A Brand New Day

Dylan Dennhardt | Contributing Writer

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by his own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it: Romans 8:20, NIV

My story started on a long anticipated late Sept. morning. At that time, I was scheduled to have a bilateral mastectomy. You’re probably wondering why a healthy, 21 year-old man would ever need this. The reason I needed to have my breasts removed was due to the fact I had a defect. I was born intersex, but I was raised a girl. I have the mind of a man, but it was trapped in a body that resembled that of a woman’s.  It caused a looming feeling of helplessness as my body mutated to become this unknown creature.

To alleviate the dysphoria it brought, I transitioned to break away from the prison infested with artificial estrogen piece-by-piece. This surgery would remove my breasts, which were a large source of dysphoria I had. Dysphoria was the painful indicator that I was born in the wrong body. After a long wait, my independence day had arrived.

Since I was twelve, I knew that I was supposed to be born a man. I would look at my peers with jealousy. I wasn’t jealous of how they looked or their popularity. Instead, I was jealous of their ability to live as a girl without hating it. The worst part about putting on a dress or a skinny t-shirt for them would have been if it was uncomfortable or didn’t fit.

If only it was that way for me…

My father picked me up at my house to bring me to the hospital. After checking in at the front desk and receiving my patient identification band, I sat in the waiting room. Moments later,  I was ushered in by a nurse guiding me through the concrete unknown, laden with latex and fluid antimicrobials.

The surgery ward built for everyone, and by everyone, I mean any age. The safari themed floor confirmed this.  In an attempt to brighten the atmosphere for children, stone murals of elephants and marble giraffes grazed the floor on which my feet had become acquainted. Stickers of palm trees were stuck on the wall. The roars of children come out from the curtained cells as they gathered in the company of their kin. It was a nice break from the other hospitals I had visited before. The nurse pulled back the curtain, and I stepped into my room.

As I was preparing to experience the brilliant performance featuring the surgeon and her trusty tools, I listened to the nurse and followed her instructions. I had to wash myself with a disinfectant and change into a lilac gown that had the texture of paper towel. One of many doctors I would come across that day marked with a violet marker on my chest like road signs on where to cut. Laying in a room with markings on my chest and being only clothed by a giant paper towel, I quickly missed wearing my tank top and jeans.

Lying down in a room while barely covered was enough to feel a bit off, but the general discomfort was only going to get worse. What made it just a tad more awkward was the fact my dad came in right after I finished donning my roughly tinted robing. I was one layer shy from being completely buck naked in front of my own father. This would be odd on its own, but what hit the nail on the head was that he is heavily involved in the church. He read a book on Christian counseling to help his position at a Baptist Church. Meanwhile, his gay son was flat on a raised table in the middle of a room, clothed as the day he was born. The words of Bart Simpson danced through my head: “Underneath all those clothes, we are all naked.” Never had that saying kept echoing in my head than at that hour long wait before passing the point of no return.

But if we hope for what we yet have, we wait for it patiently: Romans 8:25

The nurse had notified us that there was a delay. The patient who was supposed to come in earlier had arrived two hours late. To help pass the time, I used my fingers to interact with the television across from me. We watched “Cops” as papa was still flipping through his priestly guides. As the time passed, I decided to message my friends on Facebook about the exciting occasion. Their joyous replies added to my delight and excitement. The illuminated screens helped to call my attention away from my hunger and thirst. Another nurse came in to collect some blood and to put in an IV line. She lifted my left arm and poked it to ambush my blood vessels. Nothing came out. She pulled out the line and tried my other arm apologetically. With success, she took my blood sample and shipped it off to the lab. An IV line was put into my left hand to ease some of the thirst I had. After her departure, I resumed my previous activities to kill time.

Out of politeness, I tried to abstain from complaining about the wait. It was thanks to my phone and the TV in the room that I did not dwell on any frustration. I had waited so long for this day. This was the day that I prayed for when a twelve year old girl stood in front of her mirror crying because she knew she was in the wrong body. The same girl who quietly cried while whispering to herself, “Why can’t I be normal?” The girl who wished to find help but never did because she knew no one would ever understand her pain. She didn’t want to be written off as delusional. She didn’t want to question God. She could only learn how to become numb to the pain. I didn’t want to lose my family or my friends. I had to hide it. It was for my own good.

One of the doctors arrived to deliver the good news: the OR was ready for me. I glowed with an air of thankfulness that I would no longer had to be indecently covered  My patience paid off. The anesthesiologist had his concoction of Schedule 2 bliss in a small plastic vessel. “This is will help you to relax.” He gave me the medicine. Suddenly, my anticipation was lowered to the atmosphere frequented by stoners. Awake, but too drugged to care.  The alchemist informed my father that it was time for me to depart. With a cheerful and drugged “Good-bye,” I left the room.

The doctor pushed my stretcher down the hall and into the elevators to commence the symphony of slicing and dicing of my unsuspecting tranquilized innards. A ding cheerfully sang from the metallic box. I was taken to the operating room. Turquoise clad medical personnel stood around me.  My surgeon greeted me. “Okay Dylan, are you ready?” I responded to her with a sleepy, “Yeah.” My surgeon motioned for the potion maker to give me the bottled-essence-of-not-having-to-remember the otherwise painstaking steel induced bloodbath.

At long last, the bulbous mounds of flesh that plagued my chest were to be removed after I had been held hostage by them since I was twelve. Their reign of terror would finally cease. I would no longer have to feel that depression that they brought. The countless tears that I cried hoping that I wouldn’t have to feel the pain of knowing I was trapped in the wrong body would be wiped away. The ten year storm had finally stopped. The decade long war was finally going to end.    I counted slowly backwards from one hundred… ninety nine… ninety eigh..t… nin..ty.. sev..en…. Ni..ni…nty…si- Darkness. The ten year reign of suffering ceased. The battle was won.

He will wipe every tear from his eye, there will be no more… mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away: Revelation 21:4, NIV

My drug induced slumber was roused by the melodic beeping of the heart monitor. Consciousness gradually restored as I saw a low definition version of a hospital room. I greeted the nurse. In a dazed state, I talked to her about what I was doing with my life and exchanged words of slurred wisdom.

After I had some time to wake up, I was given a very light snack and some water to drink. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of waking up numb and drugged up with the taste of artificially colored gelatin. It’s great! I took in a few bites of the “food” and continued the intricate process of waking. As I sat in the recovery room bed, I felt a warm piece of plastic brush up against my arm. They were the drains that collected the fluid from my newly emptied thoracic cavity. The pain meds did me a favor and kept me from thinking about tubes coming out of my chest.

After passing the “do not throw up everywhere” test with a lack of flying colors, the nurse called in my dad to go over the care instructions for my stay at my parent’s place. He took notes on how to empty the drains protruding from my chest, what medications to give, and received a five page manual on what to expect in the coming days. I was wheeled out to the car and was taken home.  After coming home, my dad ushered me into the house and carried in my belongings. I sat in the living room and watched some television. My dad gave me some food. After I finished eating my supper, my dad gave me a slew of medications before I went to sleep.

Over the next few days, I missed being able to walk freely without having to bend awkwardly. As a result of my body repairing itself from the operation, my energy was limited. I spent most of my time sitting on a chair watching TV and using my phone. My stepmom made sure I had something to eat and my dad kept track of my meds and drainage. My hair became uncomfortably greasy from my inability to shower. Every day seemed the same. I quickly grew bored of the same activities and yearned to regain my energy soon.

I returned to my apartment five days after the surgery to get to my classes. Due to being in the early stages of recovery, I quickly grew tired and had to stop every 20 feet I walked. I dragged my backpack and struggled onward on what seemed like an endless path from one side of campus to the next. My body was drenched with sweat. After a long day at school, I rested in my chair. Due to my condition and my limitations, I could not reach above my head or lift anything more than five pounds. I waited for my roommate to return home from work to assist me. He was my saving grace from being completely incapacitated.

The next day, my sister drove me to see my surgeon once more to have my drains removed. I had a sense of comfort knowing that I would not have to walk around like a sweat drenched velociraptor from point A to point B. After being called in to the exam room, I marched over with pomp and circumstance like a mammalian t-rex. I sat on the paper adorned exam table while the surgeon and her team of medical henchmen prepared to reveal my grease laden flesh. The nurses carefully pulled away the bandage from my chest. My sister watched with curiosity as she sat on a chair across from me.

After the removal of the compression cloth, I was greeted with the sight of my iodine stained chest and yellow sponges resting atop my nipples with strings tethered to staples around them to keep them in place. The nurses cleaned off my chest and pulled out the Novocain pump with a quick pull. They removed the staples from my (thankfully) still numb nipples. The drains were removed from my chest in swift fashion to minimize any discomfort that it could bring. I left with the ability to walk like a normal human, bandages, and a comprehensive guide on how to care for my newly positioned nipples. I went home and took a well-deserved shower to remove the grease that plagued my hair.

Over the next week, my roommate assisted me with my cares and helped keep my apartment in order. Every night, we would take 20 minutes to change the dressings on my nipples. Five minutes out of the 20 minutes would be spent changing and cleaning the area. The other 15 was used to make as many nipple jokes as possible. There’s nothing quite like making memories with your friend you knew from junior high when you clean surgically reattached nipples. It has confirmed my theory that it is nearly impossible to say “nipples” while keeping a straight face.

A month later, my chest is well healed. I returned to work and I am able to drive myself around.  Though I cannot lift more than five pounds or reach above my head, I am still pleased with the progress of my recovery. I have to be careful not to push myself too much in order to avoid opening any of my incisions.

Despite the small setback, I feel a sense of victory whenever I look at myself in the mirror without a shirt. I had waited 10 years for this operation. The ability to be able to walk out of my room without a shirt is so liberating. I can shower without dysphoria. It took me a few weeks to comprehend that I had a flat chest. Even while I still keep my incisions clean and take things slowly, I celebrate. I had come so far from the pain I endured since age 12. I had won the war against the demon that tormented me. This was the era of victory.