Yes, its true. I’m back at it, after time off to heal. I have posted the events of March 21st – March 30th in three parts. This part is part 3, and the last installmentof this feature. And tho I was coy with my disclaimers in the previous posts, this time i really mean it. This time I get personal, really personal and write some graphic descriptions that those with modest mores might find a bit over the line. As always I tried to keep it in good tastse. But your boundaries are your boundaries - no judgement here. You be you and I'll keep it as real as my fingers can type. Without further ado.. Wait! Where were we? Oh yes, I left us at a cliffhanger? Good for me. Dr. Wylie would be proud. And that cliffhanger was... oh, yes, that I had just had the bandages removed from the surgical area and was handed a mirror to see for myself what had been under all that white guaze. Ready? It's Raised by Wolves 21's conclusion? Well, anyway, it’s part 3 of 3…
Scottie Jeanette Madden , June 2017
And… there… I am. In this magic window into reality (which you earthlings call a mirror). I can see ALL of me, my smiling face, even my top knot of hair at the top of the frame, but in the foreground… well, it’s… it’s…
… what I always expected to see for over fifty years, but it was always hiding behind a… well, that thing that boys have. Now I have said this in a number of ways in this blog and my book, but, my genitals were never what I expected to see whenever I did actually look down there. And the truth is, I just stopped looking. But not now! At last, I am… just…right.
And, tho’ I’m a trifle more swollen then I expected, I am… beautiful. I catch my smile in the reflection and wink - it’s a quick moment of connection with the reflection of me, that we’re developing more every day. This beautiful woman in the mirror and me.
As I'm trying to relate to my new me-ness, My surgeon’s head nurse, Meg, displays a glass dilator. It looks exactly like what you'd imagine. It has grooves at the base for my fingers to grasp it to keep it upright because there’s a gentle upward curve at the last third to the tip. Also at the base are a series of blue dots to measure the depth of penetration. The goal is for the last dot from the base to “disappear” This magic wand is actually aesthetically quite beautiful. It’s elegant.
Meg shows me how to lay a bead of lubricant along the top and add a small dollop of antibiotic ointment to the tip, and she hands it to me, "Okay girl, do your stuff and I'll be back in fifteen to see how you did." And so begins a lifelong relationship with my Vajayjay. (Thank you, Shonda!)
Now in the pre-surgical manual from Dr. Ley's office, they explain this in depth (pun intended), but the part I loved was that they suggest that we girls make it our time - candles, cushions and your favorite music.
Mylove embraces this notion, “They won’t allow us any open flames, but…” and music starts to fill the room, and she becomes my VJ (I know, right?)… rocking not one but two iPads with the combined playlists of our marriage. She has a strange look of glee on her face as she works.
As the music begins to fill the room, an Indian Bhajan, I stare once again into the mirror at Dr. Ley's miraculous work and... well, it’s not as pretty as it will eventually be, but it's sooooo beautiful.
At least what I can see through my tears.
And I take the elegant Plexiglas wand in. And I wasn't prepared for the spiritual experience that welcomed me, almost snuck up on me. I bowed in my heart to the supreme Mother Goddess - the one who has heard my prayers and tears and pleas for the last 20 years. When the God of my childhood failed to answer my prayers, it's the Goddess of my adulthood who held me as I swam across the rapids to cross this river. As the intensity of the sensation overtakes me, I allow myself to surrender... to receive... and I am cradled into the arms of the Goddess like an infant. I am swaddled in Her love and embrace. I am gently, sweetly welcomed into the fullness of my femininity.
As tears of gratitude and joy pour, I discover how wicked Mylove can be. As VJ, she’s killing me softly with her songs - Simon & Garfunkel’s "For Emily Wherever I May Find Her" is so poignant as she makes time stop for us both. I am her Emily. And I am enrobed in baroque brocades and incense. And then she’s slaying me with something silly, like “Bang, Bang” by Jesse J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj). I laugh out loud as we share inside jokes that have been refined in the daily retellings for almost thirty years of love. Which is her plan. She’s just setting me up for another push off the emotional cliff of irony with the next song. “Defying Gravity,” “Come Fly With Me,” “All You Need is Love,” “You’re the Biggest Part of Me,” “Circle of Life,” “Crazy on You,” “Don’t Stop Believin,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade” … and on and on. You get the picture. I swirled from one emotion to the next without a break between tears and gales of laughter.
This is more than just a spiritual epiphany, it’s an amazing relief. Because I’ve been anxious about… well, pain.
What we don’t talk about with GCS is that the actual surgery is the smallest part of the journey. It’s the maintenance that comes with a lifetime commitment that is the biggie. We’re not just talking hygiene. This physical therapy is a requirement - and tho’ it’s a bit… maybe “graphic” to discuss in “polite company” as my Big Sis would say, it is the real confirmation that has to be renewed every day for a year (four times a day for the first month alone!); then every week for the next three years; then “as needed” for the rest of one’s life. I’ll be doing this in my nineties… and if my Finnish bloodlines hold (My Gram lived to be 101!), well, I will be doing this… forever.
And yes, I’d been set-up for sure, I was warned about how freaking painful dilation actually is by my friend Sharon. She lets me in on a secret that only our sorority knows: The brochure lies. “This really hurts,” she says, “the pain is blinding.” Oh, Toto…
Only... it doesn't hurt.
Maybe Sharon has done me the best solid a sister can - made me prepare for the worst so the reality is much easier? Maybe it’s my VJ spinning an auditory anesthesia that dulls the pain. Maybe it’s the Grace of the Goddess and the spiritual high. Whatever it is, I don't care, cuz this dilation-thingy… amazing! (Thank you, Sharon!)
And I begin to become addicted to the spiritual experiences that await my dilation every four hours...
Here are some highlights:
My mother passed away when I was in college and, as I wrote in my book, I have always felt that she did know that I was, in fact, her daughter, I mean come on, she’s my mom. (It’s my story and I'm sticking with it.) One day, as I got past the initial fumbling with my new equipment, and everything settled in, I was suddenly embraced by my Mother's arms… my Mother’s warmth. My Mother’s… hug.
I allowed myself to once again receive completely... I float in her arms... and I drown in her eyes and then I am embraced by every departed female in my family, all welcoming me into the legacy of great women who have nurtured this family for generations.
I am sobbing with joy to once again feel them all - my grandmothers, Sylvia, and Maryann, my Aunt Mary, my Aunt Cappy, and cousin Maryann (she passed as a young woman). And then there's the women who are only names and stories, but here they have form, and that form is love and warmth and wisdom and acceptance… I look around and see a group of shadows on the edge of this circle of light - it’s the departed men, and my father leads them into the light as they join us, and I am accepted and welcomed as daughter, granddaughter, and niece.
Mylove, the VJ, crossfades into Whitney Houston's "Hero" which makes me tumble off the cliff of bliss into a snowstorm of yellowed and faded polaroids, corners curling, emulsion peeling... it’s a young boy, blond hair across the forehead, hazel-blue eyes staring, a slight smirk starting at the corner of thin lips... it’s this young boy spirit who protected and served his sister spirit as they tried to make sense of the world. Yes it was confusing, but he tried, and gosh darned it, he succeeded... standing tall in the role he was given... and I thanked him for bringing me so skillfully and lovingly to this moment in time... then I say goodbye. I start to cry. But he graciously, lovingly, and gently steps aside as the smirk goes full, lighting up into a blazing smile...
And it goes on like this for days -
A schedule of intense spiritual journeys interrupted by walks around Scottiesdale, and lunches with Mylove as spring training fans thin into spring break tourists. One day, as we hurry back for the afternoon dilation, Mylove suggests we duck into a quaint adobe mission church - Our Lady of Compassion - built by Mexican families “invited” (the docent’s word) to work on the ranches and farms of the newly created Scottsdale. The rustic chapel still has that quiet whisper of old Catholic sanctuaries. We enter and my muscle memory doesn't miss a beat, dipping fingers into the holy water font at the entrance, sign of the crossing (it’s a verb, you have to be raised Catholic to understand) and then, we’re kneeling at the rack of prayer candles. I light a candle for the great souls upon whose blessings we have floated effortlessly during this whole trip. A quick tour with the docent to be polite and off we go...
It isn't until Marcy posts pictures of this mission on Facebook that night that we learn that our dear friend, Tammy, had lit a candle in the very same sanctuary just two weeks prior for my (then) upcoming surgery…
And then, it’s day 8. The last full day in the hospital - my job today is to have my catheter removed... as long as I have "filled the hat." And maybe, just maybe, the foreshadowing I’m hinting at, the afterthought that was never part of my mental preparation, is the reason why I am not... well, hang on I’m getting ahead of myself (wow, first time for that, ever)...
Let's back up. This "hat" is the white plastic device that sits in the toilet to catch your output, it is used to make sure you are peeing properly (which means, “all’s good” in the plumbing dept.). And to fill the hat you have to pee a lot. And I mean a lot, a lot.
Yup... here it is - the actual shadow that was fored... this shadow ain't the vaporous mist of the lack of light - oh no, it’s the wall of reality that I am about to slam headfirst into at full speed that could prevent me from completing my stay here, my job here, the way I always dreamed of doing it.
If I don't fill the hat, I have to have the catheter put back in! And then I have to wear it on the plane ride home!
No. Nuh-uh! I wanted to be done. Done-done. Done and done. My life was poised to start for real. Finally. I did not want to begin with an asterisk! I want Scottiesdale in my rearview mirror, a big W, a tearful hug and then seeyoulaterbye!
Now, hopefully, I made enough disclaimers on behalf of those of my sisters in our community who choose not to go the surgical route, but for me, for me, FOR ME (clear now?) only for me, this was (as silly, misguided or naive as you may think I am) supposed to be the ending of the first phase of my life and the beginning of my second. I wanted a clear break with the past. Arrive back in Burbank, and step off into the new chapter. Done. Done, means “all done.” (Forget that I’ve got to come back in three months for the second stage of surgery - we’ll discuss that later.)
This was just so not in the plan.
So, I tried to fill the hat. My night nurse, Gloria got it - she felt for me and got into my efforts full bore, even tho’ she canceled out every stride forward with her required disclaimers and had one foot stepping onto plan B at all times.
But Mylove knows me and more importantly, knows what a wreck I will be if I can't succeed - so she takes charge - reminding me to keep pounding water - force hydrating (there's a phrase from my survival show past). We're going to waterboard my reluctant bladder into submission.
We watched both Star Trek "Into Darkness" and Star Wars "the Force Awakens" to distract my bladder as I try not to let the dilithium crystals meltdown by using Jedi mind control to push pint after pint of water into my saturated body...
...and every hour, on the hour, my nurse checks in... "Anything?"
I reassure her (these are not the hats you're looking for?) and I strike a deal her with her. I promise that if I fill the hat before Meg comes in the next morning, Gloria will promise to clear me for departure and, she makes me add, “If I fail, the catheter goes back in...”)
Armed with her promise, I head into the wee hours (sorry, I couldn’t resist - call it my last call for potty humor?).
I wake up out of a sound sleep, ready to burst! I call her to the room at midnight – “success!” I proclaim. Her faith in me was not misplaced and I go back to sleep, happy at nailing this surgery thingy...
But they don't call them the wee hours for nothing - I pee every hour on the hour! Filling the hat three times over - and still, I wake like clockwork and pee and pee and pee...
When my nurse comes in for her early morning check-in she doesn't greet my news as good. I've seen that look many a time - it's the look the ref gives you as she waves the red card in the air over your head... a sense of judgment as you are... ejected from the game.
I beg her to reconsider and when begging fails (which stage of grief is that, again?). I do get her to agree that Meg will have the final call. At this point, I’m showing how desperate I am, looking for any way to squeak out a "W" here - some habits never die.
I play my last card - reminding her, that I did what she asked, I filled the hat (never mind that several times over prolly means a bladder infection at the least!), and this wonderful, compassionate, albeit tired, nurse grudgingly agrees - maybe even thankful that Meg will be the bad cop here.
But it doesn't stop her from being my nurse now. And she orders a sonogram to measure my bladder's current volume which, despite the hatfuls, we see (hear?) is still at max capacity - 990 ml.
... and another nail goes into the coffin of my dream of leaving "all done."
Meg stands before my nurse, Gloria and me as judge and jury. We each plead our cases (which in this case is even sillier, since we're both arguing on my behalf). But Ms. Scottie is the one missing the obvious... this is a serious problem.
Meg smiles her big sisterly smile, radiating compassion and reassures me this is no reflection on me - many girls go through this... and she asks me once again to blow out my candles as she inserts the rubber catheter back in where nothing should ever be...
Despite her reassurances, I am sad, mad, disappointed. Red-carded and asterisk’d and all. But I put on my big girl panties and smile...
‘cuz its day 9, and we're going home.
The room looks like a bomb hit as Mylove and I pack. Well let’s be real, Mylove did the packing just as she has done all the work this past week. I start the “daisy chain” - taking the vases of flowers, one at a time down the hallway (I am confined to lifting no more than 12 pounds at a time - Meg’s orders!) the 100 or so yards from my room, to the nurses station - and within 6 trips, their drab counter has been transformed into a florist shop!
It’s fun to express my gratitude to the entire team in this way.
As I return to my room from the last trip, Debbi has arrived. This incredible woman is the unofficial Godmother to all of Dr. Ley’s girls. She is an ombudswoman who has Dr. Ley’s ear, the best tips for buying clothes in Scottiesdale and anything else you could possibly need to stay on track here. Today she’s checking in to give me last words of advice and goodbye hugs. The best tip she has today is that we can call ahead and have the airline have a wheelchair waiting... it will turn out to be a Godsend. She helps us calculate the time and we realize — there’s just no way around it, we're gonna have to dilate at the airport!
Again, Deb is our girl, telling us the things we just don’t know - they have special restrooms at airports for travelers with physical... well, needs. And she reassures us, we most certainly need to dilate - never never never miss a dilation. Never. Not ever.
And then, our friend Rebecca arrives and drives us to the airport, and after hugs and kisses and promises to stay in touch (which we've yet to follow thru on), I settle into my waiting wheelchair-iot, and Mylove heroically pushes me thru the crowded Sky Harbor Airport.
We find it quite quickly. The special restroom is actually a palace with a bed/couch and even a shower, should we be so inclined. But there’s a long line of travelers behind us with similar rights to this sacred space, so we take our twenty minutes (with Mylove using a mid-break to reassure the waiting people that we'll only be just another 10 - with apologies). As we exit the sanctuary, passing the waiting line, we receive nothing but smiles and wishes for our safe travels.
And then, one last burrito, and we're on the plane.
It’s an uneventful trip where we sleep on each other’s shoulders - we’re just one more wheelchair ride away. B-T- Dubs, I would’ve never made it walking. What happened? I wonder thru the exhaustion. I was walking all around Scottiesdale just the day before??? What did Debbi know that I didn't? Apparently, that post-surgical adrenaline only lasts 8 and a half days...
My brothers-in-law, Dougie and Macky, are the shining faces, so happy to welcome us home. I am a chatter box about adventure travel on the way home, answering an innocent question Dougie with a long anecdote that involves Green Berets Navy SEALS, a six foot Teddy bear and and some clown shoes. I can’t even remember his question, but Mylove wants to know what’s wrong with me... and the truth is, her question slaps me in the face. I don’t know what’s wrong - I have no idea why I am tumbling, assoverteakettle down memory lane… am I overcompensating? One thing I do know, it that I am overly sensitive... because her question shames me into silence.
But the bouquet of balloons declaring “IT’S A GIRL! Cute as a bug!” that float in our living room, return my bliss, and re-lift my spirits, and we sit and laugh and try to catch our breath.
And now life begins. Tomorrow.
As I lie back for my nighttime dilation, I take huge satisfying breath in and blow it out slowly, I envision brilliant birthday candles flickering into wishes. And epiphany flares. On the path of yoga that I’ve practiced for 30 years, the mantra of the incoming breath and the outgoing breath translated from Sanskrit can be translated into “I am that.” Which is, as a tenet of yoga, the understanding of your truest nature - the awareness of the ultimate truth of who you are. It’s a consciousness of the truth that transcends even our physical presence. But tonight, I finally slow down between each breath to realize what has actually happened to me while I was trying so hard to swim to this side the river.
I can feel that, while I was following Meg’s directions and dealing with a self-determined, all-out assault on my body, while I was in survival mode trying to just get thru the last 9 days…
The inevitable “it” that has ruled my life, that thing that stalked my every waking thought, that desire that haunted my unconscious, and that obsession that clung to every subconscious whisper… that dysphoria that was the cloud that hid that sun on my horizon, the that that was all I ever really knew in life…
And as I take stock of life now, I can feel, truly feel, that for the first time in my life, my awareness, my body, and my heart all breathe in complete and natural sync. Everything is, finally, in complete congruence.
I made it.
It’s already past tense.
No more waiting for the inevitable…
Yes. That happened.
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years" & "Recklass In The Kitchen" a year of light, laughter & love... oh. and food!