The night before my flight, I expected to be unable to sleep, but instead, it came quickly. We got up around 6:00am and made our way to the airport, where we said our goodbyes and I checked my luggage curbside. Security was mostly uneventful, with the TSA agent only needing to pat down my back where the band of my bra lay just beneath my shoulderblades. I was at the gate with more than an hour to spare, and with too much nervous energy to even think about closing my eyes and taking a nap. As the boarding was called out for my Southwest flight, I dutifully lined up in my assigned position and found a window seat once I boarded the plane. The flight wasn’t full, so we had an empty seat between me and the other woman in my row. The flight was pleasant; I spent my time reading on my Kindle and watching a mindless movie I’d downloaded before the flight. We soon began our descent, and from my window on the left side of the plane, I was able to recognize where we were – flying over the Lower Bay, with Staten Island to the west, then the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan. We were over Brooklyn, getting closer to the ground until I could look down in peoples’ backyards and see toys, grills, furniture, and other items, covered in a dusting of snow. We were over Queens, and it felt like I could reach out and touch the roofs passing under us. And then we touched down at LaGuardia, and my adventure was just beginning.
It was a cold Saturday afternoon in New York City, and I had an AirBNB reservation for the next 7 weeks for an apartment in Harlem. While New York is one of my favorite cities and I love to explore and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city, I had a mere 4 days to cram my sightseeing and other preparations in; in four days I would be having surgery – a surgery for which I was simultaneously excited, nervous, expectant, fearful, and hopeful. In four days, I would be having bottom surgery; a procedure to turn the penis I’d carried for 40-something years into a vagina – a neovagina – and reconfigure the remaining tissues to match the structures typically found on someone assigned female at birth.
I made my way to the apartment, my home for the next seven weeks, and met my host. He showed me the basics of the apartment – where supplies were kept, how to adjust the thermostats, and how to access the building with it’s keycard-controlled entry and elevator. In preparation, I had ordered supplies from Amazon to arrive at the building the same day, and I soon set out to acquire other supplies that I’d made a list to pick up after I’d arrived: food and basic toiletries. I had been monitoring the Broadway shows and knew there were a few shows which, if I wanted to catch them, I’d need to see them before my surgery, as it would be weeks after the surgery before I’d be physically capable of sitting through a show. I stopped off at the TKTS booth in Times Square (ugh – that place is one of the circles of Hell!), and by the time I made it to the counter, one of the two shows I’d shortlisted had sold out, so I got a ticket to see one of my favorite storytellers, Mike Birbiglia. I finished up my errands and then made my way to the theater and had an enjoyable evening listening to Mike relate his experiences with his wife and baby, laughing and crying as he masterfully weaved his tale with self-deprecating humor. unexpected callbacks and unique insights.
The next day, I navigated the mass transit systems and made my way into New Jersey, where I spent a very pleasant afternoon with a friend from work and her nearly-teenage daughter. Afterwards, I ran a few more errands, and, as much as I wanted to pack more into the day, I retreated to the apartment and rested. Monday was more of the same – making preparations, picking up prescriptions, yet more errands, and a stop at my favorite bagel shop to get a dozen bagels for the coming week.
Tuesday, I met with friends for my “last meal” – breakfast at a favorite restaurant in Gramercy Park (three blocks from where my surgery would take place the next day), and then I began taking the bowel prep solution my surgeon required to get my insides ready. By late afternoon, I was running to the bathroom frequently, and even had to stop taking the prep solution for a while because I was cramping so badly. But by evening, when my wife and mother arrived from the airport, things had calmed enough that I could talk for a while and bring them up-to-speed on the events of the past few days. Once again it was time for me to go to bed, and again, I expected to not get much sleep, but I was able to get a few hours of good, restful sleep in.
I got up about 4am and took my shower, using Ivory soap, as directed. We were to check in for surgery at 5:45am, and after a commute on the subways, we arrived at the surgical center. I was checked in quickly, and taken back to the pre-op area shortly afterwards. I changed into the provided gown and loose pants, and was visited by a variety of nurses and doctors, each with a set of questions and paperwork to complete. My surgeon and his fellow checked in with me around 7:00, and before we knew it, it was time for me to go back! I kissed my wife and we all said our goodbyes. Surprisingly, they asked if I could walk into the surgical theater, and upon arrival, I climbed onto the table and they worked with me to get into the right position. One nurse inserted an IV in the back of my left hand, and another wrapped my legs in cuffs which massaged my calves to keep the blood flowing. The staff were cheerful and efficient, telling me every part of what they were doing so I would be informed. Soon, a nurse told me that they were going to give me something to “relax” me, and I asked if this was when I would be going to sleep. She indicated that I likely would, and moments later, I was asleep.