When cosmetic surgery goes wrong

When she woke up she didn't look like an old hag any more. She looked like Kermit the Frog
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The Independent Online

Before everyone gets too excited about the Government's new clampdown on illegal cosmetic surgery and back-street Botox merchants, let me tell you a cautionary tale. A fortysomething friend whose husband sets great store by her appearance - she used to model lingerie and swimwear - went to a highly recommended cosmetic surgeon with an impressive list of famous clients and glitzy premises in Knightsbridge to have something done about her wrinkles. I'd call them laughter lines - she tells very good jokes - but Sarah's husband said that she was beginning to look like an old hag and should have something done about them before he traded her in for a new model. He pays the bills; Sarah no longer works; enough said.

Before everyone gets too excited about the Government's new clampdown on illegal cosmetic surgery and back-street Botox merchants, let me tell you a cautionary tale. A fortysomething friend whose husband sets great store by her appearance - she used to model lingerie and swimwear - went to a highly recommended cosmetic surgeon with an impressive list of famous clients and glitzy premises in Knightsbridge to have something done about her wrinkles. I'd call them laughter lines - she tells very good jokes - but Sarah's husband said that she was beginning to look like an old hag and should have something done about them before he traded her in for a new model. He pays the bills; Sarah no longer works; enough said.

So anyway she telephoned Dr Marlow, as I shall call him, listened to the various time-defying treatments he was offering and eventually booked herself in for an injection of something call Restalyn which, he assured her, was like Botox only better and safer. The whole thing would take less than 15 minutes since she was only having the lines around her mouth done. It would last three months and cost £200.

In the surgery Sarah sat in a hi-tech dentist's chair, all levers and pulleys, with a busty blond assistant called Marigold behind her. Dr Marlow gave her face a perfunctory wipe with an anaesthetising solution and started jabbing. It was agonisingly painful, Sarah recalls, miles worse than going to the dentist, but Marlow said cheerfully, "No gain without pain," and advised her to go home and lie down for a bit.

When she woke up the following morning she didn't look like an old hag. She looked like Kermit the Frog. Her entire face had blown up like a football and turned bright green. Restalyn can occasionally have adverse side effects, admitted Dr Marlow when she called him but it would soon clear up. He was right. Three days later she wasn't green any more. She was black with bruises.

I mention this only because people like Dr Marlow, with a wall full of framed certificates and a stash of important letters after their names, will not be subject to the Government's regulations because they are officially qualified. My friend Sarah was just unlucky. Or just plain stupid. Even if she hadn't turned green, I'm reliably informed by people who know about these things that you can always tell when someone has been nipped, tucked, peeled, lifted or injected with Botox.

The first thing my companion said when we sat down at a women's literary lunch in London last week was that everyone present, including the waitresses, had either had facelifts or Botox injections. It was a panelled room with dim lighting. I could hardly see my fork but Kate, who has hawk vision, said that the combination of taut, dewy complexions and bee-stung lips and wrinkled hands covered with liver spots was macabre.

So where do you draw the line at ageing? Every woman has her bête noire, her cut-off point. With Angela next door it's drooping boobs. She's had three boob jobs so far. The last, the water implant, being the most successful because it's the most comfortable. She just has to make sure she doesn't bump into things. I reckon I'll throw in the towel when the dentist says: "That's it. I've done more root canal work in your mouth than those world heritage construction boys underpinning Venice. I'm afraid they're going to have to come out."

They say a woman loses a tooth for every baby she has, which means I'm six down already, but I've recently been experiencing sinister wobblings at the back. Maybe it's delayed wisdom teeth making an appearance. The trouble is it's not your teeth that let you down when you get older. It's your gums. The woman downstairs, who must be well over 70, has got perfect teeth. She told me on the stairs the other day. But her gums have had it. When the dentist broke the news to her that she would need false teeth, she cut him short. She had no intention of looking like one of Macbeth's witches in her declining years. There had to be an alternative.

There is, of course, titanium implants which will not only cost her an arm and a leg (around £20,000 at the last count) but will also cause her incredible pain. First, she needs to have a piece of bone removed from her hip; it will then be ground into powder mixed with glue and injected into her gum to shore it up. "Is it really worth it, Mrs Meredith?" I asked. "Of course it is, dear," she said, "Your face is your fortune."

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