for me to give to Easyjet (not necessary as it turned out) actually had the name of the hospital spelt incorrectly; what a good job that I am a stickler for detail!! At 12.45 Kirsty was trailing all of our bags behind her and I was bidding goodbye to the nurses on duty – Adriana from Romania gave me a hug (she is really nice) while the other one merely said goodbye. We got to the lift and had not even got inside when the nurse came running after us to check meds given – someone had done two bags of meds for me (obviously they were concerned for my welfare), and after checks I was given an extra box of paracetemol… which as I write now I don’t know why I wouldn’t have been supplied with at least as much as I have, because the soreness is very slow to go (after a week at home) though this is hardly surprising after such a major op.
I had got the hospital to arrange a taxi, and this turned up just after 1.00pm – I rode in the front, with Kirsty obviously in the back, and I would seriously recommend any patient being in the front after this op because it is valuable to be able to anticipate any bumps in the road before the car hits them, and also you can try and control the car temperature, especially important if like me you get hot flushes when off hormones. The journey took longer than anticipated owing to a motorway closure but we got to Gatwick more or less on time… at which point I paid the driver and was left to my own devices with Kirsty (not quite what I had been led to expect). Kirsty was about to march into the terminal out of the rain, but in my state I couldn’t do that and reminded her of my wheelchair assistance requirement – make sure you have this if you are in the same position. I had spotted a ‘shed’ with disabled signs on it, so we ambled over and a guy within settled me in a wheelchair and summoned an assistant who arrived within ten minutes and took us quite efficiently to departures and through security – Kirsty put all the luggage on the X-ray conveyor and then we went through the security gate, me in my wheelchair… which I was then searched in, which although of course necessary felt a little uncomfortable as they frisk quite close to the op site (though they did at least ask where I hurt once I told them I’d had an op). For some reason my carry on case got pulled in the security check, although nothing was found to be amiss – perhaps they don’t like people smuggling mermaids through… which I had bought for myself on the trip out, an op mascot if you will, although honestly I bought it because if I had been lived as a little girl I think it’s the kind of thing I would have wanted to buy… and so I did. Then we were in ‘duty-free’ and I was parked in the assistance area where Kirsty left me to hurriedly grab some lunch. About an hour before take off time a buggy came for us special-assistance passengers, and I gingerly got in beside an old woman from Lisburn area who was kind to hold my coat and was nice to chat to… even if she got a bit confused by some questions; Kirsty had to make her own way in our direction. We ended up at a different gate from where the special-assistance minibus departed from – after out tickets were checked and a little wait we were bussed over to the plane… and then waited for a while before getting into a ‘cherry-picker’ van which lifted us up to the level of the plane’s front-right door – my pre-arranged seats were right at the back, but the staff member kindly was able to move us way forward to a set of three seats just for Kirsty and I, and I have to say that the plane seats were quite comfortable for someone who has been ‘repaired’ in the groin area, nicely sloped such that the main pressure is on the buttocks and not between them. Our flight was short enough and trouble free… although, as usual, the inevitable ongoing crying of a toddler grated me. At Belfast, once everyone else had got off the wheelchair/cheery-picker process was followed as per Gatwick, except in reverse and no minibus (as the plane parks close to the terminal)… and also a cumbersome delay after another assisting passenger pressed the emergency stop button with her bum which left us stranded for a while. Anyway, eventually we were through the terminal, the airport staff guy kindly took me all the way to Kirsty’s car (after a loo stop) which she drove as close as she could.
We popped into a supermarket on the way to my home, where Kirsty kindly did a food shop to keep me going for a week (with some assistance phone calls in-store to enable her to decipher my list); we were home by about 8.30pm… at which point we noted that she had forgotten to buy a key ingredient for dinner, so off she went while I unpacked some of the shopping (that I could handle) and made a reassuring “I’m home” call to my parents and text to bf. Belatedly, we had a very nice fajita supper before bedtime came; I was pretty tired by that point, both through the travelling and also my lack of sleep at hospital, but overall at least it had been a pretty trouble-free journey. Kirsty left the next day about midday, and then by 2.45 my Huggy Bear (boyfriend) arrived, complete with a pair of pork chops (I’m sure there’s a euphemism there somewhere) that he cooked with lovely seasoning to make a tasty dinner. He stayed for the next three nights and it has been good to have someone close on-hand in case of any immediate medical emergency (which there hasn’t been)…
…and I’ll leave it there for now, and maybe post again in a few weeks to update you on the healing process. I know it’s a bit more verbose than usual, but this post marks the final, and next-to-biggest milestone in my whole journey… the biggest milestone of course being 30th January 2015, over three years ago now when I began to live life full-time as the real me; so far it’s been 99.?% flippin brilliant!!! And most of all, sooooo reassuringly right!
Thanks if you’re still reading…