Archive | November 2011

Surgery and recovery

My surgery went as scheduled three weeks ago today. The surgery itself went well despite running longer than expected leaving my poor wife and mother a bit panicked when I was 2 hours overdue before they heard about my successful outcome. My surgery was scheduled for 1:00 and it was probably about 1:30-1:45 before they got started. I had originally told my mom it should take about 2 hours with some time in recovery so she was expecting to hear something by around 3:30 or 4 Stockholm time (she is in Seattle so was waiting for a call from my wife about my status). When I went into surgery, my wife asked the nurse when she should be back to meet me out of recovery and the nurse told her to be back around 4. Wanting to make sure she did not miss me, she stationed herself on the bench outside the elevators around 3:00.

When I woke in the recovery room, I had been having a bad dream and was quite started when the nurses tried to rouse me. I couldn’t remember the dream but was so startled that I cried out and attempted to get up, much to the nurses surprise. The sudden motion of trying to get up made me instantly aware of the searing post-op pain in my chest. The nurses started me on a heavy duty pain killer. I don’t know what they had me on, but they had to keep reminding me to breathe because it suppressed the body’s natural breathing reflex. I was still very groggy from the anesthesia and it was difficult to stay awake, but every time I would start to fall asleep I could feel myself stop breathing. It would jolt me awake and I would take a deep breath and struggle to remain conscious. When I first woke up I was able to make out from the clock on the wall that it was about 5:20. I knew I was overdue, but was too out of it to ask if someone had told my wife that I was out of surgery. Finally about 6:00 I had regained enough cognitive ability to ask the nurse if someone had informed my wife. The nurse asked if my wife was in the building and if she had a cell phone, which I answered yes to both questions. The nurse then brought me a phone to let me call her. She was ecstatic to hear from me and astonished that I could remember her phone number. I am still amazed that I remembered her cell phone number since it was a fairly new number and I usually didn’t have to dial it as it’s programmed into my phone. Just after my call, my wife called my mom to let her know that the surgery went well and I had come through just fine. I am sure my mom was beyond relieved to get the call. She was getting very panicked as it got later and later with  no news.

The nurses in the recovery room continued to give me pain medication every 10-15 minutes and told me I would not be able to go back downstairs until my pain levels were under a 4 on a 0-10 scale. I started out around level 8 when I woke from surgery and it wasn’t until about 7pm that I was finally down to a 3.5 to 4. Once my pain levels were down, they wheeled me downstairs. My wife met me as they wheeled my bed off the elevator and down the hall to my place in the room on the surgical ward. She was even more surprised at my ability to call her when she finally saw me and saw just how hard it was for me to stay awake.  I spent the rest of the evening sleeping. As much as I wanted to be up to tell my wife about everything I just couldn’t stay awake. I barely remember her kissing me goodnight and heading off home. Just after she left the nurse got me up to use the bathroom. I was so nauseous from the pain medication that once I got into the bathroom I was sure I would throw up. Luckily I didn’t though. When I got back into bed I told the nurse of my nausea and they started giving me on an anti nausea medication every time they gave me the pain meds. The night nurse woke me every couple of hours to give me morphine and check up on the incisions. At one point in the middle of the night she became quite concerned about my right side. She hurried off and came back with an IV of something. I never did find out exactly what it was she gave me, but I assumed it was something to try to prevent infection.

I woke around 4:30 Friday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, partly because the room I was in had 2 other guys who were snoring very loudly and a third guy who was in some intestinal distress as he kept going to the bathroom every couple of hours. Around 6:30 the nurse let me know that the doctors would be in at 7:30 to do a post op check. I messaged my wife that the docs would be coming in and she rushed to the hospital in time to meet with the doctors as they took a look at their work. Both were quite pleased with the results. I had some extra puffiness on the right side, but overall things looked pretty good. Later that morning they removed my drains. I had been having a lot of pain from the drain on the left side and when they went to remove it I found out why. While I was in the recovery room the nurses had to move me up in the bed. As they did so, I had a searing pain on my left side for a moment and then continued to have pain if I moved wrong. When they went to remove the drain they found that the stitch holding the drain had been ripped out. Once the drains were out, I was able to get dressed and was released to go home with a follow up appointment for the following Friday.

My wife was adamant that we get a taxi home instead of trying to go by public transport. I found out from the nurse that we were able to get a reduced fare taxi home. We had a bit of an ordeal getting the taxi though. We thought we knew where we were supposed to wait, but 20 minutes past when we were supposed to be picked up we found out we were waiting at the wrong door. The nurses called us a second taxi and made sure we knew where to meet it. We were crammed in with 2 other people on our way home to which my wife commented that it perfectly represents socialized health care: crowded and late but you don’t have to pay for it. Once we got home I phoned my mom to give her an update and spent the rest of the day sleeping. Through the first week I seemed to be healing up fairly well. I was still very tired all the time and sleeping as much as I could, but it felt like I was slowly healing. I went into my first post op and they said things looked good overall. There was some redness around some of the incisions that the nurse was concerned about and said I should keep an eye on it in case of infection. Sure enough, three days later I was getting up one evening and had a gush of fluid come out the incision on the left side. I was able to get back into the doctor’s office the next day and found out I had contracted an infection. I was prescribed the antibiotic flucloxacillin and told to start taking it as soon as possible, preferably right after going to the pharmacy. On the way home from the doctor’s office I could tell I was starting to run a fever. Once I got home I was in full blown chills. My wife tucked me into bed with some extra blankets and I went to sleep. My fever broke in the middle of the night and luckily did not recur. The infection greatly increased my pain levels and my overall feeling of exhaustion. My pain medication was prescribed for every 6 hours. The first week I was able to go sometimes 8-10 hours before needing another dose, but once the infection set in I was getting breakthrough pain after 4-5 hours. Even though I was exhausted, the higher pain levels made it harder to sleep. I started feeling a bit better a few days after starting on the antibiotic but it took a little over a week before I really started feeling like myself again.

It has been a rough three weeks, but I can say without hesitation and without question that it has all been worth it. Now that I am coming out of the anesthesia/pain med haze I will be able to write more about what life without the breasts has been like aside from the medical complications. But that will need to be a post of it’s own, which I hope to write in the next couple of days.

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