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Christopher K. Patronella, MD, FACS, FICS homepage


Face Lift Surgery: A Patient’s Experience

Posted December 31, 2014 in Facelift

(This article originally appeared in H Texas magazine in May 2005 under the title, “Interpretation of a Facelift” by author Kathy Burt)

If you have a saggy neck and a huge sense of humor, you could be an excellent candidate for a face lift. The sense of humor is necessary to get you through the first two weeks following the surgery. You will be uglier during those two weeks than you have ever been in your life. But after that, when you look in the mirror, you won’t believe the gorgeous creature looking back at you could possibly be your old saggy self. Last year, I finally got tired of looking old and tired while I still felt young and energetic, so I decided to do something about it. I had recently lost 25 pounds, and although I was thrilled with the weight loss, the droopy neck had to go. Of course, my wonderful husband, Jim, insisted, “I think you look good just the way you are.” He is a wise man. I had consultations with two plastic surgeons – neither of which made much of an impression on me. Then I went to see my new best friend, Dr. Christopher Patronella. I immediately felt a connection with him and knew that I had found the man for the job. He told me that he would restore my neck and jaw line to its original non-saggy condition and that I would never feel any pain. And he was right – my turkey neck is gone, and I never had a single minute of pain.

Dr. P had explained to me that he would only cut the skin along the front of my ears and around the bottom of my ears to about one-third up behind my ears, and then about an inch straight back into my scalp. He would also make a small incision under my chin so that he could maneuver the tightening of my neck and face. It’s amazing to me that he achieved such wonderful results with only these small incisions, which are now totally invisible.

Several weeks before the surgery, I stopped taking any aspirin or ibuprofen (to reduce the risk of excessive bleeding during surgery) and started taking the vitamins given to me by the doctor. I was so excited that the weeks seemed to drag by. Then, the day I had been looking forward to for years finally arrived.

I had been given the choice of going home the same day of the surgery or staying overnight with my own private nurse to check on me all night long and bring me anything I wanted. Well, of course, I chose to stay the night. I arrived at the clinic all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to go. The anesthesiologist came to get the IV started. He actually numbed my hand before he inserted the needle, and I never felt a thing. Well, so far so good. The doctor had said the whole procedure would be pain-free, but this was the first time I had ever had a totally painless IV.

Dr. P came in to ask me if I was ready. (Are you kidding? I’d been ready for about five years.) He took out his magic marker and drew lines all over my face and neck and told me that we would be starting in a few minutes. Then I went into the operating room where the anesthesiologist put me to sleep, and the next thing I knew, it was about five hours later, I was awake, and it was all over.

I had tubes everywhere – IV in my hand, oxygen in my nose, drain tubes in the back of my head, blood pressure band on my arm and a catheter – but I felt wonderful. There were compressors on my lower legs that would squeeze and release to prevent blood clots. I also had a blood pressure patch on my arm to keep my blood pressure steady. And, oh yeah, my head was totally bandaged and felt huge.

I had been told that I would have a nurse available all night, but I actually had two. I was their only patient, and I got totally pampered and taken care of. I would sleep a couple of hours and then wake up and have a cold drink or juice or gelatin and then sleep a couple of hours and have another drink or snack. This was the life.

I noticed a dozen beautiful platinum pink roses in a silver vase and asked the nurse about them. She told me Dr. P had left them for me. Wow, first he makes me beautiful and then he gives me flowers.

The next morning, the nurses took off all the bandages. I would still have to wear an elastic wrap around my face for several days to help keep the swelling down, but I wouldn’t have to be bandaged.

After I got home that morning, I looked in the mirror for the first time. Oh my gosh – it was awful. I was swollen so much that my eyes were just little slits. My face was totally round and huge. I was slightly bruised and still had the magic marker lines all over my face. I thought I looked terrible, but it was going to get worse.

I had to sleep on my back for two weeks, which I consider to be the only really bad thing about this adventure called a face lift. I stayed on the couch downstairs for the two weeks, and it was so narrow that sleeping on my back was the only option; I couldn’t have turned over without falling off the couch. My little Shih Tzu, Jamie Anne, knew that I “wasn’t right” so she stayed on the couch with me, making it even more difficult to move. The only discomfort I felt was having to sleep on the staples in the back of my head.

Brushing my teeth proved to be challenging. I could open my mouth just fine, but the inside of my mouth was also swollen. I could barely get the toothbrush in my mouth, and moving it to brush my teeth was almost impossible. The second day after the surgery, a nurse came to my house to take the drains out and told me that I was looking good. What? I don’t think so. I was even more bruised at that point, and I still had the magic marker lines on my face and dried blood in my hair. She told me I could shower and wash my hair, and she couldn’t have made me happier if she had told me I had won the lottery.

When I washed my hair I noticed that strands of hair kept falling out. Hmmm, that was interesting. Dr. P had cut small sections of my hair during surgery. He had told me that he was going to cut portions of my hair, but I had forgotten about it until it started coming out in my hands. But I didn’t care – it had been three days since my last shower, and my hair would grow back. Four days after surgery I went back to see Dr. P. He removed the stitches in front of my ears and told me that I had severe bruising. No kidding. My face, neck and chest were totally black and blue. And I had two black eyes that looked like I had been the loser in a prizefight. Thank goodness I had taken three weeks off from my job to recover. I felt wonderful, but I looked really bad. Up to this point I had been totally numb, but I was starting to feel little electrical flashes in my face. The nerves were starting to reconnect. Five days after surgery I started feeling like worms were crawling under the skin at my temples. Ah – more healing. Also, in addition to bruises and swelling, I had developed a rash on my back from the antibiotics. Yep, I was really looking good. I just kept telling myself that soon this ugly duckling would be a beautiful swan.

On the sixth day, I woke up feeling bad for the first time since the surgery. My neck was hard and extremely swollen, but an ice pack made it feel much better. This proved to be the only day that I had any discomfort caused by the face lift, and this was not pain, just a slight discomfort.

Eight days after surgery Dr. P took out the remainder of my stitches and some of the staples out of my scalp. He also removed the blood pressure patch because I had been a little lightheaded. My bruises were worse, and my black eyes were even darker.

The next day, I awoke to find scabs in my scalp and behind my ears. I had also developed a small lump in my neck. Dr. P had told me that lumps would come and go throughout my recovery period so I was not alarmed. I was still totally numb and feeling no pain.

Two weeks after surgery Dr. P aspirated a lump on my temple that was filled with blood. He also removed a forgotten stitch above my ear. I was still swollen and bruised, and I still had two black eyes that I was beginning to think were never going to go away. Dr. P assured me that they would. At this point I was still staying “under cover” at home, leaving only to go to the doctor. I was beginning to wonder if I would always be too ugly to leave the house.

I noticed that the oil glands in my T-zone were functioning again like they did when I was a teenager. I guess that is a good thing, but I wondered how a face lift could have caused that. Maybe the surgery had actually made me younger.

Of course, the best way to recover from a face lift is to go on a cruise. So that’s what I did. My daughter took my mother and me on a week-long cruise to Bermuda. We spent three days in New York before the cruise, going to plays and museums and shopping. Nobody stared at me like I was from another planet, so I guess at that point I was starting to look normal.

Three weeks after surgery I went back to work. My fellow employees told me I looked wonderful, and I did look better than I did before the surgery, but I was still bruised under my eyes, and the healing bruises had left yellow areas all over my jaw line.

During the fourth week after surgery, the numbness started to disappear and the feeling started to come back. It was uncomfortable to touch my temples and under my jaw. Dr. P said that the dark circles under my eyes would eventually fade away, but I was beginning to have my doubts. My eyebrows started to feel tender, and a dark bruise came up by my left eyebrow. Just when I thought my bruises had faded away – here was a new one. Most of the numbness had gone except in front of my ears and under my chin.

During the next couple of weeks, I once again felt like worms were crawling under my skin at my temples. It was amazing to realize that I could actually feel my face healing. I also felt like there were needles sticking in my scalp. More nerves must be connecting. As more feeling came back, it felt like pins were sticking in my neck when I turned my head. The sides of my face and in front of my ears were still numb. On the fifty-fifth day, just when I thought I was about back to normal, the itching started. Everything itched – temples, scalp, incisions behind my ears and even the bruises under my eyes – obviously, more healing.

It has been eight months since my surgery, and I am extremely pleased with the results. I can still occasionally feel “healing” taking place in my face, jaw and neck, and I actually think that every week I look better than the week before. I have also noticed that my hair appears to be curlier, which I suppose is a result of the tightening of my hair follicles – another pleasant surprise. And Dr. P was right – the dark circles under my eyes really did go away. I have to remember to put moisturizer around and behind my ears because the skin is a little tighter than it used to be – but hey, that’s the point.

Would I do it again? You betcha; if I ever look in the mirror and see that the old turkey neck has come back, I’m calling for an appointment the same day.

And, of course, my wonderful husband is happy that I am happy, but he is also extremely pleased with the results. He is always telling me that he thinks I am beautiful and how proud he is that I am his wife. Now, in my opinion, that is the best compliment I have had since the face lift. Several days after my procedure, I received a handwritten note from Dr. P thanking me for allowing him to be my doctor. Well, you are very welcome, Dr. P, but I definitely am the one who should be saying thank you. So, thank you very much, Dr. P.

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