Over five weeks ago, I had the first major surgery of my lifetime: Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS). The recovery process has been trying, but I am happy I did it.
In the grand scheme of things, the surgery itself and the hospital stay were not incredibly remarkable—other than the spectacular view of San Francisco from my private room. Even though I had never personally had major surgery or been a patient for a hospital stay, I was not especially nervous going into surgery. In recovery, even though I was super groggy and in some pain, I apparently corrected my father misgendering me while talking to the nurse. When I got to my room, I panicked a little after I vomited twice, which was a result of the anesthesia, ans so I asked my wife to stay overnight in my room with me. My young children were well prepped for what to expect when they saw me, and they seemed to handle the whole experience well. I am thankful for most everyone who took care of me for the approximately 30 hours I spent at the hospital.
The first few days at home were not too bad. I tried not to be a troublesome patient to my wife and kids. I tried to sleep. I kept to my liquid diet. I took my pain meds. When I had to go to the surgeon’s office five days post-op, I was embarrassed to be out in public with a big bruise on my overly swollen jaw, a nose splint, and a Frankenstein incision at my hairline. A week later at my next appointment, I was less nervous, as my bruising and swelling were reducing. I put make-up on for the first time. I started trying to get myself back into the world more.
After three weeks, I returned to work, where everyone was anxious to see what I looked like. Many saw the subtle changes; others didn’t think there had been a big change. Why? Well, full healing takes about six months. They were expecting something more dramatic. Over time, they will hopefully see more changes as I heal more.
The recovery process has been stressful. First, I did not want to leave my house. Then, I tried to get into back into routine, but that was easier said than done. It is hard to pick up routine when I have to explain to everyone what I went through and how it is not the final result yet. Even five weeks post-op, I am not at 100% energy, and last week, I suffered a setback which caused one side of my jaw to significantly swell up again. I’m in the process of dealing with that now, but I am a little scared how the situation will resolve. I get more information on that in the morning with my next doctor’s appointment.
The adjustment at home is difficult to read. My children have handled it well. Even though my face is swollen and healing, my daughter still calls me beautiful and a princess. Now that I am getting more sensation back in the tip of my nose, we can nuzzle each other once again, which is a thing with us. My son, being 7, is preoccupied with himself, so I have not really got much reaction from him. At least it hasn’t been negative. My wife keeps things to herself. She was a great nurse and helped me with everything I needed in the first few weeks, but it was clearly a position she did not want to have to fulfill. She aided me because she knew it was a procedure I needed for myself, and she feels obligated to take care of me, even though she wants little to do with me in the long run. She has been stuck between a rock and a hard place since I began this journey, and she does not know how to extricate herself without the entire family hurting. Neither do I.
Adding to the stress has been the fact that we are losing Medi-Cal at the end of this month. (I apparently got my surgery just in time!) That means we have to buy into the health care exchanges with money we really don’t have. The timing couldn’t be worse considering the setback I am having with my swelling. We are having to switch primary doctors, do cost-benefit analyses, read benefit summaries… and do it all on an accelerated schedule. Tack on on all the other personal stuff we have going on, and the whole thing is incredibly overwhelming. I am not sure how I am remaining sane, let alone her.
I am happy that I got FFS. The results are not all there yet, and I have to deal with this strange additional swelling, but parts of my face are showing positive signs. My nose is smaller. My brow bones looks great. The hairline where they shaved is growing back. The non-inflamed side of my jaw is healing well and providing me a preview of what is to come. There are great positives, and my improved face will be worth it in the long run. The dysphoria I experience looking into a mirror should be reduced over time—and that was the whole point. Now, it’s mainly a wait-and-see.