Content Warning: surgery, top surgery, dysphoria, post-surgery photos
So here we are, now 21 days post surgery. There aren’t that many easy-to-find accounts of exactly what this bit is like, so I thought I’d add my experience to the mix. So expect a long post, and feel free to skip the boring bits
As ever, this is me only, everyone experiences it differently and will have their own challenges, but if it helps someone understand,or someone going through or about to go through it feel a little easier, then I figure I did my job.
Last note before I start, there are some post-surgery pictures in this post, and they’re not pictures everyone will want to see. Anything like that I’ve hidden behind a clickable show/hide link, so you won’t see anything you don’t want to.
Which, to be fair, did not taste as bad as I expected. Kinda sickly sweet but not super horrid. The idea being, it’s giving you me quick system boost to begin the healing, I didn’t have to drink it but it was recommended at pre-op that I did. So, I did.
That was done whilst getting dressed and last-minute checking I had everything, and off we went. Now we were staying at friends’ in north-west London, and had to get way down to Tooting in the south-west, but thanks for the forever-running tubes, we were there a little after 7 and headed to register my arrival.
Went through the hoops: surgeon drew on me, anaesthetist scolded me for having a tattoo over the best vein in my hand, was then told I could drink till 10am so down went a bottle of water and another pre-op drink. And we waited. Till around 3.30m we waited. Sat in chairs in a waiting room, with daytime tv playing, slowly getting more and more uncomfortable and sleepy and anxious.
But time finally came. They got me changed into two robes – one round the font and one round the back (presumably to protect what dignity you can ever retain in those things) whilst walking me down to theatre. I left fiance at the door and…sat down to wait, but not for long this time, I was picked up and taken into the prep room.
There were 3 students in there, which wasn’t unexpected as St George’s is a teaching hospital. OK’d them being there and chatted away a little while one of them carefully inserted the canula and prepared the drugs – and then I was away till I woke up in recovery.
Here we encounter an issue I share with my mum: we don’t react well to anaesthetics. So I woke up incredibly nauseous and not able to move, which is standard and about as pleasant as it sounds. This also meant I was an hour or so late getting up to the ward, where fiance was pacing anxiously.
Finally made it, and got wheeled almost the whole way to my bay before throwing up a bit, but I did feel a bit better after that. OK so it was a good few hours before I could look at so much as my phone without feeling sick again, but it got rid of the edge at least.
And anyway, there was my fiance, which was all I needed to see. And she told me how handsome I was, and sat with me until the night nurse politely kicked her out (as it was almost 9pm by the time I arrived).
I managed to get to the toilet by myself, eventually, and drift in and out of sleep between blood pressure checks, and come 6am I was starving and thirsty so the nice nurse brought me coffee and biscuits to nom before breakfast.
Not long after this, I met my fellow inmates. Specifically on in the bed right next to me and one across from me, who’d also just had top surgery.
That first day I was awake with energy and eating full meals, which meant for a confused fiance when she arrived.
I also got to have a shower, which meant removing the post-surgical binder and taking a look at my new chest for the first time.
So I’m wearing a black post-surgical binder, and there are dressings over everything, plus sponge dressings stitched over the nipple grafts to keep them down and start the regrowth.
Standing there, removing the binder and staring into the mirror at my whole new shape of a body, I got a little teared up, sure. Been 3 years since I came out. Much longer than that where I didn’t fit my own body. It looked weird as hell, but it looked like me for the first time.
The next day and the day after I was more like fiance expected: by which I mean I was fast asleep for most of it!
Unfortunately the drains in each side of my chest were draining too much, so I had to stay in a 3rd night, but they were happy to let me go after that so we Ubered our way back to Alperton and fiance made me a next of pillows to flop into.
Again much of the next few days are a bit blurry. Between exhaustion and painkillers, I was only just functional, though I do remember very well my frustration at not being able or allowed to do anything… Still I got to start physio exercises so that started to help my tight muscles loosen up and such, and after the first week some slightly more stretchy exercises to keep it going.
I ate a little, drank tiny amounts of coffee (which worried everyone a little), and lots of water and squash. I took little bits of exercise a bit later on, which wore me out pretty quickly. But still, I was slowly starting to feel more like myself again…
Roll on the 7 day post-surgery check up! Back to St George’s! Dressings taken off and the sponges removed, and I see it all properly for the first time.
The incisions are good-looking – thin, scabby, clearly starting to heal.
But the nipples? Holy crap.The nipples are black and moist and grotty and look like they’re but to drop right the fuck off!
But the nurse is happy so I figure that’s about normal. She places iodine-covered gauze over each nipple, follows it with a padded dressing, gives me a whole bunch to take home, tells me to moisturise the incisions daily and to see my practice nurse in two weeks, and off I go!
Back home we go the next day, my Dad collecting and dropping us off and we say goodbye to the friend who looked after the cat (who only sulked at us for a little while).
It’s not long before the sofabed is pulled out and another pillow nest made to ensure my comfort and relaxation.
And every evening, my phone reminds me that we need to moisturise the incisions, as they turn into scars. Add to that moisturising my back with E45, because I was getting an itchy rash from wearing the post-surgical binder all the time.
Note that the binder I’m now wearing is not the one the hospital gave me, I have one which is longer and therefore rides up less, but the compression on the chest is still the same.
On we go to 10 days post surgery, and I decide I’m able to wear clothes that go over my head, after wearing button-ups since the surgery. And I suddenly realised that my entire wardrobe is now wearable. No longer chosing things based on how well they hide the chest binder of the lumps that remain. There are no more lumps to hide. Cue my happy face
And then approaches the first day we need to change my dressings ourselves. Boy was that not pleasant. Took off the dressing and the gauze and there’s lovely looking crud all over it (see pic if you dare).
The nipples are still black, but less mottled and starting to look like there’s flesh breaking through, and the front sections of the incisions are starting to look healed, too!
There’s two problems I’m having, though.
One, wearing the binder 24/7 is hurting my damn ribs. The muscles over them are just sore to touch, sore to move. So we added deep heat to the nightly moisturising, and that plus ensuring the binder is as loose as I can get it around my ribs, giving them room to move, has helped.
Second, and a bit more worrying, the incision under my left arm is still weeping. It’s right where the binder sits, so I figure it’s just being irritated, but if I leave it then I’m gonna get it infected. So, extra dressing goes over that, and if it continues I figure I’ll get that checkup appointment a little early.
Still though, at 14 days the incisions are super healing, sections are completely closed already and the rest are quickly following. The nipples are drying out, and looking like they’re starting to heal properly. So on we go!
But the weeping doesn’t stop, and I book an appointment with the treatment clinic, and the night before, after a quick game of bowling on Kinect Sports Rivals, the other side starts weeping too. So, dressing over that, and in I go to get checked.
Nipples: all fine, no more gauze required, just basic dressings.
More dressings over the weeping bits, to be changed more regularly, nurse agrees it’s just being irritated and tells me to watch what I’m doing a bit more.
And two more appointments made to keep an eye on them, but they look like they’re starting to close up. They won’t be as neat as the rest, as they’re closing from the inside out but that’s ok.
As for the rest. My new pecs are lowly firming up. The left is bigger then the right, and still kinda flubbly with liquid but that’s why I’m wearing the binder. What of the incisions has healed, part that aren’t flat will hopefully flatten out over th next few months. I see the consultant again in 3 more weeks to see how things are going. Hoping to get the ok to hit the gym again, and will find out if I’ll need any further surgery to neaten things up.
I’ve been more exhausted than I expected – it’s gone on for longer than I thought it would. And exercise is still more tiring than it should be. But looking in the mirror, I’m seeing me