Thursday, 28 May 2015

To Hell and Back

Or what its like when you sleep on your front and then have to spend days sleeping on your back.

Cass asked me for a blow by blow account of my journey into womanhood. I know she was joking, still it was only when they told me I couldn't take the video camera into the operating room that my attempt got stopped.

The anesthetist was all ready for me, just needed the paperwork, consent form for GRS, check; consent form for breast reconstruction, no. A bit of a search and the missing form was located. Cannula inserted into my arm and before I knew it sleepy medicine was being injected, everything started to get blurry and ...

I was back in my room with a nurse talking to me and telling me that everything had gone OK. With that I closed my eyes to rest and my descent into hell begun.

All my life I've gone off to sleep lying on my front or on my back. I can sleep on my back but only if I go off to sleep in another position.

If you've read my other posts you'll also know that I'm a fairly active person. I work in an office which means sitting down and I spend time with my son watching things that we've recorded, again something that requires sitting down. However, the amount of time I spend lying down is limited to sleeping or going through a relaxation technique after a training session. Even then I move around, sit up, rollover. Very rarely do I lie still for any appreciable length of time.

The first 3 days after my operation were spent lying fairly flat on my back,  TED stockings on and wearing pneumatic pads to ensure that there was blood flow to my legs, unless I was having a bed bath (the only time that I was really able to move from on my back).

To keep any pain under control, and I didn't have that much, I was prescribed a combination of paracetamol, codeine and morphine. For the first few days I also received IV antibiotics. Finally in order to keep me calm I was also prescribed diazepam.

Within hours of regaining consciousness I was asking for the diazepam. Lying on my back and not being able to move that much had me desperate. For the entire time I was in hospital the only people that I saw were doctors, nurses, health care assistants and catering staff. With very little distraction it took very little time before I was anxious and desperate to get up. Without the diazepam I would most likely have been screaming and begging to be able to sit up, or even worse I would have done something incredibly stupid like actually get up.

Thankfully the diazepam quickly removed the panic and anxiety that was setting in and I returned to a state of calmness. Over the next few days I would end up buzzing the nurses and asking them for diazepam as soon as I felt myself beginning to get anxious.

With nobody to distract me I had to resort to trying to read, watch television or an episode of Season 5 of Andromeda downloaded to my laptop or one of the boxsets of Castle Season 3 that I'd taken in with me.

Reading was difficult, I tried to read a book that I was most of the way through and after 2 or 3 pages put it down as I just could not get into the story. I tried reading a new book that I'd bought, one chapter into that and I put it down.

I'd put the television on and manage to watch maybe 5 minutes before I'd turn it off again. Nothing could hold my interest. Even watching Andromeda and Castle was done simply so that I could tick off the hours until it was time for bed and I could ask the nurses for something to help me sleep the few hours I would before I was awake and asking for something to send me back off again.

My Samsung tablet became a great help. Some weeks before going into hospital I'd downloaded some meditation and relaxation applications. One of those ended up running nearly every single night, a half hour of calming music before the screensaver came on and the music would be cut off was usually enough of a distraction, usually but not always. Sometimes I'd end up listening to it for an hour or more, usually while waiting until the nurses could give me some more drugs to help me sleep.

As the days passed life did get better. As I was able to sit up more, I found myself able to read, to concentrate on videos and DVDs, post updates on Facebook and even managed to watch part of The Charge of the Light Brigade while discussing it with the nurse that was looking after me and who had come in to give me bed bath and to change my bedsheet. Sleep, however, still proved illusive and the nights tended to be almost as long as the days.

At times during the week I was able to talk to my family on the phone and via Skype. I'd planned on talking to people and texting them to keep in touch. Very soon I was texting some people and telling them I wasn't up to texting and would be in touch when I felt better.

At one point while talking to my wife I burst into tears as I told her how much she and my son meant to me and how much I wanted us to stay together as a family.

My 8 days in Brighton were life changing but even after everything I've experience in the last several years still taught me a lot about myself.

I've always thought that I was a fairly strong person but I realised during the week that my strength is something that allows me to support other people and is there for others to draw on. When it comes to me that same strength is not quite as freely available for me to draw on.

As much as I knew that what I was doing was the right thing for me, and even though I'd read through all the material I'd been given about my stay and knew what to expect for each day, I simply wasn't ready for the reality of not being able to move freely or the impact that would have on me mentally and emotionally.

Now as I sit writing this, its just over two weeks since my operation. I'm back at home and adjusting to a life that revolves, at the moment, around dilation (3 times a day).

I still have to sleep on my back, although I'm able to roll onto my side for short periods. I'm sleeping in the spare room at the moment as the first night I got home I couldn't bare to sleep under the duvet in the same bed as my wife. The second night I actually found myself scared of sleeping in the same bed because I was worried that she might accidentally catch with her hand or leg while I was sleeping on my back. Sleeping in the spare room was actually something my wife had suggested but which I'd been determined to avoid, it turns out that she had the right idea all along.

Its been a hard few weeks and I really have been to hell and back during it, but I'm getting there, one step at a time.


  1. Hi Jenna

    The good news is that you are over the worst and better times are ahead !

    It won't be long before you are back performing burlesque showing off your new body.

    Wonderful that you are staying together with your family, not many wives can cope with the changes that occur during transition.

    With best wishes

    Love Kim x

    1. Hi Kim,
      Yes, things are getting better, taking things one step at a time.
      Looking forward to getting back to burlesque, will probably be August before I get back to doing it properly as I'm going to wait until after my post-op check-up at the end of July before I try and do anything performance-wise.
      Would love to go along to a local festival next Saturday where the girls are performing but it probably wouldn't be the best idea.

      Hopefully things will pan out and we'll stay together as a family, only time will tell. My wife is doing her best to cope with it, which is all I can really ask.

  2. I'm glad you're feeling better, hon. As an active person myself, I can empathize. Here's wishing you a rapid healing process so you can get back to your routine!

    Cass xoxoxo

    1. I'm enjoying the time off at the moment and doing some of the things that I wouldn't have time to do otherwise.
      From the information I was given on discharge I could go swimming after 6 to 8 weeks but I'll probably wont. Running will wait until I've been for my post-op check-up and been given the OK by the surgeon to start running again. Already have a running partner lined up for the autumn, assuming she's still up for it.
      Looking forward to getting back to dance, going to try and go to classes on a Monday evening from July, but take it very easy and be aware of my limitations.

      I'm really glad that those first few days are behind me now, don't think I could have coped if it had been for longer than it was or if they'd not had medication to keep me calm. Half the time I just wanted them to give me something to knock me out, especially at night.
      I still have to sleep mostly on my back at the moment which does end up with me waking up several times a night. I gain a bit of freedom from Tuesday and can go out for short trips, think I might try and get a herbal sleeping remedy to see if that helps me get a better night sleep.