Understand that while I am super excited and hopeful about the changes that this surgery will enact upon my life, it’s also very hard and the recovery. Is. Brutal.
Also there’s a couple of post-op photos close to the end – they aren’t gross, but they are post surgery, so yeah.
I got to Cooley Dickinson Hospital at 6:30 AM and took a Xanax in the parking lot. No panic attacks for this guy! They quickly brought me back into a room and had me change into one of those supremely stylish, and supremely hard to close, hospital gown. Apparently I was meant to pee in a cup for testing before surgery, but no cup was provided and I’d forgotten about it, so I accidentally just used the bathroom. Naturally they came asking me to pee in a cup a few minutes later and I had to sheepishly tell them that I’d already evacuated my bladder (I’ve always found that to be a funny term… does my bladder have life rafts? Escape pods? I may never know!) The nurse said the pee test was to ensure I wasn’t pregnant. I was like yo, I’ve been shooting up Testosterone for the past 3 months, there is literally zero chance. Are you sure? I just looked at her. I get that they need to be thorough, but really. A few nurses came and went and the Dr. Topal came in and drew all over my chest with a blue marker.
She had a different plan for my nipples than when I saw her last. Per our last visit, she had said that she liked to leave the nipple attached to the stuff inside, but apparently she began to feel like that left too much of a bulge and had been doing a lot of them without leaving them attached (basically just removing all the stuff and placing the nips in their new home) and that this method had produced a flatter result. “Sorry to spring that on you on surgery day!” She said. I didn’t need any time to make up my mind – “Do the flat thing,” I said.
A nurse came and put my IV in. First she shot my had with novicane and then put this big ass needle in my hand. I couldn’t watch.
They let Melissa come in for a second and then the anesthesiologist gave me something to relax me, wheeled me down a long golden hallway (at least I think it was golden? I was already on Xanax and whatever they gave me for calming, so… who the hell knows). We went through the golden doors, into an operating room, and that’s really all I remember. No falling down the well like I had gotten with anesthesia in the past.
I woke up some four hours later in a different room. I was starving so they brought me a couple of English muffins and some juice. My throat was really sore from the breathing tube they put down my throat. Melissa came in shortly after and said that Dr. Topal was really pleased with her work and that I would be too. I was wearing a compression vest that had a clear plastic draining ball on each side.
I went home and went right to sleep. I woke up, I ate dinner, I went back to sleep.
I can only take half the normal dose of painkillers because opioids make me sick to my stomach, and despite the fact that I should only take them every four hours, they reliably wear off at around three and a half hours. I can’t take any Advil for 48 hours because it will increase bleeding, so weed it is!
I feel like the lovechild of Quasimodo and a T-Rex as I hunch my way through the house, able to grab only what is a short arm reach away. I am however, contrary to some reports I had read, able to wipe my own ass, which is a relief because no thank you.
Asking for this much help is frustrating, because I’ve never needed this much help. I have to sit here and watch everyone do everything that I feel like I should be doing. That might sound great, but I’m having a hard time with it.
I have an appointment on Wednesday the 27th, to get the bolsters off. My understanding is that those are little extra bandages keeping my nips in place, and I can’t shower until they’re removed. So sorry to everyone stuck in this house with me!
The drain balls fill up with fluid (blood, irrigant, etc) and I have to empty them in the morning and evening. They can’t be removed until they both produce below 30ml of liquid for two days in a row. Christmas being in the middle makes everything kinda weird as far a scheduling goes and I don’t think I’ll be able to get the drains out until Wednesday, which sucks because OH MY GOD they’re uncomfortable.
The compression vest is tight and mashing the tubes into my skin which feels as wonderful as it sounds. On top of that, I believe they are stitched to me at certain intervals down my torso to keep them in place. The vest is making me itch so bad that scratching myself (not on my stitches, obv) is nearly orgasmic.
I have never been this uncomfortable in my life. I laid awake for hours last night just feeling uncomfortable. It’s definitely looking like I won’t be able to get the drains taken out on Friday, so Wednesday it is…if I can last that long. This shit is driving me out of my mind.
I have to walk around hunched over because it feels too hard to stand or sit up straight. The place where the drains are coming out feels really effed up. The right side is draining more that the other side…maybe because that boob was bigger? I’ve no idea. Also, my feet are swollen and I have cankles. Good night.
Apparently cankles are normal because of all the water my body is retaining because of the anesthesia, plus the irrigant during surgery, and I’ve also been drinking gallons of water because it’s supposed to help with bruising. Compression socks FTW! After wearing them all night, the swelling has reduced. Walking helps too, but my house is tiny and not very conducive to strolling, and it’s pretty cold outside and donning winter outdoor clothing seems too difficult right now.
I slept way late and the drugs wore off. Fuck my life. Drains had produced less fluid, but I’ll still have to wait until Wednesday to get them out. Something was leaking on the left side of my shirt and I’m a little worried I may have pulled out some of the stitches that were attaching the drain hoses to my torso when I was going nuts scratching last night. Imagine you have something on with an elastic waistband or cuff that’s very tight. The elastic cuts into you, making your skin feel irritated and itchy. It sucks, right? Now imagine you have that everywhere from the waist up, and apparently I will have to wear this vest for the entire six weeks. And now you understand why I’ve been smoking all of the weed.
I’ve read that Jedi Knights wore kind of scratchy robes to train themselves to ignore discomfort, and I’d like to think that’s what’s going down here as well, but there’s a possibility that I might turn to the dark side before the six weeks is up. Wish me luck.
So I woke up this morning and my drain ports were really swollen. How often do you get to say that sentence! I tried to put an ice pack on the left one, which was the more painful, but it touched my stitches and I couldn’t keep it on. The narcotics had worn off again overnight and I was in a lot of pain.
Trying to call a doctor while a very attention-needy toddler clings to your ankles whining is difficult, as Melissa found out. This is normal, I think, Hazel has never had mom’s attention stolen away by anything, or anyone, and she’s struggling with it a little. I imagine this is a bit like what happens when parents of a toddler have a new baby. Believe me, Hazel, I don’t want all the attention. It is supremely frustrating to be able to do almost nothing by myself.
We finally got a hold of Dr. Topal (who also had children yelling at her in the background, which struck me as a hilarious parallel to the current situation at my house), who said that yes, this phase sucks, but unless there was a lot of blood coming out of the ports, which there was not, that the swelling and pain were normal, though unfortunate.
I’m done with the pain meds and I feel like hot garbage. Part of that is pain from my body coming back online and part I’m sure is withdrawl, because even a half dose of narcotics is still narcotics. I do have more from another injury, but why prolong this shit? I realize that people get hooked on opioids, but god I can’t figure out how.
That’s a complete lie, I’m an empath, I know exactly how they get hooked- while it may feel bad to be on them, being off them can be even worse and the withdrawl is not pleasant, even at half the normal dose. I’m probably lucky they make me sick.
Sleeping is simultaneously the best and the worst. I’m supposed to sleep more upright, and that, friends, is strangely impossible. I know, I know, it sounds easy. Prop up a bunch of pillows, lean on them in an upright fashion and then…slowly slide down them as you sleep until you wake up with your back flat on the bed and your neck at a comfortable 90° angle?! I don’t know how it’s that difficult.
Part of the problem is that I can’t really get into bed. It’s taller than your average bed. I wanted to say “average bear”, but I think it’s about the same height as the average bear, provided it’s walking on all fours. I co-opted one of Hazel’s step stools that she doesn’t use, which she wasn’t too impressed about, but really, there’s no other way. One night I mistakenly tried getting into bed in my typical fashion, which would be to put one knee on it and then push myself up and in, but I ended up folded over in pain for a few minutes and did not forget to use the stool again.
I had to go to CVS to print a couple of pictures for gifts and it was like getting ready for an arctic expedition. It wasn’t that I was putting on that much stuff, it’s that it was all so hard to get on. I needed help with everything, including opening all doors and putting on seatbelts. Afterwards I was completely exhausted and needed a nap.
You’d be surprised how ineffective baby wipes are at cleaning anyone who isn’t a small child. One unwanted effect of testosterone is that I definitely need to take a shower every day, and I’m a bit sad for everyone around me that this hasn’t been possible. I have purposefully donned many layers to shield the stank, but I don’t like being this filthy for this long if I can help it. Bathing in this condition is, quite frankly, arduous. I did manage a bit, and Melissa washed my hair for me, but I can’t actually take a shower until the drains come out.
Explaining this to Hazel has been hard as well. She has no frame of reference, so the concept of a booboo that can’t be solved with a kiss or a bandaid is baffling, I’m sure. We tried explaining that it was going to take a long time to feel better and that she had to be careful (she has a habit of crawling all over people when they are sick), but remembering not to launch herself onto me, or not to accidentally kick me while flailing on the couch next to me is hard because she’s 2, right? So we were taking pictures with Melissa’s parents on Christmas Eve and while I was sitting on the couch next to her, she shouted “IS YOUR BOOBOO ALL BETTER?” and then whacked me in the left nipple. Needless to say, I ended up folded in half groaning and family picture time was over.
I had been afraid to take off the compression vest, but something possessed me to roll up the sides and take a look at those stitches that were holding the drains in place. To my dismay, there were no stitches. All that irritation, pain and fluid leaking on to my shirt? Blisters. Fucking blisters. All the way down both of my sides where the vest had been causing the plastic drain tubes to rub against my skin. Seriously, why had I not looked at this earlier? I put Neosporin and bandaids on all of them, but they were raw and painful and I had to just grit my teeth and deal with it because drain removal couldn’t happen any earlier than Wednesday because of the holiday.
Clearly I needed more reasons to be in pain, so the animals got in on the action as well. Melissa’s cat is a consummate douche. My dog Tedy, on the other hand, is a lovable doof who gets along with basically everyone except squirrels, so it kind of pains me that the cat routinely hisses at Tedy for no reason, tries to eat his food and randomly walks up and swats him and then runs away. Tedy’s reaction to these things ranges from complete bewilderment to righteous indignation. I don’t actually know what Tedy would do if he in his indignation caught the cat, but while I in no way like this cat, I also don’t feel like cleaning up cat pieces, so I reflexively head him off if the cat makes him mad. Reflexes! Such a wonderful thing until you’re covered in stitches. I ended up having to lay down because of that one.
I managed to play Santa after Hazel went to bed, but it was a rough day all in all.
Two more days until the drains come out.
Fuck these drains.
Fuck them straight to hell.
Fuck the cat and his douchebaggery. Fuck the dog and his completely warranted indignation. Fuck my reflexes.
Fuck Advil for wearing off in four hours when I can only take it every six.
Fuck Tylenol for not working at all.
Fuck not being able to do anything.
Also my hair is falling out.
Also THANK YOU to my parents for being here to help the whole week and cooking a wonderful Christmas dinner for Melissa and I. Truly.
There’s no need to rehash Day 7. I’m on to Day 8.
Riding in a car is kind of awful. It’s the bumps. There’s nothing to be done about it, I’m just saying, it’s awful.
Thank god my appointment with Dr. Topal was in the morning because I might have ripped the drains out myself if it had been any later. I laid on the table and she unfastened my vest, one tiny hook at a time, and then removed the gauze.
You’d think after all of the pain and irritation it had caused, I’d be happy to have it off, but I felt strangely and disconcertingly exposed. Not in an “omg, I’m bare chested” kind of way, but more of a “omg, my chest was sliced open, sewed back together and now everything that was protecting it has been removed” kind of way. I was terrified to look down. I’m not super squeamish about stitches and things, I’ve seen some pretty gnarly wounds, but despite the fact that I’d seen plenty of freshly-post-op pictures of this very procedure, I had a hard time fathoming what it was going to look like on me.
I’ve heard of people mourning the loss of their breasts after the surgery, even though they wanted the procedure done. Our relationships with our bodies are complex things, and I’m not knocking anyone who has felt like that, but that wasn’t the root of my fear. Maybe it had something to do with how weird it felt. I’d spent over half my life with this weight that was no longer there, with sensation in parts that were also either no longer there or in completely different locations. And also pain. What would something that felt like this felt even look like?
The first thing she did was take out the drains. I admit, she told me it wouldn’t hurt and I completely did not believe her. Any time someone says to take a deep breath and hold it before they do something to me, I don’t anticipate anything good, but actually, the doctor was right. It didn’t hurt at all. It did, however, feel totally weird because the drainage tubes were like five inches inside my chest and I felt her pull the entire thing out.
There were these things called bolsters, basically balls of stiff yellow gauze-like fiber, stitched on over my nipples, which were grafted in place, and they were basically all that was keeping my nip-noops in place for those first couple of days until my body reestablished connection between the tissues. I held my breath as she removed these too, afraid that without them, my nipples would just slide off and fall on the floor (they didn’t, they were fine, you can stop holding your breath too). She went around removing the rest of the exposed stitches and remarked that while my left nipple was unexpectedly discolored (thanks Hazel 😂😭), the rest of it looked very good – much better than most people at this point.
I finally summoned the courage to open my eyes and look down. Some people in my position go their entire lives without seeing what I saw, and don’t you dare think for a second that I don’t know how lucky I am. It had been a year and a couple of days since last Christmas when that infamous t-shirt started the snowball effect that brought me to December 27th, 2017, laying on a table in a surgeon’s office, looking down at a completely flat chest.
Big shout-out to Dr. Simone Topal and her surgical team at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, because damn. I’d also like to give a shout out to the bruise and swelling-reducing herbal remedies Arnica and Bromelain, which I have been eating like candy since the 19th.
Dr. Topal wasn’t too concerned about my left nipple, just said to come back in if anything weird happened, made me an appointment for the end of March and sent me on my way.
And then I took a shower. It was the best shower I’d taken all year, to be sure. It took me a solid hour from initial disrobing to final re-robing, but oh man. And I can wear a shirt under this stupid vest now! I do have to continue wearing the vest until the end of January, but after not wearing it for a few hours last night to wash and dry it, and feeling unprotected and more in pain without it, I actually don’t mind wearing it as much.
I still can’t do anything, however, and overexerting myself really sucks. I drove today for the first time since surgery and did a little bit too much and am paying for it now in soreness and shooting pains. It’s normal, but I need to be careful. Walking outside is super dicey right now because of ice and I’m terrified that if I slip and fall, I’ll split open like an overripe tomato. Fun image, right? Now you know why I don’t want to go outside. I mean aside from the fact that it’s -45657 degrees out.
Not being able to do anything has been the hardest part – worse than pain. So much of how I self-regulate to deal with my anxiety is linked to being active and not having that outlet has been incredibly challenging. But not just that; having to watch my partner do everything in the house by herself has been really hard. I’m not one to be idle while others work, and being forced to do so isn’t fun for me, so I’ve been self-regulating in hopes of not losing my mind with what seems like the one thing I have left – video games (sorry Melissa).
2018 is only a couple of hours away
And I’m looking back and realizing what a fucking year it’s been. A year of transformation, awful and good at the same time. It seems like it’s been this way for a lot of people, no? Transformations can be hard, they often involve pain. The old must crack, split and break away in order for the new to emerge, like a seedling or a butterfly. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it hurts and there’s really no easy way around – you have to go through.
Here’s to all of 2017’s difficult transformations, and the hope that 2018 sees us further down the path to becoming that mighty oak, that Luna moth, that Monarch that we are all on our way to being.
Happy New Year, I love you all.