Travel and plastic surgery must only be attempted if the procedure is performed by a qualified surgeon on someone who has realistic goals and expectations. Meanwhile, it should not be combined with leisure activities or anything that will compromise healing.
Experts at the California Surgical Institute provide tips for patients who consider travelling long distances for plastic surgery.
Photo credit: stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos. net
- A prudent patient should have a sound reason for traveling for plastic surgery.
If the goal is to get cheap plastic surgery, medical tourism could rear its ugly head. Take note that a price that is way below the average is generally considered a dubious practice since it is necessary to cut cost on patient safety to make sure that the surgeon can still make a profit.
The only reason to combine travel and plastic surgery is when the patient feels that there is no qualified local doctor who can give her the best possible result.
- Ask for insurance program, if there is any.
Some surgeons participate in insurance programs, which cover the cost of revisions in the event that they are needed. Due to the strict membership requirements of issuers, it may be safe to assume that their “partner” doctors have good reputation and high patient rate satisfaction.
- Make sure that the surgical setting is certified or accredited.
The surgical setting should be a hospital or outpatient surgery center that is licensed or accredited by health authorities.
Accredited surgical facilities provide round-the-clock care by licensed staff members, practice proper sanitation, and provide the necessary equipment and drugs used in the event of complications.
- Make sure the surgeon is board certified and highly qualified.
The doctor who will perform the surgery should be “appropriately” board certified after completing his residency and fellowship program, instead of being just certified after his weeklong training.
Should the surgery is performed in the US, the general rule of thumb is to choose a plastic surgeon who is a member of the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
- A plastic surgery package that includes leisure activities and exotic places is a dubious practice.
With the growing popularity of medical tourism, some plastic surgery packages include trips to exotic places and tropical getaways. However, this is a trend that is frowned upon by board-certified plastic surgeons because of the increased risk of infection, poor healing and scarring, and botched results.
Sun exposure right after surgery is detrimental to healing since the UV rays break down the collagen, which is the skin’s main building block.
For a successful facelift surgery to be possible, it should involve strict patient selection and surgical planning by a qualified surgeon who has a deep understanding of the aging process and the limits of the underlying anatomies as well.
It has been a year after my facelift surgery and I have no regrets doing the procedure, which has softened my deep wrinkles and contoured my jowl. Now, I look more rejuvenated and happier after my doctor removed the “angry appearance” caused by the loose skin and fat atrophy (shrinkage of facial volume).
While my plastic surgeon has explained to me all the details of my surgery and facelift recovery, I was still caught off guard with the amount of swelling, bruising, and postop blues.
These are the things I wish I knew before my facelift surgery.
- Know how to relax. I have always hated downtime, which is inevitable for anyone planning to undergo a plastic surgery procedure. Take note when I say “downtime” it means no house chores (including the simplest tasks) and work-related undertakings (even answering emails) for at least a week.
During the most crucial time of your recovery, your only focus should be about your wellbeing. Remember that the more relaxed you are, the more efficient your body is able to recover from a surgical trauma.
- There is no shame to ask for help. For at least a week, have a close friend, family member, or nurse to take care of your basic needs. Simply put, let someone pamper you to avoid the stress of your [usual] daily responsibilities at home.
- It’s okay to be afraid of mirror. While my surgeon explained to me that the swelling and bruising would conceal my results initially, I was not expecting that my face would have bruises literally everywhere. In fact, seeing my reflection for the first time after surgery scared the hell out of me.
- Controlling swelling is the key to quick “social” healing. The postop pain was not really the issue during my facelift recovery, but the interruption of my social activities was the hardest part for me. For this reason, I strictly followed my doctor’s instructions to control this symptom—e.g., head elevation, low-sodium diet, cold compress, rest and sleep, etc.
In my experience, most of the swelling was gone about a week, although it took another week for me to look “socially presentable.”
- Camouflage make-up and fashion accessories are helpful. Some cosmetics are specifically formulated to hide bruising and swelling caused by facial plastic surgery, although ask your surgeon first before using them. You don’t want to irritate your incisions, which could lead to unfavorable facelift scars.
Aside from camouflage make-up, large sunglasses and scarves can also help you hide the postop symptoms.
Traveling for plastic surgery has its own benefits especially if there is a valid reason—e.g., you want the expertise of a reputable surgeon who happens to live far away from your place.
But if you travel for plastic surgery solely to avail a low-cost service, it might prevent you to look at the “bigger picture.” Take note that your primary goal is to find a qualified plastic surgeon who knows how to avoid the complications and give you results that look natural.
Dr. Tarick Smaili, one of the leading Orange County plastic surgery experts, shares his tips on how to have a pleasant experience when traveling for plastic surgery.
- Lots of planning and communication. While it is true that the distance is an issue, good rapport and open communication with your plastic surgeon can offset such challenge.
The general rule of thumb is to find someone you feel comfortable with and confident in his technical and artistic skills. For this reason, you may want to visit his websites and check his before-and-after photos online to assess his level of professionalism and “core values” that can help him deliver impressive results.
- Someone to help you during the initial healing stage. It is a bonus if you have family or friends living within the vicinity. You need a support group to pick you up after surgery and take care of your basic needs during the most crucial phase of your recovery, i.e., a day or two after the operation.
- Postpone travel for five to seven days after plastic surgery involving the body (e.g., breast augmentation and tummy tuck), or longer if your operation involves the face (e.g., facelift and rhinoplasty/nose job).
The idea is to avoid prolonged immobility—i.e., sitting for hours during a flight—because it can predispose you to risk of blood clotting or deep vein thrombosis in the legs that can travel up to the lungs and lead to more serious complications such as pulmonary embolism.
- Don’t combine plastic surgery and vacation. Despite the proliferation of surgical vacation package, cosmetic surgery should be treated as a major surgery that involves a “quiet time” to recuperate. Thus you should plan your tropical holiday at a different time.
- Collect all your medical records before leaving. For example, you should document the type of breast implants used during breast augmentation, the surgical technique, the attending surgeon’s name, the facilities, etc. Such info will help your local doctor in case that you have postop concerns at home.
Most breast augmentation surgeries are performed with the use of inframammary fold technique, which is sometimes referred to as “through the breast crease.” As long as the scar lies within the natural fold of skin or on the underside’s “bulge,” it is barely detectable even when the patient is topless.
Despite the benefits of inframammary fold technique, in some situations it is more ideal to use the armpit incision, or more accurately referred to as trans-axillary breast augmentation approach in which the goal is to position the scar within the underarm crease.
Proper patient selection is the first step to achieve great results from breast augmentation via trans-axillary incision. Women with breast sagging (ptosis), chest wall deformity, or any form of asymmetry are bad candidates for this technique since they require their tissue, ligaments, and skin to be reshaped—something that is not possible if the “access point” is far from the implant pocket.
Simply put, the “right” candidate for this technique should have the “right” underlying anatomies—i.e., no tissue laxity, nipple-areola complex lying above the inframammary fold, and no significant asymmetry. Of course, patient selection also takes into account a person’s motives and expectations from an elective surgery.
To further increase the success rate of this incision technique, some plastic surgeons use an endoscope, which is fiber-optic camera introduced into the body for better visualization. According to studies, the device minimizes the risk of increased bleeding, postop hematoma, surgical trauma, and implant malposition—complications that occur at a higher rate in “blind dissection.”
However, even the most high-tech endoscope (and auxiliary devices used for pocket dissection) is not useful if a surgeon lacks endoscopic skills and a comprehensive understanding of the breast anatomies. For this reason, a prudent patient should make sure her doctor is not only certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, but also has expertise on this procedure.
In the hands of a skilled plastic surgeon, the risk of implant malposition with the use of endoscope can be as low as 2 percent, while in blind dissection (without the use of such device) it is estimated to be around 9 percent.
Modern endoscope, which allows for better control and view, has also made it possible to predictably dissect the submuscular implant pocket, thus controlling the amount of bleeding and reducing the risk of postop hematoma or pooling of blood underneath the skin.
The first phase of breast augmentation recovery takes seven to 10 days, meaning at this stage most patients can perform normal activity with no or very little pain and discomfort. Nevertheless, over-exertion and heavy lifting must be avoided for at least three weeks to prevent bleeding, persistent swelling and pain, and wound healing problem.
Plastic surgeons prescribe medications after breast augmentation so their patients can have a more comfortable recovery and are less likely to experience complications. Perhaps the most common examples include antibiotics, painkillers, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
There are many pain control meds available to patients following a breast surgery, although some surgeons are swearing by the effectiveness of pain pump, which is a balloon-like device that directly delivers numbing medications to the surgical site for two to three days when the pain is at its highest peak.
Unlike some prescription oral painkillers, pain pumps do not upset the stomach. However, these treatments are sometimes taken with over-the-counter pain medications to make one’s recovery more comfortable.
Meanwhile, some plastic surgeons prescribe narcotic pain medications, which are known to cause constipation. For this reason, it is not uncommon to take a stool softener at the same time to prevent such untoward side effect. Eating foods high in fiber and drinking plenty of water are also extremely helpful.
By three to four days, most breast augmentation patients no longer require narcotic pain medications because at this stage most of the postop discomfort is tolerable. Ideally, they should only be used for a short period of time to avoid constipation, prolonged recovery, and other untoward side effects.
Meanwhile, painkillers that contain ibuprofen, aspirin, and other blood-thinners must be avoided at least three weeks before and after surgery to avoid wound healing problem and bleeding.
Aside from pain control, most patients also require muscle relaxants to reduce the constant amount of pressure in the breast area due to the newly positioned implants.
During breast augmentation recovery surgeons might also prescribe antibiotics, which the patients must finish the full course to avoid potential resistant infection. But since their use is tied to yeast infection—because they upset the delicate balance of “good bacteria” naturally found in vagina—doctors could also recommend some remedies for this condition.
Nausea is another untoward side effect of prescribed medications after breast augmentation (particularly antibiotics and painkillers that are taken on an empty stomach). To minimize this symptom, some plastic surgeons prescribe anti-enemic drug and/or instruct their patients to take their meds with some bland foods such as saltine crackers and toasts.