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Saving Face 

When good drugs have disfiguring consequences

Thursday, Jan 9 2003
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I had arranged for my daughter to spend the weekend with trusted members of our extended family. While I don’t like deceiving Tia, I decide not to burden her with too much information. But part of me wonders if I‘m avoiding an opportunity to spell out Daddy’s delicate condition.

My devoted friend Jim takes me downtown to the Omni Hotel to recover -- a night of reminiscences and room service. After we find our suite, I madly search the halls for the ice machine, and after faithfully taking my herbal remedies to ward off bruising, I flop onto the bed and apply ice packs to my face.

When the swelling calms down, there is a marked difference in my appearance. My face is full and robust-looking; my skin stretches smoothly over the silicone. I already feel considerably less defaced by AIDS, and I‘m only a third of the way into the procedure. There are two more treatments coming up.

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Now that I know what to expect, phase two seems less dramatic. With a different assistant in tow (Fabian was probably at an audition), the doctor performs the ritual: face freezing first, artful injections next, two minutes of ice, and it’s over. By the time of the third and final visit, it‘s clear that all I need is some fine-tuning and my face will be restored. As the doctor maps out his strategy for my last battery of prickings, I hear myself say, “Is there anything you can do about that splotchy discoloration on my neck?”

The doctor summons the laser specialist to give me the pitch. Part of me is tempted to make an appointment on the spot. But another part of me wonders, “When will it stop?”

A month later, my improved face has not resulted in a dream date, a lucrative modeling job or a resolution about that insurmountable battle with my boisterous self-esteem demons. But I do look better. The surgery has eliminated a disquieting self-consciousness in public and serves my undeniable need to feel attractive. Still, I’ve so far avoided the urge to indulge in any further facial tinkering. And as a warning to myself, I have taped a life-size photo of Michael Jackson to my bathroom mirror.

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