With New Scars Like Smiles
As those of you following my column may know, I am a transsexy-ual. I mean, transsexual. Growing up, everyone around me thought I was a girl. But no one thought to ask! So a month ago, I had a double mastectomy, known colloquially to trans people as ‘top surgery.’
I am now wonderfully flat-chested, with big hot scars to boot. I plan on telling people that I got into a knife fight with pirates. Or maybe a tiger attacked me. Who knows?
Before top surgery, I had several shirts I felt that I could not wear because they were quite tight and would outline my binder—the shirt that compressed my chest—quite clearly. Happily, I am now post-op and can say that as I write this I am wearing a slim-fitting shirt with a unicorn on it that I would not have worn before.
I’ve pieced together my pre-operative and post-operative memories for you to read and for me to re-read 10 years from now.
I had missed out on the instruction that I was to fast before surgery, so I had very nearly eaten bacon that morning. Gabrielle Bouchard—the peer support and trans advocacy coordinator at Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy who offered to drive me to my surgeon—knocked on my close friend Tara’s apartment door just as I was about to eat. Gabrielle gasped in horror. I sheepishly stopped and we all made our way to Gabrielle’s car.
We arrived at 9:30 a.m., only to have to wait until 11:30 a.m. or so ‘til they actually took me to the operating room. I hugged everyone goodbye. The last person I hugged was Tara, and she was also the first person I hugged about a week after surgery.
The operating room was freezing, so the doctors put flannel legwarmers on me. I informed all the doctors and nurses that I have a fear of needles and requested that they get me to look the other way if they used them.
To achieve this, the doctor who administered the anesthesia actually tricked me: He said that he was going to put something in my arm to relax me for the anesthesia. I looked at the clock—11:50 a.m.—and was awake for probably 30 more seconds.
I was peculiarly determined to have surgery before noon. I was hungry, having not eaten since the night before. Logically of course, I was hoping to eat after surgery.
At first, I was thirsty—actually, that might’ve been the first thing I said. Yes, I must’ve woken up before going into the elevator and they gave me an ice cube. I was annoyed—only an ice cube? And they refused to give me another (don’t worry, they eventually gave me water).
We took the elevator upstairs; I couldn’t feel the movement at all. The nurses’ faces were blurry. I can’t remember if my surgeon was there.
We came out of the elevator and I waved weakly to my friends, giving them the thumbs-up sign.
Tara informs me that the first thing I said to her after top surgery was a joke: “That was the worst nap in the history of everything.”
My friends chuckled, nervous looks still on their faces.
“It was like when you go to sleep and your brain is still on so you just think through the night and wake up the next day having slept really badly,” I said.
I don’t really remember much after that. The pain, and the eventual painkillers, distorts my memory. I remember declaring that I was indulging my inner child by being demanding, but it was not like I had any options but to ask.
I refused to look at the I.V. that was plugged into my left hand—it creeped me out too much (the bruise finally went away last week). My surgeon must’ve come to visit. I remember someone important dropping by and asking me questions but I can’t recall if it was her.
My roommate in the private clinic had been a quiet presence behind the curtain ‘til I finally was given chicken broth for dinner. He was in his 40s and covered in tattoos—I’d like to be so handsome when I grow up. We talked about our experiences a bit. It was reassuring to know that there are trans men older than 35 who are quietly living their lives too.
My dad and his girlfriend came to visit. They seemed impressed with how cheerful I was. My dad gave me a box of Kinder eggs (Dad, if you are reading this, please bring Reese Peanut Butter Cups next time). I don’t think they stayed very long because naturally, I was quite tired. A surgeon had taken a knife to my chest that day, so I needed lots of rest.
I stayed at friends’ homes, all of whom very gracious and generous hostesses. I did not lack for anything. Oh, except for movement. As I’ve been recovering from top surgery for the month, I’ve had what I affectionately call ‘T-Rex arms’. My arm motion is very limited so whenever I move or reach for something, I look like, to the amusement of everyone, a T-Rex with tiny arms. My response to their laughter is to roar at them.
I wasn’t allowed to shower for at least a week so I used waterless shampoo. It wasn’t perfect, but I did feel less disgusting, so that was helpful.
After a week of convalescence, I returned to the surgeon. A nurse took off my bandages, which was a relief to finally be able to breath properly. She then took out the drains. The drains were inserted into my chest to release the blood and guck from my wounds. So when she took them out, it felt like a snake being removed from my body. It was disturbing.
I could see my chest! In a daze of joy, I thanked her at least five times, to which she always replied, with appreciation, “My pleasure.” All the nurses that I have met who work at Dr. Brassard and Dr. Belanger’s clinic seem to love their jobs. I shall be seeing my surgeon again very soon, upon which she will finally inform me as to how soon I can get my nipple pierced.
I still had to wear ace bandages for two weeks after that visit. Ironically, they often slid around so, like a bra, I constantly had to adjust them!
I became very anxious the first time I tried to shower. My chest was so numb that I couldn’t feel anything. So I used baby wipes to wash myself and washed my hair quickly in the bath. I felt somewhat ashamed for not feeling consistently happy about top surgery, like you see on the Internet.
Not having sensation in an important part of your body is scary—much worse than having your mouth numbed at the dentist’s office. I say ‘worse’ but it’s not really all that awful because it means I wasn’t in pain!
About three weeks after surgery, I returned to school, Tylenol at hand. That week, I took off the Steri-Strip tape that was slowly falling off my scars. The scars are beautiful. They are thin like a knife, which only makes sense given I had a double mastectomy. I am healing quickly, everyone says.
While my professors remark that I don’t quite have my usual vigour and have lost weight, they haven’t seen me lying on a hospital bed, unable to move without help! I am getting stronger and stronger every day. It is quite thrilling. And already, I have little tiny hairs growing between and around my scars!
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