Thursday, October 31, 2013

The new girls

The inside of the waiting room was nothing like I had pictured. I mean, this was a plastic surgeon’s office, so shouldn’t it be crawling with Kardashians or something?
But no, as I settled into my seat, I noticed the only other people in the waiting room were a woman clearly undergoing chemotherapy, staring down at the carpet, and the woman with her, on the edge of her seat, staring at her. That woman in the kerchief could be me in a couple of months, I thought. Try as I might to avoid it, I kept seeing her in my peripheral vision.
And that’s when two things hit me: 1. This shit just got real. And 2. I should probably stop my daughter Nora from tearing up pamphlets and un-potting the potted office plants.
             Erasing the years off of one woman’s face or plumping up another’s lips—plastic surgeons do that, too, and it’s probably their bread and butter since they don’t have to deal with a-hole insurance companies. But then there are people like me and this woman in the waiting room. Not here by choice, but perhaps by chance or, in my case, a bad game of genetic roulette. Though I had certainly interviewed enough plastic surgeons and their patients over the course of my writing career, somehow the scope of the profession had slipped my mind. Probably because what’s focused on in the media are the hapless celebrities—male and female—who keep pushing the limits of plastic surgery till  they all look Blanche from “The Golden Girls.”

Decisions, decisions
I was called into the consultation room ahead of schedule and waited nervously while Nora destroyed the pamphlet displays in there. Right on time, a man in a really nice suit came in. I’ve done my fair share of time in hospitals and such, and I could always spot the surgeons. They were higher up in the doctor clothing hierarchy. 
I had actually met Dr. R. Michael Koch almost a decade before, in my previous life as a health reporter for the local paper. I had collaborated with him on a piece about leeches and their usage in modern-day trauma centers. I wondered if he’d remember me, Leech Girl. He did. Although, at no time during that leech interview did we discuss my breasts. What a difference 10 years makes!
Motherhood had really taken a toll on the old girls.
Dr. Koch is a native of Great Britain and he’s got a calming, soft accent—almost as if hippie painter Bob Ross mated into the royal family. Seriously, people with British accents can easily convince me that whatever they’re saying is the most academic thing ever uttered. Dr. Koch could have persuaded me to hollow out my chest and turn it into a Panera bread bowl, filled with delicious cream of broccoli soup, and I totally would have been like, “OK. That makes complete sense.”
We painstakingly went over my options for surgery; his ink renderings of my torso looked a hell of a lot better than the post-Nora reality. We talked about what procedure might be best for my situation, almost as casually as discussing options on a new car. Should I go with upholstery or leather? Did I need those all-weather mats?  Given my age, I wasn’t keen on implants. The shelf life for those was about 10 years. God-willing, I hope to have a long life ahead of me and I didn’t relish the thought of having to trade them out every decade. I settled on the DIEP flap. Though it had a lot more recovery time up front, the results would be more natural and I wouldn’t need as much following afterward. (Implants require more frequent follow-up visits to slowly plump them up with saline and typically require more revisions.)
Another great thing about the DIEP flap, and here comes that silver lining again: I had permission to bulk up the 'ol gut before surgery, and yet I’d still get a flatter stomach out of it. Essentially, DIEP procedures start out as tummy tucks, but instead of throwing away all that good meat, it’s transplanted to the chest and sculpted into mammary masterpieces. As for fattening up, I couldn’t go totally crazy, but a little extra padding would give Dr. Koch more to work with. I accept your challenge, doctor! And so does Five Guys Burgers.
Following the consult, “before” pictures were taken of my breasts. Good lord! Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any worse about myself, I saw the havoc Fio and Nora had wrought in all its digital glory. I wanted to yell, “Dr. Koch, I can't bear to look at these wonky bazongas one minute longer! Please give me a capital set of knockers!” You know, something to lighten the mood and in a language the good doctor could understand. But I can never totally read surgeons, especially a Brit, so I kept my mouth shut.
As I was sitting with the office care coordinator, describing all the various ways my insurance company would likely try to dick everyone over, Dr. Koch came in and handed me a printout on the Young Survival Coalition, urging me to get involved with the global group dedicated to women diagnosed with breast cancer before age 40. “It’s a great organization. They’re actually having a benefit concert with Katy Perry, but maybe you’re a little too old for her,” he said. I am an old fart, but I couldn’t think of a proper response. “You have to admit, from a plastic surgeon’s perspective, Katy Perry has some pretty spectacular boobies,” I blurted out. Annnnd the filter's off. Damn it! I waited for his response. He gave a little laugh and fled the scene.
             As I left the office that day, in my wake a trail of Hurricane Nora-related destruction, I was at peace with my decision. I wasn't delighted by the thought of a seven- to nine-hour surgery, a night in the ICU to monitor for blood clots, or the long recovery I likely faced. But I just wanted to get my life back. And this was one of the first steps to achieving that goal.


  1. Heather, your blog is fantastic! I would give anything if you had no reason to write it, but your writing is a gift to the universe and it's a privilege to be able to read it.

    1. Thank you, Emily! That's so sweet! As long as my fingers can type, I'll keep on bloggin'. :-)

  2. Your sense of humor is should be writing for SNL or one of the Jimmys (Kimmel or Fallon) instead of the Dowdys of the world. :)

    1. Ha ha! I don't think I could ever be funny on command or for a living. Well, maybe for the right price I could... :-)