What does it take to be the best version of you? A new pair of shoes, spa treatment, lottery winnings? Is the answer solely based on how you feel on the inside or how you look on the outside or both? Before I was involved in a major auto accident that altered my physical appearance in 2010, I swayed between the notions of what defined beauty in my eyes. Now, post rhinoplasty surgery, I’m convinced that it takes both inner and outer beauty to be the best version of me.
I understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for the purpose of this story the beholder is me. Before my accident I felt content with the way I looked and didn’t have anything major that I felt needed to be changed. There were some enhancements that could have been made but at this point it was a want and not a need. After my accident my mental, emotional, and physical states were altered and I became very self conscious about my physical appearance. The face and persona that my loved ones and I were accustomed to looking at had changed, and not in a good way in my eyes. Sure, I was grateful that I was alive and had a second chance at life but the emotional and physical damage was devastating. This was the first time in my life where people looked at my physical state and appeared as if they felt sorry for me. Also, as a result of some of my injuries, this was the first time I was completely helpless as an adult during certain periods of healing. I will never forget the night of the accident; it was a cold, wet, and stormy 4th of July weekend night in 2010. As you can see from the photos, the damages were precisely at the driver side door where I was sitting, also where all of the force from the impact of collision was directed. That night, I felt as if death reached out for me but couldn’t grab hold.
The accident was a head on collision that resulted in multiple injuries to my body that required surgery, one of the injuries being a deviated septum. A deviated septum is when one side of your nasal passage is narrower than the other making breathing through your nose very difficult. In some cases such as mine, you are left with a crooked nose and a hump on the bridge of the nose also known as a dorsal hump. To say the least, this physical change was not one that I was pleased to look at every day. I made the decision to look at the positive aspect of the situation and concluded that the desire to correct the damage done to my nose was also the perfect opportunity to have a complete makeover.
Before the accident the only significant physical change I was going through was relaxed hair to natural. The transition from 20 years relaxed to two (2) years natural was challenging enough but now I had the new challenge of finding a surgeon that could correct my deviated septum. Since the face is the first thing that people look at when they meet you and the first thing I look at in the morning, there was no room for error and I needed a surgeon that was artistic and exacting. My surgeon of choice had to be accomplished and competent, with an understanding of my specific concerns as a woman of color. After months of relentless research I found that most rhinoplasty patients of color complained of issues such as pinched nostrils, unauthorized changes done by their surgeon, a bulbous tip, and scarring left after surgery. All of these concerns were very important, particularly scarring because I have keloid prone skin. Keloids are scars that grow beyond the boundaries of the skin; even though keloids occur at a higher frequency in people of color, people of African descent are at an even greater risk of getting keloids. I was also concerned with whether or not the structure of the nose would be severely weakened, changes post-surgery and over time and how the new nose would look in general. I knew I didn’t want the Michael Jackson nose that closely resembles the Western/European look with the pointed tip and narrow bridge. The Euro type of look contrasts to the facial features of my own African heritage that I am happy with but wanted to enhance if possible. It was very important to me that I added to my natural African beauty through enhancement and not take away from it by drastic alterations that counter to the physical attributes of my ancestral beauty.
After a full year of dissecting various plastic surgeons’ websites, I found Dr. Monte Harris’ page. I thoroughly explored all facets of his website comparing Dr. Harris’ philosophy, biography, curriculum vitae, and photo gallery against the other surgeons that I found nationwide and I found that I was fond of Dr. Harris’ past rhinoplasty work that showed no evidence of incision; furthermore, Dr. Harris’ credentials and accomplishments put him in a league of his own. I was so pleased and impressed with the information, videos, publications, and galleries on Dr. Harris’ website that I saved his website to my favorites bar the first time I visited his page. Once I submitted my information for the phone consultation through the website I was contacted the next day and advised on what I needed to do to set up the phone/Skype consultations which works better for out of state residents. As much as I favored Dr. Harris, I didn’t want to feel like I was being impulsive in my selection of a doctor so I continued my search to make sure I found the best surgeon for me. During this continued search I came in contact with several out of state surgeons whose offices advised me to physically come to their office for an in person consultation and I would still pay the consultation fee and any out of pocket travel expenses. I was unable and unwilling to pay to travel out of state for a surgeon to look at my nose for 10 minutes. I appreciated the fact that Dr. Harris’ office had the option to do virtual and phone consultations for out of state residents. Since I was now seriously considering Dr. Harris’ services and would be an out of state patient I knew I would need someone I knew there with me before and after the surgery. In the event I could not get a friend to be there with me to help me after surgery, Dr. Harris’ office provided me with information for local area nurses for hire. The traveling part didn’t worry me as much as the possible outcome of the surgery and if it didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped I was afraid of what others would think. Due to stigmas I grew up around regarding plastic surgery I instantly visualized Michael Jackson’s head on my body but at this point my desire to make an attempt to correct the existing damage outweighed all my fears. I figured one of the reasons I had a lot of anxiety regarding the procedure was because I had not spoken directly to Dr. Harris, so I scheduled my consultations. I must admit my phone and virtual consultations with Dr. Harris put me at ease and gave me a feeling of comfort, a sense of trust and solidified my decision to attain his services. One of the questions he asked me during one of the consultations was, “why did you chose me to perform your rhinoplasty?” and my response was, “because the majority of the people on your page look like me!” By that response I was referring to the amount of people of color on the webpage but looking back on what I said, I probably should’ve added that his previous patients’ before and after pictures reflected once content before and quite satisfied after.
The decision was made and the ball was now in motion and there was no turning back, I made the payments and travel arrangements for Dr. Harris to perform the surgery four months from the phone consultation. My heart, mind, and body were now ready to move in the same direction, forward. When I arrived to Dr. Harris’ office for my pre-op I was exhausted from my travel but delighted by the superior level of professionalism that surrounded me from Dr. Harris and his immediate staff of Theresa Robinson (R.N.), Pamela Cooley (Chief Operating Officer), and Brittney Richardson (Administrative Assistant). I expressed to Dr. Harris how professional he and his staff were and he responded, “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?” I laughed and shook my head in agreement. Honestly, I’d been to several other surgical facilities for other injury related procedures and the staff was not halfway as professional as Dr. Harris’ staff. Dr Harris and his staff made me feel warm, welcomed, and well-prepared for my surgery the following day. During my pre-op I took before pictures using Dr. Harris’ 3D approach and by this time I was already viewing any image of myself as the old me. I voiced my remaining questions and concerns but was ready for the transformation the following day would bring. The early morning of surgery, prior to being given anesthesia Dr. Harris gave me the opportunity to ask any last minute questions. It finally dawned on me at that point that I would not physically see my nose again for seven days due to the splint and stitches that would remain on my nose until the seventh (7th) day after surgery which would be the scheduled post-op day. The surgery lasted about three hours and I experienced the bulk of my pain during the first two days but the pain eased with pain medication. Every day after the surgery up to the day of my post-op I experienced more discomfort than pain due to the splint and packing in my nose and the inability to blow my nose. I was quite surprised as I thought it would be more painful than the pain I experienced in the days following surgery.
The morning of my post-op on my way to Dr. Harris’ office I felt an overwhelming array of emotions knowing that should anything have went not according to plan with the surgery I would have to look at a nose I wasn’t pleased with everyday and even worse be the laughing stock of my job and possibly get pointed at by strangers and children. I had to remind myself that the reason I chose Dr. Harris was because I trusted his opinion and his expertise so I swallowed my pride and proceeded to Dr. Harris’ office to reveal my new truth. After removal of the stitches, it was time, one mirror in each hand as Dr. Harris removed the splint. First I was like, “ahhh,” I exhaled in relief as it was good for my nose to feel free again. Next, I would get my first visual of my nose, so I swallowed, sighed, and looked at my new nose…my emotions were colored by tranquility, happiness, and speechlessness. Even though Dr. Harris told me on a scaled of 1-10, 10 being more swollen that I was a seven (7), I overlooked the swelling to see that the hump in my nose was gone and I didn’t look like Michael Jackson! I couldn’t really tell the capacity in which my breathing had improved at this point yet because of the swelling and my allergies. As far as I was concerned, I could deal with the tenderness, swelling and black eyes because that would all dissipate, but the dorsal hump I could not. Everything Dr. Harris and I discussed took place and I was now overjoyed looking at the reflection of my new reality. No Latoya Jackson appearance, no pinched nostrils, or Euro look, just a better version of me.
Now that the splint and stitches were gone, since I was an out of state resident and may not have been able to come back for post surgery photos, I needed to take my after photos in 3-D to complete my before and after portfolio. As I stared at my before and after images, particularly my after images, the 3D image of me was reminiscent of an African mask head similar to an exquisite Yoruba or Ife African Art sculpture. Even though I am very aware of my ancestry and African beauty, it wasn’t until this very moment that I compared myself to a beautiful and vibrant Imagery of African art. The 3D images of me elevated my perception of beauty and made me feel as if I was staring at a sculpture of one of my African ancestors.
This sudden but longstanding spiritual link I experienced by associating the visual image of myself with ancient art somehow led me to also view myself as a work of art or art in motion as Dr. Harris puts it. Until that moment, I felt like my everyday life swamped my perception of beauty with so much visual imagery that runs counter to my own physical attributes that sometimes I would lose sight of my own true beauty and my accident had weakened my already fragile perception even more. So seeing myself in that form and in that light was mentally and spiritually renewing and a breath of fresh air for me. The next person that sees a 3-D image of their self may not see themselves in the same light in which I saw myself. One of the reasons I believe my own imagery led me to visualize myself as a work of art is because that is how I want to see myself and how I want others to see me.
My post-op appointment was complete and I said my goodbyes. I departed from Dr. Harris’ office with a new look, new attitude, and a renewed self-awareness. When I came to Dr. Harris I felt physically self-conscious and broken but when he corrected my nose I felt physically whole again. The healing process takes six months to a year to have the final results be apparent. However, I see the beauty of my results everyday as they have already begun to improve and for the first time in a long time I feel like my inner and outer beauty are in synch strengthening my internal fire and allowing me to rightfully be the best version of me.
Ife Art Sculpture Photo http://tenthousandlux.blogspot.com/2010_03_01_archive.html