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“You're like having a mother around, only less annoying,"

Kimberley

ELLE Magazine

 

BIG CHANGES MEET BIG GAME WHEN YOU SIGN UP FOR WORLD-CLASS COSMETIC SURGERY IN JOHANNESBURG

October 2003
Nancy Hass

The repair to the wildlife preserve to recuperate under the tender loving care of cute bush guides and menservants.

When Kimberley's cell phone rings, the harsh jangle is almost drowned out by the sound of exotic birds cackling in the trees, monkeys swooping overhead, and the wind whistling around us. Her mother's calling from home in Chicago, halfway around the world from the South African game reserve where our jeep is bouncing along the dirt road in search of giraffe or rhino.

"I'm fine, Mom," Kimberley says tersely, raising her eyebrows to signal that it's going to take some fancy footwork to get out of this one. Kim, who is 31, married with tow kids, lives just down the road from her mother in their upscale suburb. They tell each other everything. But not this time. "Yes, I told you, I was leaving the hotel in Johannesburg to go to the bush on safari. I get back the day after tomorrow, but then I'll be incommunicado for a while. I' ll call you. Opps, losing your signal, Mom gota go."

Kim doesn't feel bad about lying to her mother. She's had a few other things on her mind. Like the cosmetic surgery scheduled three days after that she has flown more than 8 000 miles for. Like the fact that she waited until just days before she left for South Africa even to tell her husband that she had paid a company called Surgeon & Safari thousands of dollars to arrange a two-week fantasy trip that combined a luxurious stay on a game reserve with liposuction, Botox,a mini tummy tuck, a breast lift, and a pampered recovery in a five-star hotel.

"This is for me, this is my time", she says later that night, settling herself at the candlelit 20 foot-long dining table on the veranda as Henry, our personal bush guide, all debonair manner and Clark Gable eyes, draws a soft white quilt gently around her shoulder. "The only thing I'm worried about is getting another glass of wine."

Most cosmetic surgery patients spend the week following their operation tucked away at home, hiding their bruises, But Kim is among those who've found a novel way to cover their tracks: What better answer to the age-old post surgery query. "You look so rested, have you been on vacation?" than "Yes, in fact. I've been on safari in Africa. How have things been back here at the office ? Ooh, is that a new coffee machine ?"

"it was very easy just to fail to mention it." says a 44-year old executive from Midwest who had a tummy tuck and liposuction. "When you pull out the pictures of you and the lions and zebras, no one notices you're sitting sort of uncomfortably in the jeep, one hand holding your stomach."

Rachel,a British journalist turned screenwriter in her mid twenties, had breast augmentation and a nose job the week before Kimberly;eye's surgery and wound up on safari at the same time. "The nose job wasn't very radical, and I had my breasts made only one cup size bigger, so I don't see any reason to be frank about it. As fast as my friends are concerned, I went on this amazing holiday, which of course I did."

Bu having a swank alibi isn't the only reason so many people go the Surgeon & Safari route. The trips tap into twin obsessions of a more subtle variety:watching Big Game in its natural habitat and having our own natural habitat discreetly nipped and tucked. Not as weird a combination as it might seem, considering cosmetic surgery has become accepted as a form of spiritual transformation. On paper the idea of a surgery safari may sound comically self-indulgent, but once you're in the bush watching a rhinoceros drink from a stream or eating braised ostrich by candlelight with cure bush guides gushing that you're the fascinating woman they've ever met, you start thinking, Why not? What's so bad about combining physical metamorphosis with the life-changing, otherworldly sights on a safari ? What better way to start a new stage of life ?

Besides, going to South Africa for surgery turns out to be a bargain. The rand had been greatly devalued since the fall of apartheid, making a multiprocedure trip like Kim's cost around $ 10 000, the same as a Park Avenue eyelift. And the post - apartheid flights of many wealthy whites has left the surgeons whom remain with extra time on their hands, As for the quality of the work, even top Manhattan surgeon Alan Matarasso concedes that South African doctors are among the world's best. The combination has made the country the newest winner in the overseas cosmetic surgery sweepstakes, a game that for years has been played in places like Thailand , Mexico and Brazil.

IN fact, most of the clients brought to South Africa by Lorraine Melvill, a fortyish former Marketing executive from Johannesburg whom dreamed up Surgeon & Safari four years ago, aren't discretion -mad Jackie O types or nutty Jocelyne Wildenstein - esque surgery junkies. Instead, they seem to be level-headed working women whose most distinguishing characteristics are that they're comfortable with risk and eager for adventure. The 16-hour plane flight and the prospect of being cut open by a surgeon you've never met, and who'll soon be an ocean away, has a tendency to screen out the overly nervous. "People who do this are not average,"says Regna Housley, a 49-year-old veterinarian from L.A. who came for a browlift, liposuction, and an underarm tuck 2 springs ago after she discovered her husband was cheating on her "again". It was time to throw him out and run away for a while," she says. She had always wanted to go on safari anyway, and it seemed perfect to get a new body for her new life at the same time.

SUCKED - TUCKED - LIFTED-AND READY TO PARTY

When Kimberley steps off the plane at Johannesburg's sleek modern airport,a uniformed driver is standing by the gate. holding up a brass plague with her name on it. Outside, a black Mercedes is waiting. Kimberley opted to go on safari before her surgery so she wouldn't be jostling over dirt roads in a jeep postop. So after we drop some of her bags off at The Westcliff, the five star villa -style hotel where she'll recuperate, another car takes us the three hours to the game reserve.

Rachel, who got her surgery out of the way first, has already settled in at the small lodge, which was designed to seem rustic despite amenities like Jacuzzis in the eight subtly lavish guest rooms, evening cocktail hours with champagne and freshly shucked oysters and a staff of guides - mostly male who look as though they were beamed from a page of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. There is also a two-room spa nestled in a corner of the property. When we weren't out tracking game, we were there getting Indian head massages and hot-oil treatments.

Six days after her nose job and breast enhancement, Rachel is feeling "perfectly all right " In fact, she is ready to party, and she and Kimberley hit it off immediately. Because Melvill now brings about seven people a week to South Africa, they often overlap and the game reserves and the "recover" hotel - but it's up to them to decide to mix. Rachel and Kimberly huddle together like college girls, puffing Marlboros as they lean over the balcony with glasses of Chardonnay clutched in their manicured hands.

Our guide, Henry, has been trained by Melvill to be sensitive to the needs of the Surgeon & Safari clientele. He makes sure the Jeep doesn't go too fast, and he has developed a suggestive patter to put S & S client further at ease. After one bumpy patch of road, he turns his smouldering brown-eyed gaze on Rachel and asks how"the twins" are doing.

After three days of the Big Five ( Lions, Leopards. rhino, elephants and buffalo ) as well as the Big Three ( breakfast, lunch and dinner fit for the glossy-magazine shoot), Kimberley is delivered by Mercedes to melvill, who'll escort her the next day to a private Johannesburg clinic for her surgery. A four-story building in a tony suburb, the place is sparkling clean and has an old-fashioned cosiness. The equipment isn't up-to-the-minute high tech - the nurses take your temperature with an oral thermometer for example-but the human touch is everywhere. Within five minutes two nurses offer me tea or coffee: a third pushes an embroided footstool towards my chair. They all call me darling.

Rick van der Poel, Kimberly's choice of doctor, is a distinguished man in his fifties who looks as though he could be cast as a chief of surgery on a soap opera. His calm voice hardly above a whisper, he ushers her into a private office on t he floor directly above where the operation will be done. Van der Poel, who as are all the MDs Melvill works with , is certified by the Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon of South Africa, has already evaluated Kimberly's photo's and exchanged a score of e-mails with her. He seems well-prepared. These days more than half of his patients are from the UK and the States.

The next afternoon, Melvill escorts us back to the clinic to check Kimberly in. By now, it's obvious that part of her hook-how else to get people to fly so far for surgery? - is that she often walks clients through the entire process, a luxury that is available in the US only at mind-boggling process. She knows every nurse, orderly, and maintaince worker their name. Melvill makes sure the hospital fridge is stocked with Coa Cola, Kimberly's drug of choice, and she jiggers the postop menu to answer her cravings for bacon and eggs. In fact, Melvill stays with her until the nurses wheel Kimberly into the operating room, and she promises she'll be back that evening to see her recovery. "You're like having a mother around, only less annoying," Kimberly tells Melvill.

Kimberly is booked for two nights in the hospital, an S & S requirement, with access to serious painkillers and the tender minit\stration of nurses: in the States, cosmetic surgery patients are dumped on spouses and relatives only hours after their procedures. (Even back at the hotel, Melvill's patients can call the clinic for extra narcotics. The drugs are delivered by the concierge on a silver tray.)

But the extraordinary ministration that cosmetic surgery patients get while they're in the country only serves to underline the disadvantages to such far-flung adventure, New York surgeon Matarasso cautions. "If there are problems - and sometimes there are-you can't just jump on a plane and get the surgeon to fix it," he says. Back in the US, doctors may be leery of correcting another mistakes.

And then there's the deep vein thrombosis issue. In recent years, there has been an increasing incidence of this dangerous syndrome, which is often linked to the cramped seating on long plane flights. During the Iraq war, correspondent David Bloom died from clotting that was thought to have come from DVT, triggered by the conditioned he encountered as an embedded reporter. "It's a pretty terrible idea to take a long plane flight after you've had surgery," says Matarasso. Melvill said that patients are required to stay in South Africa for seven to 12 days after surgery to make sure such problems don't occur (Kimberley was taken by car to see Van der Poel for checkups four days in a row after her release).

When we retrieve Kimberly from the hospital two after she was sucked, tucked, lifted and injected, there's virtually no sign that she's had a thing done. Under her clothes she's wearing a surgical girdle, but her steps is springy. Her waist seems inches smaller despite a bit of swelling, and her breasts look perkier, She hugs Rachel, who extended her trip a few days to hang out. "This whole thing has been much easier that I expected, "Kimberly says. I'm ready to roll."But Melvill nixes any party plans and tucks her into bed at The Westcliff. She alerts the concierge to keep a sharp eye on her: "Do not let this lady go out dancing."

After little more than 48 hours (lots of room service, balmy afternoons on the terrace,a manicure at the spa), Kimberly's midsection remains a bit sore, but her spirits are robust. She has another few days of recuperation and then plans to meet her sister - the only family member she told about her slimming safari - in Zambia.

After a week - three weeks total away - she'll head home to he husband and two sons. "I'm sure I'll be ready to go home by then,"she says, her voice a tad wistful, but I'M really having a wonderful time. That's weird to say, right."

 

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