Tuesday, January 10, 2012
My twenty-something daughter, recently employed by an oral surgeon, stared at me across our restaurant table. “Mom, you need to have your eyes done.”
“That’s silly Maya,” I laughed, “I don’t need plastic surgery, I’m married.” Being married to Maya’s Dad for nearly thirty years, I brushed off Maya’s suggestion and filed it with her other comments that I needed lasik eye surgery, breast implants, and a tummy tuck. Plastic surgery was for movie stars, burn victims, and insecure Palm Beach women who couldn’t age gracefully (like me).
But that was the year before Maya’s father left me. After crying for twenty-one months, the puffy bags under my eyes became a permanent part of my face. Losing thirty pounds gratefully reduced my jowls and my dress size, but the bags under my eyes only grew worse. I had to face facts and the mirror was one of them.
Maya, who lives with me, caught me calling her father’s apartment again, begging him to come home. “Face it, Mom. He’s not coming back. Your marriage is over.” Of course I didn’t believe her. I hated hearing my friends say I had to go on with my life. Going on with my life was an option I didn’t really want, but unfortunately I woke up every morning so I had no choice.
I realized I could wait for him to come home looking like a sad sack, or I could wait for him looking my best. My friend Dorothy had both her upper and lower lids done and her eyes looked fabulous. But then she wasn’t crying over a sixty-something husband who left her for a thirty year old.
I sit in Dr. Prescott’s tastefully decorated Walnut Creek office wondering what I am doing. How is lying under the carving knife going to help my rejection and abandonment issues? I should be praying at mass or sitting in an Indian ashram, not in the office of a plastic surgeon. I’m only doing research, I rationalize. Dr. Prescott wasn’t the cheapest doctor I saw nor as expensive as Dorothy’s surgeon, but he was recommended by Maya’s medical group as “the best in town.” All three doctors suggested I have my upper lids done the same time as my lowers. “Your eyes will look more open, more wide-awake if this upper lid skin is eliminated,” they said.
But I’m not bothered by my crinkly skin, crow’s feet or upper lid sags. I look like my father – gentle and kind. It’s the bags under my eyes that bother me. My upper lids make me look my fifty-six years but my lower lids make me look like Al Pacino. And I don’t want a peel to give me the peach smooth skin of a twenty year old. I just want to look like I haven’t been crying for twenty-one months – since that day he said he was no longer in love with me.
Dr. Prescott shows me before and after computer photos. I note that his “before” and three month “after” photos were taken in the same setting with identical lighting and I immediately trusted him. He’s younger (at least looks younger) than the other surgeons and cuts the swaggering figure of a man on top of his game – a blonde, brash Gatsby in a white coat. He lifts my lower lid slightly and shows me what surgery will do. “We don’t take too much skin,” he explains, “or you wouldn’t be able to close your eyes.” Dr. Prescott isn’t promising me the moon like el cheapo Doctor I consulted.
“Maybe I don’t need the blef – o- what you call it surgery?
“Blepharoplasty, lower lids.”
“Aren’t there procedures less radical?”
“Laser or chemical peel will remove this crepey skin you have under your eyes, but this extra skin and fat deposit can only be removed surgically. Bruising only lasts two to three weeks. Some people are driving the next day.” His creaseless blue eyes shine more confidence than compassion, and I immediately write him a check for twenty-six hundred dollars. Another six hundred will go to the surgical center.
January 12, Surgery Day
I drive to my appointment at the Sierra Surgical Center at six am. Maya agreed to pick me up at nine. Her boyfriend would drive my car home. I followed the required preparation – no liquids, wear loose clothing and flat shoes, and fill the prescriptions ahead of time: Darvocet for pain and an anti nausea drug. I refused the stronger Vicodin he offered because I heard Vicodin turns people into drug addicts.
“Mom, you turned down a prescription for Vicodin? Are you nuts?” Maya had bad period cramps. In the hospital waiting room I decide maybe I needed Vicodin after all. Sitting on another sofa is a thin woman in running shorts with a man I guessed was her husband. Will he love her more with flat lower lids, I wonder. Was he less likely to leave her for a pretty thirty year old he met in a bar? I walk up to the full, aromatic coffee pot but was cut short by the receptionist. “You get away from there, girl. What are you doing?” I hate the no liquids twelve hours before surgery rule. Is coffee really a liquid?
After check-in I’m led to a bed surrounded by a curtain. The well-lit walls have blue wall trim with pink babies. Cheerful nurses buzz around me. They take my blood pressure, hook up the IV for a sedative, and bring me hot blankets. I ask for three. Through the curtain I see the other woman. Her husband sits in a chair close to her bed.
“This is the worst part,” said Sandy, the blonde nurse, as she puts a needle in my arm for an IV. How could a little prick be the worst part? Dr. Prescott comes in smiling and gently draws circles with a black pen under my eyes.
“You’re going to go to sleep.” he said, “It’s midway between a conscious sedation and full anesthesia.” I’m grateful I don’t have to see a scalpel coming down on my eyes. Sandy wheels my bed and attached IV pole down a bright hall. “You’re going to do fine.” And she pats my arm tenderly. That’s the last thing I remember.
When I wake up, I see a blurred Maya sitting in the chair next to my bed holding what appear to be my shoes. “They said surgery went really well, Mom. You don’t look so bad.” I’m too drowsy to ask for a mirror.
Though I could walk, I am wheel chaired out to the parking lot. In my car I nestle into the pillow I remembered to bring along. My eyes are numb from the local anesthetics administered while I was unconscious. I feel no pain, absolutely nothing. At home in bed I follow orders: elevating myself with two pillows and applying ice packs for twenty-four hours to reduce the swelling. Maya stands in my bedroom door in her nurse’s uniform. “Do you need anything, Mom?”
“No honey, I’m tired.” But I’m reassured to have a daughter wearing a nurse’s uniform in my doorway. I sleep until four. Then I cut little peepholes in the ice soaked gauze so I can watch TV. When Dr. Prescott calls that night I tell him he’s right; I don’t have any pain at all. He asks me to come to the office in four days. The next two days I wait with a full bottle of Vicodin (that Maya picked up) for the pain to come, but it never did.
The bathroom mirror reveals blurry black caterpillar stitches under my eyelashes and deep claret-colored swollen golf balls over a deep crease I hoped to eliminate. I look a lot worse than I feel. “Your Gramma has two black eyes,” I tell Maya’s eight-year-old daughter.
“They’re not black, Gramma,” she corrects, “They’re purple.” My eyes are still numb with a bit of itchiness in the corners, like morning sleepies. But I feel well enough to shower, wash a few dishes, and answer e-mail. Between applications of hot water-soaked gauze, (instructions say switch to hot after twenty-four hours) I call my friends, my son and daughter, Mimi.
“I had surgery yesterday. Twenty stitches.” I like saying the words “surgery” and “stitches.” – much more effective than “ laser” or “peel” even though Dr. Prescott said a peel is actually more painful than eyelid surgery. The one person I don’t call is my husband, David. He knew I was having surgery. He’ll call soon.
The stitches under my teary eyes feel tender but only when I touch them. Looking back I realize the worst part of lower lid surgery was no morning coffee. Day three I was ready to face the world, pick up groceries and a library book. I apply concealer to the puffy bruise balls under each eye careful not to touch the stitches because the instructions said not to wear makeup until day four. Even my old thick theatre goop couldn’t cover the dark purple half moons. I decide against going to my women’s support group, where stories of drinking, abusive spouses are not uncommon. Not because of their questions, but because of what wouldn’t be said: “He must have moved back home. She has two black eyes.” As much as I wanted the world to know David was a jerk for leaving me, I didn’t want to be considered a client of Battered Women’s Alternative. On a gray January day I drive straight from the library to Peet’s Coffee to Safeway dressed in a black trench coat, cloche hat, and oversize sunglasses. I avoid eye contact with the checkout girl who hands me my tea, toilet paper and spaghetti. I feel like an undercover mafia spy, out for a pasta run. My world has divided into two camps – the few I can tell I had surgery and the many who I can’t. The latter keeps me in hiding.
I return home exhausted and climb into “Camp botanical” named after my floral comforter. My bed camp has everything I need: glasses, phone, TV remote, a week of newspapers, prescriptions, gauze, hot water compresses, and one dog and one cat.
Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of the itchy corners of my eyes. I remember being eight playing in the sandbox with a cast on my leg. The result was an unrelenting itch that could only be reached with a straightened metal coat hanger. At 2:45 I take my first Vicodin hoping it will work for itch as well as pain. But it clouds my head with cotton balls and the insatiable itchiness feels worse. “Course Mom,” Maya explains when she arrived home. “Didn’t you know that itch is one of the known side effects of Vicodin?”
I bring a hand mirror into Camp Botanical and sit and watch my eyes water. My left eye definitely waters more than the right. I see tiny curled filaments fall into the Kleenex – the dissolving cat gut stitches.
“Try a saline solution rinse for the itch,” Dr. Prescott advises, “But don’t use Visine. We don’t want to reduce blood flow to the eyes. And keep up the hot compresses for swelling”
Pools glisten in my bloodshot swollen eyes like little gummy lakes. Even the hot water bowl has a bathtub scum ring around it. The hot soaked gauze not only lifts away tears but also some gelatinous substance like diluted hair gel.
I pass over the satin underwear in my drawer I bought on our last summer vacation and pull on the big cotton Homer Simpson ones. Who will ever see my underwear again anyway?
My eyes are still red and swollen and itchy. I try doing some editing work for a client on the computer but after an hour I feel the eyestrain. What if after all this itchiness I still don’t look any better? Maybe this surgery was a mistake. I remember my therapist saying, “Everyone has second thoughts about cosmetic surgery. Think of it as a gift to yourself,” she said. “And do you deserve that gift?” At the moment it doesn’t feel like a gift. It feels like poison ivy in my eyes. She also told me that I needed time to get over David and the other woman. “This is time to take care of your self,” she repeated. “Find some new hobbies.”
I’m thinking like learning to use artillery. But I don’t really have the nerve to purchase firearms, car bombs, or poison. I wake up that night thinking of new names to call him besides liar, cheat, deserter, betrayer, and coward. And why didn’t he call? I have a good cry. It relieves the itch.
My son Miguel drives across San Francisco Bay to visit me and drop off a TV and DVD player for his father’s apartment. He knew he wouldn’t catch his father home. I ask him to carry them to the garage because I can’t do heavy lifting, or even go to Jazzercise, for two weeks.
“You call your Dad and tell him it’s here,” I insist. “ I don’t want to be the one to call him.” I’m surprised to hear myself say this. Usually I look for excuses to call my husband – a plugged drain or a missing Christmas tree stand. Then I end up sobbing on the phone blowing bubbles out my nose. Why should I be the one to call? I just had surgery.
My left eye is totally clear but underlined with a thin purple crescent. But my right is a seeping, blood shot, alcoholic looking eyeball with a puff under it that looks like skin poured over a chunk of green bean. The hot compresses are working; the melon ball swelling has deflated. Not much itch either. And I’m able to work all morning at the computer but I don’t push it
With the stitches gone I try my first eyeliner. As I draw the sable brown pencil under my eye, I realize my lower lid is numb. My god, the nerves have been cut! Would I get the feeling back? Do I even care? It’s not as if sensation were cut from my fingers or my tongue or inner thigh. Having no feeling in my lower lids is like when my old bicycle was stolen. Even if I didn’t use it anymore, it’s mine, and I want it back. I make a note to ask Dr. Prescott at my two-week checkup.
After nearly two weeks, do I look better or worse than before surgery? Definitely worse in the morning when I have swelling. In fact I decide not to look at myself before noon unless I really have to.
Last week my eyes were leading me around by the leash. My eyes sat in the back pew in church; they took walks only on the most deserted trails, and hid behind sunglasses in the movie theatre. But now they’ve receded back in their unswollen sockets behind me. I had lunch with Maya and her daughter and I forgot to bring my sunglasses. The waitress didn’t even look twice.
I see Dr. Prescott. Not that I have any problems – my eyes have no infections and they close perfectly. They look pretty good, no bags and only a smudge of purple under my left eye, as if I missed with the eye shadow wand. He says the feeling will come back slowly and the stitch lines will disappear. The most complete results will be in three months when he’ll take my “after” photo. I like that he wants to see me again – that feeling of being taken care of, like a pinch of saffron, goes a long way.
During the last two weeks when I was most vulnerable, wobbly, and scared, I’m amazed that I didn’t break down and call David once. Nor did I pick up the phone and talk myself into putting it back down. But I don’t want to get over confident. Tomorrow I may be in a soggy heap reaching for the phone (and Rolodex because I’ve forgotten his number). Yet after not talking to my ex husband for a whole three weeks, the urge to call and rail at him has left. And he never called me either, the bastard. His TV and DVD are still sitting in the garage. And since when do I call him my ex-husband. We’re not divorced so where does that come from?
Day 16 [version 1]
With only a dab of makeup I’m seeing new pretty hazel eyes. And though I‘ve sent a sagless close-up photo to Match.com, I can’t expect e-mail dates to come scrolling in. I’ll have to actually start talking to strange men. That’s a cold and terrifying thought, but it’s laced with an edge of eagerness. Maybe it’s confidence. In front of my vanity mirror I remove my wire rims for a better look. As if a veil has lifted, I’m seeing the world through new eyes. Prettier eyes. I’m thinking skinny new frames, or contacts, or why not go all nine yards with lasik. Today I have choices.
As if a veil has lifted, I’m seeing myself through new eyes. Wide open, prettier eyes. I’m thinking skinny new frames, or contacts, or why not go all nine yards with lasik. Today I have choices.
Day 16 [version 2]
With only a dab of makeup I’m seeing new pretty hazel eyes. And though I’ve sent a sagless close-up photo to Match.com, I can’t expect e-mail dates to come scrolling in. I’ll have to actually start talking to strange men. That’s a cold and terrifying thought, but it’s laced with an edge of eagerness. Maybe it’s confidence.
For thirty years my marriage to David was the prism I saw myself through. Without it I was a blur, hardly a self at all. In front of my vanity mirror I remove my thick wire rims for a better look. As if a veil has lifted, I’m seeing myself through new eyes. Wide open, prettier eyes. I’m thinking skinny new frames, contacts, or even lasik. Today I have choices.
Day 16 [version 3]
With only a dab of makeup I’m seeing new pretty hazel eyes. And though I‘ve sent a sagless close-up photo to Match.com, I can’t expect e-mail dates to come scrolling in. I’ll have to actually start talking to strange men. That’s a cold and terrifying thought, but it’s laced with an edge of eagerness. Maybe it’s confidence. As if a veil has lifted and I’m seeing the world through new eyes. Prettier eyes. Maybe, just maybe, I can pull myself up by my lower lids and get on with my life – without the extra baggage.