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I got sliced all the fuck up!

Hello from the other siiiiiiide…

Okay, sorry. I don’t even really like that song, but it felt appropriate? Nah, I just couldn’t think of a better way to start this thing off. This is gonna be…a graphic and super TMI post, but I feel like some of it could be helpful to some and worth reading for others. Mostly, I just kind of want to write about it for my own sake. But yeah, if you’re squeamish or don’t want to read awkward details about surgery and shit (literally and figuratively), I’d advise moving along here. Otherwise, yeah, I’ll try to deliver this with my typical snark, tone, and raunchiness. Good luck?

Pre-surgery

I was dreading pretty much every part of having surgery, but the prep stuff sounded extra awful.

Danielle (my wife) and I showed up at the hotel I was going to be staying in the night before–and she’d be staying in until we went home–around noon the day before my surgery. We checked in and hit up the grocery store a block down the street to get some last minute items. I was already twelve hours into my clear liquids only diet and starting to regret going for my last pre-surgery run that morning because it had really set off my runger. I was starving! This didn’t help my mess of nerves much either.

At this point, it was time to start the bowel-prep process. Ugh. I chugged a bottle of mag citrate and popped a few laxatives. I knew I couldn’t be far from a toilet from here on out, but I still had to head to the doctor’s office for my pre-surgery appointment. Luckily, we made it there and back before the action started, but I was really worried I was going to shit myself while sitting in the examining room at the doctor. Eep!

Well, bottoms up?

Well, bottoms up?

Everyone I saw kept asking if I was excited and ready. And really, I wasn’t? I was terrified as fuck. I think the first thing I said to Danielle that morning was “what the fuck am I doing? Really? Why would I do this? Why would anyone do this?” I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve never had surgery before and I’ve never been under general anesthesia. And it’s even more scary when you’re coming out the other side with your junk all rearranged and having no idea how it’s going to work or feel or really what recovery is going to be like. And it’s hard for me to give up control and be vulnerable. Letting someone put me to sleep so they can do shit to my body is the scariest thing to me.

So night-before texts.

So night-before texts.

Anyway, most of the day was pretty uneventful. Mostly just me getting up every so often to run to the bathroom and shit my brains out. Actually, I’d describe it more as pissing out my ass. Though, oddly, it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected it to be. It was just tiring and weird. Mostly, I wanted a sandwich.

I didn’t get much sleep, but I figured that wouldn’t matter much anyway, I’d be taking a nice four-hour nap during surgery.

Surgery day

Surgery day started early. Not quite as early as Disney race days, but it was a 4am wake-up. I had to chug another half a bottle of mag citrate and…give myself an enema. Now, I’ve never given myself an enema before, but let me tell you, it’s weird. Would not recommend! Unfortunately, this process didn’t go as smoothly as I would have hoped. I followed the instructions and then sat on the toilet for a few minutes waiting for everything to come out. Then…I blacked out. And started convulsing. And blacked out again. This all woke Danielle up who came running to help me. She stayed there with me and calmed me down until the lights in my head came back on. I honestly thought I was dying. In reality, it was probably due to the fact that I hadn’t eaten in like 30 hours at this point and had drained my body of just about everything inside of it.

Once that whole ordeal was over, I got dressed and gathered up the stuff I had to bring with me to the hospital. I really wasn’t ready for this. Danielle drove to the hospital, which was good because I don’t think I could have really done it myself. We arrived at 6am and there was pretty much no one to be found. It was eerily quiet and we were kind of unsure where we were going, but eventually a nurse came out and asked what we were trying to find. When I said I was having surgery and told her my name, she remembered it from her list and got me checked in.

After being checked in, the nurse took me to a room to prep for everything. I thought my nerves were as bad as they could have been, but they kept getting worse. She provided instructions for how to properly wipe my body down and wear the gown and such. I was struggling to keep it together while she was talking and the moment she walked out of the room, I completely lost it. I mean, full on waterworks. I was hysterically crying and freaking out. I’ve literally never been so scared in my life. I wanted to dive head first out the window. Could I back out? I couldn’t do this! Gahhhh. It was bad. I’m not proud of this.

Prepped for surgery! Notice how a month off my hormones made my boobs disappear :(

Prepped for surgery! Notice how a month off my hormones made my boobs disappear 🙁

Through all of this, Danielle was amazing. She was my rock. She was calming and reassuring. She stayed next to me and held my hand and was strong for me, when I couldn’t be. Between this, the convulsive-black-out affair from a few hours earlier, and all my emotional freak-outs the day before, she was incredible. It’s not being hyperbolic to say I wouldn’t have made it to surgery without her. She was my everything. I don’t know how people do this alone. I couldn’t have. And the kicker is we had gotten into a huge fight two days before and I told her I didn’t want her help and refused it. I told her not to come with me and to be out of the house when I got back from the hospital. Look, I haven’t had any of my hormones this year because of being required to stop them for surgery so I’ve not quite been myself recently, okay? I was being an asshole and terrified and not handling shit well–figuratively, at this point, since all the literal shit had been forcefully removed from my body. But she wouldn’t let me push her away even as I tried to end our marriage. God, I’m a fucking asshole.

Moving on…

My doctor came in and told me I’d do great and I just tried not to cry more.  Then the anesthesiology team came in and I was fighting to keep myself together again, but I had Danielle’s hand in mine. While the anesthesiologist went through his checklist of questions and explained this to me, the student (or resident or nurse or…honestly, I don’t really remember) stuck the needle into the vein in my hand. I didn’t even notice. It was a pretty slick distraction move. Not that it matters, I’m not bothered by needles.

Once they got the IV going, they told me they’d put something in there to calm me down, but I had to say goodbye to Danielle. I was on my own now. I got wheeled out of the room and down the hall. Fuck I was freaking. Honestly, I’m freaking again just typing this. There are literally tears coming out of my eyes. It’s weird, I cry more while off estrogen than I do on it (which is pretty much never).

Look, I really want to be clear here…I was not okay. I didn’t even believe I was going to be okay.

After I was in the operating room and they moved me to the table, the mask went on my face. Everyone tried to be so calming and reassuring and I just wanted to not make a fool of myself with my freaking out. And, well, that’s the last thing I remember. I was out.

I woke up roughly three and half hours later. The first thing I remember feeling was “okay, that’s over…I’m alive…I woke up. FUCK. Holy shit! I didn’t die! And…that’s a good thing!” I turned to the nurse and immediately asked when I could see my wife. All I wanted was Danielle. Nothing matter more than Danielle right then and there. They said in a little bit. Then I asked about 32 times if everything was okay or if there were any complications. It’s like I couldn’t believe them that things went well.

After another hour and a half of me being in and out of consciousness, I got wheeled into my room and Danielle was there. I’m pretty sure I cried again just seeing her. But it was a good cry this time. She said the doctor told her everything went perfectly, but that was it. I had made it. I had proper parts.

Danielle took this when she first saw me, about 90 minutes after being woken up.

Danielle took this when she first saw me, about 90 minutes after being woken up.

In the hospital

The next three days were mostly uneventful. My butt was sore from only being able to lay on my back with a very low incline. The food was surprisingly not terrible. Though, I couldn’t eat my first meal, I got super nauseous after a single bite of lettuce. The nurses and techs were incredibly friendly, but not exactly super speedy to respond to some of my calls.

French toast, scrambled eggs, sausage, and oatmeal!

French toast, scrambled eggs, sausage, and oatmeal!

Scrambled eggs with cheese, french toast, bacon, english muffin, oatmeal, apple slices, plain greek yogurt. I didn't eat all of this, but just a little bit of each.

Scrambled eggs with cheese, french toast, bacon, english muffin, oatmeal, apple slices, plain greek yogurt. I didn’t eat all of this, but just a little bit of each.

Most importantly, I had my little friend. My morphine button. I pressed it and I got morphine. This was a relationship I could get behind. The pain was pretty manageable with the button, to be honest. I also had these compression things on my calves that basically just continuously massaged them to prevent blood clots. It was heaven. I wanted to steal them and take them home with me.

Let me tell you, this button is GREAT!

Let me tell you, this button is GREAT!

I didn’t see the doctor until the day after my surgery, but she said everything went perfectly and was looking good. For some reason, I wasn’t really prepared to believe this. I asked if I could see everything and she told me I didn’t want to yet and wouldn’t let me.

Thank you for the flowers, Ellen!

Thank you for the flowers, Ellen!

I spent most of the time in the hospital much more coherent than expected. I only slept a few hours each night and spent most of my time awake for like an hour and then asleep for a half hour. In person, I would sometimes start talking and then trail off, but I was able to tweet, text, chat, and read on my phone. My friends were really great. Mostly I just texted them jokes about having a vagina. “It’s going to be a pink Valentine’s Day!” “I’ve had a vagina for exactly one day and I’m already binging on Gilmore Girls.” Lots and lots…and lots of taco-related jokes.

Would have loved a good shave.

Would have loved a good shave.

So sexy.

So sexy.

My mom visited me a couple times and one of my best and oldest friends came by to spend a couple hours with me, as well. It was nice to have visitors. Danielle spent a lot of time with me, but she has friends in Philly and I wanted her to take some time to see them as well. I know this has been a long stressful process for her too and she was short on sleep. But it was a lot nicer when I wasn’t just hanging out by myself.

Honestly, I didn’t really want to go home yet at the end of the three days. I had a catheter and drains sticking out of me. It was hard to move and I didn’t even get to sit up, let alone stand or walk, until I was preparing to be discharged. I was afraid of the cats jumping on me at home and not having my morphine button.

Well, I'm out of the bed!

Well, I’m out of the bed!

Getting up out of the bed wasn’t as bad as I thought. I just sat there in a chair for a while afterwards until we were ready to actually go home. Then, I got wheeled out to the car and I tried to set up as best I could in there for our two-hour drive back to Jersey City. I slept most of the ride home.

My sweet ride!

My sweet ride! And, yes,, that is a bag of my pee in my hand.

At home

After getting out of bed, the car ride, and the walking from the car to the house and up our front steps, I was starting to hurt quite a bit. Just a bit too much moving. I had some Percocets in me though, so that helped a bit.

Danielle worked from home the first day I was home and I just stayed in the bed while she took care of everything I needed. I couldn’t do much and it was hard to move because of the catheter and drains and crap hanging out of my body. Everything was a big production. I also hadn’t pooped since before the surgery and I was starting to get a little worried about that. I had no idea how that was going to work. I couldn’t push at all. I started popping stool softeners to help, but those can take a little while to work.

For my first few days at home, I just stayed in bed and kept the bedroom door closed to keep the cats out. They were not thrilled by this. They love to sleep on the bed and Hattie and Fry are really needy for my attention. The two of them love to sleep between my legs.

My best buddy in the world hung out with me to watch the recording of last week's all team meeting at work.

My best buddy in the world hung out with me to watch the recording of last week’s all team meeting at work.

At one point, a package was being delivered and I had to answer the door while holding a bag of my own urine. So I can check that off my bucket list now!

On my sixth day after surgery, I had my post-surgery appointment. This was to check on how things were doing and remove the catheter, drains, and packing from inside my brand new, top-of-the-line 2016 Vagina™. I was also going to be given my dilators and actually get to see thing. I’m going to be honest here, my crotch looked kinda like someone exploded a grenade inside a cheeseburger. Or a sandwich from Arby’s. Not a pretty site, but it kinda looked like a (very, very swollen) vagina.

The dilation is important because your body treats it like a wound and you want to make sure it doesn’t close up. To maintain width and depth, you have to insert a dilator a few times a day and keep it in there for a while.

Again, I was a wreck though. I was really scared of it hurting when the doctor pulled everything out of me. I didn’t know what to expect. My doctor was amazing though. She was calming and reassuring and honest. She told me everything was great and the surgery went perfectly and things were looking great. Nothing really hurt coming out, but it was some of the weirdest feeling things I’ve ever felt. SO weird! I practiced dilating and then that was about it. About four hours roundtrip driving and an hour in at the doctor. I just wanted to get back home and get back in bed…also poop.

So now that I was home again, I realized…I didn’t know how to pee…or poop still. I hadn’t pooped in a week at this point, but with the percocets and having everything completely emptied prior to surgery, it wasn’t terribly surprising. Well, that night, the stool softeners kicked in and went a good four or five times. Felt good to get it out! Peeing was weird. I still don’t really know how to reliably tell if I even have to go. And then when I sit on the toilet, I don’t know how to do it, how to push control the right muscles. I just kind of sit and wait for the magic to happen. And then it just sprays EVERYWHERE. I mean, everywhere. I guess that’ll change once the swelling goes down.

Anyway, things got a lot better once I had everything out of me. I was more comfortable and had a lot more mobility. I could get up on my own and move around and not have to worry as much about the cats. Though, somewhere in the process of resting in the hospital bed and getting home, I had pinched my sciatic nerve and so I’ve still had to be careful how I bend because of that.

It’s now nine days post-op and I’m making progress. I can feel it and see it. Dilating is weird, but not the worst thing. Mostly, it’s just boring and leaves me sore afterwards. I still kind of dread it each time, but it’s never as bad as I expect it to be. I’ve been able to do it with the biggest dilator too, which is encouraging. Though, I have gotten lube on my work computer’s keyboard in the process. Oops.

I’ve been starting to let the cats back in the bedroom with me for a bit. I have a lapdesk that I just keep in place over my crotch at all times to protect me from them. They just like to sleep a little further down between my legs. Hattie likes to lay on my chest, all up in my face.

It’s nice to be on the mend, but I still have sooooo far to go. I can get up and move around the house and lay on the couch and stuff, but I still can’t quite sit up straight for more than a little bit at a time without being in pain. And I’m still not feeling well enough to be stir-crazy yet. I’m certainly not even missing running yet. Today is the first day I actually feel up to being able to do any sort of work, hence why this post is happening today. Still, I feel gross. I haven’t showered in nine days and my hair is a knotty mess that completely holds the shape of the ponytail it’s been in since 4am the morning of surgery when I take the hair tie out. I was only just given the OK to shower on Wednesday, but I’m still kind of scared to do it. I’m sure it will be fine, but I need to work up the courage. I need to get clean and wash my hair.

I’m also totally over wearing diapers and would love to put my big girl undies back on.

I had no idea what it was going to be like to look down and not see a penis anymore, to see a vagina. But it wasn’t weird at all. It felt so normal. Just kind of like, of course I have a vagina…why wouldn’t I? What is weird, though, is the mapping of nerves. It’s hard to tell for sure where pain or an itch is. “My balls itch…but I don’t have balls.” “The head of my penis hurts…so…my clitoris?” I know this will work itself out over time as my body figures out where all my old nerves are now, but it’s an interesting feeling!

Overall, the pain is mostly manageable with the percocets. I try to take as few of them as possible, but it’s getting better day-by-day. Sometimes, I wake up in a bunch of pain or if I move around too much for a while, the pain will start to creep back up on me. Still, those first five or six days really sucked. No one can prepare you for how rough they are. You’re totally helpless to do anything on your own, relying on pain meds, unable to move much, and don’t even know how your body works.

A bit on why?

So, I mean, why go through all of this? I don’t expect cisgender people (people who aren’t trans) to really understand, but it’s a feeling of oneness with my body. To have genitals that feel like mine instead of just something attached to me. It’s freedom to live a more normal life and have to worry less about public restroom access and the TSA. To dress and present myself how I want without worry of people seeing what I’ve got going on down there.

At this point, after having been living openly as a woman (i.e. myself) for more than two years, my last remaining dysphoria was related to my genitals and my breast size. This fixes one of them. It allows me to just feel more comfortable with being me.

And a big bit of it is running. In theory, with where my testosterone level was on blockers, it should actually go up a bit now. I was at practically zero and now I have a chance to maybe be in the normal female range. We’ll see if this actually pans out, anything could happen, but I’m hopeful. Regardless, to no longer have to deal with the side-effects of Spironolactone (my blocker) will be a big deal on its own. I truly expect to be a stronger, faster, and happier runner after this. And, as you know, running is #1 to me.

That’s about all I’m going to say about that. I’m not going to justify what I neededI had to do that enough just to be able to have surgery in the first place.

Other stuff

I’m sure some of you, mostly just those who are trans, are wondering who did my surgery and details like that. I went to Dr Rumer in Ardmore, PA. Surgery was in Drexel Hill, which is basically Philly. We don’t really get a lot of options for doctors when it comes to bottom surgery in the US, but my first choice was originally McGinn. Unfortunately, that was going to be a year wait for surgery. Heck, it was six months just to get a consultation. With Rumor, I got my consultation inside a week and a half. And my surgery date was three months later, mostly because I wanted to wait until January, not because she couldn’t schedule it sooner.

Up until this point, and you should probably ask me again once I’m healed up, Dr Rumer has been great! She has a really great bedside manner that is calming, yet honest. She makes it easy to trust her and feel comfortable. She wasn’t phased at all by my horrible anxiety.

Rumer also worked with my insurance so I didn’t have to pay $20k out of pocket and then go through reimbursement. Though, just having insurance that covers bottom surgery is still a big deal that I’m very grateful for.

I know some people do this on their own, but I don’t know how they do it. I couldn’t have done it without Danielle. Both before and after surgery, I needed her so much. I wouldn’t have made it otherwise. The other day, she said to me, “what I learned in the last week is that you’re not as strong as I thought you were, but I’m much stronger than I thought I was.” It may sound like a weird thing to say to your wife, but it felt perfect. It felt real and honest. And it meant that I was finally able to show my wife of four and a half years something I’ve never been able to before.

It’s kind of weird to have this over with. For twenty years, I had such a weird relationship with the idea of even having surgery and then when I finally made a decision for what I needed, this moved pretty quickly. I still don’t even really know what to call it, SRS (sex reassignment surgery), GRS (gender reassignment surgery or genital reconstruction surgery), bottom surgery, GCS (gender confirmation surgery), the surgery, taco installation, getting your junk rearranged. The more serious terms in that list are pretty problematic for their own reasons so I tend to just stick with making a joke.

25 Comments

  1. This is a really awesome, informative post. Thank you so much for sharing it. And looking forward to seeing you set some spring PRs when you get back out there.

  2. Amelia I am so happy for you. I was literally just tearing up at the end of your post. I am so glad this came together for you. It sounds like it was a really positive procedure.

    To be honest, everything that happened before the procedure sounds so terrifying. I could not imagine being on liquids for so long and the enema. I’ve had a couple of procedures with anesthesia but I don’t do shots well in the slightest.

    When I was 7 and in the hospital, the doctor tried to give me a shot and I wouldn’t do it. I literally ran out of the room and around the hospital for a good 20 minutes before they caught me…I don’t think much has changed.

    • OMG I’m just picturing little Hollie running around a hospital screaming and I’m losing my shit!

  3. Talk about small world moments. My friend (cis male) in PA school with me (who is one of the coolest people I know) was just talking to me about considering Dr. Rumer over NYE because of what he heard of her as a provider. I really hope you keep having a smooth recovery, and that you’re back to your new 100% ASAP.

  4. Thank you, Amelia, for sharing the intimate details of your experience undergoing surgery. It’s incredibly helpful to me, as I’m sure it is to so many other transgender women, to be able to read first-hand reports like this. Wishing you a healthful recovery. <3

  5. Glad everything went OK and that you are recovering.
    Although I didn’t go through the emotions that you went through in the days before surgery, thankfully I was able to have something to help during the period being off hormones, I did find feel by turns nervous and excited about it. My last thought as they put me under was “is it too late to change my mind”.

    It is tiring for the first few weeks after surgery, far more than you expect once you are able to get up and about. How people that don’t have others around to help manage I can’t imagine. It took me over a week to be able to stand long enough to wash some glasses and even longer to be able to cook a meal.

    Take care

  6. Beautiful article. I was going to write one, but I don’t think I could do better. I’m currently on the other side of the world recovering from the same installation/ rearrangement.

    I have never felt so little energy preparing / cleansing for this OP. I’m so glad you wife is there, I don’t know how people do post hospital care without help.

    I cried about your wife realizing how strong she is. It’s so important in a partnership for her to feel powerful in helping you recover.

    Xoxo.

  7. This is amazing, Amelia. Beautifully written. I can’t imagine the terror before the surgery. I’m sure I would be the same way for just about any surgery. Heck, I cried the day before I had to have a mole removed because I was so freaked out and that wasn’t REALLY surgery.

    I hope this isn’t too intrusive, but I’m curious. When can you start your hormones again? Do they change now? I mean, you don’t need the blocker anymore, but does the estrogen level have to change? I don’t know why I find this interesting, I just do.

    As for the showering and hair washing – Can you have Danielle wash your hair over the kitchen sink for you? My mom used to do this for me when I was a kid because my hair was SO FREAKING LONG that it was hard for me to do it myself. Might make you feel a bit cleaner without having to shower. As for the rest of you – baby wipes!

    • For my Dr (Chettawut), I had to stop both anti androgens and estrogen 2 weeks before my flight. This is to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis. I’m guessing this is 2 weeks before surgery, but for a combined 13 hour flight to Thailand, 2 weeks before travel was safer.

      A week off hormones and I was crazy…

      Also for those who come to Thailand, it’s recommended to stay off your estrogen until after your flight back. A month in Thailand / other country is the normal time from arrival to departure. If you are getting it done in your country or close where you don’t have to fly, then you should be able to resume hormones shortly after. Be aware your dosages will likely be different than before.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience with this. Well written, you hit on a lot and I really appreciate it.

  9. I’m glad you decided to write this! I’ve never experienced feeling anything other than matching the parts I was born with (I have no idea how to be PC and say that), but I can totally understand why you would want your body to match who you FEEL you are. I think it’s incredible that your insurance covered this surgery and honestly, I would hope ALL insurance companies would cover gender reassignment surgery of all sorts (or taco installations or clit extension surgery or whatever the opposite is). I also thought the part about nerve endings was super strange. I had literally never thought about that before but obviously, those nerve endings change around… It reminds me of the concept of phantom limb pain in amputees in a way. I’m so curious how long that’ll take to change around. Also, I can’t help but be curious about how it actually feels inside to you. Like, how it’ll change sex (only because I have always been SO curious how sex would feel with a penis! I have no idea why- I just wish I could see what it’s like once!). I’m so intrigued by this. I love your openness in sharing about this, including all the details about crying and freaking out. I have a feeling I’d be the same if I was undergoing something so huge and I’ve had a few surgeries before! I hope the healing continues to go well. Good luck with your new parts 😉

  10. I’m happy to read that the surgery went well and hope that the healing continues to go well.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It was illuminating to read.

    Kudos to Danielle for her patience and love to see you through this experience (and the fight).

  11. I saw a post on twitter, i think womens running? someone in my feed had RTed it and it lead me to your blog… Damn you are a bad ass bitch! and i mean that in the most awesome way so i hope that doesnt offend you. Although I can’t say I relate to this (maybe medical anxiety part) your strength and braveness is very inspiring 😉

  12. You rock, lady. This was an amazing post. Thank you so much for sharing. For some reason seeing the photo with the Picky Bars sticker on your laptop made me laugh, because you surely earned some big Picky Bars’ #lifepoints for going through this! You should be on their next wrapper. Now that would be awesome.

  13. Saw you in a slideshow on Refinery29 about runners and linked to your blog. I am an old (45), mom of three, boring, Republican Texan runner. I thought I was badass, but lady, you take the cake. I hope your recovery continues to go well, and your vagina makes you happy. If you were born to have one, then by damn, you should. Yes, I know that we’re a little back asswards in Texas, but not all of us Texas Republicans are stupid… or hateful. Power to you sister from one runner to another.

  14. It took me a while to read this because of the disclaimer (I was scared!), but it wasn’t gruesome! Lots of honesty which I appreciate. I’m also very anxious about surgeries and relenting control, so I really identify with that. I hope you’re able to move around a bit better now! Happy to hear it all went well!

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