The alarm went off early, too early for me, and I was surprised I had even been able to fall asleep the night before. It was like the anticipation before leaving on a long-awaited vacation, but a lot worse. I got out of bed, dressed and we drove from the hotel in Trevose to the hospital in Bristol. We got there just before 9AM.
Typical hospital admission: ID, credit card, paying even more money, wristband.
I went to another wing of the hospital and had some blood drawn for some labs. I sat there for what felt like hours, all alone, wondering when someone would remember me. It was only twenty minutes. The phlebotomist pinched me as the needle went in– the most painless experience I’ve ever had with a needle, though I did get a big bruise from it later.
After the blood draw, we went upstairs to a waiting room, and after about five minutes, a nurse brought us back to a pre-op prep area. I took off my clothes, put on the gown, the socks with the grippy stuff on the bottom, a bathrobe. We waited for at least an hour while the morning surgery finished up. To keep me occupied, my friend Melynda and I watched Nom nom nom nom babies for about the eightieth time. It’s not a work of musical genius, but it made me laugh and helped keep my mind from jumping into the deep end of anxiety.
Shortly after 12, the nurse came in. The morning surgery had been finished and now it was my turn. She took me to the surgical prep area: I got a bed, they started my IV, gave me an anti-coagulant and put compression stockings on my legs. There were all the usual consent forms, the one from the surgeon I signed before she even finished reading it to me. I wasn’t about to back out at this point. After all the busy work, I was just waiting to get wheeled into the OR and I started tearing up. I’ll be honest– I was scared. I was afraid of how much things would hurt after, afraid that I’d wake up in the middle of the fucking thing, and well, just afraid. This was a big step and I was laying there, all alone. One of the OR nurses came over to me and asked how I was, handed me a tissue and talked and joked with me to help keep my mind off it. I can’t, for the life of me, remember his name, but that had to have been one of the most valuable services I think I’ve ever received from a nurse and words fail me in trying to express my gratitude for his kindness.
After a couple more minutes, around 1:15, the anesthesiologist came back, pushed something into my IV, and that’s all I remember.
I woke up around 5:15 (the only reason I remember the times is that there was a clock facing me) in a recovery room. I couldn’t really feel anything, the way it always is when you wake up after sleeping– nerves slowly start waking back up and you can start moving your hands and arms and head. The surgeon was there, and she told me not to move my legs, or even try. Based on the kind of surgery, they didn’t want the area to get compressed or squished by my thighs, nor any stress placed on any of the muscles or stitched incisions. So I laid there. I had a vague feeling of cold around my crotch– ice packs, but not much else. I was there for maybe 15 or 30 minutes, just long enough to fully wake up, and they wheeled me to my room.
Christine and Melynda were there, a nurse hooked up my IV, and I got my morphine drip. I had an Ensure milkshake-thing, those protein drinks that keep you alive when you can’t really eat solid food. I tried watching movies– I actually felt pretty decent, but then pain would creep up, I’d press the button, and the morphine would knock me right out.
I had the morphine until Wednesday, and I remember very little of that time. I’m pretty sure I talked to Christine about several things, including getting a puppy, but I think I hallucinated most or all of that conversation. I was on twitter, too, but I have no idea whether any of what I said over those days was even intelligible.
In the periods of lucidity, despite the pain medication, despite the bandages, despite the packing in my vagina, despite the not hardly moving at all, I could feel that things were different. I couldn’t tell exactly how different, but I did know that there wasn’t a penis attached to my body anymore. A few nerves woke up, nerves that used to be on the outside and were now on the inside of my body. It was weird, but not necessarily in a bad way.
On Wednesday, I was able to get up and walk around the floor of the hospital where my room was– one turn around the perimiter of the nurses’ station, what would take a person about 30 seconds, took me nearly ten minutes on a walker. But I was up, walking and feeling mostly good.
I was reluctant to take the Vicodin they were giving me due to my history with it. I can’t really explain, other than to say that the thought of taking Vicodin again was about as unpalatable to me as chewing Tylenol. I started having problems with nausea, which I think, was at least partly due to the pain– not taking any pain medication just ended with me feeling achy and lousy all over and it seems one of the side effects of that was that it became very hard to keep food down.
By the time I was discharged Friday afternoon, I’d not had any solid food for a week, but at least the nausea was starting to subside. I managed to get into a wheelechair, and from the wheelchair to the car without too much pain, but the car ride back to the hotel was pure agony. It was very uncomfortable to sit (I’m sure you can imagine), and those inflatable donut cushions didn’t really provide support in the places I needed it, so I balanced, somewhat precariously on several pillows. When we made it to the turnpike, I found myself in the worst traffic jam I’ve ever seen– parts of the road were shut down for construction.
Having not been on any pain medications, and not being terribly comfortable to start with, sitting in stop and go traffic for thirty minutes was horrible. And we’d only gone about one mile. We had about six more to go. I started crying. My pain levels had gone up and thinking of sitting in the car for several hours was enough to make me lose my shit. Christine, completely out of ideas, started driving down the shoulder of the highway, cutting back into traffic as necessary. All told, the drive back to the hotel, which should have taken about 16 minutes, took over an hour and a half.
We got to the hotel and despite all my reservations against it, I took a Vicodin and drank another protein shake. And of course, I was completely fine. The medication didn’t make me sick, and I had an easier time keeping food down now that I wasn’t feeling so horrible the entire time. We stayed in Trevose for a couple nights– me laying in bed, taking Vicodin every few hours, drinking protein shakes, watching movies and trying not to laugh at anything funny because it hurt to laugh. I had to empty my catheter every few hours as they’d capped it before I left the hospital. So I still had to “pee”, for some definition of the word that didn’t actually involve getting out of bed.
On Sunday the 11th, we transferred to a hotel in New Hope, closer to my doctor’s office where I’d be having my followup appointments. That ride, thankfully, was completely uneventful.
On Tuesday the 13th I had my first followup visit with the doctor. They removed the last of the bandages, removed the packing from my vagina and I got to see… what looked like someone had detonated a stick of dynamite in my underwear. Lest you think I’m unhappy with the results, that’s not the case, not in the slightest. One week after that kind of surgery, though, well, nothing is going to look pretty, no matter how good your doctor might be. The incisions had skin glue on them (which is a blackish color) to keep them from tearing open, some areas had turned black from a lack of adequate blood flow post surgery. Everyone is different, blood vessels are in different places, and sometimes you just don’t get adequate flow. It happens, and the doctor assured me that everything would heal up and even the areas where some of the tissue had died would eventually grow over. She said it wouldn’t look the same in several months and not to worry prematurely– while there is a chance the cosmetic appearance would be a little assymetrical, I didn’t have much to worry about functionally speaking and any problems could always be addressed later on.
So, here I am, typing this about six weeks after that doctor visit and she was right– most of it has healed up. There’s one section I’m a little concerned about– that small assymetry, but honestly, it’s not horrible. Depending on how it heals, in six or nine months, I’ll consider whether it’s going to require a revision, but it needs at least that long to heal, for all the swelling to dissipate and for us to really know what we’re dealing with.
Functionally speaking, everything works– I can pee properly, or as properly as any woman can pee– one thing I didn’t know until I had my consult is that urinating with a vulva can be messy– it’s not unusual for it to get on your buttocks or part of your thigh. I don’t mean that peeing is analogous to a whirlygig lawn sprinkler, but it’s not like you can write your name in the snow, either.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the typical ups and downs– my surgeon warned me that a post-op depression is common and so I’ve been taking my medication, but there are times where mutilated is exactly the word I want to describe how I’m feeling. It’s an odd thing to have absent parts of my body that I’ve lived with for more than 30 years. And now they’re gone. I’m happy they’re gone, and I like how my clothes fit, and I like… well, I like how things turned out. But there’s still a bit of residual sadness, a mourning, a final mourning, for what I left in that OR– those last vestiges of that person I was.
I don’t mean that I want to go back to the way things were, or that I’d undo my surgery, I just mean that sometimes, in the dark, when everyone else is asleep, I cry a little for the way things had to go in order for me to get here. I think Dolly put it best: “Redmeption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain.” It definitely does. I feel better, life feels better, but it hurt me, a lot, to get here.
Now, lest this seem misleading, I don’t know that surgery made everything better, but I am sort of… happy. Not happy exactly, not the way some people use the word, especially since I know there’s still a substantial amount of self-loathing in there, but, well, things are different. And that’s what I was counting on. Things are different. This tipped my life upside down and that’s all I really expected it to do. It’s a different matter whether I’ll be able to set things upright and be happy with the end result. I’m hoping I will, since that was kind of the point of doing this. It’s a bit like re-modeling a house– you knock down a lot of what you had and hope that what you can rebuild will be worth living in when you’re all finished.
Over the last couple years I’ve become very bitter at God and life and the Universe for all of this– I spent probably $30000 out of pocket on medical expenses last year when I can’t pay pre-existing medical bills– I’m in the hole $15000 from my suicide attempt in 2010. My wife and I have a substantial amount of credit card debt, very little money left at the end of the month and no real way to ever get anything in a savings account. We’re thinking of selling our condo back in California just to make it easier to make ends meet here. So all of that sucks. Everyone it seems, has money trouble these days, and while it may have been smarter to use the money to pay the pre-exisiting debt, to pay off some credit cards, I don’t think I could have survived much longer, not if I had to stay the course with the way things were.
Sometimes, at night, when I’m crying, the other thing I think of is Frodo, with Sam on the slopes of Mount Doom, after the ring’s been destroyed and the land tears itself apart all around them. “It’s done, Sam,” Frodo says. And while I’m holding a lot of conflicting thoughts in my head in those dark hours, being able to say that to myself, that it’s done, does help, even if only a little, even if it doesn’t cure every ill.
*I stole the title of this post from a dear friend who stole it from someone else. That makes it okay, right?