Considering an Eyelift? One Woman's Story

Before you go under the knife, you must read this personal account. Warning: Put down your sandwich first.

By Robin Wolaner

A Health Detour

I’m not the kind of woman who has plastic surgery. In my high school, when nose jobs were de rigueur, mine looked perfectly fine without one. During my 30s and 40s, when I noticed signs of "work" on other women, I didn’t feel, to quote Nora Ephron, bad about my neck. Or face.

But the year I turned 50, my undereye bags started bugging me. They became the feature that said "old" when I looked in the mirror. I invested in countless eye gels that promised to shrink puffiness, but if they made a difference, I couldn’t see it. Finally, I appealed to my dermatologist, who told me surgery was the only way to get rid of the excess baggage for good. My reaction: Surgery? Me? Never.

Fast-forward one year, to 2005. I was living in San Francisco and had just finished a career-advice book based on my years as founder of Parenting magazine and head of Time Inc.‘s magazine development division. The next venture on my career horizon was a concept I called TeeBeeDee ("to be determined"), a Web site — — designed to help middle-aged people network and find support online. I’d not been this excited about a business idea since my early days at Parenting, but there was one problem: How could I extol the benefits of midlife when I felt as though, thanks to my eye bags, I didn’t look all that great for a 51-year-old?

Then I got breast cancer, and starting a new business or having an eye job became the last things on my mind.

Like many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer today, I learned that, thankfully, my case was not life threatening. After a combination of surgery and radiation, my prognosis was excellent. But having breast cancer led to other health issues. In 2006, I underwent a second surgery to remove my ovaries and cut off the estrogen they supplied (which increased my risk of recurrence). I still bemoaned my puffy undereyes — and I put off the publicity shots for TeeBeeDee’s launch because I didn’t like the way I looked. But I didn’t seriously consider plastic surgery. The prospect of going under the knife again — voluntarily — was unthinkable.

Then my 9-year-old daughter, and I went on vacation in Santa Fe, and a museum guard said to me, "Your granddaughter is adorable!" One week later, when we got back to San Francisco, I called to make an appointment to see a plastic surgeon.

Finding a Doctor

That summer I visited two plastic surgeons who had vastly different approaches. Dr. A, who didn’t charge for the appointment, operated in sell mode, dropping hints about famous patients (without naming names) and disparaging other doctors (also sans names). In the 15 minutes we were together, he never examined my eyes up close; instead he talked to me across his desk, then asked a nurse to show me before and after videos. But a hospital had devoted an operating suite to him, and I left thinking that, despite his arrogance, Dr. A was probably the best I’d find.

Dr. B’s process was different: The consultation cost $150 (to be credited toward surgery if he performed it), and he examined my eyes carefully, photographed me, and spent an hour discussing my options. His surgeries were performed in his office, adjacent to a hospital (a better one than Dr. A’s). I chose Dr. B.

One thing the doctors had in common was their recommendation that I get my upper lids done too, something I’d never considered. They said once I had my lowers looking good, my uppers would start to bother me.

They also both predicted my recuperation would take one to two weeks, at most. Dr. A bragged about doing a TV anchorman’s eyes on a Friday and "He was on the news that Monday, wearing makeup, but fine." I’d recovered so quickly from my cancer-related surgeries, I confidently booked an appointment on a Friday in August, expecting to be back in my office on Monday. And I was back — but that didn’t mean I was okay

Going Under the Knife

I wasn’t nervous before the surgery; I’d had general anesthesia twice in the past two years. The tough part would be skipping my morning coffee, since I couldn’t eat or drink pre-surgery.

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