Part 3: Surgery Day (“The Surgery”)

Christine Penn
13 min readFeb 26, 2021


Note — This is a continuation of a multipart story. You should read Part 1: Leading up to “The Surgery” and Part2: Thirty Days Out (to “The Surgery”) before reading this next installment.

As I am preparing a small suitcase for my hospital stay, I am thinking of George Carlin’s routine about “Stuff”. I am experiencing the same type of scenario he uses in that routine. While he applies it to a vacation that contains a visit to a friends house in the middle, my application is trip to NJ/NY with a hospital stay in the middle! I had packed up a subset of my “stuff” from home to move into the hotel in New Jersey (which actually had to include everything I would need to for two seasons, because I wouldn’t be back home for a couple months). And now I was packing up a subset of that “stuff” to bring everything I would need for just a 4 day hospital stay.
It can be helpful to have a positive attitude and some comic relief thrown in, to help you deal with stressful situations.

It can be hard to be in my community and see the struggles that we all go through at times. My friend Aoife was dealing with some struggles and just happens to be temporarily working as an Uber driver up in the New York City area. Since I needed a ride to the hospital, I had decided to contract with her (under the table) to help her out a little. She arrives early as I had asked and we immediately startup up some conversation. During the conversation on our ride, I ended up offering her my hotel room as a place to stay and take a shower. It would be available since I will be spending he next 4 days at the hospital. (She is thrilled and takes me up on the offer.) I am happy to see her and talk to her on the ride to the hospital, as she is the first person I know that I have seen in several days. She drops me off at the hospital door, but tells me she has to run…so I thank her for the ride and we bid farewell with a hug on the sidewalk.

Check-in desk and waiting room at the hospital
My number

I walked into the Hospital admission area and checked in with the people at the desk there. It amazes me how packed it is for such an early hour and the line of people coming in doesn’t seem to stop for a while. Apparently, there are lots of scheduled surgeries occurring and check in time appears to be the same for anyone with a morning surgery.

I am immediately struck by a small child who has come in carried by her mother and accompanied by someone who was likely her grand mother. There was obviously something she was suffering with, and you could tell that there was some relief that her entourage was displaying that the day of surgery she needed was finally here. Anytime a child is dealing with some extreme pain, it is very hard to ignore. You couldn’t help but see that everyone in the admissions waiting room was concerned. It just tares at your heart. I think the whole room became involved and I sat there seriously hoping that they would take her first. If I am called, I have decided that I am giving up my spot and going to recommend they take her instead. I think the entire waiting room was relieved when they took her and her family back first. I almost wanted to clap, but I felt it was likely inappropriate.

At check-in, we were each given a number. Funny thing is though, beside the number, they also call your name. As I sat there looking around, I couldn’t help but notice that I am only one there who is alone and start to feel a bit lonely. I pick up my spirits, remind myself why I am there, and wonder why this would be any different. I can get through this by myself like many other things in this journey. I had hoped that someone would be accompanying me, supporting me, but it never worked out.

I hear my name called — Christine Penn — 61. I gather up all my “stuff” and head on back. I’m brought into a young ladies tiny little office. There is barely enough room in her little space for her, me, and all the “stuff” I have with me. (Good thing it was only 4 days worth.) I notice a gender identity thing on her wall….and I snap a pic while she is out working the paperwork. (I can spot a rainbow flag anywhere!)

I don’t remember all the things I had to sign (consents and what not), but I remarked that it seemed worse than buying a new car. And then I laughed…because there was a little analogy there that I hadn’t thought about before. After a little curious look, I had to explain what I was laughing about. And then I added that if she only knew what I had gone through to get there. And then it dawned on me that I’m sure that it may not have been the first time she every heard that one before!

I’m expecting that she is going to be the girl who is going to tell me that insurance wasn’t going to cover everything and they need me to write a check. When she doesn’t ask, I had to ask. She looks over the paperwork in front of her and mentioned that it looks like I am preapproved with insurance and nothing is required. If there is a difference, they will contact me afterwards. I tell her that that was good news to hear…and she is surprised that the insurance company never told me. Nope, they never told me anything — not even a word, letter, or anything. (Horizon, I am still waiting for my letter.) They never contacted me nor me them after mailing my envelope out. She said that I should have received something…

After that, we move on to the first area that is actually a medical room. Looking like a triage area, I’m brought to an area with typical hospital beds separated by cloth dividers. I am given a gown, asked to disrobe, and asked who is with me. I tell them that I am alone, and I am returned a sad/surprised look from the nurse. There are some rumblings about my belongings…and she returns back in a little while with a bunch of plastic bags. Everything I have with me (minus the suit case) needs to be put into a bag and filled out with my name. I oblige.

I ask if there is time to go to the bathroom, and she tells me where it is and that she didn’t think it would be a problem.

After I get back, there’s a girl in the next bed over. I can hear her conversation through the cloth divider. Simply listening, I find out that she is trans, there with her mother, and is having breast augmentation today. She had had GCS the year prior and her mom is asking if this was going to be enough now? I would have love to have talked with her, or even had seen her, but the chance never arose.

Being that she was there with the support of her mother made me sad again. The Nurse came back and asked me again if there was anyone with me. It was becoming painfully obvious that being there solo was not normal or expected and they had some concern. I offered that my parents were going to come by later that day.

I snapped my last screen shot of the count down timer as I am packing up my phone into one of the plastic bags— we are down to 34 minutes!

A short while later, Dr. Ting (my surgeon) stops by and says they are almost ready to go. He will be back in a couple of minutes. Just when I’m starting to wonder what time it was, he pokes his head in asked if I was ready? We walked together down the hall and around the corner to what he called the big surgery hall. (I am nervous, wondering if this was going to be the last time I will ever walk again?) He tells me, they don’t get to use it for surgeries all the time, but I was special and got to use it today. (I didn’t believe him that it was because I was so special.)

We enter the room, and I am introduced to the surgical team. There is a lot more people in this room than what I was expecting. I was asked to lay down on the bed where people start “arranging me”. Arms splayed a little like a cross and legs put into stirrups with ties. I meet the anesthesiologist who tells me he is going to start an IV and insert a port. I apologize to him for the problems with the cardiologist. The port he’s adding is going to go in my left hand and I complain that they hurt when put there and are always irritating. He says he has no choice and sticks it in; it hurts as expected. Pain subsides a minute later once he stops fiddling with it. I then watch him insert a needle and start to press it….and with that I am out.

What seems like only minutes later I wake up for about 15 seconds, there is person sitting next to me. He says, “Oh there you are! You are in recovery and everything went well.” He asks if I am ready to wake up and I tell him no and fall back to sleep. About an hour later, I wake up for the second time and he is still there. He asks if I am really awake this time? I tell him I think so and he says…we’ll see. I immediately start to feel some pain in that something happened. Nothing to bad, but its obvious the surgery was definitely complete.

After a couple of minutes, he tells me we are ready to roll up to my room where I would be staying for the remainder of my hospital stay. When we arrive, I find my parents there waiting for me. I am initially happy to see them, but issues that still exist immediately come into play. My mom is trying to be helpful with the staff but miss-genders me about 50 times in the course of mere minutes. I am immediately upset and don’t want them there if this is the way things are going to go. I yell at my mom to stop and after an awkward moment things start to settle down while the staff gets me arranged with leg massagers and an explanation of the rules. I am a fall risk and not allowed out of bed yet. I am also not allowed to sit up beyond the 15% angle they have set the bed to. (I am not allowed to change it.)

I ask my mom if she had seen any of the white plastic bags. She searches the room and finds them hiding in the closet. I get her to fish through them to find my phone. I snap my first post pics as mom starts unpacking my bags into the shelves provided in the closet.

Almost immediately my father starts complaining about the parking and the drive. I had given him instructions on where to park but he still ended up ignoring it and parking somewhere else miles away. They have a long walk to get back and he is worried about the afternoon rush if they don’t leave immediately. With that, my Mom apologizes for the short stay and they leave. I was hoping for some better support and understanding but was left with another disappointing encounter with them again. Even though I am there for the next 4 days, this ended up being their only visit to the hospital.

As soon as they leave, I am back to feeling extremely lonely again, but I got some encouragement from the flowers that were waiting for me from a friend and my daughter. They are both beautiful! My friends note includes an apology for her not being able to be there for my surgery like I was at hers. I was still surprised that she took the time to send them. I was starting to understand while my visit to her was so impactful. I wanted to share some of my emotions with someone but no one was around. It was a mixture of unbelief, euphoria, and pain. I wanted someone to hug, to talk to, to console with….but I had no one to share anything with. It added sadness to the emotions I was feeling and that no one truly cared about me. I realized the hole I was starting to fall down and quickly tried to shut it off before it totally consumed me. There are so many times in this journey where you just want to fall down and cry. I reminded myself of what I had prayed for so many times and that it had just come true. I picked myself off the floor (figuratively) and reveled in what I had just accomplished. Everyone be dammed, I did this on my own!

Believe it or not, I was getting hungry, but when dinner time comes around, nothing had been ordered for me. The staff tries to see if anything is available. The only thing they have is an extra fish entrée. It seams almost comical….as I wonder if the bad luck I am experiencing will ever end. I really dislike the taste of fish, and this has to be the fishiest tasting fish of all! I try, but I can’t eat it. Not sure if its the fish, left over bowl prep, but my stomach feels horrible. I again want to just lay down and cry….

One of the nurses feels bad for me and decides to share half of her sandwich with me. I tell her she doesn’t have to….but she offers it anyway. It tastes unbelievably great and almost immediately settles my stomach. Its not enough but takes the edge off. Some other pain is now kicking in, so I don’t really care that I am still hungry. I feel utterly exhausted and figure its now time to finally start catching up on some of that sleep I have missed over the last couple of days. Only issue is that I get woken up every four hours to take medication and for them to take a blood draw… ah, life in a hospital. So now I start sleeping in 4 and 1/2 hour increments; at least I have nothing else better to do…

The following day, I am encouraged to attempt to get up and go into the bathroom. I am still catheterized….but I feel the need for a bowel moment. They are impressed that something is going on there so soon….but its all liquid. I was just happy to brush my hair and teeth since I have been mostly lying around in beds for the last day or so. I make a poor attempt to give myself a sponge style type bath standing in the bathroom. (I am not allowed to take a shower or bath yet…). My whole body feels stiff. I have a wound vac attached to my surgical site and if I move the wrong way, you can hear it sucking up air. Its not a 100 % perfect seal but its doing its job well because the tubes are always filled with liquid.

Even though I am catheterized, I am starting to feel when I have to go. It stings a little and seems like it leaks a little when at the wrong sitting angle. The wound vac sucks up anything that leaks out, so its generally not a problem. This becomes my new normal, and it doesn’t take long to get used to it…

I am offered a menu in the morning where I can pick out the meals for the rest of the day from a couple of options that are picked for me by a nutritionist. There are several things that are mandatory. They are all very good and I am impressed with the food the rest of the time I am there. Things are definitely starting to get better!

My loneliness gets alleviated a little as I seem to get at least one visitor a day. My friend Nathalie one day, Melissa and her friend the next. This is definitely helping, but not a single family member stops by…

I go to shift a little bit in the bed and I get what feels like a knife stabbed into my belly. I’m like holy shit, that hurt like hell. A nurse happened to be in the room at the time and she immediately asked what happened. I explain it to her and she says that things like that can happen. It didn’t feel like it is coming from anywhere near the surgical site, so I am a bit confused by it. She later consults one of the doctors about it and they add a medication (Gabapentin) to all the other meds I have to take. This becomes the first of many knife stabbing stomach pains to occur over the next couple of weeks. They are nerve related pains and they really suck!

I become micro focused on all these pains and issues, and haven’t gotten to think much about what I thought about the process I went through. Was it everything I imagined it to be? Nope, not even close. I am desperately trying to manage my emotions and keep reminding myself that this is just what we have to go through to get to the end goal. I decide that I will give it some deep thought when all the pain subsides and feeling starts to return. I am on a journey and this is just a step along the way. The goal and final results are still to far off to consider anything as of right now. Right now I will just focus on micro goals. What do I have to do next? Next goal, is making it to release day from the hospital, we’ll just keep our focus on making it to that….

To be continued…



Christine Penn

Trans woman, parent, cyclist, software engineer, author, chef, and many other things.


See more recommendations