“It does not matter how slowly go you go as long as you do not stop.”
For over three years now, I have been having to make statements like these to myself. I still need to remind myself of this from time to time.
One of the things I love about where I live is that I am smack dab in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Virginia. I mean, literally. I can drive two hours south east and be in Va. Beach, VA, enjoying the surf and the sand, or drive an hour and a half to two hours to the north west and be driving along the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway. Typically, in the fall, I program my GPS to take me west so I can watch the leaves change in the mountains. I had hoped to do that while I was off over the past month but the light sensitivity I am still struggling with made that impossible. My one saving grace is that with all the rain we have had over the past month and a half, the leaves have only now begun to change. Looks like I still have time to see fall in the mountains.
When I was younger, especially during my college years, I would go on these long hikes in the mountains during the fall. I never worried about my pace. It was more about reaching my final destination…usually some overlook into the valley. It was the same way when I climbed Mt. Fuji in 2000 with my brother and sister in law. It took us forever to reach the summit. It was especially slow going once we hit 10,000 feet and the air thinned. Mt. Fuji is 12,776 feet tall and it took us almost as long to ascend the last 2,776 as it did to get from the base camp up to 10,000 feet. But in the end, we did it. We reached the summit as the sun was setting and got to see one of the most majestic views I have ever seen in my life. Then, the next morning, to see the sun rise from the camp at 11,500 feet was equally as spectacular.
As I have been on my journey, I have often thought back to those hikes, that climb and the fact we never gave up on them. I have thought about how slow certain parts of those treks were and that we still pressed forward. There are a lot of moments on this journey where I have sat and thought about giving up, and then remember sitting on a rock at about 11,000 feet telling my brother I didn’t think I could make it…and him looking at me saying, “You can and you will. We are going to push each other until we do this. No stopping now.” And that’s exactly what we did.
I think I shared before going out for my surgery the story of my surgeon and I talking about the date for my procedure at my preop appointment. In case you missed that, as my surgeon offered me dates and I selected September 10th to have it done, he stopped for a moment, looked over my chart and then looked at me. In probably one of the funniest exchanges my surgeon and I had, we laughed about the fact my surgery was the quintessential birthday gift for me and got everything scheduled.
The day of my surgery, something special happened that shocked me. I have only told a few people about this before now. However, it is too sweet a story not to share here as I think others on this journey need to know that health care, while still having a lot of work to day (and believe me, I have my bitches here), health care providers themselves are becoming much more accepting of the trans population. As I look back on this journey for the rest of my life, the day of my facial surgery will be remembered less for the actually surgical procedure that was done, and more for the absolute care, consideration and respect I was shown by my medical team.
From the second I was taken into the back to prepare for surgery, everyone treated me so well. My doctor had made sure that everyone would refer to me as Madison and use feminine pronouns around me. The dignity they graced me with was amazing and what was even more shocking was many of the people caring for me…nurses, residents involved in my case, technicians…all took a moment to commend me for being me. I don’t know if any of them even realized that I was an employee at the hospital, but every single one of them treated me in a way not I even I expected.
Ironically though, that wasn’t even the best part of it.
As I was being wheeled from preop into the OR, my surgeon was right by my side. Not a common occurrence at our medical center but he didn’t leave my side. After they moved me from the stretcher to the operating room table, the doctor stood beside me as they began their safety time out. In the safety time out, every person involved in the procedure gives their name, title, the name of the procedure being done and their role in the surgery. It’s a process put in place several years ago that greatly reduced surgical errors at our hospital. My surgeon went first, then the anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist and so on down the line. As they were doing this, my surgeon took the time to just hold my hand and would occasionally give it a squeeze.
About half way through, my surgeon gave my hand a big squeeze, looked down and me and said something along these lines:
“I’m going to pause the timeout for a moment because I want to share something with all of you. Today is Madison’s birthday. She has been on her personal journey for over three years now and today is a huge step forward for her. When we met and scheduled her surgery, she told me that this was all she wanted for her birthday this year…this surgery…so she can be more herself. Let’s all make sure to make this a birthday she will never forget.”
With that, he squeezed my left hand again and I just looked up at him with a soft smile on my face. I think he knew I was fighting back tears in that moment and I could tell he was smiling back at me. Before I even realized it, the entire surgical team started clapping. Those who had already given their time out check came up to my right side, took my hand, squeezed it and wished me a happy birthday. Once they were done, those who still needed to do their time out check would come up to me, hold my hand while they said what they needed to and promised to take excellent care of me. I spent the rest of the safety time out crying and thanking every single one of them as the anesthesiologist wiped away my tears.
I share this story because I feel it’s important for others walking this path to know that there are hospitals, doctors and nurses committed to helping those of us transitioning reach our goals. Yes, there is still prejudice within the health care system against the trans community. Yes, current electronic medical records, billing practices and individuals still want to and try to make things harder for us. In an upcoming post, I will share details of several things I found where my hospital has MAJOR improvement to do if they want to be a top facility for transgender care. But moments like these, they do exemplify the changes that are being made and how the overall attitude of the health care industry is changing.
Both in my personal interactions with other transgender individuals and in the articles I read on transgender healthcare, I often only hear about the negatives. Doctors refusing to provide care, insensitive and discriminatory practices, hospitals refusing to provide certain services, insurance companies not covering gender affirming procedures and difficulties with billing as most systems still look at gender as being completely binary. There is still such a long way to go.
But the tide is turning. Slowly, but it is turning. And you know what? It isn’t stopping.
Nor am I. It’s been a long, slow and at times arduous road to get to this point. But I never stopped. And I never will…thanks to those of you, including my surgical team, who see me as me…as Madison. ♥
See it on Flickr.