Is Retroactive Dysphoria a Thing?

It’s been a few days since top surgery and I’m finally starting to feel mentally a little more like myself. I’m through the worst of it and, truthfully, if I’d known the recovery process would be this easy, I probably would have considered this step a lot sooner. Truth be told, I’ve definitely had an easy go of it. But I wanted to retell my experiences so far.

Monday we woke up at 4AM for the hour drive up to Lower Buck’s Hospital – we were told to be there at 6AM for check in and whatnot. We got to Lower Bucks at 5:45AM, because what’s a morning in Philly without construction related-traffic? The staff was wonderful, helpful and fun from the moment we walked in to the moment they wheeled me out. The front desk staff checked me in and walked me up to pre-op check in. Everyone explained every step of the process – this is why you’re doing this and this is what we’re going to do with it. They got me to my room with what I called “the Godfather chair” pretty quickly and got me into the robes and everyone took all the stress of “I’m here for surgery” out of the morning.

I was up to OR prep faster than I think I’ve ever been for my knee surgeries. There was a no-nonsense sort of attitude, but still a lightness to the staff. It was amazing. My prep nurse made some small talk with me about how she’s so glad she gets the opportunity to help people like me (read: trans* people) get into the bodies that they feel they belong in. She said her youngest daughter wants to do the same. She flipped through my chart and told me that Dr. Chadoury would be my anesthesiologist today and told me he was very young, but very smart: “probably one of our best”. I take it as a great sign that his coworkers bothered to say anything nice about him – she didn’t have to say anything at all. When he came over to start my IV, I have to say I agree. He was soft spoken and professional, but still joked around a little like his coworkers. He put in the gentlest IV I’ve ever had – in my hand no less (I hate hand IVs) and started the fluid drip. He explained all the medications that he was giving me, but told me that he wouldn’t be starting the sedative until after I’d met with Dr. Leis. Which of course, makes sense, because I shouldn’t be discussing important medical things when I’m not 100% there mentally.

Dr. Leis came over with three medical students that I’d never met before. He did tell me from the beginning of the process that he does a lot of teaching and even though he didn’t have an students then, he may before we finalize the process, so it wasn’t entirely a shock. They were all young and professional as well and he explained the procedure to them as well. Next thing I knew, Dr. Chadoury was dosing with with the Versed and I was starting to feel a little “drunk”. Then there was the OR and everyone explained the last minute details to me – reminders that they’re going to intubate me and that, since it’s a longer procedure, there will be a catheter run, but they’ll be long gone before I’m awake.

I woke up again in recovery. It’s really disorienting to fall asleep in one place and wake up in another. Even as a kid, if I fell asleep on the couch and woke up in my room – it was one of the most bizarre feeling on the planet. Post op is no different. But as soon as I come to, a nurse comes over and asks how I’m feeling. I tell her I have a wicked case of the spins and she gives me a little extra Zofran in my IV. I nodded off back and forth for about an hour as the last of the anesthesia wore off and then they brought me a nice cup of ice. Because that’s all that we post-op kiddos can be trusted with at first.

Dr. Leis and his medical students came in to check on me. I made one of his poor medical students feed me ice – which by the way is totally not her job. She humored me. He explained the Jackson-Pratt drains, which he promised to explain to Melissa too. Before too long, they were taking me back to my room with the Godfather chair and finding Melissa.

Which is, naturally, where this picture came from.

I was required to keep some crackers down and to pee on my own before they’d let me leave and they gave me one more run of IV Ibuprofen, too. They also gave me one more good push of Zofran for the road because I have a history of nausea with anesthesia. I managed to eat 5 graham crackers and pee a little and they were satisfied. They wheeled me out to the roadside in a wheelchair and poured me into Melissa’s car and I was on my way. I downed an entire sleeve of Townhouse crackers in the car, too.

When I got home, I fell asleep on the couch pretty immediately and woke up hungry. I ate chicken and pasta and spent the rest of the day vegging out and watching Food Network. The next day I woke up sore, but it wasn’t really any worse than the first day of Flag Football season. I made breakfast, washed dishes and generally went on with my life, all while keeping my elbows pretty close.

Today I went to have the drains removed. Him removing the tape was more painful than the surgery itself. His medical students were back and they were still nice and professional, but it made the tiny exam room crowded with five of us in there. He pulled the drains and I go back Tuesday to have the sutures out. Of course, he took a look while he had the bandages off and everything is healing up nicely. The binder that was initially horrifically tight to encourage drainage is now just tight enough to hold the last of the bandages in place. I still can’t shower so I feel like I did back in the summers when I was in college working at music festivals like Bonnaroo and not showering between 18 hour shifts.

More than anything as I was leaving the doctor’s office, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a full-length mirror. I realized that for the first time, my silhouette looked the way it was supposed to without the oppressive tightness of a binder. I never really felt the extreme dysphoria before the way that a lot of people do. I definitely felt like my breasts were out of place and best and unwelcome at worst. But it was never the anxiety-inducing sort of dysphoria. Suddenly when I looked at my reflection I felt all of those things at the same time for every moment I ever noticed that I ever had breasts.  It was a surreal, out of body sort of moment and I wasn’t really a huge fan.

As far as the results: so far there’s still a lot of swelling and bruising, so it’s hard to really gauge the results. I’m allowed to take the binder off tomorrow, so I’ll finally be able to snap a picture or two. For those of you considering surgery still, I would absolutely recommend Dr. Leis if you’re in the Philly-area. The website is old and dated, but he’s definitely a great doctor and I’ve enjoyed working with him so far.

Until next time,


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