So after 34 years (and change) I have finally completed my transition from male to female. I had my surgery back on October 11th and have been doing a lot of thinking in the days since, and one thing that I realised was that most of the issues I faced during my time in hospital were aspects you’d never think of.
Based on that, I have decided to write an article chronicling my time in hospital and the side effects of surgery faced that neither you or I have ever heard about (and believe me, I was prepared). Hopefully, this will help the friends and family of those who want to change gender understand what we go through, or indeed help prepare those before their op with what to expect.
Now before I start, I can’t stress enough that this blog entry is full of a lot of unpleasant details relating the surgery and recovery from it, including blood, drugs, pain and a variety of other less than pleasant subject matter. I will not apologise for this as the whole point of this blog is to prepare those who want the surgery for what is to come, or to help their friends and family understand what they’re actually about to go through. I would also stress that this entry is not particularly suitable for children, so please bare that in mind.
Before we begin, as a tradition on my blog…..a song (heard this before a concert I attended a few weeks ago).
T minus One Day (Wednesday) – Check-in day
So rather than boring you with the journey from the moment I woke up, I’ll simply go with the moment that I realised would screw me over for the entire week, my phone’s character port has suddenly decided to stop working. It had been fine overnight so I hoped it was simply the cable, but nope, buying a new one has no impact and that means that I have less than 50% to last me for the week (spoiler alert, it doesn’t).
The evening is quite boring, I meet a few staff, have a few basic tests and other than that it is just a case of watching TV. In an unusual move, my hospital has a nest of kestrels on one of the sides of the building and Channel 400 on the TVs will show you this up close. I can literally see them out of my window, but never picture myself being so desperate to switch to that channel to see them up close.
For comparative purposes later on, during this evening I also walk to a hot chocolate machine on the opposite side of the hospital. It takes me less than 90 seconds to walk there, get the hot chocolate and walk back. A healthcare assistant by the name of Ellen makes a big deal out of how quickly I managed the walk, and whilst I won’t mention her again in this blog entry, she was arguably my favourite person that worked there. Anyway, in reference to the speed, please keep this in mind later on as I will reference this again.
Day Zero (Thursday) – Operation Day
Unable to sleep properly, I am awake at around 4am. Nerves are starting to set in and are and not helped by the only thing being on TV being the hourly repetition of the news, which was focusing on a storm in Florida. Within a few hours, the nurse comes in and delivers an enema, which up until that point in my life had been the strangest feeling ever as having liquid injected into you when you’re not used to it, especially in an area where you’ve never had anything inserted into, is not pleasant. Anyway, the enema does what it does and soon afterwards I meet Chris, one of the healthcare staff, who about 30 minutes later says that “it’s time”.
I walk down to the operating theatre with him and by this point I am shaking quite a lot, making babbling small talk. The cannula is placed into my hand as they ask me what I do for a living and we get into a conversation about movies based on that (I am a supervisor in a cinema for those that don’t know) and the conversation just flows as they tell me what is going to happen. They note that I am shaking quite a lot but say that when we go in the theatre it will calm down. The next thing I know I am waking up from the op. It literally went straight from that conversation about films and them telling me they’ll roll me in in a second to waking up following the op. It’s almost as if someone snapped their fingers and skipped time forward several hours.
The first thing I do is try to sit up, which is a big no-no, but I’m so drowsy that nothing is really registering. It takes me a few minutes to realise that the operation is actually over and I decide to lay back, more from exhaustion more than being asked, although I am also given oxygen to “relax me”. After a while, I see Chris again and he wheels me back to the room.
I am wired up to buggery. I have got a blood pressure monitor permanently on my right arm, an IV going into my left, as well as two huge pressure pads on my legs to make sure I don’t get deep vein thrombosis. As well as these I have a catheter fitted and two other cables going into my lower abdomen, one for containing blood that leaks through wounds, I’m not sure what the other was for. I don’t think I could have escaped if I wanted to.
Unable to really move, I manage to turn on my phone and take a quick picture post-surgery to put on social media. The picture became my highest liked picture ever on both Facebook and Instagram (although the latter wouldn’t take a lot). That’s it though. The phone goes off and I spend most of the rest of the day asleep, although it isn’t full-on as I am forced to lay flat on my back (I normally sleep on my front with one of my legs over the other, I know it’s weird).
Speaking of weird, I watched Channel 400 for five minutes. It was about as exciting as you would expect.
Day One (Friday) – The first day of the rest of my life…….is spent in bed
Another morning of waking up early, but it was was not caused by nerves this time, rather pain. Within the first four hours of being awake, I have been given copious amounts of morphine, 800mg paracetamol and a variety of other drugs that went into my system. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had that amount of drugs before, but if you haven’t (and this was my first time) it makes you exceptionally light-headed. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for hours. There isn’t a lot on TV to keep me entertained, with the usual TV unholy-trinity of Judge Rinder, Jeremy Kyle and Big Bang Theory seemingly being the only things on TV.
Not a lot really happened on Friday other than being regularly checked.
Day Two (Saturday) – Zzzzzzzzzzzzz
I am woken up this time at 2am by my back hurting and a hard, almost ball-like shape between my legs (it was bloody bandages that had dried out) but I couldn’t see that as it was all taped down and there was no way to get rid of them. That’s one thing that they definitely don’t tell you in advance of surgery, if you’re going to be bed bound for several days then your back is going to hurt…..and it is going to be an agonising pain that almost brings you to tears, that is how bad it is. After some pain killers I start feeling tired again, but the leg pressure pads are still on and believe me when I saw that having pressure applied and relieved on a regular basis (about a minute on the left leg, then a minute on the right, before then switching back to the left…..all day…..every day) makes it hard to get to sleep.
Anyway, still in pain, I struggle to get any sleep throughout the day, especially as the care staff are constantly coming in and out (which isn’t a complaint, by the way, it is their job after all). I am feeling pretty awful and even fall asleep during my listening of Lincoln City’s 6-2 away win at Port Vale.
Days Three and Four (Sunday and Monday) – All sleep and no play makes Kate a bit grouchy
It’s day four at the hospital and I am exhausted. Another very early morning wake up caused by pain is underway and the care staff are probably getting tired/frustrated about me constantly pressing my call button, but the good news is that the leg pressure pads FINALLY come off! I’ve no longer got throbbing going on through my legs all night, which is such a huge relief. Granted, it doesn’t really help me go back to sleep after the mid-morning blood pressure check from the staff, but it is a start at least.
Sunday was quite a slow day as not a lot really happened. The WIFI at the hospital seemed to have ground to a halt all of a sudden, meaning watching a 30-second video suddenly takes 5-10 minutes. This proves exceptionally frustrating in the sense that as Sunday TV in the UK is a bit rubbish, the lack of access to the internet means I can’t get entertainment from that.
So remember the phone that I said was on less than 50%? I actually did quite well in terms of saving the batteries and was still on something like 28% heading into midday on Monday, but the problem is that I then fell asleep without turning itself off….and my phone had a lot of updates to get through. By the time I wake up afterwards my phone suddenly only has 4%. I turned it off straight away, but the next time I turn it on, the battery life ends and that’s that until I get it repaired.
Day Five (Tuesday) – Holy shit, it’s a vagina!
This was the day that every transgendered individual waits for, seeing what they want between their legs for the first time. I was nervous beyond belief but the day started as usual with a lack of sleep, although this time I awoke at the relatively late time of 4:30am.
The usual routine happens first thing, but within two hours the nurse comes in to remove all of the bandages and padding. Due to being told not to shave pubic hair for four-to-six weeks before surgery, combined with the blood and adhesives on the bandages, it is a tough time getting them all off, and she also was surprised no-one else had noticed the near cement like ball that was right at the bottom of everything and had been keeping me awake. She manages to loosen everything except the ball and says she is going to get something to help it get off. She walks off and I notice that I am actually now able to see the top of the what has been created. I stare at it with fascination, but am not able to see it properly due to the remaining bandage and not being allowed to sit up. The nurse eventually returns and finally gets everything off.
She grabs a mirror, places it between my legs, and for the first time in my life, I see a vagina. It is a moment that is impossible to put into words. A mixture of emotions are flooding through me, including relief, pride, confusion and worry. You may be surprised by those last two, but let me clarify them by stating that don’t just assume that just being able to see what you’ve always wanted to that the instant result is going to be utter joy on a permanent basis. Imagine any situation in your life where suddenly something that you’ve been used to for your entire duration on the planet no longer applies. Regardless of how you lost it, whether it is via your choice or not, you’re going to go through that moment of confusion as to what will happen now and how it all works, and that is what happened with me.
This was the first time that the whole process being completed felt real. Up until this point, I had only been told that everything had been done, but there was nothing to see that for myself. Everything had been covered up so it couldn’t be seen, and more to the point, I was so drugged up I couldn’t feel anything other than the pain from the bandages.
Anyway, together the nurse and I go through a process that I will now have to re
peat three times a day for the next six weeks, and at least once every three days for the rest of my life following that, dilation. Now for those who don’t know what that is, a transgender vagina is effectively just an open wound and will close, similar to how a piercing will if you don’t keep it open until the initial healing is done, so three times a day (at the moment) for around 30 minutes, I have to place a near eight-inch long cylindrical object into the vagina and leave it there, which on the first time of doing it was a rather unusual experience.
I take a much-needed shower. It is so nice to finally be able to clean myself after five days and wash my hair because it was at the point where it was starting to all become a big knotted mess, almost to the point where it looks like it is starting to become matted, so it was very welcome, although very awkward due to the catheter still dangling awkwardly between my legs, going all of the way down to my knees. It was a very unsettling feeling and that wasn’t helped when I sat back down afterwards, looked down and there was a small pool of blood that was roughly the same size as a CD. I start to panic so call in the nurse, who thankfully eases me with the news that it is more than likely just a case of it being the final excess blood that was from the operation. I eventually managed to solve the dangling issue with medical tape.
From this point on in the blog, I may seem very vague at times because some events from this point onwards have lead to a complaint from myself about one of the staff members,
Skip forward about six hours to 8pm and the catheter is finally due to come out, that is not fun AT ALL. I’m not sure whether it is because it feels like I have a cut-up there still, but yeah, it was horrendous, but this also means that now I’m on my own when it comes to going to the toilet, which is an unusual/daunting thought as I have no idea how to go to the toilet as a girl. Obviously, I know that I have to sit down….but what after that?
Day Six (Wednesday) – Five people, five different answers!
So from now on life in the hospital is just about recovering strength before home time the following day, but one thing that you don’t really hear anyone talking about as a side effect from this surgery is that because you’ve been on your back for five days, full of medication and a variety of other minor factors, it becomes almost impossible not to become constipated and this lead to several issues.
To try and solve the problem I am given another enema (although this time a different type to the one earlier). I am told that it would take about 20 minutes to start taking effect…..but this is the third time I’ve been told a time by someone working at the hospital and all three have said something different. By the end of the day I had asked five people how long that enema should take to work, and I got five different answers. The five answers range from a short five minutes to a seemingly lengthy full hour, with that one, in particular, coming from an actual doctor.
This wasn’t filling me with confidence on what was my final full day in the hospital.
Other than the issue with constipation, I am largely left on my own all day and am told that as long as I don’t go outside the front door and the operating theatres, I have pretty much the freedom to wander wherever I wish. At this point, I am not even close to being able to move at full capacity and remember earlier when I mentioned the hot chocolate machine? That quick 90 seconds that it took to walk down there, get the drink and walk back, was now but a distant dream, and on my first walk after surgery in 90 seconds I only made it down to the nurses’ station, which was about 50 feet from my room.
Anyway, the day continues with the ups and downs I had been told to expect. I was handed a booklet on my first day that basically said that no matter what, it is exceptionally unlikely you’ll go through your time in the first weeks following surgery without feeling depressed about the situation. It doesn’t help that I see another patient pretty quickly and they look alive with the joys of the world following their op, something that I am not, then again, I wasn’t exactly the happiest person before the op either.
My day is filled with thoughts going up and down all of the time. There are times where I can’t believe it is finally over, leading me to question “what do I work towards now?”, and other times where I regret getting it done. This is apparently all caused by a hormone imbalance as you’ve been told not to take any hormones for six weeks prior to surgery, and now your body has no way of naturally producing hormones anymore.
Day Seven (Thursday) – Home Time!
So again, this day will be heavily limited due to an ongoing complaint, but I tell you what, this was one of the more extreme days in terms of pain.
Basically, it is often the case where you will have had a bowel movement by the time you leave, but I apparently fell into the small percentile that didn’t due to the late coming off drugs. This ended with a phosphate enema and oh my lord, I know I’ve said it a few times during this blog entry but there are just no words to describe the feeling. It’s like a volcano has gone off in your guts! The 4th of July is going off in you! World War 3 is happening in your bowels! It kills and is excruciating….but it works. I may have been drenched in sweat by the end of it, but I left that hospital in such a sense of relief that it was great.
And that was my week in the hospital.
I will post another blog entry in a few days as an almost sequel to this, focusing on the question I ask myself on what I do now, but I do hope that if you yourself, or someone you know, are about to go for their operation to complete their transition, or are even considering it, found this article somewhat useful. Please note that your experience might be different to mine, especially as something happened in the final few days that has lead me into making a complaint, but hopefully, this will give you some tips that will help you prepare.
Until next time.