Monday, June 06, 2011

Casa De Las Flores

Saturday April 23 was my first day waking up at Casa De Las Flores.  Despite the pain from my surgeries two days past, the quaint charm of my surroundings was not lost on me.  The walls had niches and inset areas, and everything was painted in unthinkable color combinations.  If someone painted a room yellow, green and pink in America, it would not work.  For some reason when you see it in Mexico it just feels bold and striking.  The colors were not the only reminder that I was not in Kentucky anymore.  Every flat surface and decorative niche was filled with beautiful Mexican folk art, and all the counters were done in tiny hand painted tiles.  A giant picture window looked out on the courtyard, which was an absolute wonder.  I had seen it online, but was still taken by surprise at its beauty upon arrival the previous day.

From the street, Casa De Las Flores looks like a small two story building that would not be big enough to have guest rooms.  It is situated on an urban street.  From outside you can't see any ground that isn't paved.   But once you step inside, you are greeted with office space and a large common area filled with lavish folk art.  The back door opens onto the garden courtyard.  Two story walls shield the area and exotic plants fill the space with surprising density.  Their variety and beauty are impressive.  Pavers lead from the outdoor dining area adjoining the front offices, across the courtyard in sweeping curves, to the rear building that contains the guest rooms.

From my angle on the bed, looking out the window gave the impression that my room was in a tropical rain forest rather than adjoining a courtyard.  The beautiful foliage blocked the view back to the front building completely.  At least 5 kinds of birds were calling constantly outside.

While the view from my bed was a wonderful combination of crafts and art inside, with plants and sun outside my window, I was still far from comfortable.  My head felt numb and strange, but not particularly painful and my throat hurt a little from my tracheal shave.  The main source of discomfort was definitely my breasts.  I had opted for 450 mL anatomical implants, and had chosen sub-pectoral placement.   That means that instead of placing the implants directly under my existing mammary tissue, they actually lifted the muscles of my chest and placed the implants under them.

It has advantages and disadvantages.  Some research suggests this placement makes a few complications less likely.  Plus, since the implants have more separation from the mammary tissue, they do not complicate mammograms as much as sub-glandular implants.  It also masks the edges of the implant, making it harder to detect their shape.  There are a few drawbacks, but the most immediate one is pain.  According to some articles, choosing sub-pectoral implant placement takes breast augmentation from medium pain levels, right past high and potentially into severe.

"Severe" felt about right this morning.  The compression bra still tore into my back and sides, and a sneeze felt like my ribs were breaking.  My breasts felt tight and my pectoral muscles seemed stretched and painful.  My arms were practically unusable.  Laying on my back made the incisions on my chest feel dangerously stretched.  I spent the night propped up on pillows so I could sleep sitting almost upright.  But I still needed help getting up.  It is fortunate that our friend Jen was there, because Kay was in no position to help me.  Only one day ahead of me in recovery, her mobility was almost as restricted as mine.

Kay did not feel like having breakfast the first morning.  I didn't either, but I knew my body was healing and that I needed nourishment.  So when Jen reminded us that it was time for breakfast,  I went reluctantly and Kay chose to stay in the room.

The breakfast was great.  I don't really know how to explain what it was, but it was delicious and filling. After breakfast Jen decided to have a walk around the neighborhood.  Kay chose to sit it out.  I thought walking might remind me that most of my body was still healthy and help me focus on the positive.  Plus exploring seemed a good way to take my mind off the pain. When we stepped out, we both imediately noticed a beautiful old cathedral a few blocks away.  I said I wanted to try to walk to it.  Jen seemed surprised that I would try for such a distance on my  first walk post-surgery, but was optimistic.

Walking did help me feel better.  The sun, the architecture,  and all the little nuances that distinguish a community filled my senses and thoughts, distracting me from the pain.  I kept up with Jen but breathing deeply hurt.  At one point I accidentally stepped off the curb and the sudden shock sent a wave of pain through my chest.

 A few days ago I had been staying at Hotel Morales in Guadalajara city center.  My last sight seeing day there, I had worn my favorite strapless floral dress.  I got quite a few looks and cat calls.  At one point I had been approached by a local guy who asked my name.  When I told him, he pretended not to hear me, so that I would lean in closer to repeat it.  He kissed me on the cheek.  It was more attention than I wanted, but at the same time it was all very flattering.

Those recent memories made my treatment today seem comparatively discouraging.  I felt like a freak, out with visible stitches over unhealed incisions on  my head and throat, and with my face still continuing to swell and bruise.  The thought was there.  "I did this to look better and feel more confident, and now I'm a disfigured freak."  I kept reminding myself that it was all temporary and that in a month things would be mostly healed.  It was hard to make it feel real though.

That walk was the first of many.  The next morning Kay came to breakfast and started exploring town too.  We kept venturing farther, and our walks became souvenir shopping trips.  We got to sample lots of local food, and take in quite a bit of local culture.  We both got stronger as we went, and toward the end we finally had enough mobility to cuddle at night instead of sleeping completely propped up side by side on pillows.  I think that made me happier than any other progress during recovery.

In the beginning, the pain didn't seem bearable, and it was hard to imagine being free of it.  But each day it was noticeably better so I kept reminding myself that eventually I would heal.  Often, I worried that I would run out of time to heal.  I couldn't imagine handling airports and planes, feeling the way I felt.  But by the time of our exit exams at the clinic, much of the pain was gone and I felt positive about the trip home.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


I was sitting on the edge of my hospital bed in the Clinica Angeles Chapalita, looking down at the Clinica Angeles Chapalita logo slippers on my feet as I thought through my doubts and fears.  I already felt pretty much committed.  Still with only moments left before the anesthesiologist would place the mask on my face, I think it is only natural that I had second thoughts.

I had spent the previous night in my girlfriend Kay's clinic room, trying to help her and keep her comfortable after her series of surgeries.  This morning it was my turn.

During the planning phase of this trip, I had misgivings about being scheduled second.  I'm squeamish of all things medical, and I was not sure I could see Kay post surgery and still be able to go through with mine.

Instead, it worked out very well.  I was too worried about Kay to worry about myself before her surgery.  Then after, I was so concerned with trying to make her comfortable that I wasn't thinking about my operations at all.

At this point I was in my own room though.  The doctors had been in just moments before.  Doctor Cardenas, another plastic surgeon, and lots of support staff had come into my room.  While everyone watched, Cardenas began drawing the incision marks on my chest, throat and forehead. I think that is when the fear set in.  Sitting there on the table feeling the marker draw lines that would soon be traced by a scalpel.

Had I really thought this through? Only months ago, all these operations were a fantasy to me.  I had heard about typical US prices and ruled out all these operations because I felt I couldn't afford to do this and GRS too.  Then a chance meeting changed my transition plan.  I had found Kay, fallen in love, and as a result, learned about surgery options I probably never would have explored on my own.  She was already scheduled for surgery on April 20 with Cardenas when we met in early December.  When she had gone over   the pricing, I had been astonished, and a little tempted.  By March, I knew there was no way I could let her go to Mexico for surgery and stay home only getting updates on her condition by sporadic phone calls.

My need to take the trip had made the idea of taking care of some of my own surgical needs more tempting than ever.  If I was going anyway, that meant I could have my surgeries without additional travel and lodging expenses.  Plus,  Kay already had arranged for a good friend to come along, so I would not need to find someone to look after me.  After my own research into  Cardenas's practice as well as the potential risks of the surgeries I felt I needed, I was sure I wanted to do it and began scheduling.

It was barely a month ago that they set my April 21 surgery date.  Had I researched enough? Was I even sure I needed all this work?  Was it safe to have all this done in Guadalajara, Mexico?  I knew these thoughts were no longer constructive.  Just last minute hesitation.  I had researched.  I knew these operations would help my confidence and self esteem.  It was worth it, and that had all been settled.

Moments later they came to take me to the operating room.  It was not at all the way I imagined it would be before arriving here.  The walk was not a big white, sterile corridor with that lingering hospital smell. Instead, the door to my room opened into a courtyard surrounded by two story balconies.  The floor was stone.  Benches and various plants punctuated the open space.  The nurse walked me and my IV bag stand part of the way around the courtyard to another door that opened directly onto the surgical suite, which thankfully looked a lot more sterile, but frightening compared to the open, natural feel of the courtyard.

I was terrified.  My heart was racing as they set me on the operating table and began final preparations.  When they started taking my blood pressure I thought it would come up ridiculously high, but it didn't. The nurses did realize I was scared though and tried to comfort me.  The last thing I remember was looking up into the light, a nurse holding my hand on each side.  The one to my right said "You have such a pretty nose."  Then I was out.

 I awoke.  Just barely.  I couldn't feel pain anywhere, and it never occurred to me to open my eyes.  I just remember the sensation of sliding, as they shifted me from the surgery table to whatever they took me to my room on, and a sense of motion, then sliding again as they placed me back into bed.  Several relaxed voices were conversing in Spanish through my relocation.  I was just awake enough to take the conversational tone as a good sign.

When I became fully awake and opened my eyes, I was back in my room.  I had no idea what I looked like.  No mirrors.  I knew how my head was wrapped because I had seen Kay.  Looking down, it was pretty obvious I wasn't flat chested anymore.  Bandages completely covered my breasts, which seemed impossibly large.  Mentally, I felt a lot sharper than I expected too.  But I could barely move, and every part of me felt stiff, sore and unresponsive.  Fortunately Kay and our friend were there to take care of me.

Breast augmentation, forehead reconstruction, brow lift, hairline advancement, and a tracheal shave were all performed in less than three hours.  The first day, was uncomfortable, but the day after was worse.  Pain was constant all day, but bearable.  Then by 1 AM,  I was out of my bandages and showered.  My breasts felt impossibly heavy and delicate.  My forehead felt painful and hollow.  My throat felt like a typical sore throat and my voice came out raspy.

I was discharged only 24 hours after surgery, feeling weak and nauseous, with my new surgical support bra tearing into my spine and crushing my ribs.  I looked hideous.  My curly hair had not been touched in days, a row of stitches followed my hairline around my scalp, and my face was puffy and swollen.  The driver our bed and breakfast sent for us looked a little puzzled at first sight of us.  I felt awkward being in public at all, and was very pleased to arrive at Casa De La Flores, finish check in and settle into our room for 9 days of healing.  :)