Doctors’ Devastating News:
Transchick Might Not Be Healthy Enough For A Vaginoplasty Surgery
Editor’s Note: These are the ninth and tenth installments of “The Transchick Chronicles,” an on-going series of essays written by newly-out transgender journalist Stephanie Haskins, as she chronicles her transition. Scroll to the bottom for links to her previous entries.
BY STEPHANIE HASKINS
There they were.
Three badly lit people with Covid masks staring at me on a Zoom link from medical office in a nondescript building on San Francisco’s Divisidero Street.
It was 4:45 PM on an unusually bright Thursday afternoon in mid-February.
Two of the people were surgeons, the other, a young woman I had never seen before.
They were eyeing me from their 6th floor camera location only 75 miles away. ( I was at home in my Sacramento condo.) So near, but far enough away so they wouldn’t have to watch me dissolve into near-hysterics a few minutes later when their words would sit on my chest like an elephant squishing a mouse underfoot.
I really couldn’t breathe.
The woman on the lower corner of my screen had spoken first, and she told me that because I had recently suffered from a couple of incidents of atrial fibrillation—and something called atrial flutter—she was declining to perform a vaginoplasty for me. Not soon, and maybe never.
Never is a very long time.
I don’t think any other human, aside from other transfeminine persons, can understand the implication of those words. No vaginoplasty. No bottom surgery. My goddamn penis would have to stay attached for the foreseeable future. Months? Forever?
In my experience, most male-to-female transgender women, like me, want to have our penises repurposed into vaginas more than almost anything else we can imagine. It is, for most of us, the last puzzle piece that completes our transition—it transforms us from male-presenting people to female-presenting human beings who have always carried feminine souls.
Look. no matter how well a trans individual like me thinks it’s possible to pass as a female, I can assure you that I leave my house every day with just the tiniest bit of doubt that I do. A scintilla, really. Just a smidge. A passing thought. I look in the mirror and I think I look pretty. But, but, but…
I see young, flawlessly beautiful young trans women on Reddit every day who post their pictures and ask that tragically plaintive question: “Do I pass?”
They are fucking stunning specimens of femininity who just want affirmation—mostly from other trans women—that despite their ethereal beauty, they need someone to say, “Yes, you DO pass. Perfectly. Please don’t waste any more energy worrying about it, kiddo.”
If even the most flawless trans women have doubts and need affirmation, well, so do I. I just can’t help it. The fear that’s imbedded deep, deep inside me: Maybe, just maybe, I’m not authentically-enough feminine, and that most people are just too polite to say something hurtful, or to point, to laugh, to doubt.
And then how would I know? Truly know.
Understand this though: These doubts don’t come close to overwhelming me. I am me, and I’m as beautiful as I can make myself—or make myself believe I am. So most of the time, this burden of uncertainty sits very lightly on my shoulders.
Now, back to those dewy-skinned young trans women, the ones with the wide eyes, long lashes and lustrous hair, and their need for only a dab of makeup. They slip ever so easily into crop tops and oh-so-short shorts and can seemingly go anywhere. As gorgeous young women.
I’m so proud of them. And envious. Because once upon a time, I could have been them, if I’d known. And understood.
Who I was. What I was.
Always the operative word: Then.
But it was not to be. All I have is now.
For me, getting my vaginoplasty will, at least physically and tangibly, totally convince ME—once and for all—that I am not a phony, a fake, a pretend-to-be woman.
“Look! LOOK! This is a vagina!! Look at my brand-new pink labia, my perfect, tiny clitoris!! Goddammit! I am a REAL woman!!!! This is proof! Look, damn you, LOOK!”)
So, when the rather blurry woman in the lower left hand corner of my laptop told me that she was taking away my dream, my most intimate and closely-held dream for so long, I felt helpless and powerless, and worst of all—hopeless.
I would have to lug my dumb-ass, useless dick around with me and, maybe, fucking forever.
I felt a roaring in my ears for a few seconds. I could not feel my soul.
I was inconsolable. I just wailed. My gender therapist, who was in her own Zoom box on my laptop looked stricken. And I knew that my dearest friend, who was listening in from Los Angeles via cell phone, wanted to hold me. To comfort me. I could sense his sorrow and his sadness. My wonderful, loving friend.
Okay, so I’m emotionally spent and devastated. Broken. Still.
But I need to step back and explain what and why and how and who and maybe even where.
The down-in-the-left-hand-corner-of-my-laptop bottom surgeon, did NOT make her decision not to operate on me in order to wreck my day on February 10, 2022. Or my year. Or even my life.
She made her decision, ostensibly, to save my life. At least for the time being. The fact is, I had presented with atrial fibrillation (or AFib). Twice
AFib often causes the heart to beat too quickly. One of the biggest concerns it presents is the risk of a stroke—about five times greater than that of people who don’t have the condition. The Center for Disease Control reports that 12.1 million Americans will have developed a form of AFib by 2030. In 2019, AFib was mentioned on the death certificates of 183,000 people, and listed as the underlying cause of death on 25,000 of those people.
Symptoms include irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness. And the greatest irony is that I, personally, haven’t felt a thing when I’ve had an incident. I’ve had no idea that it’s even happening. No stroke. No prior heart issues that I know of. Or that have been diagnosed.
It’s nothing to fuck with. But it IS treatable, and even curable.
I’d never been diagnosed with AFib until mid-November, before I was to undergo a routine medical procedure. Then it happened again in early February, before another relatively routine surgical procedure.
These two documented incidents completely fucked up my life.
Up to the mid-November 2021, my vaginoplasty was a go. And then, very unexpectedly, because of AFib, everything started to turn to shit. Literally. MY shit. Let me explain.
It all started with a colonoscopy.
(Yes, I know, the last thing you wanna know about is the goings-on of my alimentary canal. But those details are essential to the story.)
I’ve had various forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease most of my life. Since I was a kid. It’s gotten better and then worse and then better—off and on, on and off—for years. I’ve consulted various gastro-intestinal docs about it for decades. They’ve run tests, and is often the case, no definitive “cure” or treatment was ever very effective. So, pretty much always, just more meds. Changes in my diet. No more red meat, more veggies and fruit, But nothing changed. Nothing worked.
For very long
So, when I started my transition, I decided I wanted to get my unpredictable gut fixed, once and for all. I’d had enough. With my vaginoplasty supposedly just a few months off, I just didn’t want any other issues to deal with during my recovery. After another visit with my gastrointestinal doc, she prescribed a colonoscopy. Not great news for me.
Because I hate them. I mean I REALLY fucking HATE them.
The last two I underwent were enormously painful for me. I’d asked for the maximum numbing medication allowed, but that hadn’t happened, and well, you know.
Fucking agony. One doc even nicked my bowel, and that was excruciating.
So, this one.
I was scheduled for my procedure at 10am on Thursday, November 18, 2021. That meant I had to start my prep at 8 pm the night before, and imbibe half of the gallon jug of unspeakably foul “prep” solution over the next two hours, until 10pm. Then “rest” for four hours, and start the second half of the “prep” at 2-fucking-am—until 4-fucking-am!
Does that sound as bat-shit crazy to y’all, my dear, dear readers, as it did to me?
That I had to be up all night before my procedure evacuating a week’s worth of grub, so the little camera they shove up my ass can get to where it needs to get without a bit of carrot or a sliver of undigested mashed potato getting in the way.
And the idea that I could get any really useful sleep in between doses of that disgusting poop-inducing slime-juice? Or that my anal sphincter would just shut down like all really obedient little anal sphincters after 4 am when I was supposed to finish drinking that vile slop?
All fucking nonsense. I mean, I have IBD! When I start to evacuate, it’s pretty much like the Aswan High Dam breaking into pieces and falling into the Nile. Here’s a bit of surprise information: I CANNOT turn off my internal spigot on command
OK, shame me if you will, but I made a command decision just to stay up between 10pm and 2am. I watched Jimmy Kimmel, (whom I think is hilarious) and Nightline, the last half of Seth Meyers, a rerun of a couple of late news programs, and a tape-delay of Hoda and Jenna—two power chicks I adore.
So, at 2am, I ingested the second half of the poo-juice, and once again…you know.
However, my well was NOT dry on schedule at 4am. No, it was not. It took another three hours for me to empty it out.
It was now 7am. I hadn’t slept for what, 36 hours? Groovy.
I was lightheaded. I was exhausted. I was dehydrated. And I was sure my electrolytes were totally shot to hell. And I couldn’t rehydrate myself, because I couldn’t keep any liquids in my body for more than a couple of minutes
I was a fucking mess. So off to the hospital I went. I checked in and was routinely given an EKG. And guess what it showed?
I was in AFib. Big time.
My heart was beating like a crazy-assed Marimba band playing in a Manhattan subway tunnel. When the nurses confirmed what they suspected after an EKG, oh sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph—the fucking ward just erupted. Machines were wheeled in and out, I was hooked up to who-knows-how-many drip lines, and doctors came in and zipped out—all looking worried. Very worried.
“You’re in Afib!” one nurse told me when I asked WTF was happening.
“Can’t you FEEL it?!” he asked, alarmed.
“Nope, I can’t feel anything. Maybe I’m already dead,” I said, trying to lighten the moment. The nurse looked at me liked he’d stepped in a puddle of some sort.
I felt bad for making a joke about something that was supposed to be serious. And scary. But that’s what I do. I’ll do almost anything for a cheap laugh. But dude wasn’t laughing.
So, my gastrointestinal doc came in and told me she couldn’t do the colonoscopy as long as I was in AFib. And that I’d have to re-schedule.
I begged her to reconsider. I didn’t want to deal with the awful prep thing again. So I told her to consider my circumstances and that my AFib was an anomaly. To consider that I was exhausted. That I was dehydrated, that my electrolytes were almost certainly in the toilet (along with everything else that had once been in my body) and that I was totally stressed out because of my recent past history with colonoscopies. So, I mean, didn’t that all make sense?
Apparently it did, so I was wheeled down to the emergency room and a bunch of cardiac docs came in, hooked me up to more drip bags, did more EKGs, and some imaging (X-rays?), and whaddya know: AFib gone.
So, once again, I went through my little story, my oh-so-common-sense explanation: I was no longer dehydrated, my electrolyte levels were back to normal, and all in all, I felt grand.
No one said much, but everyone seemed relieved and sort of drifted out of my room. My gastrointestinal doc was ALSO astonished, and after getting an OK from all the cardio physicians, she agreed to proceed with the colonoscopy.
“This NEVER happens,” she grumbled. “NO one comes back from AFib this quickly.” She looked almost defeated.
The colonoscopy went fine. No pain. For once. It was done and over.
I thought I’d then get a date for my bottom surgery and that I’d be getting my beautiful new vagina by early spring 2022.
My journey to get bottom surgery was about to hit yet another bump, a giant bump, in the road.
There’s nothing worse in life than cruising along, having no clue that karma is already running a false-flag operation up your emotional asshole. And that war is about to break out, causing horrible destruction, damage and pain.
To you. Or more precisely, me.
See, after the preparations last fall for my much dreaded colonoscopy resulted in AFib, which was quickly resolved by lots of fluids being pumped into my system, I figured that my scary little episode was over. All resolved. Fixed.
I figured that my docs understood, like I did, that dehydration, exhaustion and totally fucked up electrolytes had resulted in my unfortunate little heart anomaly, and that all’s well that ends well.
I figured at that point I could happily spend a restful Thanksgiving with my sweet daughter Bridget my two little grandsons, my son-in-law, and my separated spouse in Nevada, where they all share a house.
It was the first time since I came out as a trans feminine person that we would all be together for a holiday. I was happy and excited that many of our differences had been ironed out and we could be a family again.
I wanted to relax, and to talk to Bridget about our new life as father and daughter and not have any tall fences to tear down in the process.
Let me make something clear: I will always be my daughter’s father.
I was never an authentic male, but I indeed carried the XY genetic pattern. I was capable of making babies and I made two that I know of: one was miscarried when I was married to my first wife, and then, my lovely kid—my daughter—was given to me. My greatest gift.
Even though I’m now emotionally (and almost physically) a female, I am still genetically a male. I will never be a genetic female. Facts are facts—and as much as I’d like to change the reality of my biological gender, I can’t.
I will NEVER be my daughter’s mother. I did not gestate her nor carry her. So, I am her father—her dad, her daddy, her pop. I’m very cool with that. It’s the only time I’m totally okay being gendered as male.
At any rate, I wanted a restful Thanksgiving. My in-person consult with my bottom surgeon was a month away, a meeting during which they’d be giving me an exact date when my penis would be repurposed into a somewhat functional vagina.
So, I was very, very excited—and yes, proud, that in maybe three or four months, I’d be able to look at myself naked in a mirror and see a fully formed woman staring back at me.
I wanted that almost more than anything else in my life, except to get my family back (yay, Thanksgiving!), and maybe find a long-term partner sooner or later—maybe another trans person.
But, of course, dear readers, that was not to be. Because as usual, my goddamn life got in the way.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, because it’s happened so many, many, MANY times in my life. Not just a few times, nor here and there, but a LOT.
Okay. Let’s take a side trip into my totally fucked up psyche. Don’t worry. It’ll be fun.
So, over the years, I’ve come to believe that I was kind of a carrier of bad luck. A jinx. Not to anyone else, particularly, but mostly to myself.
I came to believe, in a sort of, um, “lighthearted” way that I was a human version of Joe Btfsplk, a character in the comic strip Li’l Abner, who had—without question—the world’s worst luck. Everywhere he went during his travels in the strip, he brought disaster with him. He was the ruination of everyone who had the beastly luck of running into him.
Joe, and the entire cast of bizarre characters of L’il Abner, was created by Al Capp, an incredibly irreverent and hilarious cartoonist who was also quite curmudgeonly, and ultra-right-wing. Li’l Abner was one of the most successful strips of its time (1934-1977) and at was syndicated in almost 1000 papers at its pinnacle.
Joe Btfsplk, from Li’l Abner
Li’l Abner was also a terribly misogynistic, sexist, homophobic, and sometimes vulgar comic strip, and it eventually came to an end when the counter culture proved to be even more bizarre than anything Capp could conceive of in his fantastical southern hillbilly village of Dogpatch.
So, just as Joe Btfsplk wandered around the world in tattered clothing with storm clouds hovering above him, attracting the worst luck possible, I’ve kinda ALWAYS seen myself as sort of a minor version of Joe. It’s not that I’ve had a shit-ton of bad luck, just that I’ve never seemed to have much GOOD luck. I’ve always felt like lots and lots of little, unfortunate things always seem to happen to me. And just me.
Like when I was producing one of the thousands of television new shows I put on the air over the years, my typewriter ribbon would always seem to break at the most inopportune time. Or my keys would always glob together just when I was cruising along at 60 words per minute on my trusty Royal, as a deadline fast approached. Small potatoes, you say? Well, this stuff happened all the fucking time to me.
At one point, I actually thought I was being haunted (or taunted) by some kind of spirit with a really annoying sense of humor.
Oh, I know: How narcissistic. I know, I get that—I’m so fucking special that I can’t stand it when everything doesn’t go perfectly. OR, that I’m so special that I’ve somehow been singled out as a bad luck magnet.
I mean, doesn’t everyone notice poor me and how crappy my elitist, entitled White life is?
No Stephanie, they do not. In fact, NO ONE notices. Or gives a flying fig,
Get over it, girlfriend.
At any rate, Thanksgiving went really well, I connected with my two little grandsons who still call me “Papa,” (They’ve both known me as a male presenting person and as a female, and guess what? They don’t care. My name is Papa, and that is who I am.)
And, gloriously, Bridget and I finally found our old bond that had so closely connected us ever since she was born.
So, in late November and most of December, I was incredibly content. My life as a woman was turning out to be what I had always hoped—very serene, sometimes busy, filled with making new queer friends, re-bonding with old friends who aren’t queer. Reading, writing, exercising, going to a beautiful nearby park for a run almost every day. And so much more.
I was living the life of a pre-op trans woman who’s discovered her soul in the most unexpected place—ME!
For the first three weeks in December, I sort of glided through life in a joyous, pre-Christmas haze—looking forward to December 22, 2021, the day I was scheduled to meet my bottom surgeon in person in San Francisco. She would examine me, tut-tut over the state of my penis, and then give me a date for my surgery.
Oh my God: I would then be soooo off-the-wall happy.
What a wonderful early Christmas gift.
But then, dear readers, that’s when Joe Btfsplk wandered back into my life—and took up residence in my living room.
I got up early on that special day, Wednesday, December 22. I had to catch a train from Sacramento to the Amtrak transportation terminal outside of Berkeley, then take a bus across the bay to San Francisco to see my doctor. The day was cold, a bit sprinkley, overcast, and I was loving it. (I dig rainy days.)
Everything went as planned, and when I arrived at the drop-off point in the Mission District, I called Lyft, and got a ride two or three miles up Geary Street to the huge clinic and surgery center where my appointment was scheduled. In I went, found the multi-specialty clinic, checked in, and after a short wait, I was escorted into an examination room and told to take off my clothes.
Yes, I was here! My full-depth vaginoplasty was awaiting me.
“What is that exactly?” you ask.
Very simply, doctors castrate me, discard my now turned-to-goo testicles, slice my penis in half, and use the tissue to build a vagina that is somewhere between four to five inches deep—about the same depth as that of an assigned-female-at-birth person—construct a labia, and build a sensate clitoris from the most sensitive part of my penis (the glans at the very tip).
There you are. It’s a big fucking deal. And it would/will be so, so, so, so wonderful and amazing.
Anyway, after a brief wait, my surgeon (a small middle-aged woman), an older male doctor, and a couple of other younger women (interns) came in and greeted me. Looking back, they all seemed somewhat somber, but I paid no attention at the time.
They asked me what sort of reassignment/confirmation/affirmation surgery I wanted to have. That seems like an obvious question, but it really isn’t, because there IS an alternative to a full-depth vaginoplasty. It’s called a zero-depth vaginoplasty or a vulvoplasty. The surgical process is basically the same except that no vaginal canal is created. The neo vagina looks the same, but there’s no depth built in. No frontal sexual penetration is possible, obviously, and there is no need to use a dildo to keep the newly created vagina stretched.
Say what now?
Oh, I forgot to tell you: The kind of vaginoplasty I want involves putting the patient through a rigorous process called “dilation” after the procedure is complete. Right after surgery, dilation has to happen four times each day. It’s not pleasant at first, I’m told. Lots of lube is necessary, and there’s no skipping it because patients can’t risk the possibility of the vagina starting to close in on itself.
To be more specific (and graphic), it involves inserting silicone dildos of varying size into the neo-vagina, stretching the cavity—and keeping it stretched. It’s a process that trans women MUST perform on themselves every day, or else their wondrous new vaginas will close up. If THAT happens, trans gender women patients have VERY serious problems.
Neo vaginas for transgender women are—and always will be—open wounds.
So, after I told them that I wanted a full-depth vaginoplasty, the two surgeons asked me to spread my legs and arch my back, and they both got a good hold on my penis—pulling and pushing, squeezing and tugging. They appeared to approve, and nodded to each other knowingly and solemnly, and pronounced it sufficient to work with.
So far so good.
Then, with my legs agape, the surgeons asked about my recent episode of AFib the month before.
My heart sank. And suddenly, everything slowed down. The surgeons’ voices began to sound like all the grown-ups in the television cartoon versions of Peanuts.
They told me that I needed to get clearance from a cardiologist before they’d give me a date for my surgery. I tried to explain my theory of my AFib incident, that I was exhausted, hadn’t slept for 36 hours, that I was dehydrated, that my electrolytes were shot to hell, and that I was unbelievably stressed.
No dice. They were having none of it. If I went into AFib on the operating table, they said, I could have a stroke or a heart attack and I could die.
They told me I’d have a full cardio workup, and a cardiologist would have to give me clearance.
Then I kind of fell into a grey fog. I became hysterical inside my head, but I didn’t allow any of them to see it. I was crushed. I understood (and agreed with) all of the medical reasons they cited, but I didn’t agree at all with their rationale for not giving me a date.
All they had to do was give me an approximation of when I MIGHT have surgery, and then help me see a cardiologist after the holidays in early January. I’d get examined, the cardiologists would likely be able to fix me, and I’d be ready to go.
Seemed simple to me, but they told ME to handle it. I had to arrange for my cardiology workup.
Luckily, after my appointment I met my sweet, wonderful nephew for lunch, and I was able to put aside my stunned, shell-shocked reactions for a bit. Still, I really did feel like I’d been involved in an emotional drive-by shooting. I felt really betrayed by my body, and to be brutally honest, I felt—for the first time in many months—that I truly, was less of a woman. That my goddamn penis would be eternally attached, and that I’d die as some sort of a desperate wanna-be woman/man. Female in my brain, but a fucking pathetic fem-man with a dangling dick that would forever be attached to me like a fleshy bad penny.
Joe Btfsplk had taken a dump on my life.
I couldn’t even cry, I was so upset.
That didn’t last long, because over the next few days I cried plenty, and had a couple of panic attacks, which are awful. They’d usually start first thing in the morning. I’d be very cold, start to shiver with full-body chills, and soon I’d be convulsing all over. I couldn’t get warm. I started thinking that my bottom surgery might be cancelled forever, and then I’d tart to sob.
And then I’d start to panic. I’d have a hard time catching my breath, and I’d become hysterical and gasp for breath.
I was beyond terrified. The only thing that helped was popping a Benzodiazepine tablet, which would get me under control within 10 minutes or so.
I spent the Christmas holidays in Nevada with my daughter, grandsons and (estranged) wife, and things were great for the most part. I tried not to think about my dopey dick or my non-existent vagina too much. I didn’t say much about my disappointment to them, because trying to explain my obsession (with getting a vagina) to the most important women in my life seemed needlessly graphic, and frankly, would have felt embarrassing and intrusive. For me, I guess—and maybe for them as well. One way or the other, I just felt really alone.
I got snowed in for three days with them, during the aftermath of a record blizzard, which was also likely a good thing, because I don’t think it would have been healthy for me to have been alone right then.
So, what next?
Well, absolutely NOTHING, dear readers. A few days after the first of the year, I started pushing to get this new and necessary cardiology workup. I sent emails to my personal doc, my surgeon, my therapist, BEGGING for an appointment with a heart specialist.
Again, I’d been told that it was my responsibility to set it up and that it had to start with my primary care physician. Great, but when I contacted her, she said it had to come from my bottom surgeon—whose office then said noooo, they didn’t have anything to do with it.
And so, the great ping-pong game with my transgender life had begun.
Why wasn’t someone setting up my appointment? I mean, what the fuck? I couldn’t figure itout. More than a months went by. No progress. NO explanation. I was getting more frantic, and more anxious and more and more depressed
Then, about six weeks into this medical-grade clusterfuck, I got a strange and disturbing phone call from a therapist I didn’t know who’d been assigned to help me figure out why I wasn’t getting scheduled. She said my bottom surgeon wanted to talk to me.
About what?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you. That’s for them to say,” she told me.
“Is it bad?” I asked.
“Again, I’m sorry. I just can’t tell you.”
“So when is this phone call?” I asked.
She gave me a date, Almost a month away.
I was astounded. Another month. The two words that kept echoing through my mind were “unfair” and “cruel.”
It was like a cancer patient being told their latest scan had just come back from pathology but that no one could discuss it, and they’d be informed about the results in a month.
“Is it bad?” they’d ask.
“Can’t tell you. Won’t tell you. Gotta wait.”
“In a month,” my newly-assigned therapist/comforter reiterated. “So sorry, that’s the earliest we can schedule everyone at the same time.”
“Everyone?” I asked.
Who the fuck is everyone? Why can’t the surgeon just pick up a phone and fucking call me?
More unanswered questions.
Waiting. Perseverating. Suffering. Panicking. Despairing.
The weeks went by. Again, no outreach, no explanation. Silence.
In the meantime, I had another procedure—this time, silicone implants were positioned on my vocal folds enabling me to speak at a higher pitch.
Stephanie, following her recent vocal cord surgery.
But as I was prepped for surgery, I went into AFib/flutter again. Fuck me running. Didn’t feel a thing. Blood pressure 106/57.
Go figure. A cardiologist eventually cleared me for the surgery after I was pumped full of fluids. The procedure went well.
But then, I became even more worried. If my AFib was serious enough to kibosh my bottom surgery, why couldn’t I get in to see a cardiologist to um, you know, keep me from dropping dead?
Another inconvenient question which seemed to stump everyone on my “team.”
So, finally that February Zoom meeting I described earlier/above happened. And while it was totally devastating, surprisingly, my cardiology logjam started to ease.
Another one of my therapists (I now have three) suggested I get a new primary care physician, and recommended someone she worked with on a couple of gender-related panels. I took her advice and a week later I met this new doctor. I liked her enormously.
And, within 10 minutes, I had an appointment to see a heart specialist—something no one had been able to accomplish for 10 freaking weeks. Unfortunately, my new doc also ran an EKG on me to see where things stood at that point, and you guessed it: More flutter.
But at least I was going to see an expert, so my heart might as well fibrillate and flutter away. Go for it, you goddamn traitorous heart muscle.
Ten days later, another Zoom meeting, this time with this new cardiologist. He’s a friendly chap, and he carefully explains how he’s going to address my AFib issues.
I tell him I now fully understand that my AFib is a real thing—that I can be in AFib or flutter almost any time, but that I’ve never felt it or had any of the symptoms. My new doc explains that my condition is “situational,” and that he’s going to put me on a different med to control my sputtering ticker—something called Sotalol. Then, a few days later, he wants me to undergo an ultrasound on my heart to make sure there’s no damage, followed by another EKG to see if the Sotalol is taking effect.
Sure enough, the ultrasound revealed I have a healthy heart. “Unremarkable,” read the report. But still, there was flutter.
Three days later, another EKG. By then, after I’d been on Sotalol twice a day for more than a week, the EKG revealed NO AFib. NO flutter!
After that test, the cardiologist’s assistant ushered me into his examination room and again checked my blood pressure: 120/60.
“Classic,” he muttered.
He explained that the Sotalol is now controlling my heart, and that I shouldn’t have any more issues. I asked him if I can now have my bottom surgery.
He says there’s no reason why I can’t.
“Just like that?” I said.
“Yep, Just like that,” he responded.
I kinda didn’t believe him.
A few days later, I texted the cardiologist and asked him what’s next and he told me I would NOT need a heart shock procedure that also controls AFib, nor a procedure called heart oblation (whereby a tube is run up the femoral artery in the groin to the heart). Apparently, it incinerates damaged tissue that causes AFib/flutter. It’s not a cure, exactly, but in many cases, the AFib goes away. Pretty much forever.
But again, I didn’t need either! Sotalol is keeping my jumpy heart under control.
I ask this doc if he’ll contact my surgeon in person and tell her I’m cleared for surgery. He says he will, and he does. He later tells me that she asked a few questions and that was that.
But do I hear anything about scheduling my surgery?
I do not.
I can only say this is the kind of silent treatment that drives storylines for movies like Erin Brockovich or the 1970s classic, Network. To paraphrase from a character played by actor Peter Finch in the latter:
Actor Peter Finch, in his Oscar-winning role as newscaster Howard Beale, in the 1976 film, Network.
You’d think that after the last 50 years of incredible emotional upheaval in our culture, from all sorts of things, that people in charge of stuff would instinctively know how important it is to keep clients (and patients) in the loop.
Finally, on March 30, I talked to one of my three therapists who told me that my surgical team will meet with me on ZOOM in two weeks. In other words, I had a meeting so I could be told that I’d have yet another meeting. Of course, information about the upcoming meeting was confidential, but my therapist said she thought I’d be “happy” about what I’d be told.
I think it’s safe to say that a large chunk of my faith in the health system has been destroyed. Maybe not on purpose, but still—I’ve been damaged. A lot.
I expect I’ll learn sometime in the next few weeks if I’m actually gonna be scheduled or not. Or, if I need to wait another god-knows-how-long period of time to see if Sotalol is the actual answer to my dancing heart valves or not.
I can see it coming: “Well, things look good right now, but what’ll it look like on Arbor Day? Or Memorial Day? Or National Doughnut Day? We want you to be safe, Stephanie. Your health is our number one priority.”
This may be unfair, I know, and I really do fully realize that my docs’ concern for my health is very real and heartfelt. But really—the process has been so difficult and so uncertain that, I have to admit, as I write this, my spirit is just exhausted.
I’ll dial the sense of defeat back if/when I actually, finally, get my sparkling, brand new vagina.
I’ll be sure to let you know how it all plays out.
Stephanie Haskins is hard at work on the next chapters of “The Transchick Chronicles.” Sign up for our e-newsletter here to be alerted when they’re published.
To read her previous installments:
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