Judy facelift.png
Aging Well
Beauty & Style

Thirdage Health Close-Up: I Had Plastic Surgery

My neck, which I had always considered a slender stem, disappeared into a fleshy zipline from chin to collarbone in my 40s and 50s. By age 45 – way before Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck book came out in 2008 – I had a full-fledged obsession about my saggy bag neck. Although I gave up fantasizing about a nip and tuck in my 60s, due to a reality check in regard to finances, when I came into some money, I finally pulled the trigger at age 64. Three months into recovery, I’m so glad I did.

But there were a few surprises. I had the best surgeon – based on word of mouth first-hand referrals, research, and an interview (after 20 years of interviewing potential surgeons). I had comprehensive preparation on the procedures and day by day recovery. (Bonus: some of the women on the clinic staff had undergone the same surgeries so could give me the inside scoop on pain level and their own rate of recovery.) I had been given a detailed booklet describing everything we discussed.

Feeling the transformation of surgery is a lot different than reading or hearing about it, however; especially given the excited and terrified state I was in pre-surgery. I was confident of my surgeon, the clinic, and my best friend caregiver. Everything went perfectly during surgery and recovery from my short flap rhytidectomy with platysmaplasty and upper and lower lid blepharoplasty. I love the results. But here is what I want you to know about a lower face lift – beyond the elastic wrap around the whole head and plastic drains for 48 hours, applying ice to reduce swelling and bruising, keeping the head elevated, and sleeping and resting a lot during the first week or two

-Depression: I had skipped over the page in my booklet that was titled Emotional Reactions. With the elastic headgear off I was horrified at what my face looked like. I knew it would look like that, but I didn’t know what it would FEEL like to look like a bruised pumpkin. When I confessed to the surgical assistant that I was depressed and crying and questioning my decision, she said “You’re right on schedule with that.” My surgeon, Dr. John G. Westine, reassured me that it is disorienting when you don’t look like yourself and the first week is an emotional roller coaster for most people.

-Tightness of skin: I had been warned my neck would feel “wicked tight.” While it didn’t interfere with swallowing, it felt like I had a rope around my neck, or as if I were wearing a too tight choker necklace, and went on longer than I thought it should – even though it was perfectly normal to feel that way. At 2.5 months, my neck still felt tight, especially if I looked up. But 2 weeks later, although it looks “tight,” with no flab, but it no longer feels tight.

-Don’t turn your neck when driving: Oops. I overlooked the fact that I had internal as well as external stitches that were healing. As in my Pilates class, I was reminded to turn my “core” when I was looking over my shoulder in traffic – or better yet to use the mirrors more.

-Numbness: Somehow I had ignored the fact that nerves would be cut in the process of surgery and would have to regenerate. This has nothing to do with vital nerves being irreversibly severed. It’s just a common side effect of the thousands of tiny nerve endings in your face being cut by the scalpel, disturbed and displaced. Consequently, my neck felt like latex, like I had a fake rubber shield on it. I was numb from the tip of my chin to my Adam’s apple and from my cheeks to behind my ears. Three months into recovery all but a small portion has feeling. It can take from a year to eighteen months to completely resolve.

-Tingling and itching:. After the numbness comes tingling and itching, which is a good sign for healing. Three months after my surgery, the sides of my face by my ears and sides and underside of my neck itch like crazy. I scratch with my fingers, not my nails, so there are no red tracks on my skin. It’s an odd, good kind of itching, by the way, not like a mosquito bite.

-Buyer’s remorse: When the swelling went down a tiny bit and I was able to leave the house in a scarf and glasses, I was thrilled at first with the little bit of freedom I had and the relative lack of bruising; then horrified at how much money I had signed away for this 20-year “whim.” As I settled into my new look and got so much positive feedback, however, those feelings dissipated and I consider it money well spent now.

-Lumpiness behind the ears and on the back of head: I was told there would be lumps and bumps, but not having actually witnessed my own surgery, I was still surprised to feel “dents” in the base of my skull behind my ears. Skin directly over bone can take a little longer to flatten out. But it is getting smoother and no one knows but me.

-Dark circles under eyes: I was pleased with my eyelid surgery from the start. But because of lasering to smooth out the lower lids after fat was removed I have slightly tinted circles under my eyes I never had before. No worries. They should be completely gone in 6 months; in the meantime, there is makeup.

-To tell or not to tell: I told very few people I was having plastic surgery. In South Florida where I live it is common; but it is not common among my friends. I had been thinking of having it for a long time and was sure of my decision. I didn’t want any negative feedback or fears affecting the day of surgery and weeks of recovery and I didn’t want my caregiver friend to be fielding phone calls from people all over the country checking on me. It didn’t take long, however, for me to want to share the adventure I had been on. I have friends who are interested in doing it themselves and want inside information. And I don’t want to be false with friends my age who think I have found a miracle drug. I haven’t told everyone – some people think I just lost weight – but having written this article, it is no longer a secret.