As I get older, I sometimes think it wouldn't be a bad idea to have my tummy tucked or the skin around my eyes tightened. After all, everybody's doing it. In 1999, the number of women who had cosmetic procedures increased 165% from 1992, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
But if I ever decided to have plastic surgery, I'd want to get it done in a place where no one knows me, preferably in a place with a sea breeze and palm trees.
Dr. Victoria Vitale-Lewis, a cosmetic surgeon in Melbourne, Fla., says the desire to get away during the transformation process is common among plastic surgery patients. Conversely, many of her patients come from as far away as South America and aren't deterred from hitting the malls by post-op bandages.
Dr. Luiz S. Toledo, the education chairman for the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, says some women leave home for cosmetic surgery because certain procedures, such as silicone implants, aren't readily available in the U.S. Moreover, the price of a face-lift in some countries can be substantially less than in the U.S., given the strength of the dollar.
Of course, I'd never risk my face for the sake of a bargain, and the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons agrees. The organization urges people to recognize that cosmetic surgery is a serious business and to select a reputable, accredited surgeon, regardless of what he or she charges or where the practice is.
Still, if the best cosmetic surgeon for the job isn't close at hand, a patient must travel and cope with all that entails, from getting a pre-surgery consultation to buying plane tickets and finding a good place to stay. Many plastic surgeons make this easy by handling travel arrangements for their patients.
Dr. Malcolm Paul, a Newport Beach cosmetic surgeon, often places patients in the homes of registered nurses, where they get round-the-clock attention and care. In a few days, patients are usually ready to check into local luxury hotels.
Vitale-Lewis, who says she has had cosmetic surgery away from home several times, offers customized packages, including accommodations in an oceanfront condominium, meal delivery from nearby restaurants, plane tickets, transfers and nursing care. "I've had to make my own arrangements," she says. "But if you're going to a strange place, it's better to make sure someone will take care of things for you."
There are excellent cosmetic surgeons almost everywhere, but in the U.S., many of the best seem to be concentrated in New York, Los Angeles, Florida and Texas. ("In Dallas, plastic surgeons are minor celebrities," says Lori Tucker, the owner of Tucker and Associates public relations, who's had cosmetic surgery three times. "Down here we just consider it good grooming.")
Outside this country, Canada, Brazil, France, Argentina and Mexico are top spots for plastic surgery, according to Toledo of the international society.
Any of these places would suit me as a post-op hideaway. And if, for instance, I had an eye-lift at the renowned Ivo Pitanguy Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, maybe I'd feel good enough afterward to walk on the beach at Ipanema.
But cosmetic surgeon Paul says it's "hard to enjoy a vacation when you've just been operated on." During the first few days after surgery, you may suffer some pain, particularly when a muscle is involved, as in some breast augmentations and tummy tucks; you may need painkillers or sedatives; the affected areas may be bruised and swollen; bandages will need to be changed; and, at the very least, you're likely to feel strange and uncomfortable, Vitale-Lewis says.
None of this is likely to encourage sightseeing. To make matters worse, just after certain cosmetic surgery procedures, you can't go out in the sun, exercise, read a book, sit in a hot tub or even bathe.
But Nola Rocco, owner of the Hidden Garden, a small, luxurious post-op hideaway in West L.A., thinks the recovery process can be pleasant. In the 14 years she's been in business, many guests (among them celebrities and wives of politicians) have told her that staying at the Hidden Garden after cosmetic surgery was their best vacation ever. Rocco says it gives them the chance to relax and rest away from phones, work, family and friends.
"Some watch 'Oprah' and soaps they've never had the time to see before. You can hear them laughing," she says.
Of course, the Hidden Garden, which has five suites priced from $595 to $700 a day, including meals, transportation in a limo to and from the doctor's office and the 24-hour services of a registered nurse, makes recuperation downright dreamy. Soft, easily swallowed spa cuisine is served in bed (covered in plush designer sheets), on private terraces or in front of fireplaces; attendants wash guests' hair; and Rodeo Drive shops send salespeople over with a selection of goods for in-room shopping.
After a few days there, patients often move on to a luxurious hotel like the Bel-Air, where the service is polished, there are private terraces and going to one's room doesn't require a walk through the lobby. "We have lots of locals and out-of-towners recovering from surgery," says Frank Bowling, the general manager. "This is a perfect place for it."
I'm still using anti-wrinkle cream and doing sit-ups. But it's nice to know about post-op choices like these in case I ever decide to take a little trip to a place where I won't run into someone I know.