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“I Don’t Look Like Me. I Look Better.”
Comments () | Published February 1, 2009

Here’s what I’ve learned about choosing a cosmetic surgeon: Do it half for reasons that can be rationally judged, such as credentials and the safety of the operating facility, and half on instinct. It makes sense to pick a surgeon who is smart and well regarded by peers and who seems to have strong technical skills—as much as any layperson can tell, which is through recommendations and photos of past surgeries. Kindness is a plus.

Ideally, there also should be a simpatico connection: This person will alter the face you show the world. Inside yourself you’re asking: “If I let you operate on me, will I like what I see afterward?” With the right doctor, you hear a gut‑level “yes.”

As I talked with Brown, I liked the thoughtful, gently humorous way he explained his work. He seemed deliberate, unrushed. I already knew where he had studied and trained. After a while, I found myself thinking, “I trust him.” When he remarked that he enjoys operating on faces because “it demands not just skill but a certain elegance,” he had me.

His lips twitched when I asked him to please avoid dropping any sharp instruments into an eye, but all he said was “Some hesitation is normal.”

My direct costs were about $6,800: $2,000 to Dr. Brown for the lower lids, $2,000 for the laser resurfacing he thought advisable, and $2,800 for anesthesia and the operating-room team. Insurance covered another $4,000.

On the day of surgery, my husband drove me to Sibley around 11 am. By noon, I was in the operating room. The “cosmetic” half of cosmetic surgery is more fun than the “surgery” part. There I was, decked out in vibrating stockings to encourage blood circulation, my face painted with markers, a big light over the operating table shining in my eyes. As Samuel Johnson said about the prospect of being hanged, it all concentrates the mind wonderfully.

The surgery was under general anesthesia. The last thing I remember telling the nurses is “This isn’t like getting my legs waxed.”

Around 4 pm I woke up in the recovery room among nurses with soothing voices, feeling as though I’d swallowed a toad. By 6 pm I was home, and my husband was bringing me the first of many ice packs for my eyes.

There was no real pain, but family members winced when they looked at me. Oozing flesh under my eyes, bruises, swelling, the ends of black stitches poking out here and there—it’s not a good look. I was working from home within a week and back in the world in two, rendered presentable by sunglasses and heavy makeup.

Most of the 241,000 Americans who had this operation last year looked pretty good in a month, even without makeup. I did not. After blepharoplasty, it can take up to a year for all swelling to vanish and the incision scars to settle into the eyelid crease.

Three months after surgery, Dr. Brown could still point to subtle swelling. There’s faint, sunburnlike redness under my eyes and a bit of bruising above them, which I disguise by wearing far too much green and purple eye shadow for a woman my age. Putting it on makes me smile. My Goth look would be even more fun if people would shoot me disapproving stares, but hardly anybody cooperates. As Mama once said, you always notice yourself more than anyone else does.

Because I have the fair skin that comes with being very blond or redheaded, Dr. Brown predicts that my scars will eventually be virtually invisible. My peripheral vision is perfect again, and I’ve regained vision directly ahead and just above my line of sight, which I hadn’t noticed losing until it was back. Thankfully, I didn’t end up with that startled look you see sometimes in men and women who have “had a little something done.”

“Your eyes look the way they did when I first met you,” my husband says. Love has mangled his memory.

In truth, my eyes have never looked this good. When I pass a mirror, I stare at myself. I don’t look like me anymore. I look better than me.

This article first appeared in the February 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here

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