Excerpt from Bumbling into Body Hair

This is an excerpt from the memoir I’m shopping around. I’m not going to provide any context because there’s no point in extra yammering.

Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of a Klutz’s Sex Change

Lying on the couch after my surgery, time stopped having meaning. I went off the Gregorian calendar and started one of my own. On Day 12 of the Drains from Breasts of Yore they started accumulating a cloudy brown fluid. However one defined “good,” this wasn’t it. I called the doctor’s office twice in two days, but both times they said to be patient, slow down, stop being so active, wait until they’re putting out less fluid. Two nights later I checked the right drain. I had obviously transitioned to Kermit the Frog, looking at the green fluid in the floppy drain cup. The tube itself was clear yellowish. After thinking about how few things in the human body made it to that part of the color spectrum, I called the doctor’s answering service, saying simply who I was, my phone number, and what was happening. Nobody called me back.

When I’d called on Friday, otherwise known as the Day Before My Bodily Fluid Celebrated St. Patty’s Day, I told them that my partner was heading out of town this weekend and if I’d need a person with me to get the drains out, could we please do it now? She said not until the drains were producing less on both sides.

“Now, you’re in Philadelphia, right?” Good Lord, she’s not pulling a chart, is she?

“No, I’m in DC,” I corrected.

“Well, still, they need to be making less fluid.”

The following Monday, now called the Day of the New Week of Oblivion, Nurse Barbara called me to say, “Your drains have been in a long time. Come in today so we can take them out.” I asked, gently, again, if I need someone to come with me. “That would be advisable, yes.”

Somehow my direct payment of $7,000 didn’t preclude me getting a different answer depending on whom I talked to. No, you can’t come in on Friday and it will be fine if you come alone, and no, you should have come in before and you really should have someone with you. How about I split the difference, I wondered. I’ll agree that I should have been allowed to come in before, and I’ll come by my own self.

I hoped I’d be much happier once the drains were out, if only because cleaning myself wouldn’t continue to consist of a series of soapy and wet washcloths while standing over a sink.

*   *   *

The fluid saga had not ended. I was getting dressed for work, which, 3 weeks post-op, included stuffing my surgical vest with maxi pads, to increase the compression on the hurt parts and help speed healing. Maxi pads, to their credit, have a nebulous outer layer kind of like a black hole that sucks in material at terminal velocity, crushing it into an infinitely small, infinitely dense piece of matter. When connected to wormholes, by the way, they deposit all of this material into a new location. Thus it was possible, I theorized, that our universe had been formed by the big bang of millions of crushed maxi pad deposits.

So I was getting dressed, and I snagged a suture on the left side of my chest in the maxi pad. It hurt beyond description, which I articulated by screaming. Being a maxi pad, I couldn’t get the suture out of it, so I tiptoed to the bathroom, holding up the vest/maxi pad combo, for of course I stuck the adhesive of the pad to the vest. I tried not to jiggle the suture and was fortunate that brand new man boobs weren’t prone to such things as actual jiggling. I cut the suture, still feeling pained, covered the cut end with some paper tape, and proceeded to finish getting dressed. I got in my car, thrilled, somehow, to be commuting again.

Four hours into my workday, I was beyond uncomfortable. It felt like I’d pulled a muscle, or cracked my sternum, or something else awful: a searing, stabbing pain that took the place of whatever else had previously occupied my thoughts. I muddled through the rest of my day—my supervisor had been keeping my workload low, out of sympathy or a seething need to get me off every project—and left a little early. The second I got home I ripped off all my shirts in a “get the leeches off of me,” way, not an exotic dancer way. Nothing looked wrong. The tape was still there. The incisions were clearly healing. But it felt like something was pulling the sutures out. It was a little like when I’d had shingles, years earlier. I took a few ibuprofen and tried to feel better, but the pain just got worse. I called the surgeon, who said that pulling a suture may have damaged some of the scar tissue, and that it was a painful thing to have happen, but should be better in 24 to 48 hours. She thought ibuprofen was a good idea, too, since it’s also an anti-inflammatory. I didn’t sleep well, but I made it to 5:30 a.m. And I woke with a new friend: the return of Bertha, my old right breast! It was the morning of Breast Resurrection Day.

Bertha appeared to be very irate at my choice to excoriate her. She was red, hot to the touch, and something like a B-cup. As the day went on Bertha decided to install an addition under my right armpit. I called the surgeon’s office again, and one of the nurses said, “oh, you can’t have an infection this late. Just rest up and don’t be so active.” Always with the “not so active.” What were they, paid by the junk food lobby? And what was that about a 2-week recovery period again?

In two more days, otherwise known as the Day of the Breastal Revolt, Bertha had turned hard to the touch. She felt like the pectoral muscle of the statue of David. Only this was not what I’d had in mind for rock-hard musculature. I called the doctor’s office again. I got the nurse to agree to call in another antibiotic prescription for me, and she sighed while I said I had to look up the pharmacy number of the CVS near me. She reminded me that it’s “very, very rare to have an infection this far out.” More likely was an allergic reaction to the sutures. But who could know without looking at me?

I posted my symptoms online and asked if anyone knew what I was experiencing. I did research on mastectomy outcomes and incidences. I told my friends I didn’t feel well, and I started to feel crazy for having such a hard time. Not to mention guilty for not going to work.

Susanne flew back in Friday from her interview in California after getting bumped off of her original, earlier flight. I felt like death in a frying pan. That night I woke up several times with the chills. I was sick of something being wrong. I sat around a lot all weekend, although I did go to a “Friend’s Thanksgiving” dinner, assuming I could deal with sitting up for a few hours. When two of the dining attendees broke out guitars and amps and started messing around like stinky 13-year-old boys, I turned in for the evening, Susanne nipping on my heels. I noted quietly to myself that if I were ever in a band, I would only do my music with friends who also liked to do that with me, or ask them in advance if they’ve brought their ear plugs.

Regular names of the week came back to me as I renewed my full work schedule. Monday and Tuesday I’d been signed up at work to go to an annual recap of the literature in my field, so I figured if I could sit at home, I could do it in an office building, too. I went home early the first day and kept cursing myself for not feeling well. I couldn’t make it past six hours of sitting. Why am I such a baby?

Wednesday morning I had my quarterly visit with my endocrinologist, who was also an internist. Susanne and I were happy that some medical professional was going to actually see my face. Ace looked at me with my shirt off.

“Holy shit, Everett!” This, the man with no sense of humor or intense expression. He ordered me to call the surgeon, and I told him I couldn’t seem to get past the nursing staff. I’d only managed to get to the doctor once on the phone.

“Look,” he said, actually expecting I would then look directly at him, “she took you to the dance, she can take you home. No other doctor is going to go near this.”

“Hey, you watch how you talk about Bertha there.” He grinned.

“Just go up there and insist that she see you.”

Oh my God. It must really be bad.

I left his office and called the surgeon’s office once more, getting one of the nursing staff.

“I’ve got a 100-degree fever now,” I said.

“Well, a 100-degree fever isn’t that high a fever,” she replied.

What, I was going to need to cough up a kidney before they said yes to me?  Was there a magic word I was missing here? Open sesame!

“My internist told me I had to come see you.”

She suddenly got interested. “Oh, is that an option? Where do you live? Are you local?” Had I not told them I lived in DC in each and every conversation?

Of course, I thought, people fly in for this from everywhere. They probably don’t do a lot of follow up on FTMs.

She told me to come in the next two hours. She didn’t realize I was still in my car, illegally on my cell phone. I saw that snow was starting to fall. I had to get out of the city, fast, before people started walking around with A-frame boards pronouncing that the end of days were nigh. The first winter snow in DC always brought out the hysterics.

I spent the next 90 minutes driving in the left lane behind nervous drivers going 30 miles an hour. My chest throbbed, my pulse, which was already too high, was pounding, I still felt terrible, and I walked into the surgeon’s office. They took me to an exam room and I undressed and showed the nurse my chest.

“Those are stretch marks,” she said, looking at the red lines streaming across my torso from the incision line.

“I don’t have stretch marks,” I muttered. Wow, I feel like crap.

“Sure you have lots of stretch marks,” she said, arguing with me, apparently concerned for my general health, if not the acute problem that had gone unchecked for more than a week.

“I don’t have stretch marks in the middle of my chest!”

Yelling did the trick, and Nurse Barbara left the room, dismissing me with her departure. Another more daring nurse came in and saw me.

“You have cellulitis.”

“Itis,” I knew, was a suffix that means, to us laypeople, infection. Cellulitis is an infection under the innermost layer of skin, and it is bad news, because it quickly becomes septic, meaning that it can travel to one’s bloodstream, and then one is in for a bad ride. It was like Dr. G, Medical Examiner bad. The surgeon came in, scrubs on from just finishing up someone else’s top surgery. Her smile disappeared as she took one look at me, and she immediately started ordering all kinds of supplies to the room, things with names I didn’t understand. They took off my opened-up shirts, and the doctor gave me a local and then opened up a few of my stitches. This is when I peed out of my rib cage—at least it felt like peeing, as I had a sense of relief, and warm liquid streaming over my skin. Well, I don’t exactly pee down my legs, but it was the closest life experience my brain could register, and it’s what occurred to me as I was being aspirated. I felt a big dose of happy as the disgusting ooze left my body. And it was a strange experience to watch my chest deflate. I could almost hear Bertha screaming like the Wicked Witch of the West, “Nooooooo, water, nooooooo, I’m mellllllllllllting!”

The surgeon looked at me kindly as I side-urinated. She put her hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Ev, you’re the one percent outcome.”

“I’ll go buy a lottery ticket,” I said.

They gave me an IV bag to re-hydrate me—for all my liquids had been going to Bertha the Undead—and a strong antibiotic. They put in a new drain on that side, a floppy plastic tube with no collection cup. I stayed in the dark room for a couple of hours, drifting in and out of sleep until the bag was empty. I returned two days later to get my side rechecked. It looked much better, even though I had some more recovery to do now. I saw the surgeon again a few days later, now clearly on her radar screen. She’d even given me her home number so I could call her directly. And I had finally earned my VIP pass with the nurses.

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Categories: ev's writing


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10 Comments on “Excerpt from Bumbling into Body Hair”

  1. Kristy
    March 19, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    Good heavens, Ev! What a traumatic story!

    Why will no one shop your memoir?

    • evmaroon
      March 19, 2010 at 8:27 am #

      Well, I think the trans thing is throwing them off a little, in terms of how to advocate for the book and in wondering how well it could sell. I just need to find that perfect agent, gosh darn it. It’s gotta be easier than finding my true love, right?

  2. Gail
    March 19, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    Who publishes other gay lit? There must be someone out there who will see the painful humor of Bertha and realize there is a need for these stories to be told. If nothing else, they let people know we are not talking about “choice” when we live our lives as we were meant to be as opposed to fitting into the approved mode — or being fitted in, so to speak. Have you talked to folks at the HRC, etc. about finding enlightened publishers? I know, you are probably miles ahead of me on that. Wish I had the magic name. Thanks for sharing, Gail

    • evmaroon
      March 19, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

      well, there are the publishers, and then there are the agents. I’ve been trying to land a literary agent first, presuming they’ll know which publishers and editors would be inclined to go in on this project. but maybe I should look at some publishers directly. thanks for your support!

  3. Joy
    March 19, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this! I’d love to read more excerpts. So well-written, and funny, and interesting! (in a good way, not “…interesting…!”)

    • evmaroon
      March 19, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

      thanks, Joy! I really appreciate it. 🙂

  4. Alexis
    March 22, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    Oh for crying out loud, Ev, I’ve known you since you were a wee little thing and I could have told that nurse you were the 1% outcome! You always have been!

    When you blew out your knee at the wedding, the first thing through my head was, “Well, Ev hasn’t changed much.”

    Glad you recovered. That could have been really bad… Good luck finding someone to publish you. I’d buy a copy in a heartbeat. I’d love to get inside your head a little more, you are a fascinating person.


    • evmaroon
      March 23, 2010 at 9:36 am #

      I’d say it’s good to know I’ve always been the outlier, but I think I’m too outlierish to say that. And sometimes I like to think our ghosts are still playing on the parking lot behind our school in New Jersey.

  5. farmerjill
    March 23, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    Good. Lord. I feel a little bit traumatized just reading this.

    Love your endocrinologist, though. He’s a keeper.

    • evmaroon
      March 23, 2010 at 9:13 am #

      Alas, he’s in DC, so he’s not my doc anymore. But I’ve been tempted to fly out there twice a year just to see him. And all of the other folks I know out there, I guess…

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