Part One: Hell
Into the Fire
October 18, 2005
I am sitting next to Teresa in her recovery room. Just an hour ago she was wheeled up from successful FFS surgery. Doctor Ousterhaut called me at the Cocoon House at exactly four o’clock to inform me that everything went extremely well, very little blood, and Teresa would soon be in her room.
Quite a jump from my last entry, even though just five days have passed. Much has happened in them.
Later in the morning of the day I made my last entry, Teresa and I got in an argument because I had expressed that I couldn’t “be her little robot” and support her without having feelings of my own about what she was doing.
A huge discussion followed, painful at times, and full of recrimination. But the end result was that we realized something we hadn’t encountered before in researching this surgery:
The loved one of someone about to go through FFS quite naturally, and unavoidable is going to go through the seven stages of grief. The person whose face they had come to associate with love, security, acceptance, safety, joy, and hope, is essentially dying. All of the familiar touch points are to be wiped clean,. All the visual cues that make one feel secure in a relationship, secure in life, will be gone forever. And with this certain knowledge comes the same mourning one experiences in the loss of a loved one.
But those going through FFS have become by necessity so focused on the goal, in order to overcome the fear of pain and many other formidable concerns, that they have developed a tunnel vision limited to their own perspective. And from that view, anything other than proactive support and eager anticipation is interpreted as rejection. And having probably already experienced previous rejections due to other gender-related issues., the FFS patient responds by telling the love one, essentially, that their feelings are invalid, selfish, or just plain wrong.
The loved one, now, is thrust into a moral dilemma. On the one hand, they may not even know why they are having these feelings, but since they truly love the FFS candidate, the loved one comes to feel perhaps that there IS something wrong with them. Perhaps they are being selfish, inconsiderate, or evil.
The loved one tries to suppress the unwanted emotions, but rather than resolving them, it simply builds them up until the pressure can hold ho more, at which point it bursts in a backlash against the FFSer, for essentially saying the loved one had no right to their own feelings.
The key, perhaps, to saving relationships, is for the FFSer to understand the natural and normal feelings of loss, grief, and morning that accompany such a drastic change, and to help the loved one work through them, and accept the loss. This MUST be accomplished before the slate is clean to allow for the reformation of new connections to the future, new face.
Based on this information, we looked at some of the issues I had been fearing, in an attempt to see if we could discover from whence they came. And the first apparent cause was my own lack of self-esteem. Now, it may be this is just my own unique cause, or it may be that many or perhaps even all of us share it. But, all the fears of her being prettier than me, making me look (and feel!) like a guy in drag next to her, that she will be so attractive others will hit on her, that her personality, already so feminine will soon make me lose my own sense of femininity when she starts to more fully express her own, fearlessly.
That seemed to cover the situation pretty well. We thought we had it. But in fact, we soon discovered it went deeper than that. Low self esteem was just a symptom of a much deeper cause – a more fundamental need that was being shaken by all aspects of the ramifications of FFS. In fact, the core issue was nothing more complex, yet no less powerful than a simple loss of security. I simply felt like the rug was being pulled out from under me. Like all my anchors and protections that had been established in our relationship were evaporating, leaving me vulnerable, leaving me in harm’s way, leaving me alone with my fears.
For a day or two, this actually seemed to resolve the problem, so much so in fact, that by the time we picked up our friend, who flew in from Orange County to watch the house and cats while we were in San Francisco, we thought that both of us had worked it through completely.
The following day, I took our friend around to the local sites, both Teresa and I showed her what needed to be done around the place (the daily routine), and then we went to bed after packing the very last of our materials for the trip.
We left for San Francisco just yesterday, at about 11 a.m., though it already seems like more than a week ago.
The trip in was high-spirited and pleasant. I worked really hard to keep it that way. I didn’t want any chance of a recurrence of my emotional reaction from our trip to Dr. O five years ago.
Our first stop was the famous Cocoon House, and this trip, we actually took the proper freeway, rather than getting lost for an hour on winding one way roads as we did a few days earlier when we drove in to deliver the check..
Arriving there, we used the code we had been given to enter the building and settled into “apartment A”, downstairs. This is a semi-private room with one queen and one twin bed. But, as we were expecting my daughter to fly in later that evening, we had both beds reserved.
After unloading our gear, we originally intended to grab some lunch before meeting with Dr. O for the initial pre-surgery indoctrination. But, we soon discovered that we weren’t quite sure where the restaurant was that we ate at last time, and the schedule was too tight to go hunting for it, so we drove directly to Davies Medical a tad early.
Teresa filled out some forms for the girls at the desk, then we were ushered into an examining room where they took her before pictures After that, it was suggested we grab some lunch at a nearby sandwich shop and return with our meal to eat in the waiting room while they got caught up to us.
In short order, we were called to another examining room, and minutes later, Dr. O., arrived with his spiel. It was all the usual stuff, well documented elsewhere, and once we had finished, it was off to Mira’s office for some final paperwork.
Do to a scheduling problem, we had to make a mad dash up to Admissions and then back down to the laboratory for blood work before they all closed in fifteen minutes. This accomplished, it was once more back to Mira’s office, and after having arrived at Dr. O’s at about 3:00, we finally returned to our car at about 7.
Now that the process was truly set in motion, and now that she had a moment to slow down and think, Teresa began to get truly nervous and anxious about the surgery to be undergone just scant hours away.
We returned to Cocoon House and had no sooner begun to stow our gear, when another “inmate” from upstairs knocked on the door. Apparently, Mira had let slip I would be accompanying Teresa while she was there, and this other FFS veteran, who had long ago purchased and used my voice tape, wanted to drop by and meet me. So, we invited her in and had a really pleasant conversation on all kinds of topics.
Shortly thereafter, K, another TG friend of Teresa’s who is also a graduate of Dr. O., came over by pre-arrangement, to meet Teresa, face to face as it were, to see her “before picture” in the flesh, and to offer encouragement and tips.
Of course, we were all a little nervous at first, not much really, but just sizing each other up. Then, my daughter arrived, having flown in from Burbank to support Teresa, and the four of us ambled out the door and down the street to a little Italian restaurant K knew about a mile away for a pre-surgery eve dinner.
My daughter is quite a funny and clever conversationalist, and within moments of sitting at our booth, she had us all laughing and joining in. The companionship warmed right up, the dinner was well received, and then we all returned sauntering back along 24th street in the cool, breezy San Francisco night.
Back at the apartment, my daughter and I broke off and left Teresa and K to discuss issues of personal experience. Then, K took her leave, and we set about the final unpacking and getting off to bed.
Just before turning in, Teresa, as is common with her, made a “provocative” comment, for which I am typically unprepared, and caught off-guard. She said, “After meeting with K, I think I finally know what you were fearing from my FFS.” What she meant was, that K was so durned pretty, that it was downright intimidating.
Not having my guard up, I responded in the affirmative, and went on to explain that those were exactly the feelings I was having, and beyond that, I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel feminine again after her surgery, and that I wouldn’t ever consider surgery for myself, so if I stopped feeling feminine and therefore started getting “read” again, I was seriously considering switching back to Dave as the only option to avoid the pain. I even went so far as to ask if she would still have me if I did.
Well, that was just the kind of slip-up I really didn’t want to make the night before surgery. If only she hadn’t brought up the damn subject!
With some trepidation on my part, and a palpable chill in the emotional atmosphere, it was nearly midnight before we settled down. Teresa took her Valium and dozed right off, while I (sans Valium) remained awake most of the night, holding her, caressing her, and keeping an eye on the clock lest the alarm fail. I’d slip in and out, every fifteen minutes or so, reconsider my ill-advised monologue, then roll over, check the time, and doze off again.
Eventually, it was ten minutes to four a.m., the appointed time to rise. I couldn’t stand it any longer, needed to undo my damage of just hours before, and didn’t want to be jarred out of bed without having at least a few minutes alone with Teresa to caress before the mad dash to the showers and to the hospital. So, I gently work my love with kind words and touch, told her not to take my words as more than pre-surgery jitters, and after some tender moments, she decided we should set the alarm for 4:30 instead, and we drifted back into twilight sleep.
About 4:20 Teresa decided to get up. She went off to shower and do her hair with left-in conditioner as outlined by the pre-surgical procedure sheet. Mini also showered, but in deference to the time constraints of the morning, I decided to just get dressed and shower later when we returned to Cocoon House while Teresa’s surgery was performed..
We gathered all our materials and headed out the door, arriving at admissions just after it opened. Quickly, we were brought in to the office, where a cheerful gentleman presented Teresa with a number of forms to sign. Then, it was off to ambulatory care. There, in a small examining room, Teresa was prepped for surgery.
They had her strip and put on the gown, don the pressure stockings. They started an IV, and took her weight and history. Many levels of verification and redundancy to ensure accuracy.
Dr. O. made his final pre-surgery appearance, and told Teresa he would be removing 3mm off her forehead, 8mm off the bottom of her chin, 11mm from the width of her chin, and the jaw flare he’d determine when he got in there.
Dr. O left, all was done, and within moments, the orderlies came to wheel her down to the operating theater. We accompanied her down in the elevator, and watched as she entered the patient-only area, disappearing around a corner with a final wave to us.
Originally, we had planned (my daughter and I) to remain in the waiting room for the full 8 ½ hour operation. But, Dr. O. suggested that there was no point to that, as we would have no information during that time and would be more comfortable back at Cocoon House.
There is no parking except for residents in most areas of San Francisco, so we put our car in a parking lot, as per Mira’s suggestion, and took the taxi back to the apartment. The taxi drive was most interesting. No sooner had we begun weaving up and down the hills but the driver hauled out an article in a glassine folder about turning organic waste into methane fuel.
He began touting the benefits of the plan, then provided substantiating articles, clippings, and news stories. He had perhaps thirty documents, each in it’s little clear sheath, and he sorted them with both hands while driving with his knees at break-neck speed up and down the hills of San Francisco.
Finally, he made his pitch. He was looking for venture capital for a start-up company to seek the City contract for turning waste into gasoline substitute. He was so passionately involved in the presentation, that he missed our street, and had to pull a U-turn to get back to it.
My daughter politely declined his offer of adding her email address to his list, and we disembarked, more amused than shaken.
Thus, began the longest 8 ½ hours of my life.
Once in the apartment, I continued to share with my daughter all the concerns and fears I had for our post-surgical life, having started the monologue just before the taxi had arrived to pick us up at the medical center.
I had only intended to cover the highlights, but I ended up speaking to her for nearly two hours, sometimes near tears. My daughter has always been wise, and also an empathy. In fact, she had been my emotional counselor since she was six! And this time was no different. I didn’t need advice; I needed to hear my concerns out loud, not just in my own head, going round and round.
After my tension level had lowered a bit, she went to her bed to take a nap, as neither of us had enough sleep the night before.
I tried to sleep, but was unable to. So, I called my wife, and shared the same concerns yet again. Her advice, not usually, was “take it day at a time.” But this didn’t really “read” to me. It sounded like, “time will heal all wounds,” and yet I know that day by day, my tension was mounting, not dissipating.
Finally, I called my son, the logical, point by point, kind of guy. Having lessened my angst level with my daughter and my wife, I was ready to try and see things through his logical eyes, and even to present my concerns in a logical format.
By this time, I was starting to gain some insight. I spoke with my son for about half an hour, and when I was finished, I had a clue.
The way to deal with the fears of the loved one of an FFS candidate is not to deny their validity, not to seek their causes, nor to attempt to resolve them. And, time does NOT heal these particular wounds.
Rather, just as the wounds from FFS must be drained with shunts until the bleeding stops, the emotional wound from FFS must be drained through discourse until the anxiety stops.
Some wounds will never heal as long as they are weeping. The pressure just builds and builds until it bursts for with a rupture, or the force of mind is strong enough to box them away without a cataclysmic upheaval, but the fluids of the heart curdle, fester, and dry up.
For such wounds, only a slow shunting can continually drain the fluid, keeping the pressure and threat of infection away from the wound, thereby allowing it to heal on its own.
So, time will eventually heal this manner of injury, but not if left alone, only if the pressures are dispersed.
Having a support network of those to whom you can speak frankly of your concerns, without judgment and without the barbs of unwanted advice, just to vent, just to diffuse the tension – having such a support system keeps he pressure down long enough for the wound to heal rather than erupting in a relationship killing explosion, or drying out into a hateful feeling toward the FFS candidate that the loved one really ones to support, if only they can find a way to do it while being true to themselves.
Satisfied I finally had my answer, I cleaned up the apartment – made the bed, organized the food, arranged all the electronic equipment, charged the batteries, sorted the paperwork.
Then, I took a shower, using my daughter’s over-size towel she offered. I dressed in some comfortable but new clothes I had bought for the occasion. As it was clearly pizza time, my daughter ordered a spectacular one from a local pizzeria (Noe Valley Pizza), and while we waited for it to be delivered, I took a stroll upstairs to the dorm-style apartment at Cocoon House.
I had promised the recent Dr. O. graduate who had come down to see us last evening that I would try to stop by the next day. Fortunately, she and another recovering post-op were there, and we had a very pleasant discussion.
Naturally, due to my own personal experiences and interest (therefore) in the journey of the loved one of an FFSer, I steered the conversation in that direction. The comments I made, which helped me organize and refine my thoughts, were very well received. In fact, one of the folk has been married for thirty years, and still lives with the wife. But, Wife is having many problems adjusting to and accepting the facial transition. After hearing what I had recently learned and surmised, this person expressed a great joy that perhaps there was a real path to saving that relationship. Not only did these concepts clearly identify the problem, but they offered a means of solving it.
It is too early to tell if this will pan out in the long run, but I am encouraged. And in a sense, my own suffering in this matter now appears to have the potential to prevent the suffering of others, which is always a satisfactory situation in my estimation.
On a lighter personal note, the second person in the room joined in the discussion without introductions. At the end of the conversation, she said she was so pleased and so impressed with what I had said. (During the conversation she had assumed I was the wife, sister, or female friend of someone going through the process, which did my self-esteem issues a world of good, furthering my cause to come to terms with this.) Then, she was shocked when I spoke of my own SRS. But the clincher came in an experience I’ve had before which I always find somewhat unreal, or perhaps just surreal. When the conversation ended, as I was about to leave, she asked who I was, what was my name. I replied, “Melanie ,” and as often happened, there is this brief moment of non-register, and then (because of my reputation created by my extensive writings on TG issues on the internet) her expression changed to one of shock, disbelief, and kind of that, “wow, I just had a conversation with a star,” look.
Now, I’ve explored the nature of celebrity in other writings, but it is always both amusing, and understandable when that reaction occurs. Hey, it occurs to me on those occasions when I meet some of my idols, or those of note I have been impressed with.
One must be careful not to think that notoriety makes one anything special. It just makes one more recognizable. And for me, the greatest pleasure is in spending personal time with people so I can share that I’m really just the girl next door, who happens to be good with words, and got a little publicity. The thrill for me, is getting the opportunity to step out of the role of celebrity, and participate as just another member of the group. But, still, it is nice to be recognized.
I then retired downstairs, and consumed a most wonderful slice of pizza. The clock ticked both slow and quickly, and I tried to imagine which of the procedures and been done, which were under way, and which remained. Finally at 4:00 p.m. exactly, the phone rang, and Dr. O was on the phone, telling me that the surgery went absolutely flawlessly, and that the blood involved was much less than usual. Teresa would be up in her room within the hour.
After thanking the man profusely, my daughter and I called another taxi to take us back to Davies to finally see our new Teresa.
We arrived before she had been brought up from recovery, but they let us wait in her eventual room.
Time passed by time, and eventually, some 45 minutes after we had been told to expect her, they wheeled in the gurney. She was facing away from us, and we were unable to see her condition for a few minutes until they arranged the gurney by the side of the bed she was to be transferred to.
My goodness what a wreck! Bandaged about the head almost like the Invisible Man, swollen eyes, bloody lips. She was a sight! And her voice, barely audible, but for the occasional groan. No energy at all – nary enough strength to even turn her head.
But even then, even in the midst of that ruin, her new smooth forehead, tiny nose, and heart-shaped delicate chin were clearly visible.
Even at this early juncture, there was no mistaking that she was to become a beauty. In fact, other than for the swelling, which would eventually go down on its own, she already was one.
Just days ago, Teresa had been afraid to even mention to me, and then to Dr. O, that perhaps, if possible, rather than just being passable, could he make her actually pretty?
She needn’t even have asked. Though he said he had no control of that – all he could do was make her as close to female as he could, by the numbers, as Teresa has said, Ousterhaut has a far higher than average “pretty factor” among his graduates – K a case in point.
And Teresa, I could instantly tell, was another one of the special ones – the ones who started with just the right stuff that Dr. O’s magic literally transformed her from a readable creature to an unreadable beauty.
Well, nurses came and went. They took readings, and checked dressings. Forget what you may have heard about their lack of care. They are short staffed, to be sure, but they are caring, compassionate, and imminently professional.
They even showed us how to provide some of the regular care, improving conditions for our Teresa, and easing the pressures of their over-work load. In fact, I have spent much of the evening, suctioning blood from Teresa’s mouth, giving her ices when requested, squeezing the shunt hoses from the drains as per the nurse’s instructions, holding the bucket while she vomited blood.
I hope that this effort, which truly comes from my heart, in some small way compensates for any emotional pain Teresa may have felt from the expression of my personal concerns, before I had come to understand the needs of the “loved-one” and the methods for dealing with them.
Well, Teresa is in and out now. About 90 minutes ago, she started to speak clearly enough to be almost always understood.
My daughter ordered Chinese food for her and I, since it was late and we had not had dinner. And the staff let us eat it in the room. They brought us a folding bed, a recliner, blankets, sheets, and pillows so we could take turns sleeping in the room.
Oh, and on my fortune cookie it said, “ You stand in your own light – let it shine!” I took that to mean that I generate my own femininity, my own right to be a woman. I can be a shadow to myself, or let it shine. But either way, Teresa should not have been my crutch to feeling secure in my role. That should have come from me all along. If it had, I would have had no emotional difficulties with her surgery, and suddenly realized that I no longer did.
And now, my daughter has finally gone down for a few hours nap, Teresa has been asleep for the longest stretch yet. And I, who have only had 2 hours sleep in the last 41 hours, shall close for now, content that I have honored Teresa’s wishes to fully document this event to date in pictures, video, and words – shall also lay my head to rest, on the folding bed, next to my beloved Teresa, resting but alert for any way in which I can help my love recover as quickly and comfortably as possible, and eager to begin our new life together, bonded even more closely in love than when we began.
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