Radical Reduction/Non-Binary Top Surgery - 2 Month Recovery
‘Carson! You just need to move into this bed love,’ the gentle voice of a female nurse forcing a shout pierced through my inebriated haze.
Apparently, I had just been moved from the recovery ward back to my private room and somehow I needed to respawn into the hospital bed that I had earlier spilled my overnight oats on and then attempted to hide with the crisp white sheets.
I was awake. Aware that I had made it to the other side. I was really here, and in what I can only presume to be an effort to prove this to myself, I lifted a hand to feel the existence of my head, but was instead mortified to find a bobble sprouting my short hair on top like a rugrat. ‘Who did this to me?’ I whined. Only a man could be responsible for this I thought, one of those men from theatre, the anaesthetist maybe? ‘That’s the least of your worries right now’ the nurse replied, and I was gone again.
The night was full of these intermittent periods of consciousness. Every hour on the hour my nurse would come and check I was still alive, she would do this by checking my blood pressure, temperature and force feeding me a lotus biscuit (though even in my drugged up stupor I could appreciate that it was at least vegan), after about 3 hours I had barely eaten half of it, each time I drifted into wakefulness I still had the biscuit clenched between my fingers. In the end I negotiated and drank some of the Alpro strawberry milk that my wife had packed into what I can only describe as a picnic worthy of a 260 pound mountain climber.
At around 4am I communicated to my nurse Bev that I may at some point (but definitely not now) need to go to the toilet. ‘Let’s just try now’, Bev replied optimistically. With instant regret, she helped me move into an upright position at the edge of the bed, which enabled me to place the feet that I had forgotten were attached to my body firmly on the floor. When my daughter was small, I thought it a fine idea to watch a certain film called Paranormal Activity, well! I was so traumatised afterward that I was to scared to get up and feed the poor thing during the night… this was indeed nothing in comparison to how terrified I felt standing up to hold my own body weight after the major surgery I’d just undergone.
Shuffling over to my en-suite I knew it was game over, whatever drugs had been lying dormant in my veins now accelerated around my body with this un-welcomed movement. ‘I’m going to be sick’ I fretted.
Bev dumped me on the toilet of my private en-suite and ran off to get a sick bucket that was an ideal pool size for a borrower. I vomited with such velocity into the shallow tray that it turbo splashed straight back into my face and dribbled down my hospital gown. It tasted as though I had just gone to town on a supersized bag of strawberry flavoured MDMA, and if you are more upstanding citizen than I am… MDMA tastes like chemical trash.
So here I was, sat on a toilet with sexy paper knickers at my ankles covered in vomit feeling as though I had been kicked in the chest by a giant horse and panic crying to the point of hyperventilation.
Echoing above all of this was one presiding elephant of a thought… I did this to myself… what. the. fuck.
After the exorcist episode I felt much chirpier, turns out I just needed to get it out of my system. Later on that morning I managed to eat the rest of the lotus biscuit, though I reckon strawberry milk is now ruined forever. Bev delivered some toast and jam for breakfast despite my protests of not feeling hungry, but to my astonishment I wolfed down the lot and felt energised enough to dress myself and prepare for Fae to pick me up. I had gone in for surgery around 4:30pm on the 8th of July and was home by 10am the following day.
This blog will address the period of recovery and offer visual expectations for what can be achieved from a radical reduction by a gender variant person. If you would like to know more about the experience of accessing this surgery, I would first advise you to read my previous blog Altering the Body to accommodate the Mind.
When I embarked upon the journey toward non-binary top surgery, I did so with very little information or documented experience from people who reflected my reality (beside from the odd thread on reddit). Therefore, in an effort to lay a foundation for sharing, I offer my experience to the queer community and beyond.
What follows now is an honest account of healing, written of and from my flesh, for those at the beginning of their journeys, I wish you love and strength.
Pre-surgery stats: 28 year old healthy human, averagely tall at 5’7 with a typically ‘boyish’ frame weighing in at around 60kg.
Let’s talk about my chest, this photo was taken 1 year pre-surgery. Annoyingly, my breasts evolved every month like Pokemon, inflating and deflating with each menstrual cycle. In addition to the 4 years of binding and a solid stint of breastfeeding 9 years ago, they were left with less elasticity than ideal for someone who wants to hide them as much as possible.
Dancing in a storm on a roof in Cuba ^
X marks the spot that my nipples were destined to migrate to.
The morning after - unzipping this top I had no idea what to expect, with genuine concern that my insides would unglue and fall apart, I braved a sneak peak.
A note on post-surgical compression tops/bras. I was advised at my pre-op that any bra type contraption that zipped on the front and provided significant support/compression would be fine for post-surgery healing. I was recommended Marks & Spencer as they sold decent post-surgical bras for a fraction of the price of one from a specialist company. That’s how I ended up with this flower power monstrosity, because it was on sale and the plain black ones were exactly the same but double the price! Who is going to see it anyway? I thought. Well. Everyone reading this blog. Apparently.
I hated this top beyond belief and it wasn’t just the jazzy print, it was ill fitting and the elastic underneath rubbed my incisions something rotten. After 3 days I caved and ordered a specialist bra/top from MACOM but found it to be very cheaply constructed which was insulting for the price. Instead I wore my USA pro sports bra which was tight and supportive but also comfy (it was the top I wore instead of my binder for when I needed a lung break). Getting it on and off was a bit difficult (great care had to be taken) but after a couple of weeks this got easier.
Day 1 – I was on the highest dose of codeine, paracetamol and Ibuprofen which kept me sedated throughout most of the day. I was propped up on pillows in bed, delightfully unaware of any pain or discomfort.
Day 2 – Had woken in the night drenched in a pool of blood, apparently the experience of major surgery can induce your menstrual cycle (I came a week early), this probably would have been helpful to know before hand! Throughout the day I was still largely in and out of continuous sleep. At some point in the afternoon I managed to shuffle about 30 yards up the street with the help of Fae for some exercise/fresh air. In the evening my family came to eat dinner in the bedroom with me, but I wasn’t hungry and hadn’t really had an appetite since pre-surgery, I nibbled at a piece of baby corn, burst into uncontrollable tears for no apparent reason, terrified my kids, and then went back to sleep.
Day 3 – As previously warned, the concoction of drugs in my system had bunged me up big time. I hadn’t been for a poo since pre-surgery. Commence the highest dose of laxatives! I managed to walk around the block on this day but felt crappy with a banging headache that ceased to exist, I tried coconut water, athlete hydration powder and sleep, nothing worked. I was a bit miserable.
Day 4 – Constipation got real, my stomach was in knots, this was the only pain I had experienced so far. Managed another walk around the block, felt stronger and faster. I was spending some more time conscious.
I had not showered yet and my bandages were absolutely mingin. This one had gone completely crispy, similar to the plaster you put on broken limbs.
Day 5 – The Laxatives finally worked so I spent most of the day on the toilet besides from a short trip to the shop with Fae, I was surprised at my strength and mobility, I also most certainly looked like a captive prisoner that she kept in the basement, so later on that day I finally showered and washed my hair. I felt glorious.
I tried really hard not to wet my dressings which was difficult. Afterwards, my left side erupted a bunch of yellow stuff, I was unsure how much was iodine from the surgery process and how much was my actual body. The panic was escalated when I thought I’d started to bleed, but it turned out to be some aggressive red bruising.
Either way, I felt worried about it. I worried about everything. I had heard so many horror stories, I was desperate to heal safely and well. I called the out of hours nurse and she put my mind at rest.
Day 6 – I replaced the Codeine with Co-codamol because it kept me drowsy and incoherent. Went in to have my dressings changed a day earlier because they were uncomfortable and itchy. I asked the nurse to take a photo of my body before she put new dressings on, though I really wish I hadn’t.
I was terribly upset with how they looked, I cried for most of the night. I called the nurse again (by this point she was on speed dial) and she gently reminded me that I had been cut open 6 days ago, my body looked gnarly as fuck and that it was very normal to feel scared of what the results would be. Thank you Andrea for putting up with me.
Day 7 – Feeling more pain which was probably a result of lowering the strength of medication I was on. Fae had started me on an abundance of holistic remedies for healing, Moringa, Zinc and Magnesium to name a few. At this point I started to experience some bizarre sensations, I was literally feeling my muscles and tissues fuse back together, knitting like ants with lightning butts. When a nerve would re-connect it would send jolts of electric through my chest, whilst the rest of the mound vibrated like a humming hill. This continued for a solid week or 2.
Day 8 – Had enough of sleeping sat up, I started lying flat on my back at night to enable a better nights sleep.
Day 10 – Feeling more like myself. Coming into acceptance of the recovery period. Positive thinking.
Day 13 – Bandages finally removed! The swelling had decreased significantly since I last saw them but they still looked super weird (kinda like I’d had implants). I was advised to begin massaging the area to break up scar tissue and improve the bruising. This was easier said than done as the are was very sore ands tender to touch.
Day 19 – I noticed that my nipples were responding to temperature, although I still had no feeling in them, I felt this was a good sign.
Week 3 – I started trying to sleep on my side with pillows to support my legs and torso, I also transitioned back into work which was tough. Surgeons advise that you may return to work after 2 weeks but I struggled after 3, all of my energy was spent healing my body, I was too exhausted to do much else.
Looking flat from the side, feeling good!
Week 4 – Feeling a little impatient with recovery, still tired and sore, wondering when I will have my body back. Still swollen and bruised.
Week 6 – The ‘you don’t need to wear your compression bra 24/7’ milestone. I exercised my rights by having small periods of ‘free boobing’ but found that I still needed the support of compression.
Nipples started to chill out, bruising mostly gone but still swollen and hard inside.
Week 7 – First day back at the gym! Had a very gentle back and bicep session, I tired quite quickly but I didn’t experience any discomfort in my chest area.
Week 8 – Still noticeably sore when lying on my side in bed, although I have managed to lie on my belly with extra support on my chest area. Still aware of my need for external compression and support but also comfortable to have longer periods of ’free boobing’.
It would be premature of me to determine whether I am 100% happy with the results of this surgery. It can take up to 6 months to a year for everything to settle down completely, therefore, the only logical space to occupy is acceptance for the long process of healing.
When I decided to undergo a bilateral reduction I do so under the premise that it might not be enough, I knew there was a possibility that I could wake up and wish I had chopped them off completely. I was prepared for this surgery to be a stepping stone toward a double mastectomy later on life, I know in my bones that I wasn’t ready to make that leap right away, I don’t know if I ever will, but I can tell you that the relationship I have with my body has already improved drastically and having this surgery was the best decision I could have made for myself at this time.
I want to make a note here that during my time of pursuing a radical reduction, I read a book called Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. This was the first account I had ever experienced of a gender non-conformist who had opted for a reduction over the usually prescribed double mastectomy and the validation this allowed me was immense, they later had them removed completely, which enabled me to feel fluid in where my body takes me.
Representation matters. It’s why I wrote this blog. It’s why I continue to advocate in any way I can for people who exist on the margins of gender binaries.
Thank you for reading,