Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Experience in Plastic Surgery

A friend of mine recently posted an article on Facebook that was written by an American plastic surgeon.  It is a brief discussion about “What is beauty?” and the perception of beauty.  Because so many of his patients have the unrealistic vision to look like a beautiful model or actress, he points out that a big part of his job is counseling patients.  I am almost convinced that plastic surgeons should get a degree in psychology if they are going into aesthetics.

When I lived in Istanbul I worked for a plastic surgeon for about three years, and I saw this first hand.  Perhaps even magnified because this doctor happened to be one of the plastic surgeons to the famous and elite of Turkey.  It was interesting in many ways.  In addition to learning about this area of medicine, I also had an experience in Turkish pop culture.  At the time I had only lived there for about two years or so, and still did not know much about Turkish celebrities.  This means that I usually had no idea who the patients were.  It gave me a very unique, objective experience.

The majority of the patients were very nice people, but like everywhere, there were always a few off the grid.  For example, I was always in shock at patients who had the arrogance to show up without appointments and just walk to the back of the clinic near my desk to wait close to the doctor’s office.  Of course it was their divine right to do so.

If their behavior did not indicate it, I could always tell by the buzz among the staff if someone “important” was in.  It was interesting to observe this because they looked normal to me.  It put fame into perspective – they are just normal people.  Or at least they started out that way, and were still human even though the media worships them as super human.

Famous people who were in need of recognition were often disappointed when they realized I did not know who they were and my Turkish was not that great.  In most cases, they were off to find someone who could recognize them.  If someone of superstar status came into an office in the US – say maybe a Madonna or Tom Cruise, and someone on staff didn’t recognize them, I wonder if they would be horrified with the question, “And your name is?”

As my Turkish improved, my knowledge of pop culture did not progress on the same scale.  I still did not know most of the famous people.  It’s not that I lived in a box. I just chose not to read the paparazzi pages of the newspapers.  If I successfully recognized someone I was internally a little proud of my new found fluency in the culture.

The most impressionable patient was one that visited late after appointment hours – usually, the big names did.  Unlike the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that surrounds plastic surgery in the US, I found many Turks to be quite proud of it and often name their doctors for the paparazzi.  However, the bigger stars were often more discrete even if they talked about it openly.

This patient was a very well known model in Turkey.  She is beautiful, however after seeing her before and after shots in several articles we wrote in the clinic, I know how much work contributed to that beauty.  She was beautiful before, but like many women, they feel compelled to change what they were born with. 

I was working late that night waiting for my boss to finish with his appointments so we could finalize something we were working on.  Enter super model.

After the formalities and greetings he asked her to sit down.  She proceeds to pull out a Turkish version of a well-known fashion magazine with her feature photo shoot.  “Look”, she says, almost in tears. 

I observing, watch my boss study each page of the feature.  I am able to see them and cannot find anything wrong with them.  They are in fact gorgeous.  The model looks great, the planned scenes and lighting are amazing.  It is a fantastic feature.  I am now thinking my boss is probably equally confused.  After all, he has touched every key feature on her face and body already, so what could possibly be wrong?  She has already been molded into perfection.

After sitting in silence as he turned the pages, she finally broke the news.  It was her nose.  She was not happy with the tip.  It needed to go up another 5 millimeters or so.  I wish this were a joke, but it was incredibly real.

They proceeded to discuss it.  Even her accompanying boyfriend had an opinion about it, which just made it seem even more wrong.  It actually angered me at some level that he did not find this girl perfect.  Not only did he agree with the girl, he was trying to explain how he thought the surgery should go.  Note: boyfriend was not a doctor.  I can’t say I was not jumping up and down for joy inside when my boss told him to stop talking.  The patient and my boss proceeded to talk for another 10 minutes or so about the details of the surgery.  In a few days time, she would have the perfect nose. 

Every ounce of my being was in complete shock at what just took place.  I have seen my boss counsel patients before, but never a discussion like this with someone who is considered by so many to be a benchmark of beauty. 

I almost needed to throw cold water on my face to recover from the scene to start working again.  I had a very hard time sleeping that night and felt incredibly saddened by the situation.  I am not sure if I was sorry for her, or sorry for humans – mostly women – in general and how they choose their idols based on physical appearance.

People look at a magazine cover and see a beautiful woman and think she has it all and is so happy.  Everyone wants to be like her so badly.  Or at least if they cannot have the fame and fortune, they try to physically achieve that body with rigorous workouts, diets, even risking their life in surgery to do it (yes folks, all surgeries ultimately have this risk).

I saw her during her follow up appointment after the surgery.  Frankly, I did not see a difference in her nose, but she did.  She was just as beautiful as she was when I saw her the week before.  However, she was happy….at least for the time being.

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