If you just had your face lifted and it was swollen, would you rush home to your sweetheart?
Many Orange County men and women, with their necks freshly sutured, say no. A little pampering far from their friends’ inquisitive glances is more like it. That’s why many cosmetic surgery patients pack up their PJs and head to a home away from home until the swelling goes down and the bandages come off.
Over the past few years a new cottage industry has helped the growing numbers of folks having their tummies tucked, noses altered and figures contoured. By opening their homes to these patients, private care givers (frequently nurses) help them not only recover from surgery and anesthesia but offer them seclusion from friends and family until they are nearly healed and ready to face Mabel again at the Alpha Beta.
Marian Nantell of Fountain Valley says she sought the help of Aftercare, a home in Tustin for cosmetic surgery patients, because she knew her husband couldn’t provide the post-operative care she needed after her recent face lift.
“Most spouses cannot handle seeing their mate with bandages, sutures and blood,” she said. “They just can’t stand it. It would have been very hard for my husband to see me like that. (Aftercare) took loving care of me. You need someone to touch you, to have someone say, ‘hey, babe, what can I bring you?’ Because even though you know it’s a good thing and that it will improve your appearance, it is scary and it does hurt.”
Huntington Beach care provider Anna Kerrins says that in addition to a homey atmosphere, many patients are looking for a little isolation until the bandages come off. The last thing they want to do is run into their bridge partners at the Post Office.
“The ones who want anonymity stay longer,” says Kerrins, who has offered care for slightly less than a year and whose home can accommodate two patients for up to 8 days (although most patients spend only two nights). “They want to stay until the bandages come off and the bruises go down. They don’t want to have to answer the door (at their own home) and explain what’s going on.”
Since most cosmetic surgery is not covered by medical insurance, expensive hospital rooms are rarely used for recovery. Most patients go right home after surgery, where family and friends help out.
But for others there are quiet homes in secluded neighborhoods, where men or women in bandages are sometimes seen strolling down the street. At Aftercare, located on a quiet tree-lined street, a visitor is led down a long hallway to cheerful patient rooms, each with its own vanity, intercom and television set. A middle-aged Los Angeles woman in one of the rooms is soon joined in a nearby room by her 18-year-old son, both of whom are recuperating from nose surgery. Later homemade meals will be presented on bed trays by former plastic surgery nurses Barbara Brady and Linda Searle.
Brady and Searle, who care for about five patients a week at the Marshall Lane house, also change bandages, dispense medication, wash hair and provide transportation.
At Kerrin’s comfortable home in Huntington Beach, patients are picked up in her new Mercedes-Benz and taken to separate bedrooms with baths. She provides meals, ice packs, rest and verbal support.
A new facility in Laguna Hills, called Sagauro, caters to cosmetic surgery patients who prefer a more luxurious setting. With a pool, spa and gourmet meals, Sagauro costs more than the $150 a night charged by Kerrins and Aftercare. The Laguna Hills rooms start at $185 and go to $250.
No one knows how many people are providing post-operative care specifically for cosmetic surgery patients. The industry is new and unregulated. But doctors and nurses estimate that there are at least a dozen services in the county, and possibly four times that number in Los Angeles.
Dr. F. Richard Jones of Fullerton says many patients need a responsible adult to take care of them during those critical 24 hours after surgery. If friends and family are not able to provide that care, he recommends private aftercare.
Another plastic surgeon, Dr. Rollin K. Daniel of Newport Beach, says aftercare for cosmetic surgery is the wave of the future.
“I think it’s excellent,” he says. “Especially for certain situations: When the patient is from out of town, the single woman who is age 50 and wants a face lift, and then you have the helpless husband syndrome.”
“We are seeing more of this kind of care,” he adds. “Mostly because you’re seeing so much more aesthetic surgery done. Probably in our own practice the number of face lifts has gone up over 100% in a 2-year period.
Daniel says the complexity of today’s cosmetic procedures requires more extensive cutting and anesthesia than past operations.
“With a face lift you used to make just a little incision, now you go all the way under the neck and under the cheeks. It costs much more, and you get much better results. But the operations are more involved now and require lots more anesthesia and more care afterwards.”
Aftercare founder Brady worked for more than 28 years as a nurse for a Santa Ana plastic surgeon and was known to take some patients home with her for post-surgery care.
“So when I retired I decided I’d look after them the same as I always did. But now it’s just snowballed,” she says of her home care business, which is 4 years old.
She says the patients’ husbands are just as relieved as the wives when they find out they don’t have to drain wounds and change dressings.
“We’ve had some come here and pass out just looking at their wives. You say, ‘She’s OK, just take care of the husband.’ ”
Brady says she is seeing more and more men come in after cosmetic surgery. So many, in fact, that she and her partner Linda Searle decorated one of the rooms in paneled walls and manly shades of brown.
“We’re getting a lot of faces, we’re getting a lot of noses, we’re getting a lot of liposuctions,” Brady says. “And men. Boy, are we getting a lot of men.”