Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Long Train Journey To Salvation

In yesterday's post I already described briefly what had occurred last Thursday, when I finally encountered a surgeon willing to do the reconstructive surgery I require. In this post I'd like to go more in-depth on that day and its events. Feel free to pause this post so that you can fetch something to nibble on :)

This story really starts well over eight years ago, when I first went to a Dutch hospital - the VUmc - to visit the gender team there. I had namely found out that I was likely intersex, probably a hermaphrodite. This I had deduced based upon the outward symptoms and my own experiences. Fast forward eight years later and the score is three German hospitals agreeing on me being a hermaphrodite and five Dutch hospitals disagreeing that I could even be intersex. Unfortunately for the latter group the Germans did their homework and an exploratory surgery in 2011 in a Hamburg hospital gave the final word in this epic, international struggle.

Even after all that I could however still not find a surgeon willing to take on a task I deemed very important. During the German examinations it was determined that I have in addition to the male anatomy also a partial female anatomy, specifically a vagina. Unfortunately said vagina is also closed off from the outside, which explains why I was marked as a boy at birth. As this probably also saved me from having either the male or female side ripped out while I was still an infant, this probably was for the best. It does mean that in its current state it's not a very useful vagina, however. Worse, by having it closed off any produced fluids and such will collect in there, conceivably leading to infection, inflammation and worse. Both from a medical and emotional point of view it's undesirable to leave it as-is.

Oddly enough it was virtually impossible to find a surgeon willing to help me with this after all that. Dutch physicians of course kept denying that I could be intersex even after the Dutch court approved my legal gender change to female last year. In other countries including Germany and the US I found no help either. After searching for over a year, I was ready to throw in the towel. Asexuality isn't such a bad thing, I reckoned. At that time, however, a friend read this article in a Dutch newspaper about a Dutch surgeon who does reconstructive surgery on African women who have suffered ritual circumcision. Contacting this surgeon on my behalf, the response was positive.

Initially I wasn't feeling too interested in giving yet another surgeon a try. It wasn't until the surgeon actually called me on my phone last Monday and invited me to make an appointment that I decided to give it a try. With my expectations hovering somewhere between careful optimism and bracing for outright rejection, I started my long journey to the clinic where this surgeon works.

Naturally, it wasn't the only thing I did that Thursday. I put in a two hours on this Android app project I'm rewriting and updating for the German company I work for. I then went to my first appointment of that day, hair-removal at a nearby beauty salon. Yes, that's still going on as well. Doesn't seem like I'll be rid of those treatments for a while either. Anyway, afterwards I caught the train to the clinic.

There's always the question of what to do during a 2+ hour long journey. In my case I had prepared myself well, with my ereader, pile of projects to work on and my smartphone to research items on the Internet. Also a few emergency chargers to keep said smartphone from dying halfway during the day :P Thus I arrived at my destination without too much trouble. GPS on the phone makes finding places in a city a snap these days. Once at the clinic the first snag came when I had to wait an additional one and a half hours past the original appointment time due to a surgery taking longer than expected. Truth to be said, I knew I was nervous because I had trouble finishing my breakfast that morning with little appetite. I still felt I had myself under control quite well. None of the hyperventilating I used to experience at previous hospital appointments.

I actually had interesting discussions with the other people in the waiting room. One of them was accompanying the person currently in surgery. With him I talked the most and eventually I briefly told him about my story and the reason why I was there. He seemed quite interested, so I gave him my business card for the address to my personal site on it.

Eventually it was my turn. The surgeon led me into an examination room. His first question to me was 'What can I do for you?'. The whole of the conversation which followed I can not recall in detail, just that he mentioned after that that he way he saw it I had a problem and it should be fixed. I couldn't agree more with him on that point. A physical examination followed, something I'll gladly do without for the rest of my life. I lost count of the number of times I have undergone one. This one was different, though. It didn't feel like he was the brilliant physician, examining a lowly patient, but more as though he was there... helping me, I guess.

His response to my physical appearance was also that he thought that I am a beautiful woman, and that everything about me, from my movements to my voice to my general appearance is just totally feminine. I felt flattered by this, while realizing that he probably had a quite different idea of what I would look like before he saw me that day. There also was another matter to make clear. During the physical he suggested that I would want to have the penis removed. I then said that I'd want to keep it, that it is a part of who I am. This didn't seem to startle or surprise him in any fashion as he just moved on with examining the area under which the vagina is located.

After the physical, he talked some more about the work he has done on those African women and how much joy it gave him to give them back the enjoyment of sexuality. To him that is something very precious. He made it abundantly clear that he intends to do the same for me. When he described it like that I felt a lot of warmth inside of my chest. Here was someone who genuinely wants to help me. Not just make something which looks like a vagina, but with all of the sensations that come with it present for as much as realistically possible. I could only thank him at this point. I honestly didn't have words to express how happy that would make me. It would finally give me back a part of me which was cruelly stolen and kept from me for all those years.

Moving on to practical matters, he needed to look at the MRI scans made before to finalize his planning for the surgery. I had tried to send them digitally before, but this seemed to give some issues. Due to this I promised that I would resend the scans once I got home again. After this I made an appointment to discuss the surgery planning for the next Monday.

Walking home again through the streets filled with happy people and a park with people sitting on the grass, playing and listening to music, I felt strangely elated. Nothing had changed yet, as far as I could logically determine, yet there was a sense of certainty about this whole approach now. Travelling back by train for another few hours, I felt strangely peaceful and focused. I was calm enough to do some research for an algorithm I need for an app I'm developing for an American company. It was actually somewhat enjoyable.

Arriving back at where I am currently staying around 10 PM I was pretty much beat. Having survived the day basically on a sandwich and some cookies, I ate a meal, then sent the MRI scans to the surgeon. After that I pretty much collapsed on my bed. Much like my smartphone, I guess, which survived with just 7% charge despite emptying both emergency chargers. Need to get a better one, I guess.

So there you go, my story of that day. Hopefully it'll resume on Monday with a positive planning for the surgery, with the MRI scans actually having been interpreted. The actual surgery should be soon after that, possibly still this month. In my previous post I already discussed the possible outcomes there. Of course I'm hoping for the best possible result. For some reason though, people seem to think it necessary to stab me with a dagger between my shoulder blades and twist it around a few times when they insist that it could very well end up being a major disappointment. Yes, that could happen, but you don't really have to crush my spirit like that. I don't remind you that you are possibly going to end up in the midst of a flaming, crumpled wreck with your loved one's dismembered head on your lap every time you get in that car. Please allow me the luxury of the thought that everything is possible and will likely work out. Thanks.

Anyway, it's going to be an extremely trying time for me until after the surgery when I'll finally hear the result. I'm actively trying not to think about it too much. Thanks to all my experiences the past eight years there's precious little I can take. This is my final shot at a regular life. Emotionally I'm worn so thin that if it were shoe soles you could look through them. I have good hopes that I'll end up with at least an acceptable result. This based on actual medical evidence of the past years, instead of baseless speculation such as that said dagger handlers.

I guess I'll quit before I start biting off people's heads :) I do know that I'm rather on edge due to all of this. On one hand it's all extremely positive, on the other hand it's also highly destabilizing. I really do hope I land on solid ground after all has been said and done.

See you all at the flip side.



canyonwalker said...

I have been following your story and am THRILLED for you that you have found a surgeon that may be able to help you with medical operations that you have wanted.

Paul Toth said...

Everything will work out just fine.
Congratulations on finding a surgeon.