Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Here We Go

Today is the tenth anniversary of my SRS. Ten years ago right now I was on the table in little Neenah, WI - my mom was in the waiting room - and as surgeries go it really didn't take that long. The photo on the left was taken in July of 2000 - my unofficial SRS "portrait".

Some of my memories of various events along the way have faded into the fogs of time but I have some vivid memories of that particular day. I remember saying goodbye to my mom and being wheeled down to the OR. I was calm, and I took the time to truly soak it all in because it was something that I never in my wildest dreams imagined would or could happen. Of course I knew it happened, but more specifically, it always seemed like something that happened to others so the fact that this was my turn was surreal.

After we got into the OR they had me scooch off of the gurney and onto the OR table. There were stirrups down by the legs, and at the top it was shaped like a cross. They had me put my arms out and they velcro'd them down which I thought was funny, as though I'd try to escape or something. It was cold - OR's usually are - and I was cold so they brought me a nice warm, heavy blanket which helped.

People were coming and going doing a number of things and were introducing themselves to me. I made a particular point of not letting my eyes wander too much because I didn't need to see scalpels or other sharp stuff - I'm happier not knowing about that.

After a few minutes the anesthesiologist took a seat up by my head and shoulder so his mouth was near my left ear. He asked if I were ready, and I said I was, so he said that he was going to release two different chemicals into the IV that was in my left arm. He said that when he released the first I might feel a warmth move up my arm and spread through my body, and that I'd feel a sense of calm overtake me. Then, he'd release the second and that within a few seconds I'd be out, and the next thing I'd remember was waking in the recovery room.

When he said, "Here we go...." he released the first chemical and I could feel the warmth moving up my arm and through my body. After a few seconds he said, "Here comes the second one" and that was that.

I had come to feel that SRS was really pretty much a detail at that point - kind of like the exclamation point on a profound statement. What I've come to learn is that many of us both under and over emphasize the importance of this event but that's something that became clear later on. I had become comfortable that a small patch of skin in the middle of my body didn't define me but then again, by society's yardstick, it did.

But in a larger sense finally resolving this incongruity between mind and body had more significant long-term impacts, not only for me but for others as well. My mom admitted that, as far as she was concerned, that was the day that she truly lost a son and gained a daughter. Although this particularly surgery happened in my mid-section it affected every inch of my body, from my skin to my core.

In those days Dr. Schrang didn't allow patients to get out of bed until a week after surgery. Common wisdom is to get you up and out of bed (ambulatory) as soon as possible, both for healing purposes and to minimize the risk for clots in the legs, but not in Neenah. When I finally got out of bed and took my first shower, a week later, and I looked down and saw for myself that it was gone - I got light headed. I couldn't believe it. I stared in disbelief, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. But the fact is, I was just calm. It was just "right".

For those of us facing these kind of conundrums, that's a very welcome feeling - to finally be "right" with ourselves.

The funny thing is, I still appreciate those days. I celebrate this particular milestone each year by myself, taking time to recognize the solitary nature of the journey. I appreciate it as not the end, but certainly a significant event. It was an amazing time.

I continue to live vicariously thru friends who are still experiencing the frenetic energies of those early stages just as there are others who seem to live vicariously thru me. One dear friend had her name legally changed yesterday. I thought about that several times throughout the day because I remember doing it myself, never realizing the doors it would open to other profound things deeper into the journey. It's easy to forget, to eventually get lulled into the trance of sleep-walking through life just like so many others seem to be doing. I appreciate that some simply want to get on with their lives, to live "normal" lives, but I continue to appreciate things as much because of the profound nature of getting here as anything specific.

I started an SRS "diary" at the time. I didn't want to forget anything. I think my pre-op thoughts are as true today as they were then:

Tues. 8/8/00 12:30pm

I am sitting at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. I am halfway to Neenah. My flight arrived a couple of hours ago, and I am sitting at gate 6B waiting for the flight from DFW with my mom on it to arrive. It’s supposed to get here at 1:12, so I have a half hour to kill. I have spent my time here so far having a bite of lunch and paying my bills. I am unbelievably tight on money at the moment, and if my mind weren’t so sharply focused on other things, it would really scare me. They’ll be time enough for that later (I have less than $100 in my checking account…).

I am going to document this trip as much as I can, as I never want to forget it. It still amazes me that I am here right now….at this point so close to a dream I never imagined had a chance to become a reality. From a young teenager who daydreamed about changing minds and bodies with girls in order to make the universe right, to the career guy who felt more trapped in his life than in his body….it is still amazing that I managed to steer myself here.

The cost has been horrendous. The emotional toll on [my wife] and her family. On my mom and my family. On my relationship with [my son]. The unbelievable amount of $$$ that has me buried under a mountain of debt. But the returns have been beyond my wildest imagination, and I stand at the doorway to the rest of my life. It is odd to me that people tend to define themselves by their genitalia, regardless of anything and everything else. That is the sole criteria that is used to proclaim a newborn as either boy or girl, and I think the impact of this criteria sticks with us throughout our lives. So although I am able to live my life as female, I’m thinking that I will not really able to consider myself as such until that criteria is met. Although the surgery itself is a physical modification, I think the mental changes that happen as a result are far more profound. We shall see….

I have said that I would rather die on the table than continue with this body. I truly mean that. I am ready to die to finish this journey. I have come to that peace in myself, and I am not worried or nervous or apprehensive in the least. I certainly do not look forward to the drudgery of the post-op care, but being near the end of the road (as far as this journey is concerned) fills me with renewed strength and vigor. I can see the end of the road…..and I’m not going to screw it up now.

I was about to say that the last 6 weeks have been a whirlwind….but in looking back at things, the entire last year has passed at absolutely breakneck speed. As has generally been the case, I have filled these last weeks with sooooo much “stuff” that I haven’t had much of an opportunity to fret or get too wrapped in what is about to happen. I feel a bit like a bug who is about to hit a windshield…as my life is about to hit the brakes big-time, and I a very much looking forward to the respite.

Well, my mom’s plane is pulling up to the gate, so time to shut down and meet her….

* * * * *

I had one especially dear friend who was the only person who remembered this day as an anniversary in my life.  She'd call me every year, without fail, and I came to look forward to talking with her.  She has since gone to heaven, and her passing several years ago is still a profound reminder in the need to appreciate things in our lives while we can because eventually they will be gone.

In that spirit, there was a song at the time that I listened to quite a bit in those early days.  The lyrics had and continue to have significant deeper meanings for me and given the right mood it can make me cry.  It seems appropriate to share it here today.



Melissa said...

Happy 10th Birthday, sweetie!

Melissa XX

Elly said...

Happy birthday Donna and may you have many more.

Hugs, Elly

Caroline said...

So much can be defined by that small patch which few if any may ever see and by all accounts if recreated on the operating table 60% to 70% never full utilise.

Being half way there I had resigned myself to that state of affairs, the worst had been removed, I could live with the rest.

Having suddenly found myself offered the possibility of finishing the job the desire for completeness grows all the time. If it happens it could be a year or two, nobody knows how funding is being affected, years pass by so quickly now!

Congratulations on your aniversary.

Caroline xxx

Anonymous said...

Donna -
Many thanks for sharing your thoughts today - as well as your thoughts from "back then" - happy anniversary! - Gretchen

sweetbrandigirl2004 said...

Happy Aniversary Donna your story is much like my own except for the recovery part my dr made me get up after two days.

Karen said...

Donna, happy 10th aniversary!! As much as your journey has meant to you, it has also been an incredible source of hope to countless others, including me. After many years I finally started my own transition earlier this year and I so understand feeling that it is "just 'right'".

You have long been a role model for me and I am very happy that you are living and enjoying your life to the fullest.