I am examining a young woman who just alighted the plane after arriving in Newark Airport. She is vilifying the surgeon with expletives in Spanish and English who performed an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) and a breast augmentation in the Dominican Republic. She complains of extreme abdominal pain accompanied by a large bulge in her upper abdomen which befuddled her Dominican Surgeon. She had a mismanaged, infected hematoma since there were no drains placed as well as an exposed breast implant. She was escorted to the operating room the following morning to treat the above postoperative complications.

Patients, such as the aforementioned, want to avoid the exorbitant expenses of cosmetic surgery in the United States for more affordable procedures abroad, particularly in the Caribbean and South America. During the past five years, I have seen a myriad of patients in the Northeast and Texas with debilitating postoperative sequelae from cosmetic procedures performed outside the US. Is it really worth it to save this money for substandard medical care and the potential for serious complications by a surgeon of unknown credentials?

In the United States, the Plastic Surgery residency training is rigorous and highly regulated by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons to promote high quality and standardized medical care. Not all countries apply such rigid criteria and standards on their surgeons. Nevertheless, not all foreign surgeons are unqualified and poorly trained for there are several talented surgeons in Europe, Brazil, and Turkey. Paradoxically, some American plastic surgeons lack exemplary qualifications and scrupulous judgment.

In any event, a trend has surfaced where individuals are traveling abroad on luxurious vacations/cruises in tandem with cosmetic procedures. Is this really the most prudent strategy to amalgamate a surgical procedure followed by recuperation and relaxation in an exotic destination? I would argue vociferously against this sort of travel/cosmetic package promulgated by travel agencies and vacation enterprises. When having any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, the patient should thoroughly research the options, consult with one or more surgeons, and ascertain the qualifications of their doctor. These travel/cosmetic combinations do not afford the patient these luxuries and encourages “a buy one get one free” mentality at the expense of the surgery.

Furthermore, the patient should convalesce in comfortable surroundings with the opportunity for assiduous follow up. The cosmetic patient should recuperate in a quiescent environment under the supervision of a friend or loved one. Cosmetic patients, drained emotionally and physically, are besieged by postoperative pain that will prevent them from traveling in their destinations, basking in the sun, or pampering themselves with spa treatments. Essentially, this melange of surgery and sun confines the patient to their hotel and curbs their unbridled vacation enthusiasm and enjoyment.

The goals of cosmetic surgery are to restore the beauty, the body, and consequently the soul of the patient. Getaway vacations can achieve these same objectives in an ephemeral fashion. Is it really justified to fuse the two in order to save time and/or money at the risk of compromising safety and surgical results?

Alan Bienstock, MD, Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, 630 Lawrence Road, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648. 609-977-9286.

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