lunes, 20 de febrero de 2012

Sex reassignment surgery in Montreal. January 31, 2011

The Montreal Clinic
Finally! The big day is around the corner! My co-workers threw me a surprise party on my last day in the office. I got a few gifts, even a vibrator!. They baked cookies with vulvas, penises and breasts on top -They all know I LOVE cookies. The receptionist baked a cake with the Cuban flag on top (The picture is on the right). It was a very emotional occasion, one I will never forget. I sent everybody an email afterwards as I didn't want to have to give a speech.

I drove to Ottawa in the morning of the 28th of January and stayed overnight with my a friend. A friend or hers drove me  to Montreal on Saturday, January 29; I was to stay at the residence behind the clinic until the morning of the 31st. The residence is an incredible mansion behind the clinic. I took the best part of the day to get acquainted with the girls who’d have their surgeries on Monday as well as others who were recovering from theirs and to meet the nursing staff. I got the biggest room in the house with a double Fowler bed. They gave me an additional electric heater as the room was a bit cold; the bedding was all white and impeccably clean. There was a flat screen TV with a built-in DVD player on the wall right in front of my bed, I had my own phone, an  alarm clock radio with a remote and a chest of drawers for my stuff; there was also a closet with clothes hangers; what I thought to be another closet was a surprisingly nice little washroom with a wash stand and shelves on both sides of it, there was a plastic goblet sealed in a plastic bag, a straw, toilet paper, fresh towels, all I needed; I unpacked and put my clothes on the hangers in the closet right away.

On Sunday I was given an enema at 4pm and one at 8pm; the only male nurse in the staff was kind enough to help, he was supersweet which made the whole procedure easier; that night I was given a razor and shaving cream to make sure the whole area was clean shaven for the surgery. I had shaved at home and it was only a matter of making sure the few little noticeable hairs were gone, that very night they told me I’d be the first in the operating room the next morning. Three of use were having the surgery and we were up by 5:30am. I could hardly sleep out of sheer excitement but made sure I had a moment with my inner self to ask myself all the big questions for the last time and the answers were the same that had brought me to Montreal. I had a last exchange with some friends via Facebook and was happy to see all the wonderfully supportive messages. A co-worker had sent me a message that brought tears to my eyes. I was ready. We were given our records and some forms to sign and walked to the clinic somewhat in disbelief. Michelle and Paige, both from the US were with me. Michelle said something about being honored to share that day with us and full of emotion, away we went.

We were shown our rooms right away, there were individual tiny safe boxes for our valuables with instructions on how to set the combination; I put my purse, my camera, watch and earrings in mine. (Of course I forgot the combination I chose which made me later freak out a bit only to find out in two minutes that the nurses had a master combination…)

Dr. Pierre Brassard
Dr. Brassard visited Paige and I in the room we were sharing shortly after we got there. He has the reputation of being one of the 3 best SRS surgeons in the world which was very reassuring; I had seen him on the internet and he is just as handsome in person; his English is absolutely correct with a strong French accent; he is also likable at first sight, the best word to describe him may be ‘intense’, he had half a smile in his eyes while talking to us and he seemed to pierce ours while talking to us, his personality is magnetic and he has a very nice demeanor that makes you feel at ease with him. He had come to introduce himself and meet us. He was wearing a very nice suit and tie. ‘I’ll see you in a bit’ he said before going upstairs into the O.R.

They put me in a gurney and took me upstairs. The place was full of people coming and going, it was rather noisy, the loud and almost barbaric Francais Quebecois echoed all over the place; Dr. Brassard came over, now dressed in the green O.R. clothing, he pulled the curtains so we had some privacy and asked: ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ (sic). I said I was somewhat afraid he wasn’t going to have enough skin to work with. ‘Let me see’ and said right away ‘Nothing to worry about’; he said it in such a way that it was impossible not to take it at face value, ‘Anything else?’ I said no and he walked away with a half smile. Then I remembered a sebaceous cyst I had in my scrotum and asked a passing nurse to call the doctor again, he was back in a millisecond and said that he’d decide what to do during the surgery.

They switched me to another gurney and had me put on a new robe; they wheeled me into the O.R. and then go on the operating table, there was a concave depression on the table and they made me rest my coxis right by the brim of it; they started an IV and made me sit to get the shot of the anesthetic on my lower back. The anesthesiologist then put me to sleep, the whole thing took less than 5 minutes.

I woke up during the surgery, all I could see was a piece of green cloth in front of me and there was a remote feeling of pulling and pushing with no pain in an area of my lower body that I couldn’t identify. I believe my legs must have been on stirrups but I couldn’t feel or see anything. The anesthesiologist noticed right away that I was awake and he asked if I was ok. I said yes and he said he’d put me back to sleep. I asked how much longer it would take and someone said in French it would be another 20 minutes. I told him it was ok in French and he asked if I was sure. I said I was.

A few minutes after I was taken to the recovery room the surgeon showed up with his big smile to say that everything had gone well and that the blood loss had been minimal (only 120 ml) I was still floating on a cloud and don’t know how I could retain the detail although I didn’t even know what 120 ml looked like. The doctor also said that the cyst was history. I said I was cold and he called a nurse who covered me with a warm electric blanket.

I guess I was in the recovery room for about an hour under close supervision and then they wheeled me back to my room, I was euphoric and incredulous, feeling emotions I wouldn’t be able to describe. The nurses kept an eye on me at all times and kept coming and going to ask how I was feeling after taking my blood pressure and feeling my pulse. They kept asking if I could move my legs; a moment I was dreading as I knew that once the anesthetic wore off I’d be in a lot of pain. I couldn’t move my legs until around 5pm. By then Paige was back from the O.R. and I could hear her turning and tossing in pain behind the curtain that separated us. I was surprised I wasn’t feeling any pain. The nurse came and asked Paige how bad was her pain in a scale from 1 to 10; she said ‘15’ and the nurse gave her some morphine. Then she asked me the same question and I said I was at zero pain; she asked me to move my legs which I did, she gave me a funny look and walked away after asking me to call her if I needed anything.

My room at the recovery home
By midnight two nurses came and asked if I thought I could stand up, I said yes without hesitation, they helped me to stand up and I was about to faint, so nauseous that it felt like I was going to die right there and then. It was only then that I started to realize the magnitude of the surgery although I was somewhat suspicious when I saw all the bloody stretchy panties that they exchanged every 2 hours. Every time I tried to take a peek at the area but all I could see were these rare bandages that didn’t let me see a thing except the catheter they had fitted me with which was draining urine and a tiny little hose that took blood from a tiny hole on the lower part of my abdomen to a tiny flask hanging on the side of the bed, the nurses emptied the flask every time they replaced the panties. Every time I asked if everything was ok and they said everything was ok. We didn’t get any food that day; I started asking the nurse in French: ‘Where is the pizza?’ and her answer was always the same; she pointed out to my IV and said ‘there is your pizza’ I pretended to be very unhappy with the answer and she would laugh.

On February 1 in the morning a very nice lady came to ask what we’d like for breakfast ‘Are you serious?’ I asked, and then took her smile as a yes. I ordered cereal and milk, a whole grain toast with peanut butter and strawberry jam, yogourt and apple juice. I ate it all but two hours later I felt like I was dying. I ended up vomiting which means that I puked on myself, on the bedding, on my robe, on everything… then the hospital SWAT team showed up and with military precision lifted me, changed the bedding, changed my robe and left me all perfumed and clean, it was hard to believe. At lunch time, an hour later, I only ordered chicken stew and Jell-o, I had learned my lesson from an hour earlier,  thank God, no problem this time. The nurses kept coming back to ask if I was up for a little walk, I kept trying but every time I started to feel like fainting, I even became so nauseous at some point, while in bed, that I thought I’d need the SWAT people back, fortunately, a wet towel on my forehead while inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth did the trick after a few minutes. It was only at around midnight that I was able to stand up and walk twice around the reception area! This seemed to be impossible only a few hours earlier. What I didn’t know was that this walk was the ticket back to the mansion behind the clinic; they took me back the next morning.

The recovery home
Paige was in so much pain that she required several morphine shots, she had to deal with the same nausea and vomiting that prompted the SWAT team to act. This time I had a chance to see the clockwork ritual with more amazement than before. Michelle had to be taken back to the O.R. as she started bleeding profusely and they had to redo her stitching; she lost so much blood that there was talk of a transfusion she ended up not getting, fortunately.

On Wednesday morning they took us back in wheel chairs to the residence under a heavy snowfall; we were sitting on a rubber donut that was to be our best friends for several weeks. When I made it to the residence there was so much snow on me that it was close to needing to brush it all off with one of those car snow brushes. This was actually good as the snow reanimated me.

Living room at the recovery home
 Before heading for the recovery home they took the catheter bag out, the drainage hose and the IV, this meant we had to stand up to pee through the rubber hose, feeling really strange about not being able to squeeze the bladder with the corresponding muscles, it was now a matter of going to the washroom every two hours, take a little plug off the hose and stand there to let the urine flow drop by drop till the end when the muscles seemed to spasm for a moment which caused a sizzling nose on the rubber hose and a bit or a burning sensation in an area I couldn’t define. I still couldn’t see the result of the surgery as the bandages were stitched to the skin making it impossible and tantalizing…

I spent most of the day in bed on Thursday, trying to take short walks to be somewhat active, the trips to the washroom and the application of ice on the area helped too. The ice machine was all the way to the end of the hall which forced me to walk that far. I didn’t seem to have any signs of inflammation…then on Friday the nurse took part of the bandage off along with who knows how many stitches, she was very careful and it wasn’t that bad but that’s when the inflammation started to set in, I had every shade of blue start to cover the lower abdominal area and part of my thighs. The surface of the blue areas was very tender. That was also the day of my first bowel movement, the nurses seemed obsessive in their follow-up of bowel movements and we were supposed the keep them up to date with every one of them. Prune juice was a fixture on the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner; one of the girls started calling it jus de poo-poo and we all started calling it that. We were also given these yellow pills to help with the bowel movements. I had no problems the first time, the second time was only two hours later but it was only liquid.

Saturday was pretty much the same; on Sunday morning the stem the surgeon had inserted in my neovagina was scheduled to come out. It turned out to be like a giant bloody sausage made up by something wrapped up in gauze and then put inside what appeared to be a condom; it looked huge and having it out was quite a relief as the stitches that kept it in place were impossible to avoid from pricking when sitting. About an hour after the stem was out I had my first dilation. I had been given a set of 4 dilators with ascending diameters, these dilators look like dildos and were of a different color each. The nurse helped me introduce the thinner one for 5 minutes and then # 2 for 15 minutes, I was lucky, it wasn’t painful. Relaxing was key and the absence of pain made it easier although it was really messy; the vaginal walls swell after the stent is out and that makes dilation a challenging proposition but I was ok. The nurse took all the time in the world. Taking the dilator out meant dealing with a mixture of fragments of tissue, blood clots, blood and the gel we had to use on the dilator. Not a pretty sight. The first dilation is followed by a vaginal douche which is done with a flexible plastic bottle with a nozzle you have to insert all the way in while standing, then you have to squeeze hard and clean the neovagina. The cleaning liquid is a combination of distilled water and white vinegar. Sitz baths follow…yup, it’s very busy and draining from there on with all the fun stuff going on. At the end of the day if feels better than the previous day and the bleeding diminishes from day to day, I was also feeling stronger with every passing day

On the 7th. (Monday) they finally took the catheter out; it hurt like hell, it was also sewn into my skin and the nurse didn’t realize the catheter was still attached by a stitch and attempted to pull it out. I couldn’t help but screaming; I think that was, by far, the most painful moment. From that moment on I had the nurses asking me obsessively about peeing, they gave me a funny-looking receptacle with measurements that I was supposed to show them every single time I peed. No fun.

The first time I finally saw my new anatomy on one of the big mirrors in one of the washrooms, I couldn’t help but starting to cry ouf of happiness; it was hard to believe that I was finally on the outside the person I have always been inside, PURE HAPPINESSSSS!

The nurse told me that the neovagina would bleed for 4-8 more weeks and that it might even bleed longer; she referred to this as my ‘first and last period’. I have cried a lot when by myself in my room, I have cherished every single emotion. Michelle, Paige and I are now part of a sisterhood that doesn’t seem easy to destroy, we are beautifully close. Michelle keeps joking about tattooing ‘Made in Montreal’ on her labia for everybody’s laughter and enjoyment. Saying our goodbyes was a very emotional moment.

My friends and co-workers kept calling to check on me. I got the most beautiful postcard signed by everybody in the office as well as flowers and stuffed animals. The nurses kept asking who I was and that just maybe they should take my autograph 'just in case'. Emails were sent around at work so that people knew how I was doing. On the first day of the dilations the supervisors in the local branch of the company I work for called to come see me but I told them it would be a really busy day. It was. The day before the surgery an employee of the company who lives and works in Montreal came over to meet me personally. I was overwhelmed with the attention and the nice gestures from everybody.

It was an unbearably long trip to Ottawa, under an incredible snowfall; there were a few accidents on the highway and the trip took us 4 hours instead of the usual 2, I was a mess when we made it home, the blue areas in my lower abdomen and thighs was really tender and painful, sitting for that many hours didn’t help. I felt better after a warm bath.

I had been released in the morning but my friend couldn’t pick me up that early; another friend who lives in Montreal picked me up at 11am and took me to her place where I managed to take a nap and even had a chance to dilate. My friend from Ottawa left Ottawa at 3pm but didn’t make it to my friend’s place until 7:30pm; she got lost several times and the GPS didn’t help her at all.

We made it to Ottawa at midnight. We ordered pizza by phone and went to bed at 1:30am. I'll stay in Ottawa, at my friend's place for 2-3 weeks; I guess I'll feel strong enough to drive back home after that. Thank God, everything is alright. Life is good!

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  11. Such a beautiful story and I’m so happy for you. I had done my SRS in Thailand few years ago and I could feel what you had been through. Thank you for sharing and also if you have time, please feel free to check my SRS story with Dr. Pichet of Bangkok Plastic Surgery Clinic from my blog : Cheers. J.

  12. I feel so honored Lucia to follow your journey so close & personal. Beautiful writing throughout. I knew Pierre Brassard from 5 years ago when I had an eye surgery; I smiled with your description of him - he was so handsome in his suits!
    Small world...blessed to have worked with you in designing your future home. Will pursue my reading of your compelling path.

    Sincerely, Sonia


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