13 July 2009

Nurse Phyllis

Imagine that the magician has a woman on the table and, instead of sawing her in half, he pulls endless silk scarves out of some orifice of her body.

That's about what I experienced today. Not that it was a bad thing: It means that I am one step closer to living as an independent woman. And the person who provided the expereince could not have done it any better.

Today I had an appointment at Doctor Bowers' office with "Nurse Phyllis." She has the broad face and shoulders of some earth goddess, and the warmth and light of the sun coursing through her eyes. If you are ever going to have your insides pulled out, she's the person whom you want to do it.

What I described in that last sentence isn't as terrible as it sounds. You see, today she removed my catheter tube, which means that I'm free to pee and make a mess of a bathroom all on my own. Actually, I was a good girl in the bathroom today: I really didn't have to clean anything up after myself.

You'll never know what a privilege it is to pee without having a tube and bag attached to you, and having to empty that bag (or having to wait for someone empty it for you, as you do when you're in a hospital bed) until you have one of those tubes pulled out of you. And you'll also never realize how nice it is to sit down without having to angle your crotch or to sit on one of those inflatable donuts until you have a few yards of packing material pulled out of you, and that area feels more or less normal, if not the same as it was before it was packed. Of course, the fact that it's not the same is the whole point of the operation.

Anyway, Nurse Phyllis made the process painless. You relax, not only because she tells you to, but because she knows that, deep down, that's what you really want.

Then, she taught me what "graduates" of "The Trinidad Experience" refer to as "Vagina Boot Camp" or "Vagina 101." That mini-course included, as you might imagine, dialation as well as other care and feeding of my new organ. In other words, she teaches people like me to treat our vaginas in ways that lots of natural-born women never do. She recommends wearing cotton panties and not wearing materials that don't breathe. Now I'm really happy that I stopped wearing those stretchy shorts for cycling this year.

I'm so glad I had that session with Nurse Phyllis. She has such empathy for anyone who's put her feet in those stirrups and lay prone with her legs spread apart. That's one time you want to absolutely trust whoever is standing over you. And I knew, from the moment that I met her, that I could.

That's really what's made this whole experience of getting my GRS/SRS surgery so comfortable, at least relatively speaking: I could trust everyone who stood over me as I was vulnerable. That, of course, starts with Dr. Bowers: She is the very embodiment of that quality, and she finds people to work with her whose most essential quality is just that.

That need to trust is, from what I can see so far, one of the things that makes a woman's in getting health care different from a man's. I never had to be so vulnerable, so in the hands of those providing the care, as I have been during this experience. That is not to say that I've had to be passive; in fact, when you have to make yourself prone, that's exactly when you need to take charge of yourself. And that means, at least in part, finding the ones whom you can trust when you are lying down and, for the time being, helpless.

Now I am confident that I have gained at least one more of the skills I will need for the rest of my life. Thank you, Nurse Phyllis.

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