[Content warnings for graphic depictions/images of bodily functions, surgery, suicide, mental illness, swearing]
This is Part II of my little tale about having serious difficulties + complications with lower surgery, and coming back from the brink to make a better life. You can find Part I here.
This isn’t an in-depth look into GRS, just a story of recovery, if you’d like me to discuss any part more thoroughly please leave a comment here or send a direct message on Twitter @unexpectedamy.
I woke up groggy as all heck, keeping my eyes closed for a moment until I felt an intense pain and an awareness of beeping. As soon as I opened my eyes, a kind consult came to me, explaining softly where I was, that everything had gone ok, and asked what my pain levels were. I imagine I was slipping in and out of consciousness, perturbed only by the pain, moaning about how much it hurt and that the painkillers hadn’t taken effect yet. On the other side of the curtain I heard another patient also weakly moaning, after a bit of time the morphine kicked in so although I was in pain I was too wasted to notice it. Apparently I spent a lot of time asking if things had gone ok and flirting the nice man who was there for me as I woke, trying to distract me with questions about life and music.
When I had regained some of my sense I got wheeled back to my room, high and exhausted. I spent the rest of the day talking garbage in my inebriated state, sleeping, getting used to all the strange sensations of my body. The Flowtron boots loudly massaged my legs, the heart monitor beeped, the world outside my room went on as my head spun and I just rolled with it because it wasn’t anywhere near as horrifying as I had feared. At the surgery site was a big bundle of near bloodless bandages with a catheter leading to a bag beside my bed which began to fill as I was allowed some water. I didn’t really have the energy to care or think “Oh wow, I have a vagina,” in fact once I calmed down I was more interested in continuing my research. I wanted to stick to my regular schedule so much as possible to take some of the pressure off all the other changes happening, so I mostly just lay with my eyes closed listening to lectures and seminars.
The next few days were to do as little as possible, I was still exhausted, obviously couldn’t move, was being fed consommé as a substitute for food, and was pumped full of happy drugs, so my energy levels were low but my spirits were high. I was incredibly fortunate to have a few visitors over the next few days, including people I had only spoken to previously online, met through this blog and Twitter. With their support and the wonderful words of Twitter followers I was able to pass the days without too much concern. The staff were mostly very nice and helpful, even Mr. Thomas seemed more personable when he came to visit. The first few nights I sweat a lot, needing my clothes and sheets changed fairly often – I do have to commend the patience of the staff for helping me so much whilst I was infirm.
The back pain and trapped wind is the worst – for as much as the surgical site hurt it was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated, about 7 at worst, I’ve had worse haemorrhoids if I’m honest. I’m not used to sleeping on my back so from the second night I was able to lie on my side with the aid of a mountain of pillows, which was no easy feat, eventually letting out the most classically elegant farts I’ve ever heard. On Day 3 I was able to eat a little – toast, tea, and rice crispies – after nearly a week of tasteless food and fast I’m not sure I’ve ever been so enamoured by sustenance. Things were going pretty well leading up to getting my bandages off and learning to dilate for the first time. After a few days I was encouraged to get up a couple of times a day just to stand and sit in a chair, which is very difficult with a bunch of bandages containing a raw new vagina.
Unfortunately there was a medical error, I relied on the staff to provide my medications but for 2 days they forgot to give me my anti-depressant and my mood plummeted. I didn’t know why at the time, but when it came to taking off the bandages I was a total mess. A specialist came in with a nurse and they removed the dressings, one of the most painful parts of the experiences as they had been set on my pubes for a few days. After that they pulled the bandages out of my vagina like a clown pulls handkerchiefs from a sleeve, the feeling new, numb yet sensate, indescribable, unpleasant. I had been informed that my vagina was quite tight and difficult to work with because of a strong pelvic floor muscle, but it looked pretty good comparatively.
I was in no state to go ahead with dilation, crying my eyeballs out completely incensed in fear. I did all I could but was so tense at the idea of having things jammed into unhealed flesh I completely dissociated and missed a lot of what happened. I was miserable at my results, 3.5 inches of depth and too tight for the larger of the two dilators. The next day I finally realised I hadn’t been given my meds which became a point of contention with the staff who didn’t believe I was as upset as I was. Even after taking my antidepressants again for a couple of days I felt gaslit and now unsafe with the staff.
With everything going on I didn’t make energy to connect with my vagina, I looked at it and saw just bruises and blood clots, it felt good to not have a penis, but the pendulum didn’t fully swing. The day before we asked to leave the hospital I had a discussion with staff and got the opportunity to dilate again, only after Mr. Thomas intervened as the staff were preparing to throw me out because I was upset at being minimized and told I wasn’t in pain. For a couple of hours I lay with one of his consults crying my way through dilation again but this time learning what I needed to.
At some point I got the catheter out, a couple of seconds of absolute agony, and was allowed to pee. Of course it was different to any other pee I’ve ever had, the urine has a shorter route and it took a while to map that in my brain before pissing all over my wounds. Next was taking a poo, it took a couple of days of smaller enemas and suppositories before I was able to go, but the process took hours and a lot of sweat since I couldn’t really push without risking bursting my stitches. I was so relieved when it finally happened but I was not looking forward to going through this process again on a full food diet.
Before I knew it I was on my way home, doing all I could to tolerate sitting in cars, planes, and wheelchairs. I finally got back to my family home and set up in the bed there. The next 6 weeks were to be for rest, recovery and thrice daily dilation, there’s no time for anything else. A typical day would be: wake up, get breakfast, dilate, wash, sleep, eat lunch, dilate, sleep, eat dinner, dilate, sleep; that’s it. It takes a while to set-up everything needed to dilate in the start as it’s all so new and requires massive amounts of mental fortitude to keep up progress, I had come this far so if I wanted to keep my vagina I would do the work, even though I was dilating altogether 6 hours a day.
The biggest physical challenge I had for the first few weeks (aside dilation) was using the toilet. As pressure from constipation built I eventually had to give myself enemas and suppositories, trying not to sit on the toilet too long, in my exhaustion not being able to concentrate on anything, it was horrible but when it was finally over I felt like how Rocky did running up those Philadelphia steps:
So, that’s my story, 6 weeks of mostly bed rest then slowly reintegrating myself back into life! Only, this is where the real struggle began. While the majority of folks are able to cut along this path, a few weeks in I noticed a complication, a small protrusion was forming where one of my stitches had melted away quite early. I kept dilating, assuming this was just the bottom of my vagina healing, but each day the lump got bigger. I stayed in contact with Nuffield who recommended watchful waiting, but within the first month the bulge had covered my vaginal entrance making it impossible to dilate, and then began pushing outwards – I had prolapsed, an unfortunate added risk for those who had been circumcised. With that prolapse I would need another surgery, so I was stuck in bed, unable to stand or even sit most of the time, almost completely isolated from the world.
In this time, the few people who were actively involved in helping support me were people I barely knew, who humbled me with their presence and helped build a sense of hope. Something I’d read and prepared for was the sad knowledge that one of the more difficult aspects of going through a long term medical condition is that those closest to you may bow out at a certain stage. There were folks I’d known and chased for 10 years who wouldn’t make a 10 minute journey to visit me while folks I barely knew bent over backwards for me, it was a strange time, I reminded myself to try to stay thankful for what I did have rather than what I did not. It seemed like a good time to scorch the Earth of my old life and take responsibility for myself; I had changed and needed to focus on my recovery rather than chasing an old fantasy.
This drastic measure cleared away a life no longer relevant to me, newly fertile ground ready to sprout the strong new seeds of a better life. I may have been down, but I was working constantly on my mental health, creating a foundation for the future regardless of how these complications turned out, I don’t know how I did it, but lying in that bed, alone, I grew stronger in myself, and I refused to give up. For years I was so lost and insecure that I just tried too hard, and relied on others too much, I was co-dependent, I couldn’t stand being by myself. Having my world fall apart has so far been one of the best things to happen to me, I’m more authentic than ever, I’m closer than ever to what I want from life rather than what I feel I’m supposed to be.
Anyway, each day the lump grew bigger and bigger until a large egg sized piece of flesh was hanging outside my body with all its various stitches and healing skin. As much as this was an unfortunate situation I figured to myself ‘at least it’s not a penis.’ I’d gotten used to something dangling between my legs for over 30 years so I could really tolerate this 6 weeks of waiting better than the 6 weeks of waiting for the initial surgery, even though I was losing hope for my poor busted genitals. It was still difficult, but something had changed inside me. Suddenly I was having dreams of rooms being cleared in my mind, great dusty boxes disappearing, leaving me clear spaces to build anew. I no longer had to think about having surgery, I no longer had to think about the next thing I had to do for transition, most of the reinforced neural pathways of dysphoria no longer served a purpose, I was filling with new potential. I wasn’t going to lose this opportunity just because I was stuck in bed, ironic since mental illness had me in bed quite a lot of the time before surgery. I did have a few opportunities to get outside, the fresh air and sunlight have rarely meant so much to me, I was no longer taking for granted the simplest little pleasures in life, leaning into the changes to my physical capabilities.
The date for my second surgery was February 28th, my birthday. The first thing that hit me at the hospital was the smell, being there wasn’t so bad but I’d really rather not, at least I had a lovely view of the snowy Downs. The energy was a bit strange this time, it didn’t feel right, I wasn’t nervous, just aware of it. Everything was much the same as the first surgery, the idea of having surgery at all was a lifelong fear of mine up until a few months ago, but for this second surgery in two months I just let go..
Part III coming soon!
Thanks for reading,