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Thursday, March 16, 2006

March 14, 2006

This post is about sexual reassignment surgery. If that's likely to offend you, halt right here and go read something else. 'K?

Tuesday: I put on a simple muumuu that Beloved bought for me, with nothing on underneath, and brushed my hair, and did without makeup or jewelry. We walked up to the clinic and rode up the elevator with other people who were on their way to work. It was as though we were on our way to work, too, which of course we were. Dr. Reed, already in his O.R. greens, found us in the waiting room and led us to his office. There were a few last documents to sign, and then he set up the famous Confessional Video camera for the taped conversation.

"Now, Risa, you understand what it is we're going to do here?"

"Gender Reassignment Surgery, by penile inversion."

"And you understand that it's irreversible?"

"Yes, sir."

Things seemed to be in a whirl after that. I changed into a gown with Beloved's help, and walked down a short, brightly lit corridor. There were an anesthetist and two male nurses, and Anne, all dressed for sterile work, and I was led to the table and hopped onto it as invited. An IV was inserted into my right arm, and Anne gave me a "dry shave."

I chatted with the anesthetist the while, talking of my experiences working in the O.R. of a primate center, three decades ago. And then I fell asleep.

When I came to, it was past four o'clock in the afternoon. I was in one of the three skinny beds, gurneys almost, in the recovery room.

Beloved came in.

I looked at her. "You are so beautiful," I said.

We held hands for quite some time, and meanwhile she conferred with Dr. Reed and the night nurse, an expansive, comforting presence. When all matters seemed settled, Beloved retired to the hotel for a well-earned night's rest, and Dr. Reed retired to a bedroom he occupies during a patient's first night of post-op.

Anything happens, I'm right here." He pointed to the bedroom door.

The nurse checked my vitals, and we settled in for a long night. I slept sometimes, and lay awake sometimes, and chatted with her a lot. She's retired. A widow. Takes on temporary assignments "so as not let my head get rusty." She likes fishing. She has traveled to many countries, but not Africa. "Too many diseases, too much fighting. It don't feel right to just visit."

I suggested she start with Botswana."They got control of their own diamonds. So it's completely different there."

"See, there, that's the whole problem. Nobody ever gives Africa an even break."

"No, nobody ever has."

At no time did my pain level go past four on a scale of ten. She gave me two shots of Demerol to get me through the night.

With a little effort, I was able once to raise my head up to get a sense of my changed landscape. Dressing, blood bag, pee bag were mostly what I could see. But, yes, some hint of things to come -- I was going to look all right in a bathing suit.

So little difference really. What, I wondered, is everybody so hysterical about?

Wednesday: Beloved found me in bed, reasonably rested; Dr. Reed bustled in, and many things seemed to be happening at once. Another surgery was scheduled for that morning, so my twenty-four hours were shortened by a few. It was 6:45 A.M. With a few directions as to how to carry my pee bag and catheter, so as not to get them into the wheels, I was helped into a wheelchair for the trip back to the hotel.

This was the hardest part of the journey for me so far. I took bumps in the sidewalks very poorly -- shrieked, in other words -- and the two blocks felt like two miles of torture. What witnesses would have thought, seeing a yowling old lady in a wheelchair pushed by three tormentors through a parking lot at dawn, I don't know, but apparently the streets were completely deserted.

I was helped into bed without too much effort. We were given our instructions as to the bags, food and drink, exercise, and massage, and farewells were said. Dr. Reed turned at the door, palm fronds swaying behind him. "I'll be back every morning for a week."

Time for some reflection and recuperation. With luck, maybe a little boredom.

Beloved stood by the bed.

"Well, dear, anything you want?"

"Is it too soon for, umm, vanilla pudding?"

"Solids after four in the afternoon."

"Cranberry juice?"

"You bet."

--risa b


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