In a week and two days, at 10:30AM, I will arrive at a non-descript concrete building on the side of Northern Boulevard in Great Neck, New York. I will be wearing slip-on shoes like an inmate, and button-front pajamas like an old lady.
My hair will be washed, my jewelry removed. I will have one blood relative and one friend with me, acting as chauffeur and distractor, respectively. Behind my ear, probably my right ear, I will have a transdermal Scopolamine patch (Tropane alkaloid, muscarinic antagonist.) I will likely be trembling (tachycardia)and hungry (hypoglycemia.) I will have fasted since midnight, not taking in any food or water.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.
38.5% of men consider breasts their favorite female body part.
I will be arriving at the office building on the north shore of Long Island in order to see Dr. Ray Townshend, MD, aesthetic plastic surgeon (graduate of Syracuse class of 1993, fan of the San Francisco 49ers, married, two dogs.)
The pre-op appointment is supposed to set my mind at ease.
“Hello, I’m Margie, I’ll be your nurse in the recovery room,” says a middle-aged woman with a gold cross around her neck. “I’ll be there to take care of you.” She touches my cheek as though I’m a child. Like a child, I’m immediately nervous at the amount of compassion she’s showing me. There would be no need for a stranger to be this nice unless my life was in danger.
Margie asks me a series of questions about my allergies (sulfur drugs, freshly cut grass, Chinese food) and preference for pain medication (yes.) Even though I have been sober for nearly seven years, I’m prescribed Percocet. After a conversation regarding how she’ll watch over me, Margie touches my cheek again and brings Dr. Townshend into the room.
Dr. Townshend is my wet dream. I would easily pay just short of $10K for a man of his intellectual caliber to touch my breasts, with or without a scalpel. He pulls up a stool so that he is eye-level with me in the examination chair, and his eyes, as warm and as brown as a spa mud bath, searches my face. “Do you have any questions?”
“None other than the ones I’ve asked you,” I responded. “I don’t think…”
I had asked would I have cleavage (cannot be determined before surgery,) will I be able to do yoga (yes, but not for a little while,)would I have top-boob (yes, as high-profile implants, Mentor brand MemoryGel silicone-filled,) and when could I resume my normal activities (after the first two weeks I should be back to most regular tasks, within six weeks I should be fully recovered.)
We go over the risks. Capsular contracture, the most likely and most terrifying, is the one we discuss the most. He shows me the Mentor pamphlet with the complication statistics. For primary augmentation patients, the front-runners of complications include capsular contracture, infection, and rupture. Rounding out the pack are hypertrophic scarring, hematoma, ptsosis, breast sensation changes, breast pain, trauma, and something referred to as “nipple complications.”
Trauma included its own explanation for what exactly constituted the injury.
“Lifted child and stroller; trauma sustained from motor vehicle accident; trauma to breast from fall; and first and second degree frostbite from ice bags placed on breasts the day after surgery to relieve operative pain.”
“I’m not overly concerned about any of this,” Dr. Townshend says as he closes the pamphlet and hands it to me. “You’re healthy, young, and you’re a good candidate. Everything should be fine, cross our fingers.”
“You can have this,” Dr. Townshend says, handing me the pamphlet with the smiling, busty model in a pastel covered bikini on the front. “There’s an informed consent form for you to fill out on the last page, which we’ll take from you on the day of the surgery. Do you have anything you’d like to discuss?’
I have one final question.
“Which side do you prefer to start on?”
Dr. Townshend seems visibly taken aback and a pensive yet amused expression breaks his cool calm.
“You know,” he responds in earnest. “I’ve never even thought of that. I don’t have one.”
It’s only later the following day that a friend of mine points out that the question undoubtedly stayed in his conscience.
“You probably gave him a complex,” he mused. “The next pair he did, he totally was thinking about it.”
For the whole of puberty, I was shunned by the young members of the opposite sex. Some said it outright, I remember an olive skinned boy named Sam, who laughed once and said in his lilting, broken voice, loud enough for all at the school dance to hear, “No way I’d go out with you. You’re flat as a board.”
My female elementary school classmates were no better, snapping my training bra until it broke in the locker-room, mocking me in their pink Jockey bralettes and push-up bras with foam inserts as thick as slices of Wonder Bread.
Barely a AA cup in high-school, I gave up on trying to be pretty and covered my lack of breasts in black metal band tee-shirts, and buried my face in books. I found that making out with girls happened more easily than making out with boys, and I didn’t need to con curious friends of mine into swapping spit since they didn’t care whether or not I had developed beyond bee-stings. I assumed I was a lesbian, since I wasn’t conventionally attractive enough to get a boyfriend, and cut off all my hair. It wasn’t until the age of twenty-six, when I drunkenly fucked some slam poet in Brooklyn, that I realized my sexuality wasn’t determined by my lack of tits. That still didn’t mean I felt particularly feminine. Shopping was still a cruel joke. It had never dawned on me to go under the knife to remedy the issue, as my mother, a woman as small and as flat-chested as me by birth, had gotten a full C-cup in 1990.
Grade III capsular contracture and two surgeries later, her oversized jugs were still as rigid and immovable as the prows of a catamaran, her nipples pointing in opposite directions as though they were storming off during a fight.
I did not want that. Even taking the risk of that sort of result frightened me in a way that my effortless ability to confuse the general public of my gender when I chose to eschew makeup couldn’t. I pierced my nipples, got a tiny tattoo of Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of Orion’s belt, on the curve by my ribs of where my right breast should be.
At thirty-two, after two years without intercourse and no suitable prospects for mating, I decided to consult with Dr. Townshend and his team. Six months later, I am here in Target with a shopping cart filled with things, like button-front pajamas, a front closure sports bra, reams of gauze and tape, ice packs, and dry shampoo. I begin to foresee at least two weeks where lifting my arms above my head will be impossible. I fill out my prescription for Percocet (5/325mg, 1–2 tabs for pain) and purchase Colace and Ex-Lax as advised to deal with the inevitable narcotic-induced constipation. If the cost of being sexy is risking relapse on an Oxycontin hybrid and not shitting for a month, I figure its worth it.
The week of the surgery, everything suddenly shifts to surreal. I go off of my supplements, as instructed. I’ve taken Migrelief twice a day for the better part of a year, along with several other supplements that my neurologist prescribed me to prevent a phenomena called incomplete migraines (neuro-ophthalmic variant as triggered by the third cranial nerve, featuring any combination of paroxysmal episodes of visual auras; atypical sensory, motor, visual activity; confusion; dysarthria; focal neurologic deficits; weakness; neuropathy; and gastrointestinal distress.)
Eighteen hours without dosing myself, I start to see bilateral black donuts in the center of my vision while in the shower. It’s Saturday. My GP’s office is closed, my neurologist is on vacation, and Dr. Townshend’s office is observing the Labor Day holiday through Tuesday.
After over an hour and fifteen minutes of intermittent sleep in a dark room, the visual aura fades, but the tinnitus, weakness, and general feeling of being fucked in the head remains. I begin to have anxiety about how many episodes I’ll experience this week, which isn’t helpful, as this sort of a condition is exacerbated by stress. Granted, it’s difficult not to be a little keyed up by the prospect of going temporarily blind while recovering from major surgery implanting prostheses in my chest wall. I predict a week of regular napping and self-imposed driving restrictions.
I’m scared. Even though I’ve always credited myself with being a tough-girl, self-sufficient and self-reliant, able to pop a squat and take a piss anywhere, with pierced nipples, tattoos, and an attitude like a Power Puff Girls cartoon with a Misfits soundtrack, I’m terrified. What if they turn out like two baseballs stapled on my chest? What if I’m in too much pain to move for weeks? What if the dreaded complication of “animation” happens and the distal insertion for one of my pectoral muscles wrenches one (or both!) of the implants from their resting place, leaving me deformed? What if I need additional surgeries? What if I say something really, really stupid coming out of anesthesia, or disclose mortifying details about my paraphilias?
It also runs through my head that my identity may change. Beyond being a stomach sleeper and highly active, I’ve never conformed to any so-called traditional idea of sexual appeal. I’m aware that having breasts will undoubtedly alter the way I’m treated in public, and viewed and spoken to by men will it change the way I perceive myself? If the sexualization of my form is something I’m prepared for, I question the way I’ll slip into that role.
But really I’m more concerned about not being able to sleep on my stomach anymore.
The day before surgery, I realize I am more frightened than I have ever been in my entire life. Every action of my arms leads me to feel as though I am saying goodbye. Goodbye, shampooing my hair. Goodbye, putting a shirt on over my head. Goodbye, reaching for a can of dog food from the second shelf. I complete what I describe in a text message as “the last set of push-ups I will ever do in my life” at the gym, and decide to purchase a step-stool, which, as a defiant short girl, feels like defeat.
I want to give the guy I’m fucking a blowjob, but an expected side-effect of the Scopolamine patch I need to use the night before is dry-mouth. This causes me more anxiety than is necessary. What if he never wants to fuck me again? What if I’ve already given him the last blowjob I ever will? I think about the last time he grabbed my less-than-an-A-cup breast in his large hand and squeezed, hard, while thrusting. That was the last time, I think. I instinctively look down at my left breast and feel bad for it.
T-minus 23 hours: I open the prescription for Percocet and foolishly Google everything about the drug. Rookie move.
T-minus 20 hours: I cry in the shower and apologize to myself.
T-minus 18 hours: The anesthesiologist calls.
“You know you’re the scariest person in the world…”
“No! I’m so gentle…”
He tells me everything, including how late I can put on the patch (doesn’t matter,) and gets my doctor confused with another one in the practice. He sounds kind. In his fifties. Like he owns a Lamborghini.
“Do you have any other questions?”
“Um, how to shop for a bikini? ‘Cause I don’t know how.”
He laughs, sincerely, for a little too long, and then says he’ll see me tomorrow, hon.
Never tell me you’ll be gentle. I prefer it rough. But in this one instance, I’ll give it a pass.
T-minus 15 hours: We negotiate the ETA for the blowjob.
T-minus 9 hours: I take another shower, shampoo my hair, shave my entire body, and cry an apology to my nipples again.
I take out my nipple rings (barbells, 16 gauge* sterling silver) for the first time since I had them re-pierced in ‘05. I look naked, in a good way, without them. It is 12:44AM on the day of my surgery. I affix the motion sickness patch to the skin behind my right ear, over the start tattoo there. I stay awake until around 3AM, worrying, second guessing, crying. What if I regret it? What if something goes wrong? What if I look worse with them? Am I ruining everything? I drift off to a dreamless blackness wondering what my anesthesiologist looks like.
I wake up at 8:45 to a text from one of my best-friends, who has been my partner in the itty-bitty-titty-committee, asking if she can come over and give me a hug. She stays with me as I stumble around, putting on my button-front shirt and pajama bottoms, my slip on shoes, and putting everything I’ve been instructed to bring into a tote bag (wallet, insurance card, keys, socks in case I need them.) I feel distracted, but no longer afraid. From the stress and the lack of sleep, from the hours of sobbing and years of anticipation, I am numb, comfortably, like a Pink Floyd song. I’m operating about a foot deeper inside of my brain, feeling detached, dissociated, uncaring. My aunt arrives, we get in her car, we arrive a half-hour early to the office. We’re the only ones in the waiting room.
Less than five minutes after we arrive, we’re taken in. It’s the same hallway I’ve walked down before, both for the consult and to try on prosthetics. We’re taken into one of the rooms where there is a reclining examination chair that has a gown, a package of socks, additional slipper socks, a blue surgical cap, and a plastic bag. Margie, my post-operative nurse walks in and goes over what will be happening. The operating suite is on the other side of the far wall, through a steel door. I’m to wait in this room until it’s time.
I’m told to strip naked and put on the gown, which I do in the corner. My ass hangs out, but I’m small enough to wrap the gown around me twice. Margie puts the compression knee-socks on me and the slipper socks.
There’s a knock at the door.
“Brendan is here, he would like to come back and say hello,” the front desk woman says. My nearest and dearest friend since kindergarten lumbers into the room and introduces himself. Aunt Lyn is told to go with Margie to hear about what will be happening following the surgery. Bren and I are left alone.
“How’re you holding up?” he asks. “You alright?”
“I’m good,” I reply. “Want to get this over with.”
There’s a pause. A low hum of fluorescent lights. I can hear through the wall at the back of the room
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I say.
“I can’t believe you’re doing it, either!” he exclaims. “But it’s something you’ve been talking about for a long time.”
“Yeah,” I reply.
There’s a knock at the door and Dr. Townshend pops his head in.
“Come in,” I say.
He’s in surgical scrubs, black Adidas socks, and black sneakers. He has an operating cap tied around his head. Without a suit on, he looks close to my age, handsome, capable. I immediately launch into a barrage of questions.
“How do they measure hematoma?”
“Whether or not it needs to get drained.”
He pulls a swivel stool up next to me with the Mentor pamphlet, and then seems to notice Brendan in the room for the first time.
“Are you…I’m Dr. Townshend,” he says, shaking Brendan’s hand.
He looks from me to Brendan.
“Are you boyfriend-girlfriend?”
Brendan waits for me to answer. “No, noooo,” I say emphatically. “We’ve just known each other since kindergarten.”
“She basically pimps me out like a med student,” jokes to Brendan, pointing out different parts of the Mentor study. I’m wishing I hadn’t had to take my underwear off and am afraid of leaving a puddle of pee on the chair.
Dr. Townshend quickly goes over the restrictions, which aren’t many. No working out for six weeks, no sex for two weeks, a follow up appointment in a week. Showering the next day is approved, including shampooing, so long as I don’t reach my arms up too high.
“So she’s a T-Rex for a few days?” Brendan asks.
“Exactly!” Dr. Townshend says.
After drawing some lines below my breasts and down my sternum (manubrium, gladiolus, xiphoid process) he leaves the room, after shaking both of our hands.
“I’ll see you in there,” he smiles at me.
“He seems really smart,” Brendan says.
I fan myself with my hands, swooning. “Yeeeah,” I sigh.
Another minute passes before there’s another knock at the door.
“Come in,” I say again. Dr. Schumer, the anesthesiologist, walks in. Like Dr. Townshend, he’s in scrubs, only with clogs on his feet, and some well-kept facial hair that, coupled with his shaved head and muscular forearms, makes him seem like a motorcycle enthusiast or an extra on Law & Order. He’s less personable than Dr. Townshend by a long-shot, but nevertheless, I trust him.
“Will I be stupid after?” I ask.
“No more stupid than when you arrived,” he says.
He explains the procedure: propofol will be administered to make me sleepy, then a combination of drugs will be fed through my veins to keep me unconscious. With a curt handshake, he exits, and one of the surgical nurses, Jean, enters the room. She’s an ice queen, all business, and kicks Brendan out of the room to wait until the procedure is over.
“You seem like you needed a break,” she says. “From him. From all of it. Just rest.”
She presses a button and the feet of the chair recline.
“Here,” she says in a voice that’s more professional than comforting as she places a heated blanket over me. I close my eyes.
“It’ll be about ten more minutes, we’re still setting up,” she says as she shuts the door.
I take a nap while waiting.
“Ready?” the other operating room nurse asks as she presses the button to return the chair to its upright and seated position. I want to tell her that I can still use my arms and not to worry, I can jump off the chair without her troubling herself, but I let her do her job. She takes me by the elbow and guides me through the two mystery doors at the back of the room. I have a flash of a memory from when I attended a cadaver lab at Bridgeport University.
“How old are you?” she asks.
“Thirty-three,” I reply sheepishly.
“My goodness. You look like you’re eighteen. You look like you’re a child. So small.”
I want to tell her that she’s hitting all the right notes to make me feel good about myself, but instead I just nod. Although I no longer feel nervous, I also don’t feel like talking.
Inside of the operating suite there is a table, metal planks where the arms go, and safety straps like some BDSM medical fetish device. There are odd looking gelatinous yellowed blocks with indents, and a bunch of wires. I’m assisted onto the table, Dr. Shumer takes my right arm and starts asking me about my tattoos. I launch into the usual stand-up routine about them as he inserts the first of two needles.
“Your veins are so tiny,” he comments.
Dr. Townshend comes to my left side. I close my eyes because I don’t want to watch my vision tunnel fade out. Dr. Townshend continues to talk to me, small talk, and Jean the nurse says something about having known my father in the ‘90s.
I come to in a different room. I’ve had dreams of walking around Caumsett State Park with Brendan and my aunt on a sunny day. Drool is being wiped off of my cheek and chin by Margie, my post-operative nurse. She rubs Vaseline on my eyes and tells me I did well. I reach my hands up and feel my chest, it feels like I’m wearing a padded bra. Below the gown there is a front-closure surgical bra, two squares of cotton gauze padding, a compression strap, and two breast implants. I am bleary, confused, and I want my cell-phone. I feel like I did when I was drinking, one eye half-shut, aware but unaware. I want to sleep more, but I also want to be awake. It takes me abnormally long to type out a text telling my friends that I’m ok.
Dr. Townshend comes in and tells me that everything went fine. They had tried the 200cc spacers and they were too big, so I have 150ccs (Mentor brand, Smooth Round Moderate Plus Profile Gel) which fit more naturally on my frame.
I am not in pain. There’s a minor amount of soreness, like I did a vigorous “blast yer pecs!” workout. But nothing severe.
“Just u wait,” my friend who had the surgery warns me when I text her that I feel fine. “U r on propofol now.”
I go home and eat some fruit and yogurt. Having my aunt and Brendan in my house makes me nervous, makes me want to act like a hostess. I feel like my chest is made of wet clay and that at any second I’ll ruin it. I flush the toilet and my left breast (my new left breast that is) sends out a sharp, warning flash of pain. I move a chair out to sit down, another lightning strike. I’m so frightened that I feel okay, frightened that I’ve ruined them, frightened that the fact that I’m not in agony or bleary or stupid that it’s a sign that something’s wrong. Eventually my aunt and Brendan leave and my other two friends, who I feel infinitely more comfortable with, come over. Jen feels my tits gently through the sportsbra. She’s copped the first feel. My belly is swollen from the anesthesia. There are orange Iodine marks are all over my neck and belly, making me look like I applied self-tanner in the dark. It takes me an hour to eat a yogurt and a container of watermelon chunks. I feel like there’s no room in my body. Eventually my friends leave, and I’m alone. I’m not going to take the Percocet, I don’t need it. I’m in surprisingly little pain, and take two more Tylenol. I want to take something to help me sleep, but not Percocet. I put a call out to Dr. Townshend, who is on call for the weekend, and he calls me back in seven minutes. I’m allowed to take Benadryl, so I take two and prop myself up to try to sleep upright. It’s successful.
I wake up a few times and need to take more Tylenol at 2AM. My hands and feet are tingling and pain is dancing down my body, I feel like there are bugs under my skin and I can’t get comfortable. I nearly fall on my side as I go to reach for my water in bed, and spend a terrifying few minutes gently rolling myself from my side to my back like a harbor seal. In a moment of panic, I wonder if I should call someone to come over and help me up, but it’s just nerves, and I’m able to right myself with a minimal amount of pain. I vow to be more cautious. I almost wish I were in agony so I would have to be stationary, immobile, watched, nursed. I realize that self-will, my stubbornness, and my pain tolerance are going to make the next six weeks impossibly frustrating.
There are a few interesting developments during the first week of recovery that I had not been prepared for. For one thing, I intermittently have feelings like I’m rolling on MDMA. I realize that this must be due to nerve activity, as my fourth intercostal nerve had been tampered with when the implants were inserted. I roll with it, pun intended.
Another unexpected side-effect of the surgery is a dissociated ass. Either from the surgery itself or from suddenly being forced to sleep on my back in a slightly reclined position, my sacrum and ass cheeks are completely numb. Much like how, when I touch my (new) right breast, I feel as though I’m touching someone else’s body, when I reach around and grope my own rump, I could very well be molesting a stranger. This sucks, but not nearly as much as showering.
Showering is the worst. The very worst. It isn’t just the compression bandage and the surgical bra, of which I have two of each and have to hand wash in the sink. It isn’t the fact that I need to wash my hair like Golem, hunched over into a human question mark, gingerly scrubbing my scalp. It isn’t even the awkwardness of not being able to wash anything on my posterior other than the tops of my shoulders and my asshole, or the sheer brutality of having to face the growing yellow nebula over my sternum and two-inch-wide by five-inch-long black-purple streaks where the Dermabond and stitches are. It’s that the feeling of being disembodied, the visual and somatic recognition that I am suddenly foreign to myself reaches a crescendo there under the running water of my shower head.
I feel the need to tell everyone that I’ve had surgery. Sometimes I don’t specify what type, but if the surgical bra and compression band are at all visible, the checkout clerk or gas station attendant appears to assume I had a lumpectomy or some breast cancer-related procedure and becomes visibly imbued with compassion, leading me to force a laugh and try to explain that, no, no, everything is fine, I just got tits!
The way that male strangers respond to me is completely different. I go out for coffee with a boy from the Internet and I find myself oddly self-conscious when his sightline darts down to the darkness at the apex of my v-neck shirt. This doesn’t surprise me, but I’m still wholly unsure of how to respond, and find myself embarrassed nearly to the point of embarrassment, as though I’ve been caught wearing a padded bra, a mask, or Meghan Fox’s skin as a suit.
The response is uniformly positive among men, and mixed among women who know about the surgery. I notice that guys approach me, especially when I’m debating between decongestants at CVS or attempting to buy myself a bottle of water at a bar.
One night it creeps into my head that I might be looking my gift funbags in the nips. I mean, what’s the point of having a weapon if you’re not prepared to use it? I’ve never been the type of girl to take advantage of more than my diminutive size and ability to argue my way out of a sealed can of milk. With my new cleavage, but the same perspective, was I really embracing my newfound womanhood? Or is what’s commonly referred to as “feminine wiles” merely an attribute based on the manipulation of Western societal standards, men’s response to visual stimuli, and the biological need to reproduce?
As I embarked on my first serious foray into the dating world after school and surgery, I was soon about to find out…