No, I am not recommending that you go get a facelift or calf implants to become a better runner! However, my current ability to run traces back to one very big decision I made involving plastic surgery.
Four years ago I went under the knife and had breast reduction surgery. As far as Scary Therapies go, this was probably the scariest, but also the best decision I have ever made. Prior to this, I was a relatively small person – 5’4″, somewhere around 145 lbs – wearing a size FF bra. It was ridiculous. They got in the way of everything. I couldn’t find clothes that fit – I would be swimming in an XL or larger in order to accommodate my chest, and the thought of anything with a button-down front was downright hilarious. I had trouble exercising because of the weight and bounce-factor. I spent copious amounts of time and money on chiropractic and massage treatments for shoulder and neck pain and headaches. And I got a horrible amount of unwanted attention; I felt like a circus animal, completely outrageous.
I went for a consult with a local, well-known and reviewed plastic surgeon. It was awfully uncomfortable to “show and tell” this issue to a middle-aged man…but that was the state of affairs, and I was tired of being so “weighed down” by the problem, so you just suck it up and deal. He totally understood all my concerns, walked me through the procedure, and approved me right away. Needless to say, some people in my life weren’t entirely thrilled with my plan to alter my -ahem- “God-given talents,” but it was my life and my body, and if they couldn’t see that this was the right decision for me, then they weren’t really looking out for my best interests.
Thank God for living in Canada: I never even had to think about the dollar signs. I didn’t have to complete any evaluation papers, I didn’t have to submit any insurance forms, the procedure was covered, every cent. This was an essential surgery for a legitimate medical problem and that meant provincial Medicare would handle everything. I can’t even imagine having to decide whether to take this step to improve my health and wellbeing if it had come at a huge cost. If my surgery hadn’t been covered, it would have cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4,000-$7,000. As a student at the time, I find it very unlikely that I could have parted with that much money. Even now, as an adult with a “real” career making “real” money, I would struggle to spend that much on a “self-improvement,” important as it may be.
What To Expect
The scheduling process was a nightmare. I was committed to being a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding that summer, so I had to steer clear of that date. Also, I was set to go back to school in September for the final year of my undergrad degree. To top it all off, I was a cheerleading coach and dance teacher returning to work in the fall, so I had a very very small window of opportunity to work with. Twice the health region called me with dates and twice I had to refuse, as it was too close to the wedding. If I deferred three times, they were allowed to bump me off the waiting list and I would have to go through the whole consultation process again. Finally, after asking to be put on the cancellation list, I got a call for the perfect date. I only had about an hour to decide, and a couple of days to make post-op arrangements including leave from work, day-of drivers and post-op caregivers, etc. but my family helped me to get it all sorted out, and I was ready to go.
Prior to surgery, I consulted my good friend, a physiotherapist, and she recommended using acupuncture tacks to combat nausea and other effects of the anesthetic. The day of the procedure I rolled into the hospital with teeny tiny tacks in my wrists, calves, and ankles. The pre-op nurses went ballistic. The head nurse (the one who was readying my IV…oh goodie…) went absolutely nuclear on me. Apparently there was no way I was making it into the OR with metal tacks inside my body. However, my surgeon was completely amicable to the idea, and so she was forced to leave me alone. I was outfitted with compression pantyhose (ugh…so itchy) and an inflatable, heated blanket! That part was awesome…it was like laying in a tanning bed (not that any of us have ever done that, since it is a no-no…). Apparently these blankets are typically used by EMS at crash-sites etc. to keep victims warm and treat for shock, “but now we have started using them for plastics too!” Plastics. Right. This was plastic surgery. I had forgotten. Somehow that term made it seem so superficial, so stupid. I think my blood pressure spiked at that moment. Oh well, onwards and upwards.
I was wheeled into the ER where they strapped my arms and legs down. Then I heard a male voice from behind my head – and not my surgeon’s. “Hi, I’m the EMT student here to practice intubating?” Oh. Em. Gee. Are you KIDDING me? You couldn’t have waited until I was unconscious to say that?! But suddenly the room went dim and next thing I knew I was in a recovery room with a whole bunch of other patients. Shortly after, I was wheeled back into my own “room” for a couple of hours of observation and recovery popsicles. The nurses told me that I had lost about 2 lbs of fat and tissue in total. That afternoon my dad came to pick me up and take me home, all dressed up in my lovely compression bra and tights, and packed securely with wads and wads of gauze. I felt like a Build-A-Bear!
I was sent off with a bottle of Tylenol-3s, but quickly found out that I am allergic to codeine, so I stopped taking them. I really didn’t need the pain meds though, I felt good unless I tried to do something silly like reach far/high or do any kind of jarring motion. The “stuffing” came out after about 5 days; the stitches dissolved slowly, and I was left with only scars, and a “small” set of C/Ds where my FFs had been.
Why It’s Worth A Try
This was a very scary decision that I made on my own, which wasn’t wholly supported by the people around me. People didn’t understand why I didn’t want to look like a human Barbie. People didn’t understand why I would jeopardize my ability to breastfeed my future children. And people didn’t understand how 2 small pounds could make such a huge difference to my life. But they have. I no longer have to buy ill-fitting clothes or spend $200+ on ultra-support bras. I no longer get bi-weekly massage treatments for screaming trapezius muscles. I can shop where I want to, I can dress how I want to, and I can do activities that I want to. I can run! I can dance! I feel normal and proportioned and just like any other person. And my chest isn’t “fake” or “plastic”; I prefer to refer to them as “hand-sculpted.” My wonderful surgeon put a lot of care and attention into creating me just the way I wanted to be, and it has improved my life x1000. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner, because facing the fear was TOTALLY worth it.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, if your doctor has ever recommended that you think about a specific procedure (for medical reasons!), or if you have been contemplating and doing research online, but you have been too scared to pull the trigger, maybe sit down and think about it again. Re-examine the reasons for going under the knife, and how you really and reasonably expect it to change you. Maybe your surgery is a rhinoplasty to correct a deviated septum that is obstructing your breathing. Maybe it’s skin removal surgery because you have lost 100 lbs. Maybe it’s bunion surgery to alleviate your foot pain. Don’t let fear of the process or procedure stand in the way of your life, and don’t let fear of the word “surgery” stand in the way of your happiness. If you need a surgeon’s intervention to become a healthier, more functional you, that is perfectly OK. I can happily and thankfully admit that I have had plastic surgery, for I know that it has improved my life in so many ways that I couldn’t have achieved on my own.
Have YOU used surgery to treat a medical problem? Have you been prescribed treatment, but you’re too scared to go through with it? Let us know in the comments!