Guest post by Turtles
Note: this is part three of a multi-part series documenting my experience of getting top surgery (i.e. a mastectomy). This time around, I’ll be talking about how the surgery went and how the early stages of the healing process are proceeding.
Greetings from the beautiful state of Post-Op! I’m writing this only three days after the surgery, so perhaps it’s too early to predict how the next week or so will pan out, but I’m delighted to report that the recovery is going astonishingly well so far. One of my friends smiled and nodded when he saw me today, saying he’d had a hunch I’d heal quickly. Another friend has been teasing me, asking if I’m sure I really had surgery at all. As for me, I’m just delighted and relieved everything’s going so smoothly. Let me recap the past few days.
My operating time was scheduled for 10:55am on Thursday, May 24th. Two of my friends picked me up and we managed to make it across the bay to California Pacific Medical Center (Davies Campus) just before the suggested arrival time of 9am. After going to admissions and signing some forms, a nurse led us to a private room, where I changed into a gown and was given an IV. Then my friends were shown to a waiting room and I was wheeled out to the pre-operating room. Here I met the anesthesiologist, and Dr. Brownstein, my surgeon, came in and marked up my chest to guide his incisions. Only a few minutes later, I was finally brought into the operating room! The anesthesiologist had explained that he would give me an initial round of anesthesia which would help me relax and then a second to put me out, but after the first shot, I just barely remember the staff busily attaching circulation pumps to my legs and monitors to my body before I slipped into unconsciousness.
The next thing I remember, I was in the initial recovery room and a nurse was feeding me ice chips, which felt wonderfully refreshing both because I hadn’t had anything to drink since midnight before the surgery and because of the tube they had put down my throat during the operation. I ascertained that the surgery had lasted just a little over two hours, on the short side of Dr. Brownstein’s estimate, and that the surgeon hadn’t seen and didn’t expect any complications. After about an hour in the initial recovery room, I was brought back to the room I’d gone to first, where I was reunited with my friends. They tell me I was grinning ear to ear and seemed extremely cogent and cheerful (part of which was surely the sheer delight of being post-op, though the pain meds probably didn’t hurt!). In this final room, the nurses gave me a round of antibiotics to prevent infection, removed the IV, took my vital signs, provided me with the best-tasting saltine crackers I’ve had in my life, gave me some instructions as to post-op care, and finally discharged me at about 5:30pm.
I was quite impressed by the entire medical staff at the hospital. They were consistently kind and respectful and seemed extremely competent. I’m not sure if they asked whether I had a preferred name because of the specific procedure I was undergoing or because of a more general hospital policy, but I thought it was considerate of them, regardless. One of the nurses remarked that he loved working with Dr. Brownstein’s patients (virtually all of whom are trans men or trans-masculine folks), since we were so reliably well-informed, prepared, and upbeat.
Since we left the hospital, I’ve been staying at home (the furthest I’ve ventured is a little ways down the driveway), but have been feeling remarkably good, considering the circumstances. With the help of the vicodin I was prescribed, I’ve experienced minimal pain; most of it occurs while I’m in the process of lying down or getting up from a fully reclined position, and it is concentrated on the sides of my incisions, under my arms, where the drain tubes come out. I’ve been able to sleep well, only getting up once or twice in the middle of the night. My energy level has been surprisingly high and my appetite surprisingly robust. My arm motion is certainly limited, but not quite to the T-Rex-arms range I had feared; I can reach fairly far to the sides and around my back, though of course I’m trying my best not to strain anything. I have to walk slightly hunched over forwards; if I stand up straight it stretches the incision lines. I’ve been emptying my own drains from the beginning, and was very encouraged to see that already today the amount of liquid draining is reduced considerably and is much lighter
in color than before (a promising sign). Thankfully, the medical chest binder I have to wear continuously this week is proving not to be terribly uncomfortable so far (I have heard from others that they found it to be the source of the worst pain).
My friends have been fantastically helpful and supportive the past few days, driving me to and from the hospital, making me food, bringing me books to read, hanging out, and generally keeping my spirits up. I would almost certainly feel extremely restless if not for their company. Plus, having them around and helping out is giving this experience a wonderful dynamic: it feels both like a big, independent, adult decision, and like a shared, communal endeavor. Actually, the biggest problem I’m finding is that I instinctively want to switch into hospitality mode when I have people over, showing them around my new apartment, getting them drinks, etc. I think they’re sensing this, though, and are learning to be increasingly insistent that I relax. I’m keeping my hospital bracelet on for the time being as a personal reminder that I wasn’t discharged that long ago and should really take it easy.
One final promising sign I’m noticing already: I’m feeling the strangest little twitches and tingles under the medical binder… could this be a sign of nerve regrowth and healing? Only time will tell. In any event, Tuesday (my initial post-operative appointment, where I will see my new chest for the first time) cannot come soon enough!