every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


The Condensed Version of Me

photo (3)

Me – c. 1956

[This is my first-ever blog post, published July 22, 2014.  I like to think of it as a measuring stick of the past year.  My surgery sites were still raw; my abs were a flabby mess; I hadn’t started exploring online dating; and I had no idea why I was telling my story.  People tell me that I’m brave for being honest and that they share many of my frustrations with modern life, which has lost so much graciousness, despite technology and political correctness.  If nothing else, I make most of you laugh, so, who am I to complain?  Thanks for joining me on my spiritual journey!]

Last night, I did something with my daughter that I never would have done with my mother.  We stood in front of my bathroom mirror comparing our naked breasts.  Stay with me.

Did you ever do that with your mother?  Neither did I.  I’m 62, raised in the 1950’s & ’60’s by a mom of the 1930’s and ’40’s.  Her most damning phrase was “That’s tacky.” Until I was nearly 40, I worried about being dirty, wrinkled, mismatched, frizzy, and tacky.  My two earliest childhood memories are learning to tie the laces of my white high-topped, leather shoes into tidy bows and being fitted for white cotton gloves.  I couldn’t have been older than four, but I was mesmerized by the little drawers of gloves in the girls’ department at the J.L. Hudson, Company in downtown Detroit.  Plain or bows?  Are you kidding me?  I wanted the ones with the shiny pearl buttons!

Maybe your parents were “progressive.”  Mine came from that pragmatic, Depression-Era generation of hardworking blue collar-to-middle-class families with what are currently called “traditional values.”   My father, a first-generation Italian-American and proud Marine Corps veteran, leaned toward the conservative.  My mother’s family was from the fearless stock of English-Scots-Irish who settled Kentucky in the 18th century.  No whining allowed.  Have a problem?  Figure out how to solve it or climb over it and move on.  My sister and I were expected to go to college and graduate.  I learned to sew, cook, manage money, mow the lawn, change a tire, check the oil, mix concrete, and lay bricks.  Before feminism took hold in the 1960’s, we were learning to survive.

Mom was a minor progressive on matters of feminine independence.  When I begged for one of the newly-marketed “training” bras that my girlfriends proudly wore, my mother scoffed, “What are they training?  You don’t want to wear a bra.   They’re uncomfortable, and besides, you don’t have anything to put in one.”   [Be careful what you wish for.]

In the 5th grade, the girls in my class, accompanied by their mothers or a female guardian, were treated to the Disney-produced and Kotex-sponsored The Story of Menstruation.  (Sex education in the mid-20th century.) On the walk home after the screening, armed with pamphlets, Mom’s only comment was, “When your ‘time’ comes, they’re in the linen closet.”  Well, yes, I saw a small box of Kotex pads, but what were those mysterious paper-wrapped sticks in the Tampax box that was replaced much more frequently than the Kotex box?

Two years later, my ‘time’ arrived.  Mom showed me how to loop the gauzy ends of the bulky Kotex pad through the metal teeth in the “Sanitary Belt” yet encouraged me to use tampons.  At the age of 12, I was squeamish, more by the idea of having such a conversation with my mother than the actual process.  Well, I lie.  Probably more by the process.

She rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”  Huh?  I’m going to put that hulking dry, cardboard thing where?  [Listen to your mother.]

By the time I was 17 and desperate to wear a bathing suit for my waterskiing boyfriend, she had the last laugh.  “I can’t help you with this.  You have to go into the bathroom and do it yourself.  Here’s the hand mirror.”

She was right, of course.  They were waaay better than the monthly bulkiness, the shifting, and the inevitable leakage.  She-who-claims-to-know-everything suddenly turned into a font of wisdom.

Seven years later, at age 24, I was recovering from a complete hysterectomy.  (No, it wasn’t due to the tampons.)  I had a raging case of endometriosis.  Cysts as large as volleyballs and baseballs, according to my doctors, pulsated in my ovaries, and others were exploding like tiny time-bombs, gumming up my insides.  In her droll and always honest way, my mother asked, “What are you going to do with all the money you save on tampons?”

Now, my own daughter is 22 and has little knowledge of and no use for white cotton gloves, but,  I am proud to say, she recognizes “tacky” when she sees it.    I’m not going to embarrass her by discussing her introduction to tampons, but let’s just say that it involved a mirror, a wet suit, and sharks.  Well, no, there were no actual sharks in the bathroom with us, just a discussion about their olfactory sensitivity.  There was also no dry, hulking cardboard in sight, just marvelous, smooth, modern plastic.

The Daughter and I, pre-op, May, 2012.

The Daughter and I, pre-op, May, 2012.

Two-and-a-half months ago, I had reduction mammoplasty (google it—I’m still my mother’s somewhat-squeamish daughter).  You see, my five foot-tall frame appeared to be on the verge of toppling over at any moment, as I could no longer straighten my shoulders.  I stuffed myself into minimizer bras and swathed myself in baggy sweaters.  What seems like a glamorous blessing really is a pain in the neck—and the spine and the shoulders and the self-esteem.  Turns out, I was carrying over two pounds of extra weight on my chest, like strapping a Yellow Pages directory between my armpits.

My daughter, the critical care nurse, was a great caregiver.  You know.  What we hope our children will be for us in our old age?  During the three-and-a-half hour outpatient (!) surgery, she returned to her nearby apartment to play with her cats and to catch something on Xfinity On Demand (which, to me, means it can be watched at any time other than when your dearly beloved is in surgery).

In fairness, I easily survived the surgery; she drove me home, stayed overnight, changed my massive ice packs, expertly stripped, emptied, and measured my bloody drain tubes every four hours, and force fed me oxycodone.   OK, OK.  She didn’t shove it down my throat, but she gave me the Nurse Ratched routine and insisted I swallow it.  [Note to self: Revisit that mirror/wet suit incident and a caregiver who is my sole heir.]

Last night, there we were, looking at our naked breasts, noticing how different they are.  My rehabbed pair appear to have been transplanted from a stranger and are oddly and happily perky for a 62-year old woman.  They are also subtly scarred, bruised, and lumpy and will be for at least another year.  Just like my hysterectomy scar, traces of this recent surgery will always remain.  But, I figure, the boy for whom I was willing to experiment with tampons has been gone for three years, and I don’t expect anyone other than a medical professional will ever get close enough to notice.

Oh, come on!  Put your tiny violins away!  Insurance paid for most of the surgery.  I feel fabulous and can see my feet for the first time in years.  My girlfriends say I look 20 years younger.  My new, youthful bustline (as Jane Russell would say in the old Playtex commercials) has inspired me to work on my abs, now that I can see how flabby they are.

My mother, at 86, still knows everything and feels free to dole out advice.  These days, she rarely tells me

Playing with a selfie stick, July, 2015.

Playing with a selfie stick, July, 2015.

that I look tacky, but I still wouldn’t dream of sharing my breasts with her in a mirror.  My daughter isn’t embarrassed to discuss anything with me, although I have learned to text “TMI” to her when she makes me squeamish.  I am easily old enough to be her grandmother, so the generational chasm between us is often profound.  And, yes, both she and my mother approved this post, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo gloria!

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Dazed and Confused, What Else is New?

It’s been a busy time in my world, some satisfying, some funny, all frustrating.  So, here goes…

Happy 87th Birthday to my mom — a week late.  Thinking myself to be organized, I bought her a birthday present in

The night before my wedding, she told me I didn't have to go through with it, if I didn't want to.

1972 – The night before my wedding, she told me I didn’t have to go through with it, if I didn’t want to.

August, sat it on a chair in my bedroom, and am fairly certain that it was still sitting there two weeks ago.  I checked the size of the box the week before the Big Day and bought wrapping paper for it.  The day of her birthday, it had vanished.  I mean, vanished, as in not to be seen anywhere in my house.  I checked every square inch of my bedroom, including under the bed, under the chair, and in my closet.  Nope.  Nada.  No gift.  Not in the guest bedroom, my daughter’s old room, the living room, dining room, garage, attic, or sunroom.  In desperation, I had to stop at Rite Aid and buy a lame Panera gift card to give her from my BFF Fiona.  Is that not embarrassing?

I had the wrapping paper, tissue, ribbon, box, and card ready to go with nothing to give the sainted woman from whom I get my middle name, curly hair, and lack of stature; my sarcasm, temper, frankness, and stubbornness; my hypertension and high cholesterol; my sewing and typing prowess; my love of reading, old movies, fashion, and history; my fear of heights and being hurt (physically and emotionally); my righteous indignation and survival instincts, not to mention my quest for perfection.

Still the best mom

Lucky me!  Good genes!

Of course, what would be perfect enough for the only person who is always behind me, even when she thinks I’m wrong?  Who made me clothes and costumes, convinced my dad that a liberal arts degree was acceptable, sheet-rocked a veterinary clinic, helped me hang wallpaper, loved my husband and adopted daughter, my dogs and cats, and let me move away to Maryland without complaining?

Well, there’s always Christmas.  I love you, Mom!

This happened the very same day that I had my last post-op visit with the plastic surgeon, and, no, I wasn’t as prepared as I hoped I would be.  Yes, I hit my weight goal, the day before my visit (thank you very much) and decided that I needed to lose another five pounds so I’d have a “cushion”.  You know, with the holidays coming up and all that rich, festive food.  I’d rather have a cushion of pounds that I could maybe, possibly gain without notice, than that big cushion of fat below my navel.

Anyway, during the exam, I had my last prodding.  “Yes, sir, I have feeling there and there.”  I thought he unnecessarily kept referring to the “rigid necrotic fat” in my right breast and said that I should call him if I ever decided that I couldn’t live with it.  What?  It’s not painful or even visible beneath my clothes. Did you see the black banded dress that Miley Cyrus wore to the amFAR fundraiser this week?  Well, I couldn’t wear that with my new breasts, but, if the sequins were properly placed, I could probably wear the gown that Rihanna had on.  (Google them for your laugh of the week.)  Tom Ford of Gucci, give me a call.

I told the doctor that no one would see it but me, and he said, “Well, you might change your mind.” He’s so inscrutable that I’m not sure what he thought I was going to change my mind about.  Letting someone see it?  Touch it?  Well, my match.com experience continues to be dismal, so that isn’t likely, if you know what I mean.

After the exam, it was time for the dreaded “after” photographs.  And even with as much entertainment as I have given hundreds of people with my experience of the “before” photographs, I still came close to tears.  Don’t get me wrong.  The doctor is a very kind and gentle man.  There’s a nurse there, holding up a blue backdrop, and my abs are looking pretty decent for a woman my age, but there’s just something about standing upright, naked, and having photos taken.  I stared at the ceiling, turned a quarter to the left, full left, a quarter to the right, and then full right, smack into my reflection in a mirror!

“OH, DEAR GOD!!!!” I shrieked.  Really and truly and most hideously, I shrieked at the unexpected sight of little pale me, naked except for a pair of black tights. The doctor and nurse laughed.  I don’t know if they laughed because it’s their little joke to stand a naked senior citizen under fluorescent lighting in front of a mirror, or if it’s because the joke was finally on me.

“Oh, Suzanne, you’re always so funny!” the receptionist once told me.

Oh the humanity—er—I mean, the humiliation.  Not only had I seen the gruesome situation in my mind’s eye, but there it was in front of me, like a grotesque Picasso painting of one of his naked ex-wives.

“Really,” I mumbled, completely defeated.  “I’ve spent the last six months preparing for this moment, losing 15 pounds, flattening my abs, and this is just awful.”  They continued to laugh.  I hope they were thinking, “Isn’t she charming?” and not “Silly old lady!  What did she think she looked like?”  Looking at the pale wrinkles and folds from my forehead to my waist, I understood why the doctor wanted me to call him if I “need anything.”  Silly man!  Only a magician could save my dignity now!  Of course, I’m not really happy with my neck…

If I could only do something about my neck...

The Daughter says I look too masculine in this photo.

This all gives new meaning to my continuing misery with match.com.  It’s the same old-same old.  The interesting men who are my age don’t want a woman my age.  The rest look like Santa Claus or worse.  Unfortunately, I don’t think any of them has a present in his pack exciting enough to induce me to sit on his lap.  [Sudden thought:  Maybe my profile should say that I’m the woman you want sitting at your death bed praying like mad for you and making you laugh.  Naw.  Probably not.]

Last week, as I was forced to go through my “Daily Matches”, clicking the green check for “Interested” or the orange x for “Not interested”, I started to feel sorry for them.  I reminded myself that they, too, have the same angst about the process that I have.  Looks aren’t everything, you know.  So, I carefully read each of the 11 profiles and decided to click on one man who “caught my eye”, as they say in the online dating game.  He had a tremendous smile and twinkle in his eye (ok, ok, it could have been pixilated by my poor internet connection).  His profile was downright funny and, the real clincher, it was beyond LITERATE!  True to form, he (my age) didn’t want a woman my age or height but claimed to be looking for an intelligent, funny, beautiful woman.

“Well, hey!”  I thought to myself, “three out of five is a pretty close match.  We all need to be realistic about this, buddy” and clicked “Interested”.

Imagine my surprise the next morning to find an email from him!  He gave me a story about how he was so sorry that he was already dating someone else because I was just what he was looking for and that I should hang in there, blah, blah, blah.  Why did he even write me?  Makes no sense.  I responded, thanking him for his kind remarks but telling him that I was done with the whole degrading, demoralizing process because I can’t be taller, younger, or any more fabulous than I already am.  I also referred him to this blog for my real feelings (see “Righteous Indignation” above, sometimes a bad move).  And he replied AGAIN, with the same drivel about “hanging in there” because I was so “fabulous.”  WTH?  What have I ever done to you?  Whine, whine, whine.

Yesterday, 10 days later, his profile popped up on a generic list of men who were online and ready to chat.  Really?  What happened to that woman you were dating last week?  I hope you do read this.  I thought you had possibilities. If you’re reading this, you should know that I was thinking Daniel Craig, not Sean Connery.

Finally, this week, I received an unsolicited email from an attractive older man (I would have said “gentleman” but read on).  He liked my witty, literate profile and commented kindly on my looks (which no one has done yet and is considered an online dating etiquette “no-no”).  Being a sucker for compliments, I went to his profile, reminded myself to be generous and open-minded, found his favorite hobby, and commented on it.  It was something that I find thrilling and that not a lot of people have done (but I have, twice).  He responded within 24 hours and asked me to do it with him (no, it’s not illegal or immoral, and I’m not going to say what it is because maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong about him, although I don’t think so, but I’d really like to be delightfully surprised, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize anything).  I replied that his offer was “irresistible” and told him a tiny bit more about myself and how I came to be familiar with his hobby.  I also gave him the few days that I was unavailable and waited to hear from him.

I waited 24 hours.  And another 24 hours.  And I’m still waiting.  I think it’s kind of odd that a man would ask a woman out, that she would accept, and that then he wouldn’t follow up.  Maybe he compared notes with the other men on match.com and found out about my blog.  (Damn you, Righteous Indignation!)

On a satisfying note, I completed a state grant that I was writing for the Deer Creek Chorale, with whom I sing.  The writing part is enjoyable.  I love bragging about our wonderful artistic staff, dedicated board of directors, and the tireless and talented singers with whom I perform.  I hope the grantors appreciate what we do for the arts in our underserved community, because we are stellar! For an English major, that’s a no-brainer.  Sadly, it also involves a whole lot of freaking data (like 19 pages of it), which means numbers, numbers, numbers.  Writing this grant is about 20 hours of work (including interim and final reports), hoping to get at least $1,000 and, at most, $2,500.  Last year was our first attempt at a grant from the state, and we were awarded $1,500.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good, mostly.  Soli Deo Gloria!


The New and Improved Me – Part III

Another day and night of oxycodone, the third day.

I awoke to a large spot of pinkish sera seeping through my surgical bra where one of the drain tubes had been removed.  It wasn’t bright red, so I wasn’t especially worried about bleeding to death, but I was concerned about it leaking through to my clothes. Everything was wet, and I felt gross, not smelly, just cold and wet.  Again, the Daughter carted me to the doctor.

“That’s looking better,” he pronounced, as he removed the bandages.  “You’ve got a long way to go, but it’s healing.”  He prodded the left nipple with the stainless steel probe.  “Can you feel anything yet?”  I shook my head “no.”

“Well, it takes time for all the nerves to reconnect.”

Cold & wet

Cold & wet

He handed me a mirror, and, for the first time, I had a look.  It was pretty grim.  There were little oozing raw spots, here and there, on my left breast, and a half-dollar-sized wound on the lower half of the right breast that looked like fresh ground sirloin.  I could see that the edges were starting to granulate and heal, but the rest was what I’d heard the Veterinarian call “pink and healthy.”  Maybe another woman would have swooned, but I had seen worse.

“Again,” said my doctor, “this is a rare complication, as I explained, but —“

“I understand,” I interrupted him.  “I can deal with it.  It is what it is.”

He stopped, looked me directly in the eye, and considered me for a few seconds.  Maybe he thought I was going to cry.  Maybe he thought I was going to sue for malpractice.  Maybe he just didn’t know how to respond.  He changed the bandages, hooked and zipped me up, and helped me sit up.

“So, I’ll be ok to travel in about three weeks?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.  He looked from the Daughter to me.  “Where are you planning on going?”

“Well, we’re going to Cancún, Memorial Day weekend.”

“No,” he laughed.  “You’re not going anywhere, especially not on a plane to Mexico.”

“But I’ll be with her,” the Daughter replied.  “It’s just a plane ride and sitting on a beach drinking Margaritas.”

“No,” he said.  “Think about the air pressure on the plane and all the unhygienic places you’d be exposed to.”  My spirits sank.

“I want to see you again on Monday.  Over the weekend, change the bandages once a day.  Cover the wounds with antibiotic cream or Vaseline and new gauze pads.  Call the office, if you have any questions.”  He shook our hands and stopped at the door.  “You really don’t look like a woman who’s had surgery.”

So lucky to have my own nurse

So lucky to have my own nurse

“Why does he keep saying that?”  I whispered to the Daughter, when he left.  “Is he trying to cheer me up?  I have these awful blisters.  Isn’t that bad?  And, if I look so great, why can’t we go to Cancún?”

“I don’t know, Mom,” she sighed.  “He’s worried about complications, plus you have those huge open wounds. Just get dressed, and let’s go.”  She drove me home and settled me on the sofa with the dog.  I ate some soup and slept for several hours, until around 3 pm.

When I awoke, I felt a little warm, with sun streaming through my living room windows.  60 pounds of hot Golden Retriever weren’t helping.  My icepacks were sloshing.  I refilled them and laid back down, shivering under my blankets.

I texted the Daughter.

“Did you take your temp?” she replied.

“I don’t have a thermometer that hasn’t been used in the Dog.”

“Put some ice on your head and take Tylenol.”

“It’s on my chest.”


“The ice is on my chest, not my head.  I don’t use Tylenol.”

“What are you feeling, exactly?”

              “Chills.  My forehead feels warm.  Hey!  I can clean the thermometer with that surgical scrub.”

My temperature was exactly 100°.  Normal people wouldn’t worry too much, but I have always had one of those body temperatures that is subnormal and sort of dyslexic.  It’s 96.8°.  I am always cold.  People at church anticipate my icy grip when we “pass the peace.”  Consequently, when my fingers feel warm, I assume that something is wrong.

“You have a low grade fever.  Let me know how you feel in 30 min.”

30 minutes later, I dutifully texted my temperature, 101.3°.

“Uhm…call the doctor?” she texted, along with his emergency number.

“No, I don’t want to bother him.”

“It’s Friday afternoon.  You don’t want to end up at Patient First.”

“Should I take Motrin?”

“You should call the doctor.”

“It’s almost 5, and they’ll be closing.”

“Call the doctor, Mom.  That’s why he has an emergency number.”

Sure enough, they had closed for the weekend, but I left a message on the answering device.  I felt worse bothering the doctor after hours than I did about the fever.  I’ve been on the other end of an after-hours phone call.  You understand that it’s part of the job, but there’s always a big sigh when you see a message.  Still, it was only 10 minutes after closing, so I knew I wasn’t ruining his night.  Within three minutes, he returned my call.  I apologized profusely for bothering him after hours.  He was most cordial and approved my request to discontinue the oxycodone and start Motrin.  Again, I apologized profusely for bothering him.

Within a few hours, after taking the Motrin, my temperature started dropping.  Without the oxycodone, I was comfortable and, once again, slept like a baby, on my back.  When I awoke, I made first attempt at changing my dressing, smearing the wounds with Vaseline (which, I discovered, leaked through my clothes), covering them with gauze pads, and securing the whole thing with bandage tape).  At 8, my phone rang.  It was my doctor calling to check up on me.  I was enormously impressed and, once again, felt stupid for bothering him with my insignificant little fever.  In fact, I wished that it had been worse so that I could justify his concern.

Two more nights and days without oxycodone, and, on Monday, I was back in his office.

“Hey, Suzanne, how’re you feeling?”  He shook my hand, and we went through our routine; he did the unzipping and unhooking and prodding, and I did the jokes.

“So, guess what?”  I asked.  “My left breast came back online.”

“What?” He looked at me warily, probably wondering what I was babbling about now.

“My left nipple,” I explained. “It has feeling again.  Little electrical jolts.  It seems to be entertaining itself at the most inopportune moments, like when I’m sitting quietly in church.”

He smiled and shook his head, hooking and zipping me back up.  I felt short, childlike, and completely ridiculous.  It occurred to me to keep my mouth shut.  But…naw…

“It’s sort of like dressing a baby doll, isn’t it?”  I laughed.

“Yeah,” he replied, “it really is.”  This time, he laughed with me.

By my last visit, in mid-July, after two months of frequent exams, prodding, poking, and joking, my doctor declared that I was healed, except for some “rigid fat necrosis.”  (Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?)  I told him that I was regaling my friends with stories about my surgery, which stopped him in his tracks, but I reassured him that he was never the butt of my humor.  I left him my latest motto: “I am not always happy, but I always try to be cheerful.  Sometimes, that’s the best I can do.”  As usual, he nodded his head.  I hope I’ve spread a little sunshine his way.

Next week, I return for my final visit, and, possibly, the dreaded “after” photos.  This time, I’m prepared.  I’m preparing my witty repartee to ward off visions of Victorian England, and, as I told him on the morning of surgery that I would, I’ve gotten rid of the “armpit fat” and flabby abs (although, they remain glaringly white).

When I look down at my chest, I still marvel at how different my new breasts look.  From that view, they look perfect.  When I look in the mirror, they look like something attached by Dr. Frankenstein.  It’s not the scarring.  It’s the strangeness of them. We’re still becoming acquainted.  My neck and backaches are a thing of the past, and I’ve treated myself to some cute lingerie, of course.  Once again, I fit into some of my favorite clothes, including a gorgeous Italian wool gabardine suit that I had tailored in Hong Kong almost 20 years ago, an Armani knock-off that spans the vagaries of fashion.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

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The New and Improved Me – Part I

[Squeamish men, be warned:  contains graphic, but not porno-graphic girl-talk.]

“Turn to the left, “ he demanded in his quiet voice. I stood topless in front of his camera. 

That well-worn adage of a Victorian mother to her virginal daughter on her wedding night whispered in my ear, “Just close your eyes and think of England,” as nervous laughter bubbled in my throat…

Sorry to disappoint you, but I haven’t started writing erotica.  I’ll leave that to my friends who are good at it.  This was not a Fifty Shades of Gray moment.   Even as a lonely widow, there was nothing titillating or exciting about disrobing in front of a stranger, who was wearing a dignified navy suit, dress shirt, and tie,  and having him poke, prod, and whip out a measuring tape to record the girth of my large, cystic, formerly-firm breasts with his soft, surgeon’s hands.  [Ooooh!  Maybe I could write erotica…]

behind a plaque

behind a plaque

“Do you have any questions for me?”  He asked.

I trembled slightly and timidly answered, “Will they grow back?”  I don’t know which was more disheartening, standing with my sagging breasts and flabby white abs in front of his camera or hearing his answer,

“No, they aren’t likely to grow back…not at your age.” 

Not at your age,” screamed the irritating shrew who lives in my head, “It’s official!  You’re old!  You’re freakin’ old!”   

The very professional plastic surgeon explained anesthesia risks and incisions and drain tubes and pain management and the slight chance of side effects, such as skin blistering, and all the other post-op concerns of reduction mammoplasty, aka Breast Reduction, but my brain tuned out.  

The shrew in my head chanted, “Your ship has sailed, honey!”

I found the plastic surgeon through my friend—let’s call her Becca.  During a visit to Grand Cayman, Becca extolled her own recent mammoplasty to me, as we sat in a hot tub, sipping Prosecco.  I had been toying with the idea for 10 years.  A former dancer with excellent posture, I was becoming round-shouldered and was tired of the constant pain in my neck, shoulders, and spine and the humiliation of trying to shop for clothes that would fit my five-foot tall frame with the 34G bust.  I sank back in the warm water.

“You know what?  I’m going to do it.  Who’s the surgeon?”  In an instant, I decided.  Maybe it was the wine or the starry sky, but, two weeks later, after checking his credentials, I was undressed in his office.

“What size would you like to be?”  He asked.  I hadn’t thought of that.

“Ummm…a C?”  He tilted his head and squinted at my chest.

“Well, I can’t guarantee that they’ll be exactly a C, maybe a B+.”    

“Well, how about you just make sure they’re in proportion to the rest of me?”

“You said what?!”  My friend—I’ll call her Georgianne—gasped when we met for dinner that night.  “You’re going to let some man decide what your breasts are going to look like?”  Following a nasty divorce two decades ago, Georgianne has her revenge by living well.  With her trendy jewelry and trim suits, I always feel tacky standing next to her.

Hiding behind a tea towel

covered by a tea towel

“Well, I didn’t know what to say.  It really doesn’t matter to me, as long as I can fit into my clothes and get rid of these backaches,” I replied.  “And, besides, he has to take out enough tissue so it will be covered by my insurance.”    Georgianne shuddered.

I set a date with the surgeon’s office, filled out a raft of forms, and completed my pre-op physical.   I filled the prescriptions for Ambien and oxycodone, which I carefully shoved down in my purse when leaving the pharmacy.  Aren’t those the kinds of drugs to which celebrities become addicted before they make big post-rehab comebacks on Oprah?  I was more terrified of the drugs than of the surgery.

The Daughter, a registered nurse in the critical care unit of a major urban hospital, made sure I had a current Advanced Directive with a DNR order (i.e., do not resuscitate), in the event I should really be relieved of my pain through death-by-surgery.  I knew I was good whatever came my way…I would either have fabulous new breasts, or I’d be having my first face-to-face with God.  Both sounded doable.

Before dawn on the morning of surgery, fasted and starving, I showered with the prescribed antiseptic scrub, and the Daughter drove me to the hospital, where I completed another raft of forms.   A nurse took me back to an exam area and handed me an ugly pair of gray, non-skid socks and a nifty surgical gown with unsnap-able shoulders, so easy to remove it must have escaped from a triple X-rated Adult Fashion store (wink, wink).  As she snapped me up, she said,

“Oh, you’re so lucky!  Everyone just loves this doctor.  He did the same surgery on me.”  I resisted the urge to examine his handiwork.

Another nurse popped in to take my vitals and gushed, “Oh, you’re so lucky!  Everyone just loves this doctor.  He performed the same surgery on both of my daughters.”  I became concerned that I had been diverted to Stepford.

Then, the anesthetist came in to do her thing and smiled, “Oh, you’re so lucky!  Everyone just loves this doctor…“  I waited to hear what he’d done for her, but we were interrupted by the arrival of the great man, himself.

“Good morning!” 

The anesthetist scurried out, and the doctor closed a sliding glass door, pulled the curtain closed, and sat on a stool in front of me in his scrubs.  I had to think for a minute if he was the same guy that I had seen for my consultation a month earlier.  Without the navy suit, he looked much more chipper and much younger.  He pulled out a 6-inch white plastic ruler, much like the one that the Veterinarian always carried in his scrub shirt pocket, and I giggled nervously (really, I’m not a giggler).

The surgeon used a purple surgical marker to draw a star at the base of my throat, and I became a living canvas.   First, he drew a line with the ruler from the star through the center of my chest, followed by lines from the star to each of my nipples., and then big smiley faces under each breast and circles around the areolas, at which point my brain drifted to those visions of Victorian England.  He sat back on the stool and considered his drawing.

“I’m like a carpenter—measure twice, cut once.”  That’s exactly what he said.  I kid you not.  What kind of response can you make to that? I managed a smile.

He continued to look from breast to breast, my right to my left, tilting his head back and forth.

“You know,” he started, “this one on the right is bigger than the one on the left.” 

I looked down.  Well, no, I hadn’t noticed, but, then, I’m not a breast girl, myself.

“And it points in a different direction.”  I nearly choked.  No one had ever complained about it, not that anyone other than the Veterinarian, my gynecologist, or a mammography technician had ever seen it.

“I’m not sure I can fix that.”  I didn’t know what to say.  “And I won’t be able to suck out your armpit fat, because insurance doesn’t cover that.”  Armpit fat?  Who knew?

lost in black

lost in baggy black

“Uh—“  I was at a loss for words, a rare occurrence.  “Uh—well, that’s—uh—kind of—uh, my problem to deal with—I guess.  I’ll—uh—have to work on that.” 

He smiled indulgently at me, as if I was an imaginative and misguided child.

My brain threatened to flat line, as the nurse wheeled me into the OR, where the anesthetist waited with a cushion to put under my knees to relieve my sciatica.  Again, I just blathered away, making jokes. 

Unfortunately, the anesthesiologist wasn’t amused.  He set up the IV and waited, then plopped the mask over my nose and said, “You need to breathe.”  I took a couple of shallow breaths.  “No,” he said gruffly.  “You need to breathe deeper.”  I looked at the surgeon, who smiled and took my hand in his.

“OK, OK.  I’ll just close my eyes and go out gracefully.”  I said a little prayer, took a deep breath, and was gone…

(to be continued)