Basic Body Maintenance

Good grooming is like gardening. My neighbors expand their beds year after year, adding trees, shrubs and posies that enhance the beauty of their yard, while I struggle to keep weeds at bay. Other women have cosmetic surgery to enhance their beauty. I did it to keep things from getting out of hand.

As the years tick by, basic body maintenance becomes more and more expensive. At first, I focused on keeping my dead-ends trimmed and my nails shaped and shiny. After a couple of pregnancies, my muscles weakened. As my tummy sagged and the boobs got bigger, I began to resemble Jonathan Winters in old-lady drag. Now I had to throw in costs for things like leotards and athletic shoes, battery-powered tape machines with wimpy little earphones and Jane Fonda tapes. In my late thirties, I got into vitamins and nutritional supplements. Over the years, my pill investments increased exponentially as I moved from a simple multivitamin with a little extra C on the side to things like Folic Acid, Selenium and Gingko Biloba. Finally, when things really started to fall apart, I had to pitch in for repairs — surgery to rebuild jawbones ravaged by gum disease that progressed no matter how many times a day I flossed — and Radial Keratomy to return my vision to the pre-glasses status of my twenties. The removal of bumps, cysts and warts became a personal quest in my forties. I especially hate those little moles that want to grow under my arms or on my neck. Every ten years, the doctor spends a half hour exploring my fleshy crevices and exorcising tiny bits of unwanted tissue while I shudder with disgust.

One day, while brushing my hair in front of the mirror over the bathroom sink, I noticed that my little double chin had grown to Jabba-the-Hut proportions. I shook my head. The chins jiggled. I picked up a hand mirror and turned my head sideways. It was time for the pound of flesh I packed under my chin to go. I made a phone call to my doctor who gave me a name.

A week later, I arrived at a gleaming glass-block modern office in an industrial park. A sleek nurse greeted me with a tight smile — and took me to a tiny room with a big mirror and a camera. We sat across from each other and discussed my medical history. After listing my allergies, drugs and chronic physical quirks, she cocked her head sideways as if puzzled — and asked me what I wanted.

I pointed to my offending part. "I want to get rid of my double chin. Whether I'm heavy or thin, that double chin is always there."

Her eyes dropped to my chins. "Hmmmmmm." She wrote something in my record. "What about your eyes?"

"My eyes?" I looked into the mirror. "What's wrong with my eyes?"

"We can get rid of that little sag you have on your upper lids, if you want."

I never noticed that my upper lids sagged. "You can fix those?"

"Oh yes, we do that all the time." She put her index finger on my cheek below the eye socket and peered at me through the lower lens of her bifocals. "The lower ones, too."

"What do you do with the lower ones?"

She released my face and continued writing. "See those little puffs? We remove the fat deposits that cause them."

I was acutely aware of fat deposits in other areas, but I'd never noticed them under my eyes. Now that she mentioned it though, I was dismayed to see them there, clear as the nose on my face.

"Let's write down eyes and double chin for our discussion with the doctor."

"Okay." I mumbled like the baggy-eyed sheep that I was.

She took photographs from various angles, none of them flattering. Then she went out, leaving me to appreciate my imperfections in the big mirror on the wall across from me.

A few minutes later, an attractive man came in the door with my file under his arm. My eyes went to his hands. Were they steady? I squinted. Was he wearing contact lenses?

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Faulkner." His handshake was firm. "I understand you are interested in fixing that double chin of yours?"

"What can be done about that?"

"Let's take a look." He stared at my face for a long time, turning my head this way and that to examine my bone structure. "You want to do something about the jowls too?"

"The jowls?"

"Slight jowling now, but it will get worse later on." He touched my jaw line.

"What are we talking about here?" I did want to get rid of the jowling now that I noticed it.

"You have choices. We could liposuction the fat out from under your chin right here in the office with a local."

I imagined the shot necessary to numb my chins and shuddered. "We could?"

"You have nice young skin so that would work for the chin, but it wouldn't help the jowling, of course, and there's a slight chance there would be sagging in the neck area once the fat is removed."

I visualized a loose-skinned hound. "So what can you do about that?"

"We could do a face lift. That way it covers everything. We take out the fat under the chin, then we tuck up everything nice and tight. That takes care of the chin and the jowls — and it insures that you won't have neck sags."

"Okay. Let's do the facelift then."

"What about your eyes?"

Why did everyone keep talking about my eyes? "What would you do with them?"

"We make a small incision in the crease of your upper eyelid and we remove the extra skin. Then we sew you up. It will make you look like you did ten years ago. A little less tired, a little more invigorated."

I was suddenly very tired. "What about the bags?"

"We make cuts inside your bottom lids. That way, the scar will be hidden. Then we take tiny tweezers and remove the fat."

"Will I be asleep?" I didn't relish the idea of being awake. I'd peeked through my fingers at facelift surgeries shown on cable TV twice. I might be brave enough to do it, but I wasn't brave enough to watch.

"Yes, you'll be in the hospital overnight. We'll put a drain in behind your ear. That comes out the next day. Then you go home."

I imagined plastic tubing protruding through my skin. "Will it hurt?"

"Sure it'll hurt, but I'll give you drugs." He had to wink before I realized he was teasing. "You'll feel better after about three days. You can go back to work with some heavy makeup, of course, after about ten days."

The periodontal surgeon said I'd feel better in three days too. I added two days to the estimate. Okay, five days of feeling crummy, back to work after a couple of weeks. Not too bad. "What will happen? Swelling? Bruising?"

"Swelling. Bruising. A little numbness."

"When will I be back to normal?"

"Three to six months," he said. "Unless there are complications."

I USUALLY got complications, so I learned to prepare for them. "Oh?" I raised one eyebrow.

"There's a chance of infection and sometimes blood collects under the skin. I've only had that happen once and the lady was a smoker."

"I knew there was a reason to pass on those cigars." I looked up with an open-mouthed grin.

He didn't laugh.

"I see you have controlled high blood pressure and diabetes," he said as he thumbed through my file. "We'll watch out for them. I'll have some specific instructions for you to follow. Does your regular doctor know you are doing this?"

"Yes, he recommended you."

That made him smile. "Okay, let's schedule the next appointment. I'll have the pictures developed by then and we can make some final decisions." He handed me a folder of glossy brochures.

I glanced at them. Photos of pretty ladies looking prettier in the 'after' shot — or at least tighter. "How much will this cost?"

"Well, depends on the procedures we choose after I study the pictures."

"Ballpark?" I thought about the amount recorded in my savings account.

"Between 7 and 10 thousand dollars."

Not much more than the combined annual cost of parking in downtown Pittsburgh and pantyhose in eggs — less than buying a car. It was also less than the total in my savings account. Good. I could manage it. I scheduled the next appointment and left. Sitting in my Acura, I studied my sagging eyelids and budding jowls in the rear-view mirror. Funny I never noticed them before. I was happy but a little surprised with the extent of my proposed surgery. I put the car in gear. Why did I feel like I was leaving a used car lot?