5 Horrifying Things Nobody Tells You About Cosmetic Surgery
While most people think of cosmetic surgery as frivolous, vain, or only for folks who want to slowly transform into cats, there are all kinds of practical reasons to let a surgeon do some mild body editing. We spoke with one woman who underwent an abdominoplasty -- a "tummy tuck," for those of you who need cute nicknames for major surgeries -- for reasons both cosmetic and health-related. Here's what we learned:
Elective Surgeries Aren't Always "Elective"
Giving birth to children is the kind of thing that leaves marks on your body as well as your walls, floors, and anything else where marks should not be. In my case, that "mark" involved stretching my abdominal muscles four inches apart, permanently. My doctor wound up sewing them with permanent sutures. You know how badly it hurts to pull a muscle? Imagine you pull a muscle and then it stays pulled, forever.
If you're a lazy blob and have never pulled anything, just nod and keep reading.
Before my surgery, I suffered from endless lower-back pain and it was impossible for me to stand with anything that resembled "good posture," because my core muscles were too fucked to hold me up. After the surgery, I no longer deal with permanent pain in my lower back. I can finally stand up straight and feel strong when I do it. I breathe better, because I'm not hunched over and my lungs have room to expand. During workouts, I have better balance and control. I'm also a full inch taller, which has dramatically improved my ability to dunk in the pick-up basketball games that are such an everyday facet of modern American life.
But you might be surprised to learn that, despite the concrete health and ballin' benefits it imparted, my tummy tuck was considered elective surgery. In other words, it falls into the same category as getting a boob job or a face lift. So none of it was covered by my private insurance. Between the surgery, the hospital fees, the various healing garments, and medications, it cost over $10,000. My doctor told me that, years ago, insurance companies paid for too many abdominoplasties, some of which were cosmetic and some of which were drunken dares gone too far, so it ruined the market for people like me who needed the surgery for more serious reasons. He said that, short of a 300-pound weight loss, insurance would not pay a penny for what they considered a purely elective surgery.
Above 300 pounds, they sell the fat to KFC for profit.
It's unfortunate they use the word "elective," because technically any surgery that isn't necessary to keep you alive can be considered elective. So a Hollywood wife who doesn't want to hot yoga off her Christmas weight is in the same category as a facial reconstruction for someone horribly mauled by a dog. As long as your face works -- you know, it holds in all your skull meat -- then anything you do to look less like someone who just experienced life as a human chew toy is "elective."
It's Still a Serious, Bloody, Horrifying Procedure
Abdominoplasty is major life-and-death surgery. I had to decide whether to sign a do-not-resuscitate order. There are all kinds of horrific side effects, including skin death, which is exactly as metal as it sounds. There are plenty of pictures of that on the Internet, but before you Google, keep in mind that you do not want to see pictures of that. I had to get an EKG and bloodwork before the surgery and was warned that my recovery would take at least six weeks. But I was 39, in good shape, and I figured that, no matter how bad it was, I'd already experienced two C-sections, 17 months apart. No surgery could be worse than that.
Spoiler Alert: It totally could. I realized that when I woke up screaming afterward.
My doctor told me he had to re-route my blood supply during the surgery, and if he did it wrong, well, that's where that soul-scarring link from earlier comes into play. The surgeon made an incision from one hip straight across to the other (I explain the scar by simply saying, "Shark fight," and then staring silently at the horizon until everybody moves on).
Sharks love a good full slab.
They then pulled the skin from the top of my abdomen all the way down to meet the new incision below. He also had to dig out and cut off the scar tissue that was attached to my uterus (a big shout-out to my friend endometriosis for that one). It was a serious, unbelievably bloody business. In total, he cut off four pounds of skin. Remember, this surgery was not to correct weight -- that was just the sheer amount of useless skin that had stretched out from the C-sections and sat on top of the scar. Part of what he cut off was my old belly button, so he made me a new one. I thought that was a nice gesture.
There Is a Serious Stigma Around Elective Surgery, Even From Medical Professionals
After the surgery, lifting my head was agony. Trying to lift my torso was impossible. You never realize how many core muscles you use for basic movements until they've been Jenga'd about your midsection. I was in the worst pain of my life, but, as soon as I managed to pee, they sent me home. That's right: massive abdominal surgery is an outpatient procedure.
"We just took four pounds of skin. For an overnight stay without insurance,
we'll take an arm and a leg."
Everyone at my plastic surgeon's office was understanding and compassionate, but the "plastic surgery is like the bright yellow Hummer of medicine" stigma followed me everywhere. I developed a staph infection in the scar, and my primary care provider just said, "Well, you know, that is a risk with these operations. Why did you have it done again?"
At the pharmacy, there was a shortage of the narcotic pain pills my doctor had prescribed. The pharmacist asked why I needed them, and I told him I was having surgery. He asked what kind, and when I told him, he chuckled.
"I'm sorry, 'tummy' is just such a funny word. 'Tummy, tummy, tummy.'
Also, I've been dipping into the happy pills."
My now ex-husband expected me to be up and fully healed in two weeks, when it took closer to eight. He kept saying I didn't really need the surgery, so maybe I shouldn't have had it. Did you know you need your core muscles to effectively deck dudes? It's true -- there's just no strength to the blow without them.
You Will Lug Around the Grossest Baggage Ever
When I got home and was no longer drugged enough to count as an honorary member of The Rolling Stones, I felt these dangly things hitting my outer thighs. Drains -- hollow, balloon-like receptacles that are anchored way up inside your abdominal wall with plastic tubing.
That's not soup in there.
Not every abdominoplasty requires them, but mine did. Their purpose is to collect excess fluid that, left on its own, could cause an infection. Needless to say, it is not a "pleasant and refreshing" fluid. It's pinkish -- a mixture of blood and some other mystery liquid that is best left unsolved. They had to be emptied several times a day, with their output measured in ounces for the doctor.
Already collect and obsessively measure your own disgusting fluids? Give abdominoplasty a shot!
For everybody else, drains make an ordinary day impossible. They were each about the size of a small Nerf football, and they jiggled with every step I took. The only clothing I could wear was an old zip-up dress many sizes too big. If I got a drain caught like, say, on the doorknob to the bathroom, I could feel the pull inside me. To avoid a constant, low-level version of that tug, I had to hold them whenever I stood up or walked. You're basically slow-motion juggling medical waste for several weeks after your surgery.
But with none of the fringe benefits of breast implants.
The drains were removed in two long yanks at the surgeon's office. It felt like a giant straw being pulled through pebbles. I have no idea why it felt like that, or why I apparently know what that feels like, but the nurse told me that's what everyone says. When they were finally out, I saw that the tubes were at least a foot long. There were plenty of downsides to living with the drains, but on the upside, if I'd been in an impromptu water balloon fight, I would have won that thing so hard the losers would've gotten PTSD.
Some of the Side Effects Are Serious, Some Are Just Bizarre
I mentioned earlier that I got a staph infection, despite all the precautions in the hospital and at home. It took two rounds of antibiotics to clear, and I was actually pretty lucky. Staph infections acquired at the hospital can be a great way to wind up with invasive MRSA, which kills about 20 percent of the people who contract it. About 19,000 Americans die every year from hospital-acquired MRSA.
"MRSA? That's ecstasy, right? Sorry. Again, I'm on pills. Ecstasy, actually."
Luckily for me, my worst side effect was something ominously called a "Ken Doll." When the doctor was pulling the two pieces of skin to meet in the middle, it created trauma to my upper genital skin. Fluid was trapped underneath and it sort of jiggled like a water-bed when you poked it. That made a pronounced lump at the top of my crotch, much like the unman-mound on Barbie's boyfriend.
So I had a revision surgery a few years later, where the surgeon cut off some more skin and lifted the area. And I got another staph infection from that.
Pictured: My expression on hearing the news.
Here's the weird thing: All my life I had been pretty happy with the rest of my body. But once the stomach was fixed, I started to feel like my butt was too flat. Other body parts looked their age and weight against the new flat stomach. I started to understand how cosmetic surgery addiction could be a thing. I don't regret it, but I'm never doing it again. Because, while I love my new height and my newly functioning abdominal muscles, I hated the surgery exactly as much as you would expect to hate having someone slash up your guts, turn you into a walking blood pinata, then Ken Doll your genitals.
For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Bizarre Things Nobody Tells You About Weight Loss Surgery and 5 Things Your Doctor Really Wants to Say to You (But Won't).
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