Caution this post contains TMI (for some this could be “too much information”). Continue only if you wish – you have been warned. I will be discussing the routine ‘maintenance’ that I now must do a number of times each day. I’m writing this for those that are contemplating SRS so they can get an idea of what to expect.
After we arrived at the hotel from being discharged from the hospital, one of the clinic staff came up to our room and helped setup the room for my new daily routine. Oh boy, life is now a bit more complicated then it ever used to be. Things like showering and even how to wipe oneself after using the toilet are now vastly different and hygiene takes on a whole new level of importance. More about this later.
For the rest of my life, I, like anyone who has SRS, must dilate. Basically the body views the neo-vagina as a wound and will attempt to close it up. Dr. Suporn’s technique uses a mesh, which new skin grows on, to form the vagina. It also forms new tissue deeper inside surrounding the vagina as well. One way to think of this is scare tissue – in some ways it is similar – but not really. This new tissue will form hard and expand closing the vagina if not countered. And that is what dilation is all about.
We were given four dilation stents, one small one, two medium ones and one large. We start off with the medium stent, inserting it all the way back and then applying pressure to the back to keep our depth. When Dr. Suporn took out all that packing, he inserted this same stent showing me how to do it and measured my depth (I was 6″ in the hospital). Each stent has markings in both inches and cm. As you can see in the picture, these are HUGE (both is length and width) and FRIGHTENING at first. The first couple of dilations I did, I was amazed I could take all that! At first, we have to dilate twice a day, 30 minutes each – basically I have to go to full depth and then push hard. That was difficult. It is somewhere between uncomfortable and mildly painful. Some people take pain meds before they dilate. I did at first but quickly found I didn’t need to. One has to sit up straight (usually on the bed, pillows behind, plastic sheet on the bed and an absorbent bed sheet on top of that), legs must be straight out, no bending and somewhat close together. Any other position will engage muscles that will make dilation harder. We are taught that no matter what complications or difficulties we face – we always MUST dilate. As you will see later – I had complications where the last thing I wanted to do was dilate – but I still did.
We start with the medium stent and later (6 weeks) we graduate to the larger one. The small stent is used if it becomes difficult to insert the medium one. We then have to dilate with the small one for 5 mins or so and then move up to the medium and complete the dilation. The white stent is an extra medium size and is a bit softer. I think everyone loses a little depth from what was measured in the hospital. I’m at 5.5 inches and have stayed at that ever since – it could be the way they measured it there vs how I measure. The important part is to maintain depth. As I was told, depth will change with the time of day, if we just ate, if we didn’t go to the bathroom first, etc. So it fluctuates, but again, what is important is that it stays somewhat consistent.
There is an entire procedure surrounding this. The person from the clinic setup the bed table and bathroom so that everything I needed is close at hand. As you can see – there is a lot. The procedure gets better and less intense with time. But at first, we shower to clean off, using a special surgical soap on our new bottom – and rinse it off immediately as it can actually burn the skin if left on or used to much. I then lay down as stated above, put on surgical gloves, place a condom over the stent and apply a lot of lube – that last bit is important!
Until things heal enough (Dr. Suporn tells us when) we do ‘static’ dilation which I described above – straight back and apply pressure. When told to, we start dynamic dilation (about 2 weeks after surgery for me – but that is different for each person). Dynamic dilation is a bit easier I think. I start by fully inserting the stent, applying pressure for 10 seconds, then rest, then ‘stir’ it around to enlarge the sides for 10 times. Then we repeat this for 15 mins and have to do this 3 times a day. Months 2 and 3 is where the most healing occurs and where this is most important. The internal tissue is building and this needs to be countered and ‘softened’. Unfortunately, the nerves are becoming active during this same time ….. I’m 1/2 way through month 2 at the moment – so far ok.
Then we have to clean up after. This includes douching with warm water three times then a fourth time with a mild solution of betadine. Then a half shower washing our new parts with that surgical soap. For the first month we also have to apply betadine to the stitch lines down there and apply a silver cream to the inside of the inner labia. And then – collapse on the bed and rest!
At home we no longer have to coat the stitches (most of which have already dissolved), but we do need to get a douche kit that fully reaches inside. As they said – lube plus byproducts of healing inside create an idea culture for bacteria – all lube has to be rinsed out. Also at home we can use regular soap.
One issue is the trip home vs dilation. Having to dilate 3 times a day and having a flight home that for most of us is 20 some hours long makes for an interesting dilemma – no we do not dilate on the plane or in the airport! So we dilate extra long just before we leave for the airport (the van came to pick us up at 4 am … that meant I was up and dilating around 2:30 am….). Then we need to dilate when we get home. The trouble is, it’s been a long time, things down there have already started to tighten up and the flight home has made us very tense – what a mess. So, we are to wait an hour or so after we get home – do something relaxing – have a glass of wine – whatever to relax us. Then we dilate – this is where some people have to resort to the small stent to get started. I was ok – my depth went down to 5.1″ but withing the next 2 days I was back to my 5.5″.
As you can see from this picture – there is a lot of stuff we bring back with us (the huge pink bag). This includes supplies to last us for a month or so after we get home. It includes betadine solution, bed pads, tons of lube and condoms, a mirror, clock, my stents of course and pantie liners and pads. They gave us a large bottle of betadine but I also had a smaller bottle. The airport security ‘found’ the big bottle and confiscated it, but left the small bottle alone … go figure. Other transwomen were allowed to take theirs – as far as I’ve heard – I’m the only one that this happened to – ratso!
Some last points regarding dilation:
Contrary to what you would think – if you are having troubles dilating, then you need to ‘increase’ the number of times. They can be shorter in time, but you need to do more of them during the day.
As time goes on, we get to reduce the number of dilations each day. Until the end of the critical period (month 3) we need to do three a day. After that we can reduce to 2 a day. After 6 months about once a day and finally after a full year we can reduce to a couple per week – basically to check depth and then if needed do more dilations.
Also, once past month 3 – dilations become easier and other umm activity can substitute for a dilation, making it pleasurable indeed …
I should also mention some of the problems that could be encountered dilating. Make sure you use plenty of lube, you could chaff and that’s no fun. Also a veteran post-opt warned us about the ‘sword in stone’ problem that could happen when you are too tight and when withdrawing the dilator it gets ‘stuck’ (probably because of a vacuum being created above it inside). Just take it slow and use dynamic dilation to ease it out. Something else we all find out right away is sneezing, coughing, laughing too hard and a close lightening strike (I found out about this last one the hard way) can all make for an uncomfortable experience. I wonder if anyone broke things in their room due to flying dilators (to my knowledge only one person said their dilator actually came out – but just barely, mostly it just hurt a bit)!
Another issue is bleeding. As you dilate, you are basically stretching scare tissue (first 3 months) and it will sometimes bleed. Also as things heal, little ‘bumps’ (granulation) can poke up and dilating will cause those to bleed. Counter to what one would think – the solution is to reinsert the dilator and hold it there to stop the bleeding. I had this happened to me twice. Others have said they bled the entire 2 months! Most said they never bled. Everyone is different and this goes away with time and healing.
I had some severe complications which I will talk about in the next post. But even during that period of time – I still had to dilate. It was difficult, but had to be done. Nothing like complicating a complication ….