A Facelift Diary

How is it that cosmetic surgery, especially facelifts, get such a bad rap? It’s another F-word. We immediately consider the person vacuous, self-centered, lacking in social conscience,  and reckless with money.  In some cases, that may be true, but not all. Here’s why I beg to differ.

In my early 50s, I had a facelift. In my view, I needed it. My jowls and eyelids were droopy, I had heavy lines on my forehead, and big rings around my eyes.  I hated looking in the mirror.  If I had told you I was in my 60s, you would have believed me. My appearance was seriously messing with my self-esteem.

I had been working out hard for about a year, significantly improving my body, when I began to consider cosmetic surgery. Those same harsh gym lights that highlighted my newly-toned arms also exaggerated my haggard look.

I assessed my meager resources and had consultations with doctors–studiously avoiding my financial planner, whose goal is to give me a solvent retirement.

I finally scheduled a facelift, though it was not an easy decision.  I really didn’t want to be One of Those Women who has nothing better to do than obsess about her appearance.  Nor did I want to look 15 years older than I was.  I knew that a facelift wouldn’t really change me–it would just give me a nicer exterior.  Kind of like a “What Not To Wear” makeover for my face.

I tried not to think about the fact that it would cost as much as a late-model automobile.

Right up to the event, there were qualms, especially the night before. How could there not be? There are always risks and pain with surgery. And despite your artiste’s assurances that you will look stunning after a few months, this is not necessarily the case. We’ve all heard stories of procedures that were poorly performed or healed badly.  I finally just had to take it on faith that all would be well.

How’d It Go?

I emerged from the 6-hour operation looking and feeling like a space alien who’d crash-landed. I will spare you the crime-scene photos—they are truly gruesome, and are enough to make anyone question such self-mutilation. When I finally left the house, about 2 weeks later, I only did so wearing a Jackie O-like ensemble of headscarf and oversized dark glasses to disguise my surgery-marred appearance. If looks could kill, there would have been a string of corpses in my wake at the supermarket.

The pain and bruising gradually subsided, though I still looked odd, and vaguely Asian. After a few months, I actually began to look normal.  Soon, I began to feel mah-velous–like I could accomplish anything. Most importantly, I was still kind, funny, caring me.

How long did the results from the surgery last?

Only a few years, which makes me wonder how people like Joan Rivers keep it up.  I think I looked very good for 2  or 3 years, but the age has steadily been creeping back since.  See for yourself:

Six months after my surgery

The picture on the left was taken about 6 months after my surgery, which my doctor told me is when a facelift begins to look best.  There’s enough swelling still to give a nicely rounded, though taut appearance.

The results have diminished quite a bit, as you can see in the second photo, taken recently.

7 years later.

Would I do it again?  I don’t know, but I doubt it.  It did wonders for my confidence and self esteem.  But all that money and risk make me question a redo.  There are less-invasive new methodologies such as Thermage and RFT, that I’d research first. While not cheap, they are much less expensive and supposedly less risky than surgery.  None of these methods is perfect, though, so I’d advise you to think long and hard before you make the decision.

My Facelift Q & A

Q: How safe was it?

A: As unsafe as any surgery, with risks from anesthesia and infection. And I’m still not sure whether Blue Cross would have paid had something gone wrong.

Q: How painful was it?

A: In my case, “seriously uncomfortable” might be a better term. Kind of like wearing a too-tight swim cap for a couple of weeks. And you have to sleep sitting up to prevent swelling. The meds helped a lot, though.

Q: Would my skin be stretched tighter than security at the inauguration?

A: Not if I had anything to say about it! I continuously warned my doctor that I wanted to just look rested, and would hunt him down if I looked like I’d just emerged from a wind tunnel. (Some people want really dramatic results for their money–I just wanted to look younger and well rested.) He assured me the effects would be dramatic yet subtle. He told the truth–I still looked like a normal person.

Be well,


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In Praise of Pedicures

It’s hard to accept that I now choose comfort over style in your footwear.  Not that I was ever one for high-heeled pumps, but these days, even a little kitten heel gives me pause. I still seek out attractive shoes, but finding flats or low heels that work for my feet is a challenge. Shoe shopping has become as dreaded as swimsuit shopping has always been.

To help ease the angst of this particular side effect of aging, I get a regular pedicure. A pretty set of toes peeping from a sturdy, foot-friendly pair of Merrells or Clarks will remind the world (and you) that you are still a woman to whom appearances matter, no matter that you are confined to sexless, shapeless shoes that were a sign of empowerment in the 60s.  Besides, those battered old feet that have withstood years of pavement pounding, carried pounds of baby weight, danced nights away, and been squeezed into countless ill-fitting shoes deserve a little kindness. A thorough sanding and several colorful coats of lacquer will lift their spirits.

But don’t try this at home. You need a professional to be kind to your feet. Good nail technicians have serious skills—they can get the polish as smooth and shiny as the bumper of a beamer. Most importantly, they can actually reach your nails. You may be able get yourself into a position to attend to your toes, but how long can you hold it? Granted, I’m not as flexible as most people I know, but I think it requires an effort for most of us over 60 to double over comfortably, unless you’re a life-long yoga practitioner. And there’s the issue of seeing your toes from that distance and holding your hand steady enough to get four coats of polish on the nails. I have to turn on two lamps and an overhead to even have a prayer of accomplishing this.

So here’s my advice, gentle readers: slide into your Birkenstocks and clomp on down to the nail salon (just be sure it has a perfect health-department rating).  You’ll get a relaxing hour in a massage chair with a good book and your feet in warm water. Your soles, corns, and calluses will be scraped and sanded more thoroughly than a piece of antique furniture under renovation. You might even get a foot-and-leg massage. And it will only set you back $30 or so. Your feet will look pretty as any 20 year olds. . . with the added character of 40 years worth of bumps, wrinkles, and bunions.

Be well.


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As The Stomach Churns

Without proton pump inhibitors, a hot dog would strike fear and loathing in my stomach.

I’m the queen of the unhappy digestive system. All my adult life, I’ve suffered through heartburn, GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux), irritable bowel, narrowing of the esophagus. . . have I left anything out? I tend to let stress go straight to my stomach. As a young woman, irritable bowel and nervous lack of appetite kept me razor-thin. Looking back at pictures of myself in my 20s, the girl in the photos appears anorexic, but she and her stomach were simply plagued by the anxieties of youth.

My Achilles stomach can still be a challenge. I’ve employed every possible remedy over the years—Maalox, Mylanta, Tums, Pepcid, Zantac, Tagamet, and Prevacid. I was—and am–never without a supply of Tums or the drug du jour in my handbag. All help to varying degrees, but nothing well and truly solved the situation until a doctor prescribed Aciphex, a heavy-duty proton-pump inhibitor (PPI). This drug and others like it  stop all acid production.

The pill that changed my life.

It allowed me to eat literally anything without side effects. Hot dog with chili and the works? Bring it on. Pepperoni pizza? I’ll have another slice, thank you. Enchiladas? Please pass the hot sauce. It literally changed my life.  (Of course, this begs the question that maybe my body is telling me I shouldn’t eat these foods. To which I reply, a few hot dogs a year aren’t going to kill me.)

Its only problem seemed to be that it is very expensive, and my drug insurance provider constantly questioned whether a different drug would do. So after a couple of years of taking the magic pill every morning, I switched to Omeprazole, the generic version of Prilosec, which is much less expensive. It works just fine.

Naturally, issues have arisen about these useful drugs. There’s been some question of increased risk of fractures in people who take PPIs. But the research is seriously contradictory. This study, for example, showed that a month of taking Prilosec didn’t decrease calcium absorption, which would lead a sensible person to believe it wouldn’t lead to fractures. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20578215

I tried to find some conclusive studies, and learned that some scientists at the Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at Switzerland’s University Hospital Basel had the same goal. They reviewed 50 years worth of studies, and this is what they reported:
“We conclude that the currently available literature does not support the notion that the use of PPIs is causally related to a materially increased fracture risk in humans.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20812769
So, at least for the moment, it seems safe to take PPIs.

I’m hedging my bets, though, and taking them every other day, unless I plan to be eating questionable foods, or am feeling particularly stressed. I’ve also turned to digestive enzymes like Multi-zyme and Zypan after a big meal. As we get older, our stomach acid decreases, and if food sits in your stomach without digesting properly, it produces acid. As long as I have my digestive enzymes handy, that will be just fine with me. A little acid goes a long way!

Be well.

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Maybe We Should Just Lie Down

Eating right and exercise mean longer life, right? Whoa, not so fast.

It’s hard to know what to believe when it comes to health. Just when you think you’ve got things in balance–eating reasonably well, working out regularly, and spending some well-deserved patio time, new information comes along to rain on your parade.

A recent study by the American Cancer Society showed that people who sit 6 or more hours a day have a higher risk of death than those who move around most of the day, regardless of physical activity level.  This is from a press release announcing the results:

Women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting were 37 percent more likely to die during the time period studied than those who sat fewer than 3 hours a day.”

Are they telling me my co-worker, who has run 50 marathons and competes in triathlon competitions but works at a desk 8 (or more) hours a day is at greater risk of  death than a supermarket cashier who gets little exercise? Apparently so. Pardon my French, but what the hell?

57-year-old Mary Creel has run more than 50 marathons and competes in triathlons.

Regardless of gender, those who exercised tended to live longer than those who don’t move around much. (Well, of course we knew that.  We are, after all, sassy and healthy.) Dr. Patel, the lead researcher, explains why you need to get your derriere in gear:

Prolonged time spent sitting, independent of physical activity, has been shown to have important metabolic consequences, and may influence things like triglycerides, high density lipoprotein, cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose, resting blood pressure, and leptin, which are biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.

This all sounds totally contradictory to me. Yes, you’ll live longer if you exercise. . .unless you sit 6 hours or more a day.   Personally, I’ll take the high road and keep up my exercise regimen.  I still believe it will help prolong my life, and even if it doesn’t, it will help me live better for the time that I do have left.  If nothing else, it helps alleviate the stress of those days in front of the computer!

You can read the study here if you want to slog through all the technical info,  http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/172/4/419.abstract, or simply read the press release, which normal humans can mostly understand.  http://pressroom.cancer.org/index.php?s=43&item=257

Be sure to stand up while you’re reading!

Be well.


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Good Choices Mean Better Health

Today I read two sentences in the New York Times that sum up perfectly the philosophy of SassyHealthySixty. They come from New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope’s excellent blog, Well. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/

Healthy living doesn’t happen at the doctor’s office. The road to better health is paved with the small decisions we make every day.


For the most part, we know what to do: Exercise (and exercise some more), don’t smoke, cut down on saturated fats and sugar, add more whole grains and vegetables, limit animal protein, wear sunscreen, drink lightly, get sleep, and take vitamin D3.  We’ve been hearing this advice for years, so why is it so hard to put it into practice? It took me up till my early 50s to begin exercising faithfully and wearing sunscreen, and I still struggle with whole grains.  I *heart* good white bread.

I follow the rest of the recommendations reasonably well, but that saturated fat and sugar thing gets me every time. Here are some reasons why:

1. I live in the South, where sugar and fat are two of the 4 basic food groups.  I am genetically programmed to never pass up fried chicken, biscuits, layer cake, or pie.

It's not easy to pass up fried chicken!

2. I’m a food editor for a magazine devoted to Southern food. If you can resist the incomparable baked goods, barbecued ribs, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, deviled eggs, chicken salad, and  brisket that come out of our test kitchen, you are a better woman than I.  More to the point, it’s my job to taste these things. I could only take a bite or two, but my will power often fails in the face of such delicious foods, most of which I rarely make at home.

3. I am addicted to ice cream. It’s my cuddly blanket.

So my decisions are not always good, especially where food is concerned, though I try to balance the bad stuff with plenty of salad and a wholesome breakfast.  Maybe the balance is what helps keep my weight in check, or maybe it’s just my good metabolism. Also, I work out a lot.

But enough about me.

Tell me what are the best and worst decisions you make about your own health. I’d love to know. What would you do to change them? Maybe we can inspire one another to do better.  But don’t even try to make me give up ice cream.

Be well.


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Back Bend

I fought a vine and the vine won.

Walking out to pick up the mail, I leaned over to pull some vines and suddenly could barely right myself.  In the blink of an eye I went from confident, frisky, and healthy to mewling, shuffling, and stooped.

There’s no one to blame but myself (well, except the vine). From past experience, I know that it’s better not to bend over if you can avoid it. Forward flexion needs to be done carefully. You can cause disk problems or just pull a muscle.   Either way, you’re instantly in deep doo-doo.

What you do next depends on how deep the doo-doo is.

If you can’t move without significant pain, then an immediate visit to an orthopedist or chiropractor is in order.  In the meantime, bed rest, pain medicine to help the inflammation, and ice (It’s much better than heat), is about all you can do.

Fortunately, my pain wasn’t excruciating. And having been through back injuries before, I knew the drill. I sat on an ice pack for a while, and took naproxen (Aleve).  I pulled out a mat and headed oh-so-carefully to the floor. I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to get back up, so I took my cellphone with me just in case. When stuck in a prone position, text! (It’s the baby-boomer version of a medic-alert necklace.) I did a couple of simple stretches designed to help release the muscles, which tighten up in response to the pain.

I found these exercises on the website of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma— numbers 1-3 and 11 and 12 (I do these last two carefully—not too high) are the same ones my physical therapist gave me last time I got into trouble.

http://www.nismat.org/orthocor/programs/lowback/backex.html#Ex1 But the best defense is to strengthen your core muscles and try not to bend over.

For now, I bypassed the x-rays and physical therapy, as my ice-Aleve-stretching-rest routine, and visits to the pool helped.  I’m not 100%, but hopefully I will be soon.  Otherwise, I’ll see you at the orthopedist’s office. Last one to the x-ray machine is a rotten egg.

Be well,


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Curb Your Enthusiasm

Being sassy, healthy, and sixty (or any other age) offers no protection from that most fearsome of all occurrences on a sunny Sunday morning–a fall.

Cue the replay: I see my friend drive up, I start to walk over to greet her, and am suddenly on the sidewalk, my right knee hurting enough to make me see stars. Whose idea was it to put a little curb right where  I was about to step? Extremely inconsiderate, don’t you agree?

As I sat up, I noticed my left ankle was a bit tender. An hour later,  the ankle was quite tender, and beginning to swell like a black and blue yeast roll.  Turns out I had a tiny fracture in a tiny bone (don’t ask me to spell it), and was immediately relegated to das boot, which resembles something a storm  trooper in outer space might wear. It has so much velcro that the Corps of Engineers would be proud.

My miracle boot.

Once I had a pretty good idea how to strap it on, I clomped out, resigned to having all my activities curtailed for the next little while. No more Jazzercise, walking, or water aerobics for now.

It only took a little while to stop grumbling and see the positive aspects, which are considerable.

  • I didn’t break anything large, like a hip or a wrist
  • My foot doesn’t hurt.
  • I can do most weight machines other than the leg press, and most Pilates moves.  Whatever it takes to keep me on the path and off the curb.
  • Most Important: Thanks to my fabulous Frankenboot, I can still get around just fine. At just under 2 pounds, it’s not a big encumbrance, though it lacks a    certain . .  . je ne sais quoi. I’m thinking about adorning it with faux fur and calling it a fashion statement.

As fortunate as I feel at the moment, these kinds of events always make me think about what I would have done had I broken something more significant.  Who’d carry my laundry downstairs?  Scoop the litter box? Go to the grocery store for me?  My fall is one big reminder of why we need to work to stay mobile as well as healthy.

Be well–and watch your step!


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