About 5 years ago, I had a minor renovation done to my upper half…when I scaled back “the girls.” While the girls had served me well starting in high school (with an extra large cheerleading sweater to show for it)…I just wasn’t interested in toting around D+ sized weights on my shoulders for the rest of my life. Plus, after 2 kids, they had succumbed to the relentless force of gravity. And, those minimizer sports bras just weren’t doing the trick. They only make you look like you have mono-boob. One large undefined poofy mass on the chest..could be boobs, could be a throw pillow. And, without the sports bra, I was in danger of being mistaken for a cover model for National Geographic magazine…the ones where you can’t tell if they’re topless or if they’re carrying some very droopy water jugs back from the river. So, 2 1/2 pounds and a 100 stitches later, the girls were reduced and perked back up.

A few years later, I am still very happy with my personal “second floor” renovation. I no longer have a case of mono-boob, and I won’t be mistaken for an Amazonian water-hauler (but just to be safe, I no longer wear a bone in my nose). But as I turned 40…I had to address the obvious problems with the first floor. You know those European tourists at Disney World who have a fanny pack strapped to the front of their stomachs at all times? Well, I had one permanently built in below my bellybutton -only without the little zippered pocket on the outside for keys. Now, those pouches look really cute on a momma kangaroo…but not so much on a 40 yr- old woman in a tennis skirt. Clearly, my life-long love affair with pasta and chocolate chip cookies had created a roomy environment down there early on, but two 8-pound babies had really blown out the walls and floor. I tried some small do-it-yourself makeover projects through boot camp and Weight Watchers..but all that work was pretty pointless. It was really just putting a fresh coat of paint on an outhouse. I needed more than a fresh coat of paint. I needed a total rebuild. It was time to tear it down to the studs and start fresh. I definitely could have called Ty Pennington of Extreme Home Makeover for this renovation…but I was concerned about where he would put the bullhorn.

In June, I made the official decision to go forward with the renovation…a tummy tuck, and a little “reshaping” on the sides. (The medical description is abdominoplasty with liposuction to the flanks. Yep, FLANKS. As in FLANK STEAK. If I didn’t feel like a cow before…I definitely did when I heard that. Will I be served with a side of mashed potatoes… or maybe a bloomin’ onion?) Anyway, the first job in the process was to choose a doctor to tuck the pouch and trim the flanks. Luckily, Atlanta has plenty of plastic surgeons to choose from. And, I had plenty of referrals. Lots ladies not only offered me their doctors’ names—they were more than happy to show me their scars. When I mentioned my tummy tuck plan to my partner during a tennis match, my opponent —who I had met only about an hour before-pulled her skirt down in the middle of the tennis court to show me her tummy tuck scar (which runs right inside the bikini line). “Isn’t it awesome?” she exclaimed…while I noticed 1) the scar was nicely healed, 2) she goes commando when playing tennis and 3) she clearly hadn’t been waxed in a few weeks. And what do you say when someone shows you that? “Gee Marge, thanks for showing me your scar…and your taco. I really appreciate it. You might wanna wax, that looks kinda itchy. It’s your serve.” Looking back, it was a brilliant strategy by her…because after someone flashes their itchy-looking taco at you with no warning, it’s hard to concentrate on returning their serve. Not only did I lose that match, I am still unable to eat Mexican food to this day thanks to that little encounter.

I visited three different doctors before I made my decision. It is very weird to go into the office of a doctor you have just met, pull out the most hated part of your body and flop it down on the table so that they can poke it, squeeze it and pull on it like it is silly-putty. One doc even said to me, as I was sitting there buck naked…”so what is it you are interested in having done?” To me, this was particularly disturbing. I obviously had so many flaws, he literally could not decide where I might want to start. What do I want done? Let’s make this easy. If I have to jam it into a piece of clothing to get dressed in the morning…you need to remove it…how’s that, smart guy? If it looks like jello, cottage cheese, or the top of a muffin…make it go away. I know I will never be mistaken for Heidi Klum…but I would like to stop being mistaken for the Michelin Man.

After some deliberation, I settled on Dr. A to do my surgery. My friend had used her for some renovation work, and my friend looks fabulous. Dr. A is a tiny little thing…she can’t weigh more than 80 pounds soaking wet. Sort of a plastic surgery pixie… I imagine there may be little sparkly wings under her scrubs somewhere. (This pixie definitely has magical powers, by the way. She flies around making ladies’ dreams come true..while simultaneously making grown men cry by dropping one single piece of paper stamped “Balance Due” in their laps.) And, I could just imagine little Dr. A standing on top of me with her magic-pixie-liposuction-wand like a tiny harpoon-wielding Eskimo standing on top of a whale. Overall, she seemed like a good combination of professionalism and friendly, and I tried not to think how that itty-bitty doctor was going to get around and under me on the surgical table. (Would she hoist me on a hook like a slab of beef? Would there be a bunch of dwarves scurrying around helping the pixie..chanting “heave-ho, heave-ho” while they rocked me back and forth with some type of pulley system? Can they use my excess fat to light their little lamps? The possibilities were endless…)

So, now I had a doctor, and I settled on a date: October 7th. The next stage was to plan for me being off my feet for a couple of weeks, and who would take over helping when my charming children demanded someone bring them fruit snacks so they wouldn’t have to get up from the couch. It is at this point that everyone who has this procedure done has to decide whether they are going to be discreet about it, or not. Obviously, discretion has never been my strength. For me, it was no different than bleaching your teeth or coloring your hair. We all do things to ourselves to make us happy..and we shouldn’t be embarassed about it. In my case, it was just easier to be up front about it from the start. Plus, I knew that my poofy kangaroo pouch was pretty obvious to anyone who had seen me in a bathing suit, and it would be a hard sell to tell people I had just started “exercising and watching what I ate” when a large portion of my pouch suddenly disappeared almost overnight. So, I told everyone. And pretty much everyone was great about it.

(That being said, I have total respect for people who don’t want to talk about it when they have plastic surgery done. They aren’t being hypocritical, they are just being private. That is perfectly acceptable, and people should respect that. What DOES bother me are people who choose to assertively lie about something to the detriment of others’ feelings. For example, if someone uses plastic surgery, or medication or something simliar, to radically change their appearance, they shouldn’t go around making a point to lecture the rest of us about how they just “live a healthy lifestyle” or are somehow better at taking care of themselves. That really bothers me. It bothers me because that kind of dishonesty only makes other people who are struggling with their appearance feel terrible about themselves. There are people who eat carefully, exercise and drive themselves crazy trying to lose weight but just can’t. To imply that you are just better at being “healthy” than they are (when you know that is not true) is just cruel. So, it’s OK to keep it to yourself if you have some work done – but don’t use it as an opportunity to feel superior over others who are struggling. OK…I am done with the soap box.)

So now here we are… And the surgery isn’t until 11AM. So by 10:30 that morning..I am pretty much the crankiest, ugliest and smelliest bitch I have been in a long time. But the good news is, based on the way I looked at that point, I have never been so sure I wanted the surgery. And my poor husband is sitting there, looking and listening to this unattractive mess babble on about how many dwarves it was gonna take to hoist her…undoubtedly wishing they would hurry up and put me under. After sitting in the waiting area with me for about an hour, my guess is he would have paid for the anesthesia even without the surgery…just to get a break from me for a few hours. But, before I can go in..Dr. A has to draw on my naked body with a purple marker pen. This is weird because you realize that your doctor is pretty much drawing where she is going to cut and sew. And she’s doing it freehand. With no rulers, protractors, tape measures…nothing. I definitely understood now why they referred to my sides as “flanks” because I now looked like that picture of a cow with the dotted lines on it at the grocery store that shows where your cut of meat comes from. It makes you wonder…do the results of my surgery come down to how well she can draw a dotted line? Is she really drawing instructions…or has she just scrawled “FAT ASS” across my back so she and her dwarves can snicker at it during surgery? But I have to put my faith in the little pixie with the purple marker…and pray for the best. After a minute or so of furious scribbling, she leaves to get ready for the surgery. And there I stand. Naked, ugly, cranky and covered with purple magic marker. Even though my husband said he would worry while I was under anesthesia, I swear I heard him giggle as they wheeled me away. There might have even been a “Moooooo” or two coming from his direction…but I’m not sure. He swears I was just “groggy.”

My next real memory is being in the extended recovery unit after surgery, where you spend 23 hours before you go home. Even though I was mostly numb and my middle was wrapped so tight I could barely breathe, I still felt like I had been hit by hammers. The nurses did ask me if I wanted something for the pain…and I am hoping I didn’t use the F-Word when I explained that I would greatly appreciate it if they would just assume that if narcotics were legally and readily available, always put me down for “Yes”. A few hours later, they insist I get up and walk around. This is especially amusing since it felt like Dr. A had sewed my stomach muscles to my thighs. In my morphine haze, I shuffle around the halls, clutching my IV, butt hanging out of my gown, wondering what my life will be like now that I am permanently shaped like the letter “C”. (Surely, I can get work on Sesame Street… that might be kinda prestigious. After all, “C” is in the top three most popular letters on that show. I could help out Cookie Monster on the side. But I don’t want to have to wear some damned furry outfit with googly eyes…I have my dignity to consider, after all.)

Once home, I spent the better part of a week lying on the couch. For the first week, I was covered with tubes from drains and a portable pain pump and I couldn’t even see the results of the surgery. My new belly button was covered with gauze, so that I couldn’t see it either. (When they cut off your pouch, they also remove your belly button…so you need a new one. I wondered if you could ask for none at all? People would stare at you, trying to figure out what it was that didn’t look right. But, with no navel, I bet I could probably paint myself green or something, and be a centerfold in some Star Trek magazine. That might be even better than the Sesame Street gig.) The new belly button was the source of a great deal of anxiety for me. In fact, one night I dreamed that Dr. A had decided to put the belly button on my hip. I woke up and immediately peeked under the gauze to be sure it was in the right place. This was not a good idea. While it was just where it was supposed to be…a newly formed belly button is not a pretty thing. It looks more like a fresh gunshot wound or…where some large tapeworm just made a hasty exit. (The tapeworm thing is gross, but I never really worry about them. If salt can kill a slug, surely a regular diet of tequila, lime and salt kills tapeworms. So, I am definitely in the clear.)

One requirement of tummy tuck recovery is the wearing of something they refer to as a “compression garment,” 24 hours a day for several weeks. This is really a pair of Spanx on steroids. It looks like super-tight beige granny-panties with a zipper in the front, and is quite possibly the ugliest pair of underwear on God’s green earth. Nuns would not wear these because they are so unattractive. And, it sucks you in so tight, I swear I could hear my liver grinding against my kidneys. The purpose, among other things, is to keep fluid from accumulating beneath your skin that would require drainage via a syringe. The purpose is also for your husband to see you in them..thereby precluding him from even considering asking for sex for at least several weeks…allowing for additional healing time. (I suspect this “garment” looks like a girdle from the 1940’s. Which means, I could definitely “score” if I trotted around in it at a VFW or Elk’s Club meeting. I could dance a little, and they would throw quarters and Werther’s Original Candies on stage for me. I could probably make seven or eight dollars, easy. Plus, probably leave with some nylons and chocolate bars.) On the bright side, my stomach is nice and tight…but it’s gonna take several months, and major spray tan to get it to look like it should. I’m gonna have to tell those Mystic Tan girls to set it for “Snookie” before I ever hit the beach again.

My hips are also a work in progress since they are still really swollen. I look like I have 2 shelves jutting out from either side of me. They are wide enough that I could set a plate of cookies on one hip, and a beer on the other. (Which, ironically, is what got me in the situation in the first place.) Good thing I have several months before a public reveal is necessary. And, feel free to ask to see my scar. But don’t worry…I will keep the rest of my anatomy to myself. Unless of course, you are my opponent in tennis. In that case, it’s entirely possible much more of me will appear. After all, anyone who plays tennis in Atlanta knows…you’ll do just about anything for a win…even if it means flashing the taco. Hell, I’ll put every Mexican place in town out of business if it puts us in the playoffs. Megan