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TRANSITIONS Top Surgery - A Partner?s Perspective

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Top Surgery - A Partner?s Perspective

By Elizabeth Bays

Elizabeth and Sam, March 2001August 14, 2001

Tomorrow we will make a trip to the Credit Union to get a cashier's check to send to Dr. Fischer's office for partial payment on Sam's surgery. It is the next step in the process of obtaining his chest reconstruction surgery. While the actual surgery is planned for early October, there are still many things that have already been done in preparation for it?and may more that will still need to be done.

Aside from making the actual arrangements with Dr. Fischer's office, I have already made his pre-op appointment with our family doctor, made hotel reservations, and networked with other SO's in the area who have been gracious enough to offer assistance in the event that we should need it. So much for the actual, physical aspects if preparing for this life-altering change. The emotional and spiritual preparation are a bit more complicated?and for that, I still have to make time to reflect and look inside myself to see what all this really means for me?and for us.

September 3, 2001

We've spent a lot of time talking about the surgery, making concrete preparations, and just mulling it over in our minds. Sam is anxious to get it done, and so am I?well?most of the time I am. I am more than a little bit apprehensive about how we are going to manage things post-op. If only I could see well enough to drive a lot of my worry would vanish. But, we must deal with reality, and with only one functioning eye that tests at around 20/400 with best correction on a good day, I don't suppose any fairy godmothers with drivers' licenses will be fluttering my way soon.

Oh, we have wonderful online friends who have offered to chauffeur us around in Maryland, and I am so very grateful for each and every one of them, but it's our trip back that has me worried. Sam insists on driving?although for the life of me I don't see why. But, he is as stubborn as they come once his mind is made up, so I'm left wondering how I can best help him given my limitations. I think of things as simple as closing a car door, moving the sun visor, lifting a soda can?all things that I doubt he will be able to do until after we have been home for several days. In the meantime, I will be his arms?poor as mine sometimes are due to adhesive capsulitis in both shoulders and bilateral tennis elbow. Ah well?we'll just do the best we can, take it slow, and hope for the best. I think I can remember how to turn on the ignition?even though it has been nine years since I last drove a car. I'll tell you one thing, it's making me rethink how heavy I pack those bags when I know I'll be the one who has to carry them. I just don't have the strength Sam has. I'll just have to pack light, I suppose.

The whole thing is weighing rather heavily on me now that I feel as if we have the financial aspects squared away. I guess I just had to have that resolved in my own mind before I would even allow myself to believe this is really going to happen. I really don't have all these inner conflicts about the surgery itself that I have heard expressed by some other SO's. After many years of living with and loving male-identified bio-females, I am full of joy for Sam who desperately wants his outer package to reflect his inner man. To know that others will understand more readily what he already feels inside, and what I can see so clearly will be a big relief for both of us. I will be glad to be the only one in this marriage with breasts. Suits me just fine.

It isn't that I am minimizing the struggles of lesbians who after much effort ?come out? with great risk to jobs, child custody, housing, and other considerations essential to so many of our lives?to find a much beloved partner to share the life with?to walk hand in hand finally with the woman of their dreams?only to find that that womyn is not a womyn at all, but a man who was somehow born into a female body. If I had not had so many years of ?lesbian life? under my belt?if I had not wrestled with the monster of identity crisis more than two decades ago, this might be a struggle for me as well. But with so many years in the LGBT community, I do not feel as if I have to prove myself to anyone. I am confident in my identity as a transensual femme?confident and proud.

September 20, 2001

I am finally getting back to a semblance of a normal routine. The horrific events of September 11, or what I am beginning to think of as ?Black Tuesday?, have triggered one of the worst episodes of my recurrent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that I have ever had. The images of all those poor people?their loved ones grieving and searching fruitlessly?the evil destructiveness of it all have weighed heavily on my soul and have displaced the anticipatory mood that I was beginning to feel regarding Sam's surgery. Oh, we are still making our plans, but I am relieved at this point that we are planning to drive. Airplanes and flying are just too emotionally charged for me right now for me to even consider flying.

I am watching Sam distance himself from the current events in a way that is not the norm for him. I wonder if the testosterone is affecting his ability to empathize or if he is just protecting himself?guarding against the pit of depression that has threatened to swallow me whole. I don't think he has changed in any appreciable way emotionally since starting the hormones other than perhaps to be a little more assertive than he used to be, so I am can only assume that he is doing what he must do to prepare psychologically for the first surgery he has ever had in his entire life.

September 25, 2001

Today we drove 184 miles round trip to Kentucky to have a last visit with Sam's Mom before the surgery. She made a splendid country ham dinner with all the trimming including green beans cooked all day, homemade creamed corn, mashed potatoes, tossed salad, stewed apples, cornbread, and blackberry dumplings for dessert. It was so delicious we ate twice. We are both gaining way too much weight and must really start to hold down the caloric intake soon, but today was not the day for that, believe me.

Sam's Mom is incredibly supportive for a lady from the Kentucky ?hollers?. She has known that Sam was transsexual since he was 15 years old - 30 years now. So, this journey we have undertaken was no real surprise to her. I think in some ways she is relieved that we are doing this, because now we won't be ?gay? in her eyes. One just wonders how she will explain the sudden disappearance of her daughter and the appearance of a new male relative. Ah, well, I'm sure she will handle it with grace.

She has been supportive at all steps in the process ever since Sam told her he needed his birth certificate to obtain a legal name change. She helped us immeasurably in speeding up that process by providing Sam with a certified copy right when he needed it. And now she has really outdone herself by giving us $1200 dollars toward the cost of the surgery. As I figure right now, our known expenses are as follows:

Surgery fee $5700.00
Consult fee 75.00
Hotel 410.00
TOTAL - $6185.00

So far, we have been able to pay $3000. Add to that the $1200, and we will owe a total of $1985.00. That's not bad considering we are pretty low income. Of course, there will be other expenses associated with the trip, but my guess is they won't be more than an additional $500 if I know us.

September 29, 2001

We are both getting a little bit anxious. The departure date is getting closer, and the whole thing is beooming more real. I asked for support on the mailing list, and I have received some very nice responses. It helps so much to know that there are others who wish us well.

We located the pre-op prescriptions that we will have filled on Monday when I get my monthly refills. I cannot believe the date is approaching so quickly. I don't know if I am really prepared or not. The anxiety has absolutely nothing to do with the type of surgery, but just the fact of having such a rather larger surgery per se. I'm like an old mother hen, I suppose.

I had a bad day yesterday?in a confrontational mode online. I am fed up with the misogyny that is so rampant in the FTM community, and I am tired of saying nothing about it?so I said something. I got attacked repeatedly. Apparently I am not the first womyn this has happened to nor will I be the last. It is very sad for both of us that I am not valued in the trans community as much as Sam is. It is disheartening and not a little bit infuriating as well. I was able to post about these feelings to a list run by one who has walked this path before. Her remarks were very comforting, especially in light of the vitriol I found myself surrounded by on the FTM list.

September 30, 2001

Well, the attacks keep coming online. Honestly these guys must have nothing to do with their time except attack and alienate other people. In the meantime, I have reevaluated my position with regard to the trans community, and I think I have decided to limit my involvement to those groups and organizations that proactively include SOFFAs. Anything else would be a waste of my time, energies, and money.

Meanwhile back in reality, we are scurrying around like mice getting ready to leave. We will leave in a few minutes to go to the pharmacy to fill Sam's pre-op prescriptions he received from Dr. Fischer. They include sleeping pills, antibiotics, and nausea medication for after the surgery. He will start the antibiotic Wednesday so that it will have a 48 hour head start on the surgery. Matt, my son who is a critical care nurse, gave me a hint last night on the telephone regarding preventing infection in post-op patients. He said that they place antibiotic ointment in the nose of their open heart patients before surgery as this is the most common location for humans to harbor MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staph aureus, a horrible infection that sometimes proves fatal). So off we go to Walmart for meds and other last minute shopping.

October 2, 2001

We will leave late tonight?very late?as in early morning so as not to arrive in Timonium too early to check in to our room. We have our studio rented for a week complete with queen size bed, recliner, kitchen, etc. It should serve us well as a convalescence center for Sam. At least I hope it does. I am very worried about sleeping in the same bed as I would do anything to avoid causing him any unnecessary pain. He is a trouper, but no one likes to hurt.

October 3, 2001

We arrived in Timonium in mid-afternoon just in time to check in to our Extended Stay America reservation. We left at about 6:00 AM and headed east in I-40, taking I-81N as at the ?Y? . We drove in the dark for quite a ways, then witnessed a gorgeous dawn pregnant with promise. The fog hung low for many hours, and as we traveled north through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the hills did seem ?frosted? just like the Berkshires in the James Taylor song, except I suppose those hills were frosted with snow.

We finally made it to the VA7/340N route after nearly 400 miles of driving. The countryside had been breathtaking all the way, but now our excitement had more to do with anticipation of what was to come than of the historic and picturesque scenes we were passing. We were both absolutely exhausted. (Those two words would become a common part of our working vocabulary in the days to come.) Neither of us had had more than two hours sleep?and we are just too old at 45 and 49 to act like kids and stay up experiencing sleep deprivation.

We drove. We drove some more. The explicit instructions that I had obtained from Mapquest on the Internet made navigating the various exchanges quite smooth, but still we were tired and longed to lie down in a bed?*any* bed. But, in time, we did arrive and got settled into our quarters. We had a nice queen-size bed, a recliner, a kitchenette with a two-burner stove top, a microwave, and an apartment size refrigerator?not exactly home, but sufficient for a short stay.

True to his sometimes OCD nature, Sam wanted to check out the address for Dr. Fischer's office so that our trip there the next day would go off without a hitch. Luckily, I had ?Mapquested? the directions from the hotel to her office. It was a mere 1.45 miles and was a straight shot. No problems there.

We collapsed into anxious sleep.

A special thanks to Elizabeth for taking the time to keep a diary of her journey and sharing it with us.

To read more of Elizabeth and Sam?s experience with chest surgery, go to:
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