by Melanie Anne
Part One: Hell
October 19, 2005
I think I may have caught another hour of sleep all told, over the course of the night. Teresa needed help with one issue or another every fifteen or 20 minutes. I can’t suggest strongly enough that if you are contemplating FFS, you ABSOLUTELY need to have at least one person with you for that first day and night. The staff, as desirous as they are to provide the very best of care, is simply too short handed to do it all alone. They can handle all the crucial elements, and even work in the non-essentials eventually. But those mid-range things, like checking to make sure the drain tubes are clogged, untangling a cinched IV, a little extra suctioning of the mouth, being on hand to hold a bucket for the inevitable vomiting of blood – these kinds of things they can’t handle. But your loved one can. Make SURE you bring someone (and someone who is assertive enough to be proactive in action, and proactive in contacting members of the staff for assistance when needed.)
So, I kept the overnight vigil, sleeping on a folding bed next to Teresa. My daughter slept in a recliner on the other side. Whenever Teresa had a need, that extra degree of hearing that parents develop, kicked in and woke me immediately, fully alert and ready to help.
In the morning, around six-ish, they finally removed Teresa’s pumped air pressure stockings (boy the sound of those things keeps you awake!), and then removed her catheter (which appeared to be as fun as I recall it). Next, she was allowed to walk to the restroom to pee on her own, and then taken for a brief walk down the hall and back.
Dr. O stopped by around seven, and said he had been able to take care of everything they had discussed, including a very substantial reduction of Teresa’s chin and jaw, which he noted had been her primary complaint.
The procedures went so well in fact (including very little bleeding), that he finished up more than 20 minutes early, compared to the normal case.
So, the prognosis is outstanding, and, a very comforting note, in spite of all the extra tugging on the chin nerve when grinding down that area, Teresa has full feeling and full motor control in both sides of her lower lip. The best news all the way around.!
Breakfast was about to be delivered, and the day nurse who had just come on shift informed us that we could order a special guest tray to be delivered for my daughter and me. So that is exactly what we did.
Teresa had a little of her meal, I had half the guest meal and my daughter the other half. And then, my daughter had to call a taxi in order to return to Cocoon House where she had reservations to be picked up by Super Shuttle to SFO for her return flight home.
What a help she had been, in cheering up Teresa, K, and me the night before surgery, in listening to my woes during the long surgery, in help to feed, clean, and comfort Teresa. Her love and devotion will not be forgotten by either of us.
Well, that pretty much brings us up to date. Teresa is resting comfortably. Every hour or so I need to call the nurse to disconnect the IV so Teresa can go to the restroom, and then to reconnect it after the fact.
I just ordered another guest meal so I can continue to remain by Teresa’s side at all times, lest she need any help at all.
Dr. O says today is a simple one – a couple of short walks down the hall, rest, and perhaps some television. Tomorrow, however is a very big day – IV removed, head bandage removed, Princess Leia blood drains removed, and Teresa is released and transported to Cocoon House for the remainder of her recovery.
What new adventures await us there? I wonder…..
The day, in fact, turned out pretty much as Dr. O had predicted. Teresa was in and out, but gradually becoming more lucid for longer periods. She also regained a lot of energy and stamina. But, the certain irony of any surgical recovery set in:
When you are really wasted right after surgery, you aren’t alert enough to know how crappy you feel. But as you begin to come out of the surgical shock, you also become more aware. Although your condition has actually improved, it has improved slower than your clarity of mind. So, subjectively, you end up feeling as if you are actually getting worse.
The pain seems to be increasing, the discomfort is more confining, and so on. I believe this is the primary cause of the roots of post-surgical depression, and the events of today would bear that out. Teresa became increasingly impatient, and more convinced that the pain wasn’t worth the result. In fact, she said, “If I had known how much it hurts, I never would have done it.” I asked her, “Do you mean you would rather go through the rest of your life feeling like you got “read” everywhere you went than to be completely passable if you just paid the price in the post-surgical pain?” And she said that was exactly what she meant.
She also related that she would be in pain like this for six more months. Well, though I know she has researched this probably more than anyone ever has, I know for a fact that the two people I spoke with at Cocoon House yesterday were only 8 and 9 days out of surgery themselves, and seemed not to even notice any pain. I’m sure they must have still been sore, but their attention was on the conversation, not focused completely on the hurt as Teresa’s was.
Another case in point, a third member of that upstairs apartment had returned after I left, heard that I had been them, saw me waiting by the curb with my daughter for the taxi to come here to Davies to see Teresa, and approached me to say hello. She had just been several blocks away where she had walked to meet some friends for lunch. Now someone in the kind of pain Teresa was sure would last six months would not be doing that.
But, though I conveyed this to Teresa, it had little effect. It wasn’t until I realized she was having post-surgical depression and brought it to her attention. With her increasing lucidity, she was together enough to wrap her mind around it and ignore the negative feelings – not dispel them, just ignore them. So, though she still felt depressed, she no longer believed a word of it.
Now, I started writing this evening because… Since it was a kind of “not much happened” sort of day, I’ve had some personal time to begin to get some first impressions of how I feel about the new Teresa.
Some of these will prove to be transient, or way off base, but I find them interesting as unexpected little flashes of experience that have their own validity simply because they do, in fact exist.
For example, Teresa started to joke around a bit today. And, as usual with her joking, she did some “voices” – you know, saying things in a strange way for effect to liven up or put a spin on conversation. We both do this all the time, sometimes using cartoon character voices (we are famous for our “Dueling Daffys”), and other times just choosing an unexpected word rather than the norm, or putting an inflection where it usually doesn’t go, doing a dialect, or incorporating some sort of gesture or body language to add flavor to what is being said.
Since she still can’t talk too well due to the drainage tubes in her mouth and her dry, raw, throat and “fluffy tongue,” she has been relying on physical flourishes to get back in the art of conversation as we knew it.
First impression…. Some of the body movements and gestures she used to grand effect just two days ago, somehow seem inappropriate or ineffective coming from the person attached to the new face.
Granted, you can’t really see much under all those bandages, but you can see the contour of the brow, the slope and size of the nose, and the shape and sweep of the chin and jaw. And, honest to gosh, the miracle of Dr. O’s work is immediately obvious on the countenance of someone you’ve lived with for 9 years.
Though this impression may change before the night is out, it just seems that some of the broad-stroke cruder affectations that she used to use for effect simply don’t work anymore.
Of course, the irony is that she can’t see that from the inside. It is going to take the reaction of others once she is healed to alter her behavior. At first, she’ll still employ that whole portfolio of expressions. But in time, simple feedback will modify her behavior at a subconscious level so that she employs them less and less, and learns to replace them with others that get the effect she was going for. And in time, she will emerge as a different personality in many ways.
But, that’s just a first impression. Still and all, it leads to some interesting considerations. Since the same thing must have happened to me during my transition, how many techniques that may have been favorite and endearing means of expressions to those who knew the old me – how many of those were completely dropped, or altered, or replaced without my ever being aware of it? Is there any way for me to search my memory of self and unearth some for investigation of the phenomenon? Did this cause hurt or bring or contribute to a sense of loss in those around me? And the new and modified means of expressions – did they endear or further repel friends, relatives and the like? And all behind my own back!
Again, just conjecture. Once the bandages are off and the new face completely healed, and once some time has past, I suppose we will have evidence to corroborate or undermine my hypothesis.
Now here’s another one. The way I have been treating Teresa today – I felt unintimidated by her. That may not sound like much, but I have always found Teresa to be a formidable person, and a worthy sparring partner. But as I look at the soft, feminine features she now possesses, I just can’t bring myself to give her any serious consideration as being under her influence.
This is pretty complex, even to me, so I’m going to play around with this a bit and see if I can find a way to convey what I’m really trying to get at….
First, I don’t mean anything negative by intimidating, but more that I felt she had at least an equal sense of “eminent domain” as I did. What that means is, every boy is brought up to believe that he has a right to the whole world if he can take it for himself. His right to exist in the world is assured by virtue of his manhood. He can challenge or be challenged by any other man for Alpha position, but the assumption that he is even worth challenging or even could challenge, is felt almost as if it is a law of God – a commandment so fundamental, they never even realize they assume it.
But women, on the other hand, are pre-supposed to be children of a lesser god. They are the wives, mothers, help-mates, who support the man as he goes about his daily routine of challenging the world and fending off the challenges of others.
Now, I realize I look a femmy girl when I’m all done up nice and pretty. But inside, I still know where I came from, and due to my extensive self-searching during transition, I have fully explored and documented my own roots in eminent domain.
When I met Teresa, the masculine cut of her jaw, the slight brow ridge made me feel a bit challenged – intimidated as I had intimated earlier. And a guy, well, he’ll put up an equal force of intimidation in and attempt to balance out the pecking order. And "attack" is to escalate to the next level of intimidation, and a negotiation is to offer a lower level in the hope the more intimidating individual will accept him at that lesser, but still powerful station. A capitulation is to completely abdicate the right to eminent domain and accept whatever scraps the alpha dog offers you after he has eaten.
So with friends – male friends, this little game eventually works itself into a relationship of buds, or alpha dog with hangers-on, and so on. With equal friends, it is a mutual acknowledgement that each is at exactly the same point in the line of succession – in other words, both are powerful, but at the same level, and either is entitled to lord it over the other.
Still, because each exudes the competitive male spirit, it requires an active and equal counter spirit to keep the relationship balanced. It isn’t just a decision that never comes up again. It is a dynamic system of checks, and counter-balances to ensure the totter never teeters too far in either direction.
That, in a nutshell, was one aspect of my relationship with Teresa. She and I, with our understood male backgrounds were constantly engaging in good-natured sparring, like lion cubs half-biting each other to show they had the power but had agreed not to use it on an equal.
Oh, and women do this too, but they use different techniques such as inclusion in the social circle, or who gets negatively gossiped about. Essentially, it is social standing, not power, that fuels female intimidation. Just look at the girls’ cliques you observed in high school!
So here’s the point at last. With Teresa’s new face, I just can make myself feel intimidated by her. I know I was male. I know she was male, but her new appearance belies that so strongly that I just can’t take her seriously as an equal at some very fundamental and rather disturbing level.
Remember, this is just a first impression, but I swear to you that every time I looked at Teresa in the decade I’ve known her, I felt very much as equals in eminent domain, and now when I look at her I get this feeling I used to have about women when I was a man. She’s the second string, Beta dog by birth, and the best she is entitled to is to be the Alpha Beta dog, never the pure Alpha dog, to which I still feel entitled due to my male cultural indoctrination.
I know it is bullshit as an attitude toward women, but honestly, how to you get rid of some bullshit that has become part of your psyche. You are what you eat, and no matter how hard you heave, you aren’t going to puke up anything you consumed and incorporated into your body a month ago.
In short, I kind of see her as a second class citizen – not without merit and rights, but not in my league. First impression of one of the effects of a new face.
Now here’s one final interesting side-note. I’ve looked as feminine as Teresa does now ever since she met me. And I’ve never let go of that sense of divine right. But was that an odd thing for her to have to deal with – a woman who demanded equal rights under eminent domain without turning butch in the process? You bet it was!
I can’t count the number of times I was going to do something like use a power tool or work on the car (which I hate, but know how to do) and she would jump in and say, “let me do that,” or more, just step in and take over. At first I used to think she was a control freak and rather pushy about it at that. But we talked, and eventually, when she was caught doing such a thing, she would often explain – “Sorry – I know in my mind that you were a man for 38 years and know how to do all this, but I don’t see that. All I see is the soft, feminine woman in front of me, and my reaction is to step in and do it because you can’t possibly know how to, or have the grit to get it done.”
Over the years, she’s backed off and let me do things that I know how to, that a woman “shouldn’t” know how to do, but I know it never stopped disturbing her.
Well, I guess now the shoe is on the other foot on that one (as so many things are in regard to this FFS thingy.) I guess I’m going to have to do as she has done and learn to make exceptions, all physical and visual evidence to the contrary.
But the last little tid of this bit is I find myself wondering if she ever felt intimidated by me – saw me as equally entitled to eminent domain – or if she always felt about me as I feel about her now – that I was the second string. And all the belief I had that she and I saw each other as equally worthy opponents was really just my one-sided perspective, and she always saw me as being of lower stature by birth and just made allowance and humored me all these years!
This is more funny than worrisome, but once she has completely healed and settled into whatever altered life and relationship we establish in this undiscovered country, I believe I shall ask her just for curiosity’s sake.
Dr. O just stopped by. Checked up on Teresa’s condition in his usual cheery manner, and told her she was right on schedule for him to remove the drainage tubes and head bandages tomorrow morning. I guess since he begins his surgeries at about 7:30, he’ll probably be in here around 6:30 or 7:00. So, the most significant of the remaining uncomfortable things will be dealt with after just ten or eleven more hours!
Then, we are released (using the royal “we” here) and head back to Cocoon House for the last time. Well, almost the last time. I guess we have to make a few trips out for Teresa’s staples, sutures, and stuff – not exactly sure, as my attention to the procedures was more focused on helping Teresa get here and through the surgery and into recovery.
Okay, just before Dr. O showed up, I had some additional information about the whole eminent domain, intimidation thing. Looking within myself, I am finding that when I see Teresa’s new face and don’t see her as being intimidating, I, surprisingly, lose the desire to be intimidating myself. In other words, only for a moment did I feel like I was a first class citizen, and she now a second. And I believe that was a pseudo effect caused by the sudden absence of her appearing to be intimidating. Since I hadn’t yet shut off my own vibes, with hers absent, the vacuum put us at two different levels.
But after less than an hour when I revisited the issue while looking at her again, I found that I felt more feminine and equal than ever! That feeling of equality, that we are BOTH pretty now – well, I simply hadn’t expected it.
What I expected was to feel intimidated by her “natural” beauty, while I felt I still had to dress up a certain way, put on make up, and “pretend” to be a woman, even if I felt like one inside.
But, the exact opposite happened. With Teresa ALSO being pretty, she doesn’t put off eminent domain signals, and therefore, I don’t feel compelled by training of old (like an old firehouse dog) to match that level of vibe, which actually robbed me of the ability to feel feminine myself.
So, for almost a decade, I’ve been forced to respond to her physical (and internal) essence of “top dog” by falling into my training and adopting a more assertive, even aggressive masculine pseudo-nature. And now – well, now I find I can lower MY guard, because SHE is no longer a potential threat. (All guys, no matter how well they like and trust each other ALWAYS see the other as a potential threat, and therefore strive to show no weakness, since even though they have an unspoken pact – a non-aggression treaty to leave each other alone, that is only in effect as long as the other honors it. The last thing, you want to do, as a guy, is get lulled into a sense of complacency and then have the other guy unleash a blitzkrieg and run rough-shod all over you. You don’t expect it from a friend, but it could happen, so you always keep your shield, if not your sword, close at hand.
And that’s what happened this evening. Teresa and I laid down our swords some time ago. But we never gave up our shields. By changing her face to a non-threatening variety, it feels as if she has laid down her shield (though I wonder how long it will take behavior modification for her own reflection, and/or from me already laying down my shield because it looks as if she laid down hers, before she actually lays her down, not just appears to have.
By so doing, I am now liberated to embrace the feminine and can put away that male armor – at least in Teresa’s case. I still tend to get competitive in business (which I really wish someone else would handle, leaving me to do the creative part). In fact, Teresa, perceiving herself as the more assertive of the two of us, had just agreed the week before we left to come her that she would start handling some of the “husband” things around the house and in our business. Now I wonder if that bet is off since she may soon feel as un-desirous as I have always been to participate in such activities. Or will that quality remain, but just make her appear to be hyper-competitive female? I wonder.
Also, of course, there is Mary, my wife, who responds best, in fact, who actually seems to want someone to take charge for her. It was from observing her manner that I once wrote, “A woman wants a man to force her to do what she wants to do.”
Since I am still fulfilling that role for Mary, though has been growing in her own assertiveness year by year, will I change in regard to her as well, now that the crack has appear in the dam here with Teresa, due to her new face? What a “butterfly effect” if so, that Teresa’s facial surgery changes my relationship with Mary in such a way that we either redefine ourselves as equals, or drift apart because I refuse to be the “husband” anymore, or that my personal transition to the feminine is forever held in check by my sense of obligation to Mary that perpetually prevents me from ever fully embracing my feminine side.
Hmmmm….. Again, one wonders….
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