Friday, 29 July 2011

Gradually re-entering my life

This has been a week of steady improvement.

I started the week with a second session of electrolysis to clear the backlog from my weeks away.  It is lovely to be smooth skinned again.  It is very hard to feel feminine with stubble!

I am gradually getting feeling back into my lower lip, more on the right side than the left and working in from the ends.  Also, as the swelling abates, I am getting more jaw movement back.  My speech is now almost normal and I can manage most food.

On Wednesday I took a trip up to Cheshire by train to buy an item for my WW2 collection.  I met the seller at his local station between Crewe and Liverpool and, of course, the inevitable question was how to recognise each other....  I made plain that I was a transsexual and that he should look out for an impossibly tall woman in a black, white and turquoise dress.  Amongst the 5 or 6 folks who got off the train it was not difficult to pick me out.  It is such a joy just to wear a nice summer dress and heels and be out and about honestly as me.  I know I now get very few strange looks (at least if I keep my mouth shut) and I am just very comfortable as 'me'.

On Wednesday night I stayed in the Britannia Hotel in central Birmingham (good value for the money) and then headed off to the Severn Valley (Steam) Railway for the day.  A good day out on a nice warm but slightly overcast day.  Railway footbridge steps and heels do take some practise and you just have to accept a slower pace. 

In the late afternoon I called into Regis Hairdressers in Corporation Street Birmingham for a lesson in blow drying from stylist Dean.  Now I just need to practise what I have been taught but it is so good to have hair long enough to do things with.  Such a change from years ago.

The next couple of days require me to concentrate on some mundane household tasks to (1) be ready for my friend Debbie from Essex coming to stay next week and (2) getting ready for a car boot sale of my 'maleness' on Sunday if the weather holds.  Perhaps I have not had long enough yet but I am still having difficulty generating enthusiasm for housework.

'Bye for now


Tuesday, 26 July 2011

That's enough of your old lip

One of the procedures carried out as part of my facial feminisation surgery was an 'upper lip lift'. 

Male top lips tend to be thin in appearance as they turn down and firmly meet the lower lip.  I am told this comes from our hunter-gatherer past of thousands of years ago when the men would be out hunting on the plains and preserving every drop of moisture was important.  Women, on the other hand, would tend to be back at the village / cave where such considerations did not apply.

The procedure involves taking away a slice of flesh from below the nose and pulling the upper lip up as this gap is filled. 

The result is lovely.  I now have a beautiful feminine upper lip and will not have to resort to subtefuge in future by exaggerating the upper lip line with a lip pencil when doing my make up.

All the above was expected (thank you again, Dr Bart!) but what did take me a little by surprise was the need to learn to keep my mouth closed!  If a woman (and now me!) relaxes her mouth muscles, the resting position is with the lips just slightly parted.  This can result in breathing through your mouth, dry mouth, and the like.

Also, with more lip area exposed, the risk of drying out and getting cfhapped lips increases.  I find that if I am not wearing lipstick, I need to used a lip salve stick.

So much to learn / re-learn!

On the general recovery front the swelling around my jaw has now started to go down and my speech is becoming much more normal.  This also means that my chin / jaw shape is beginning to emerge and as with everything else, I really like what I can see.  My left foot is still giving me some pain and I am still on tablets for that.

Bye for now



Sunday, 24 July 2011

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated....

It's an Oscar Wilde quote.  Thank you to those who sent me messages asking how I was and expressing concern that I had not blogged for a few days.

I have been away for a few days, staying withn my lovely friend Wxxxxxxx in Cardiff.  I have had a restful week, walking, visiting a few local attractions and generally reminding myself that Dorset is more attractive than South Wales.  Thanks also to W's house-guest E, for making me very welcome.  W's lovely boyfriend is an optician and he was kind enough to arrange an out-of-hours trip to his premises for an eye test and lesiurely choice of new, more feminine glasses, a pair for work and a pair of prescription sunglasses.  Yes, I did go to Specsavers!  Now I'm watching the post for them to arrive.

The facial surgery continues to settle down as predicted.  Most of the stitches have fallen out now, with a little careful encouragement.  I am still somewhat swollen around the jaw as might be expected but everything is moving in the right direction, at its own pace.

One difficulty I have had, as previously referred to, is that the long operation brusied my lower back and I have had 'phantom' pain from this, particularly in my left foot.  This is not a bother when I am up and about but when lying down trying to sleep it does become a problem.  Hence I found myself at the Heath Hospital in Cardiff at 2.30 a.m. to see the duty GP for some enhanced pain relief tablets.  Many thanks, Dr Carwyn Patel, for your understanding and efficiency, and full marks to NHS-direct and the Cardiff out-of-hours GP service.  We are very lucky to have the NHS we have.

I am now combing through the house for 'maleness' to go to the car boot sale next Sunday, if the weather is good.  I already have a good pile of shirts, cuff links and the like.  A good friend suggested that the appropriate response to being asked why these items were for sale might be to say 'there is no longer a man in my life...'  true, but hardly the whole truth!

I'll keep you posted


Friday, 15 July 2011

Are you trying to get arrested?

So, after a quiet day in Ghent on Wednesday, Thursday was my day to travel back to the UK.  I was up at 6 and pottered around getting ready and packed and by 8 was ready.  I did not need to leave until nine, so I chatted to the guest-house owner and then dragged my luggage off across the Ghent cobblestones to the tram stop.  I was attracting fewer looks now as my crazily coloured skin was fading a bit, and before too long I had caught the train to Brussels.  A tomato soup later in the departure lounge and I was onto Eurostar. 

Oh, and that's how my attempt to get arrested comes in.  When the UK Border Agenct official opened my passport, out popped a 50 Euro note I had slipped into it early in the holiday.  'Yours, I think?' he said a little sarcastically.  I can't be certain that I blushed, or even if I did, any one would notice, but I did feel a fool.  Arrested for attempting to bribe an immigration official....that would have been a new one...

A quiet soooze, I thought... And then I found that Eurostar had booked me, as a single traveller, onto a table of three others travelling with a baby which wanted to climb around on the table, bang the table with anything handy, etc etc.  They were grateful when I found myself another seat to move to after we left Brussels.  For me it was self-preservation.

Ghent had been cool and damp but London was hot and sunny and by the time my train from Waterloo had travelled the two hours to Dorset my etes were sore and I was ready for my own front door.  A lazy evening and then I slept - how I slept! - in my own bed - luxury.

I was supposed, this Friday morning, to call in to see my GP but he has damaged a leg playing with his children so I spoke to him on the phone instead and we have agreed to meet in early August.  A potter around town was lovely and a few gentle calls to friends, and a catch-up with post and e-mails.

My mouth still feels as if it is packed with cotton wool, which makes my speech rather slurred and difficult, and I am still fairly swollen but it does get better by the day.  If you don't hear from me for a few days, don't worry, I'm off to stay with a friend in Wales for a few days andf I feel like some walking to get the juices flowing and push along the healing process.

I'll keep you posted.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Lenny Henry eat your heart out

Lenny Henry and ‘red nose day’ eat your heart out.  12 July 2011 was my ‘new nose day’.
I decided to leave writing this piece overnight to see if my reaction was the same this morning as yesterday, and it is!
What Dr van den Ven appears to have achieve (as far as I can tell, because the general impression I still give is of a domestic violence victim, is that he has done what we discussed, namely to reduce the height, size and sharpness of my nose subtly to bring it into the female range whilst recognising that i am 6’ (183cm) tall and everything needs to remain in proportion.  It is fascinating to watch my features settling down.
I made a tactical error yesterday afternoon.  Th e stitches around my eyes are still distorting eyesight a little, and I am not supposed to do too much looking down for the next couple of weeks as the facelift heals and my toenails needed cutting, si I thought I would book in for that wonderfully relaxing experience – a pedicure.  The guest house owner made to call for me and booked with the Ghent branch of ‘Yves Rocher’ a continental  beaty products chain.  I had visions of quiet music, soothing oils etc etc.
Things started to go wrong when on passing though the ‘Institute’ door at the back of the store I found myself sitting waiting in a corridor full of boxes.  The treatment room looked welcoming enough but the array of metal tools would have done a dentist’s surgery justice.  The therapist then proceeded to slice, scrape and cut in a manner which was certainly painful at times and left me with a plaster on one toe.  I am sure that this has been good for me (in just the same way that you are sure that foul-tasting medicine is good for you) but I am not sure that I would do it again.
Now time for a nice long bath to soak away the last for the wound crusting, as prescribed by Dr Bart.


Monday, 11 July 2011

The battle of Balaclava

A friend e-mailed me yesterday to ask if I really meant what I’d said in an earlier post, that I had not suffered pain, and that really is true.  I suspect that I must be a bit unusual in that not least because of the pile of strong painkillers included in the hospital discharge pack by the doctor.
What does it feel like, then.  Well, do you know, its a it like wearing a woollen balaclava.  Not having been an armed robber, I last wore one when I skied with my school, years ago and you can feel your face when wearing it, which you rarely do.  I can feel the line of stitches and staples just under my hair line, the stitches around my eyes, the cast on my nose and the stitches under my chin.  Also the swelling in cheeks and jowls brings them into unusual sensory experience.  Also, like wearing a balaclava, there is some restriction of movement.
I can also feel the muscle stitching which achieves the facelift.  This does feel a bit like having a pudding basin cloth tied over your head from under your chin.
I have certainly had some discomfort.  Not least my eyes which if they don’t get their drops every 4 hours or so, start to get sore and misty, and there is plainly a fair amount of stitching, and swelling in my mouth which presently makes anything solid a challenge..
This time last week I was groggily breathing through a plastic mask having only just been brought round from the anaesthetic.  Today has been a quiet day at my rented apartment after the exertions of yesterday. Thank goodness for Radio 4 over the internet.  I did venture out to the supermarket during the afternoon and was asked by a nice young lady, firstly in Dutch and then in English, how I managed to walk on the cobbles in my heels.  I showed her my wedges and her reaction was ‘how sensible, you English are’ as she showed me her heels stashed in her bag in favour of flat shoes.  Now I am very much looking forward to nose cast and stitches coming out tomorrow, only a week now after surgery.   That’s not bad, and I do hope the selling sorts itself out reasonably soon, as part of the object was to give me a trimmer chin and less square jaw, and at the moment the selling is doing the opposite.
I’ll keep you posted

A Monster prowls the Belgian backwoods...

To understand this post you need to know something of my appearance.  Yes, yes, I know a picture paints a thousand words but you’re not getting one.
My neck and d├ęcolletage are a background sickly yellow, overprinted in patterns of black, red and purple.  My eyes are purple, with two lines of neat stitches above them and one line below.  The outer corner of my right eye is bright red.  The outer corner of my left eye is bright yellow.  Below eye is a half-moon of mixed purple and yellow.  My nose is covered with a bloodstained white plaster cast.  My lower lip is distended like half a Big Mac bun.  My cheeks and jowl area is swollen and distended.  I walk slowly and deliberately because (1) I am still missing some feeling in my left foot because of the bruise to the lower base of my spine where I lay on the operating table for 12 hours, and (2) I am very scared of disturbing any of the work so recently done by falling on it.......All-in-all I reckon I could be pretty useful to Local Authorities (do we still have them?) in convincing school truants that they would be safer back with Mrs Smith in class 3B.
Anyway, this picture of loveliness shuffled into the local hairdressers at peak time on Saturday morning to inquire, by a series of gestures, part French and part English (I should say that my mouth is pretty swollen, so I sound like something out on the Munsters, to inquire whether someone might wash and blow dry my hair.
To the eternal credit of Jill’s Hairdressing, Sleepstraat, Ghent, their reaction was to shuffle around their other customers on an already busy day and to fit me in.  Either the 20 Euro fee was very important, or they are just good people.
Emboldened by the above and after an afternoon trip to the local supermarket, I wondered what to do with my Sunday.  Grandfather was awarded a Military Medal for an action in the Belgian Ardennes on Christmas Day 1944, so that has always been a focus and I have wanted to visit the Museum at La Roche-en-Ardennes for a while, so I thought ‘why not’?  By the wonders of the internet I was able to plan the two train connections and final bus connection to get me there, and a 9.27 departure from Ghent would have me there at 1.
It was lovely to be out on a beautiful summer’s day.  The trains were well used but not overly busy and I only made one tactical error which was to go to the WC after Namur.  When I returned, my book remained where I had left it and my seat was still free but surrounded by a sea of scouts.  It seemed to be the rule that scouts had to carry packs at least twice as large as they were, so it made it pretty crowded for the last 20 minutes of the train journey.
The bus to La Roche was a rollercoaster ride over typically narrow and twisting Ardennes roads with surrounding dark pine forests.  La Roche was busy and sunny, full of tourists, many of which were on highly chromed motor cycles.  I was hungry, so I found a riverside cafe and decided to leave the soup menu for a salade Nicoise – my favourite.  With a swollen mouth and a lower lip with no feeling, this was no mean task but well worth it.
I then headed off to see the museum, which, was expected was dreadful.  They had some good stuff, mounted in displays in cases long ago but there was no attempt to bring the drama of the fighting in the Ardennes in 1944 alive.  In a town full of tourists, the museum was deservedly empty.  I just missed the 3.04 bus (next one 5.05, curses) so repaired to a local cafe for a lemon tea and a read of Caitlin Moran’s recent book ‘How to be a woman’ until it was time for the bus.  Then bus, train, train and tram back to my accommodation.  It takes real skill to make a country like Belgium seem large but SNCB, the Belgian national rail carrier, managed it by scheduling the trains at a pitiful 50 mph or so and throwing in some weekend engineering works for good measure.
In all the above the ‘Monster’ (with nicely blow dried hair) received consideration and courtesy from all involved.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Its all in the eyebrow action..

I am old enough to remember the ‘Sitting Image’ puppet of actor Roger Moore, who, rather bitchily, was portrayed as only having three facial expressions, namely; left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised, and, wait for it. BOTH eyebrows raised.  Personally, I always thought Roger Moore had the drop on his critics.  He had, after all, played ‘The Saint’ on 1960’s TV and then gone on to play James Bond in a number of 1970’s and 80’s editions of that long-running franchise AND he got paid well and always wore a really nice suit...
You are but wonder what, on earth this has got to do with my transition.  It has nothing to do with the interesting bit of transsexual trivia that Caroline Cossey (born Barry) appeared in a film with Roger M until the press outed her and the Bond producers deleted her scene (which was plainly so vital to the storyline that is absence has never yet been noticed.  No, its all about eyebrows.
I noticed in front of the mirror this morning that I now have eyebrows that move!  So he swelling is now on its way down, and my football-face status’s days are numbered.
I also had my 4th day after operation consultation with Dr Bart, who expressed himself well satisfied with my progress and (thank goodness) removed the enormous plaster across my jaw.  It is all still swollen but eating my soup this evening was a little easier and that is another step on the road back to normality.
Now, where was that DVD of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ to watch after dinner.......

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A couple of quiet days

For the rest of Wednesday 6th July I stayed to close to home in the apartment, encouraged principally by the fasct that I couldn't feel my feet and I felt a complusive urdge to hold onto walls and other solid objects when moving around.  I also had very little appetite, so just confined myself to a cup or two more of the mushroon soup - very enconomical!

The guest house owner Karien was wonderful in keepting the gel-packs coming in between running her soap shop business.  She loaned me hte '3.10 to Yuma' a fairly violent western with Russel Crowe starring which helped to fill in the evening.  I had a really weird night.  I just could not get to sleep so I took one of the sleeping pills included in the pack by Dr Bart and was, I think, hallucimating a bit.  The fact that I made a pot of coffee about 2 am is pretty strange behaviour (at least for me).

This morning I was feeling much better.  I could feel my right foot although my left foot was still just the thing keeping my left leg off the floor.  I decided that sitting arounds wasn't going to make things any better so I got myself cleaned  up as far as possible and plodded off into town at 9 over the cobbled streets of Ghent. (Mental note for those deciding where to perform surgery in future - inverse relationship with number of cobbled streets...) Well, I didn't fall over but I did frighten the local inhabitant's a bit with my appearance, especially the cashier in the supermarket.  Still, a visit to the supermarket (tights and mouthwash) and chemist (powders for head cold) met my provisions needs and an ice cream at the cafe in the square worked wonders for my sore throat.  I was back in the apartment at 10, feeling pleased with myself.

I lunched on half a banana, sliced thinly and inserted between swolen lips and tongue - easiest with a mirror, given that everything iis still fairly numb.

And then at 2 pm I set off on the great adventure of the day, cheered off by Karien.  This was a two hour plod around the outer reaches of the town intended (1) to stop me going stir-crazy (3.10 to Yuma again...) and (2) to make sure that I can manage to route to my check up with Dr Bart at the Cosmetic surgery clinic here in Ghent tomorrow.  Well, object achieved on both counts, although the little lad who asked his mum'what had happenned to the poor lady?' was unlikely to be getting a full explanation, I thought.

So I got back with a restored appetite and a glow of self confidence.  My right foot is now pretty much in full commission and the left is now going through the 'pins and needles' stage which presages feeling returning, so I should have good news for Dr Bart.  Tea consisted of a whole tin of minestrone soup and might yet be accompanied by some fruit pastiles to keep this tickly throat quiet.

More news after I see Dr Bart tomorrow.

Bye for now


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Out the other side!

Hello bloggers!
Well now, i’m out the other side of surgery and its great to be here.
6.45 0n Monday saw me waiting nervously in mid heels a black pencil skirk and a mauve knitted top for the taxi driver to take me the 13km to the private unit on an imdutrial estate in one of Ghent’s suburbs where the op was to be performed. I was a bit early so had to sit in a corridor while preparations were made,  Then I was shown to a private room and left to change into surgical dress, compression stockings and a dressing gown.  Soon the nurse can to get me for surgery and once in the operating theatre everything was  blur of activity, saying hello to Dr Bart and his colleagues, getting positioned on the operating table and finally the sharp scratch in my left hand and pain in my left arm which presaged to anaesthetic and  oblivion for the next 12 hours.
Dr Bart tells me that is his longest surgery to date – 10 hours – but i think the preparation and recovery had me out for a bit longer .
The night that followed was pretty unpleasant.  Highlight (lowlights?) included vomiting up the  stomach of blood which had accumulated from the nose surgery, and the first sight of myself as a football.
I don’t recall sleeping at all.
By Tuesday morning I was being cleaned up for discharge. My hair was absolutely matted with blood from the cranial surgery and took several goes to get half decent by which time the hospital bathroom was swimming.
But a problem  them occurred with my discharge.  Probably as a result of the length of the surgery I was pretty shaky on my feet.  It took a while to get to the point where Br Bart (who told me he had slept  tor ten hours after the surgery - lucky him!) and the nurse were prepared to let me take a taxi back to Ghent.
Here the lovely guest house owner, Karien, was waiting to help me back into my apartment and make me comfortable with the cooled gel packs she had waiting.
Tuesday afternoon and evening I took pretty easily, with a little light reading and an episode of ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ from BBC i-player.
I did get a few hours sleep last night, assisted by the sleeping prescribed by Dr Bart.
Wednesday morning finds me still very swollen – more uncomfortable than in pain, and I breakfasted on watered down orange juice and a few sips of cream of mushroom soup.  I am thinking of rewarding myself for getting this blog posted by a weak half cup of lukewarm coffee through a straw.  Such things are pleasures made of.
Even in my football-shaped state, I can see signs of what the surgery was intended to achieve, so I am encouraged that, in time, I might be more ‘Footballer’s wife’  than ‘Football’
I’ll keep you posted....

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye....

Its just coming up to 9pm on Sunday evening and I am packing my overnight bag for the hospital tomorrow.  The taxi is booked for 06.45 and I feel remarkably calm about the whole thing.  I am due to be in until Tuesday lunchtime and I may well not be on top form when I get out so don't worry if you don't hear from me until Wednesday.

I have had a really pleasant weekend mooching around Ghent. 

On Saturday I lay in bed reading and surfing the net and then went for a wander around old Ghent and the shops, ending up at a pavement cafe for a pancake and......well, there's the thing.  Most everything is in Flemish (a version of Dutch) and many words are pretty close to English:  straat for street is a good example.  But every once in a while you come across something odd.  I just had to order my pannenkoeke (pancake) with 'slagroom' just to see what it turned out to be.  And the answer was.....whipped cream, so no disaster there.

On Sunday I went for a wander round another part of the city, in search of an Italian restaurant reccomended by my surgeon.  It turned out not to be open for Sunday lunch but close by was the Museum of Industry, Work and Textile Manufacturing which I found interesting but I seemed to be about the only person there on a sunny day.  Then I took a tram ride to St Peter's station and walked from there to the Museum of Fine Arts.  If you like large old canvases of 'the torment of Christ' and the like, then its the place for you.  I'm not so sure.  However, the Museum restaurant score 5 stars for a lovely lunch.

After lunch there was an amusing incident when I sought out the lavatories.  The cleaner had propped the doors back for the cleaning process, so you coudn't see which were the gebts and which were the ladies.  I paused, nonplussed.  The cleaner, chatting away on her bluetooth headset mobile phone then appeared and muttered something about 'Fruaen, frauen' and gesticulated towards one side.  Given that there were no urinals in the facilities I found myself in, I seem to have passed muster with her, even without tomorrow's surgery!

I have been reading John Le Carre's 'Our Kind of Traitor' which is just out in paperback and it has been lovely o have a couple of days of no legal paperwork to be able to read with a clear mind.

Well, time to turn in now and to set the alarm for 'unreasonably early' and 'a new life'.

See on the other side.



Friday, 1 July 2011

A day of planning and preparation

Today I had a leisurely start and then strolled through Ghent to the Cosmetic Surgery Institute for my midday consultation with Dr Bart van der Ven.  The building is rather anonymous and a little difficult to get into but once in Dr B was courtesy itself and after the ineviable photographs we carefully worked through the surgical procedures, what we are trying to achieve and post-operative care.  I have to admit the sight of the skull with the bits sliced off the jaw and metal plates in place was a little scary but the computer-view of the changes was very encouraging.

A snooze in the early afternoon and then a further stroll in the Ghent sunshine to the city's public hospital for my CT-scan.  Good impressions, the hospital was spotlessly clean (even with a new extension being built) and the staff were faultlessly courteous and bi-lingual.  First you book in at a general reception area (think up-market Argos ccollection system).  The receptionist was a bit confused about English addresses and post codes.  Then on to the imaging department where my scan took longer to wait for than to perform.

The old centre of Ghent is very touristy and lovely.  I had an early evening meal at a road side cafe in Veerle Square during which I watched a traffic jam caused by a wedding cortege of 6 Mercedes-Benz saloons picking up from the Medieval castle on the square which I presume houses the local registry office.  Included in the jam were a number of road vehicles, several trams and two horse-drawn vehicles.  Many of the streets are cobbled and I'm glad I brought mostly wedge shoes with me.

Now I have a free weekend in Ghent until a taxi-ride out to the hospital for surgery at 07.30 on Monday morning....