July 9, 1998. It's sunset in Santa Barbara and I'm sitting alone in a third-rate motel facing the San Gabriel mountains. In 11 hours, I'll be laid out cold on a steel table, my face splayed open as Doctor X snips and shapes membrane, gristle and fat, bestowing upon me the nose I've dreamed of since I was 12.
July 10, 5:45 a.m. I catch a cab to the hospital and stand in line with a dozen other people to be admitted to the hospital. We are processed by two tiny nuns in full regalia. One asks the motive of my visit.
"Rhinoplasty," I murmur.
"Pardon me?" she asks, turning up her hearing aid.
"A nose job," her companion states loudly. The entire room turns to look me in the honker.
Post-Op. My head is throbbing. My eyelids feel like they're nailed shut. Through the numbed skin of my face, I feel a warm liquid streaming down my chin. I clumsily lift my hand to wipe it away. It keeps coming. I struggle to open my eyes and see that my fingers are covered in a cherry-red paint. After a moment of narcotic-induced fascination, panic sets in. I'm gushing blood. I can't find my voice. My heart pounds. I flutter my legs and arms under the sheets to attract attention. But no one notices me cloistered behind the white curtain.
Suddenly, my mouth fills with the warm liquid as well. My nose is plugged with gauze and I can't breathe out of it, so I'm forced to swallow the stuff, or drown in it. I prop myself up on my elbows and yell: "NURSE!!!" But all that comes out is a hoarse whisper. Too weak to keep upright, I fall back onto the bed. The river flows unstaunched. I whimper, sounding more canine than human.
A century later, a nurse happens by. "Don't swallow it!" she orders, rushing at my face with a cotton towel. "It will make you extremely ill! Spit it out!"
She leaves and instantly the blood wells up again. I stare at the sterile white bed linens and groggily decide not to soil them. Instead, I ingest myself.
The hospital refuses to release me unless an adult supervises me for the first eight hours after surgery. I haven't told a soul about the day's activities, so I'm forced to hire Angela, a nurse's aide.
By this time, my eyes are completely swollen shut. When we reach the motel, I clutch at the walls leading to the bathroom mirror, where I pull back my eyelids and stare in horror at myself: My face has swollen to five times its normal dimensions. The skin surrounding my eyes and nose has turned a molten crimson. I eagerly lift the gauze from the tip of my nose, which is a bulging purple lump. The plastic breathing tubes stuffed in my nostrils are packed with dried blood, useless. I'm forced to breathe from my mouth, which grows drier by the minute.
Angela feeds me Jell-O like a baby. Between spoonfuls, she gives me sips of water from a straw. It's hard to coordinate eating, drinking and breathing. Exhausted after five minutes, I slip into a deep sleep.
Sometime later, I'm prodded to consciousness by a rhythmic gulping. My head has fallen off the pillow and the blood flow reversed. I push myself up on my elbows and open my mouth; red drool falls out. The room twirls and I black out.
Angela's on the phone, talking hysterically to Dr. X. She hangs up and goes to the bathroom, returning with a bedpan. "Spit into here," she commands. "Doctor wants to know how much blood you're losing."
I hack up a blood clot the size of an egg yolk. She quickly redials the doctor. I break into a fevered sweat. Waves of nausea wrack my body. I start to hyperventilate, then grow delirious, fading in and out of consciousness.
"She's burning up!" Doctor exclaims to Angela. "Put wet towels on her, pronto!" As Angela scurries away, he gives me a long, sincere look.
"Do you feel okay?" he asks.
"No," I confide. I'm losing faith fast.
He pats my arm. "This was a possibility," he sighs, explaining that he widened my air passages during surgery to make breathing easier. "We had to drill right into the bone."
He orders Angela to spend the night, but I'm out of money. I've budgeted this metamorphosis to the last penny and can't afford the $8-an-hour luxury. He insists and tells Angela to bill him. I spend the next two hours spewing bloody mucus into the bedpan and bloody diarrhea into the toilet bowl.
July 11. A new nurse -- Rod, a 17-year-old whose nickname ought to be "The Bod" -- has come in during the night. He shows me the pus pooled in the gauze around my face. It's a good sign, a sign of healing, he says. I dismiss him mid-morning and call a cab for my first post-op visit. The cab switchboard operator can't understand me. I sound like a 5-year-old with a bad cold. He shouts hello into the phone several times, then yells, "Stop your pranks, you little twit!" and hangs up. I make six more phone calls, until a patient soul picks up and makes an effort to understand me.
The waiting room is packed with noses in various stages of transformation.
The receptionist bundles me into the examining room, where nurse Patricia awaits. "Today we're going to clean all the blood and mucus from the breathing tubes," Patricia squeals, like a third grade teacher on the first day of class. She places me in a chair and lowers it until it's horizontal to the ground.
She leans over my face, wielding two wood pointers with cotton puffs at the end. They're about 10 inches long. She closes in on the nose. I cover my face with my hands.
Patricia smiles. "Most patients say this is the most uncomfortable part of the procedure," she says chattily. "But just concentrate on something else and you won't even notice."
I conjure up images of Rod's meaty backside.
Next thing I know, she's sliding a chopstick into my left nostril. I suck in my breath, grip the sides of the chair, and hold dead still lest she impale me. "Now we purge the tubes of all the snot and clots," she explains. (I liked "blood and mucus" better; it sounded more... professional.) She shoves the wooden pole deeper up my nose, pushing and grinning as I dig my fingernails into the arm rests. When only an inch and a half of stick remains poking out of my nose, she takes the tip between her thumb and forefinger and gives it a little twist. A warm glob tumbles down the back my throat. Then the stick continues.
"My god, she's not stopping!" I think to myself, and grab her arm.
Her smile evaporates. "Don't do that!" she yells crossly, then adds sweetly: "I mean, you could hurt yourself! Don't worry -- here, I'll show you, it doesn't do anything!" Further and further. I close my eyes. When I open them, there's only half an inch of stick protruding from my nose. I gasp.
"Here, you can feel it touch the back of your throat," she says, jabbing the flesh sharply.
July 18. I am unveiled. My face looks like a pawed marshmallow. The schnozz is shorter but so bloated with fluids that months -- up to a year -- will pass before it molds into its true shape, doctor says.
The blood loss and liquid diet has made me lose 14 pounds. My naked body looks shrink-wrapped, hipbones and collarbones straining to pierce the flesh binding.
November. Back to the doctor for a minor touch-up. Or so they said. The columella, or flesh between the nostrils, hangs down, exposed, while the rest of the schnozzle tilts up. Asymmetrically.
I am surprised to learn that Patricia herself will perform the operation, an outpatient procedure which consists of excising unwanted tissue.
She's got me horizontal, and she's coming at me with an inch-long needle. My legs and waist are strapped down this time. "You're going to feel a prick," she says, smiling and ramming the spike up the base of my nose.
I... HAVE... NEVER... FELT... SUCH... EXCRUCIATING... PAIN.
I grab at her left hand. We glare at each other. "Not again," She scolds. "Don't fight me." By the time the anesthesia kicks in, my face is gleaming with tears of pain.
I close my eyes as she picks up the surgical scissors. There's a cutting sound and a tugging sensation as she carves my flesh.
Summer, 1999. Finally my nose has decompressed into its final pose -- short, pert, "feminine." I'm so SoCal -- peroxide blonde, underweight body, plastic nose. The guys have come around too, and not to grab my schnozz.
But my fiancé does. "Let's see that cute little thang," he croons as he squeezes it. He's got big honker himself, and is a bit 'plexed about it.
I don't tease him, of course. He may be no Ken doll, but he's tremendously successful in "The Biz." We're drawing up blueprints for our dream house in Malibu and I've got a five-carat diamond on my finger. We plan to marry on Valentine's Day -- he's eager to settle down and start a family.
"Our kids better get your nose," he always says.
The only cosmetic surgery Julia Scheeres believes in is depilation for men with hairy backsides.