When I got my top surgery in February 2015, the thing that made me the most nervous was the recovery. It wasn’t the pain that worried me, it was, “Who was going to help take care of me if I need it?”
I was single and I didn’t have what I had three years later when I had my hysterectomy and metoidioplasty – a wife. Being married to the woman I’m married to means that I always have someone to be there for me – for boring Friday nights, for Saturday morning coffee and HGTV shows, for arguing over what’s for dinner (again).
But it also means that she’s there for my health, too. After my hysterectomy and metoidioplasty in May 2018, she took off work, drove me to the hospital, anxiously waited for six-and-a-half hours while I was in surgery, slept on and off in a chair next to me in the hospital for a night, and then took care of me at home, making sure I was comfortable and following the post-surgery recovery instructions. Even recently, I had LASIK eye surgery and she drove me to the center, watched the 10-minute surgery through a glass wall, drove me home, put me to bed, and then made sure I took my eye drops every hour for the next 3 days.
While I think my wife is exceptional, many people who are married have someone like my wife, who can be there for them through their health issues. There are even multiple research studies that suggest that married men are healthier than single men.
But when I had my top surgery, I didn’t have a wife. Who was going to take me to the hospital for my surgery? Who would drive me home? Would someone be there for me when I woke up? Who would care?
I spoke to my therapist about my fears and she suggested I ask my friends for help. I didn’t want to. I wasn’t good at asking for help and I felt like I would burden them. She suggested I come up with a schedule so that the tasks were divided between my friends – one friend could drive me to the hospital, one could be there when I woke up to drive me home, one could stay with me overnight, etc. In this way, it wasn’t too much to ask of any one friend.
So I followed her advice. I asked my friends to take shifts with me so that I had at least one person with me at all times for the first 24 hours.
I wrote up a schedule and then did the hard thing and asked my friends to be there for me. And they were. They all showed up. They were even excited to have been asked. I had a friend who drove me to the hospital, one who picked me up, a few friends who took turns sitting with me at my apartment following my surgery, another friend who slept the night on the couch next to me. They all stepped up in big ways and it was truly humbling and I never properly thanked them for making me feel so loved and taken care of.
At that time, I was living far away from my family and I didn’t have a partner. I just had my friends. It’s not uncommon for many LGBT people to be in the position I was in. When people experience health issues or undergo surgery, often it’s the family and spouses who step up.
But for many queer people who may be ostracized from their family or don’t have children or a spouse, who can step up? It’s really hard to ask for help. I was so fortunate that I had my therapist to encourage me to ask and that my friends came together for me. When LGBT people are less likely to have strong connections with their family and much less likely to have adult children who can be there for them, it’s why friendship is so important and why we often call our friends “Chosen Family.”
So take care of your friends and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your friends want to be there for you.