The procedure began at 7 a.m., and the next thing I knew, I was waking up in the recovery room at noon. I heard the nurse calling my boyfriend, Stewart, to come pick me up. But then my doctor said, "Jesus, she’s not ready to leave." I later learned that my left eye had swollen so badly he thought he’d have to repair his work right away. He didn’t, but clearly my swelling pushed the boundaries of normal.
The nurse asked if I’d brought the Vicodin the doctor had prescribed. I had, and she told me to take one prophylactically. At about 3 p.m., when the swelling had subsided somewhat, Stewart drove me home. I rested, with ice on my eyes.
When my kids came home from school, my 13-year-old son wouldn’t look at me, and my daughter turned her back, then peeked around with her hand over her eyes. I didn’t blame the kids for averting their eyes; I couldn’t even look in the mirror while I brushed my teeth.
So Much for a Quick Recovery
I did not expect to feel so helpless. My vision is not good to begin with, but for the first two days after the surgery, I was seeing double and everything was blurred. I normally have a cast-iron stomach, but I couldn’t keep anything down: not food, not water, not the Valium the doctor had prescribed to help me sleep. Throwing up (there’s just no pleasant way to convey this) put extra pressure on the stitches, exacerbating my already-extensive bruising and swelling. I also couldn’t fall asleep — or calm my anxiety.
For 48 hours I was completely dependent on Stewart. And I was unable to take care of my kids, something which had not been true after either of my previous cancer-related surgeries. But I’d chosen to have this procedure, so I didn’t feel I was really entitled to anyone’s sympathy. My guilt and shame made me want to hide, but I had idiotically scheduled the operation only a few weeks before TeeBeeDee’s official launch. On day three I dragged myself back into the office.
For the first week, my eyes were so swollen and bruised it was hard to imagine things would ever get better. I felt I’d never look normal again, and it was my own fault. On day seven I wrote a note to myself: "Everyone told me they spent the first day after surgery thinking they’d made a mistake. It’s now been a week — and I still do."
Plastic surgeons always show you their before and after shots, but they never share photos of a patient mid-recovery. I was severely bruised from my left eye down to my chin. A procedure designed to make me look younger had actually caused me to look worse than I ever had.
Well-meaning friends would ask, "Do you know if this is normal?" Of course, that was my deepest, darkest fear: that something had gone horribly wrong and my eyes would never be the same again. Actually, my recovery was normal, but I was on the bad end of the spectrum. Someone has to be, I guess, but I never thought it would be me.
Some Improvement (At Last)
Three weeks after the surgery, I went to Santa Fe for Labor Day weekend. I was exhausted, still looked a mess and was in tears for much of the flight. I’d used up every ounce of stamina trying to work and keep my life going post-op. I am not a person who normally gets blue, but that was a low point. (I’ve since learned that the third week or so after the operation is when patients often feel depressed because the recovery progress slows down.)
After I returned from Santa Fe, I finally started to feel a bit better. Two friends who came to see me actually set up consultations with my doctor. The fact that they didn’t feel he’d been incompetent helped me to perk up.
Yet my improvement was not linear. My skin formed new puckers around my eyes as it healed. And the dark bruising underneath my left eye stayed quite visible for almost six months.
For every press appearance during the launch of TeeBeeDee in mid-September 2007, I needed a professional makeup artist to cover me in layers of thick foundation. I wasn’t trying to conceal the eye-lift — I talked about it openly — but my bruises made me look like a battered woman. Which I was, of course, but by my own hand.