Diary of a Beauty Junkie: Lethal injection

Catching sight of another fine line, Jacqui Stafford takes drastic measures—with a major dose of Botox.

“You must be insane!” splutter my dinner guests in chorus (one narrowly misses stuffing a slice of tiramisu up his nostril in shock). “Someone’s going to inject you with a lethal substance to get rid of wrinkles?”

“Exactly,” I say, somewhat smugly, relishing the vision of a complexion untouched by the ravages of a childhood spent horizontal, in the midday sun, atop a sheet of aluminum foil on a beach in Europe. Yeah, yeah, yeah—heard it all before…what was I thinking?…blah blah…didn’t have any wrinkles anyway….blah blah…but I stubbornly refuse to listen. Any woman over 25 who’s lived a vaguely similar life of debauchery (copious quantities of sun, cigarettes and alcohol), will unquestionably give a hearty roar of approval when I say that I’d be willing to hand over my firstborn to someone who’d make it all go away. I may not yet have reached that raisin, leather-handbag complexion—but, sweetie, I have NO intention of even getting close.

It is in this frame of mind that I skip into the offices of Dr. Fredric Brandt, “Baron of Botox”, and syringe-master to celebs like Madonna, Lauren Hutton, Cher, and Sylvester Stallone.

The busy receptionist peeping out from behind a display of Dr Brandt’s new skincare products motions me to sit. I join a row of other women—a nervous-looking young model leafing through Vogue, seated next to a lonely, untouched plate of cookies; a glamorous, pashmina-swathed 50-year-old (perhaps she’s actually 80?) discussing the virtues of laser treatments with the receptionist; and a too-skinny, coiffed, leather-pant-clad Upper-East-Side-type clutching a cell phone and barking directions to an over-worked assistant.

Diary of a Beauty Junkie: Lethal injectionMy confidence has dissipated; the whole “big needle” thing is looming rather large. I see a wall rack displaying leaflets on various cosmetic treatments, and trip over my purse trying to pluck some out. “Laser Resurfacing for Wrinkles and Scars.” “Aesthetic Services.” “Derma Peel.” At last; “Botox”. “The procedure involves inserting dilute forms of the botulinum toxin into the skin, temporarily paralyzing the muscles that cause wrinkles to form.”

There’s a paragraph in the leaflet that causes me to stop. “Dynamic wrinkles…the more emotion you show, the deeper these wrinkles and lines are likely to be.” Now I’m deeply regretting ever showing emotion in my life. (“Yes, you can dump me and sleep with my best friend.” No emotion. “Oh, so I got the great promotion with the phenomenal pay raise.” No emotion.)

I read on. “In rare cases, there can be a drooping of an eyelid or asymmetry of facial expression.” This is not good. I’m going to be walking around with odd symmetry. A glazed expression. A lopsided smile. Village Idiot.

A nurse in green scrubs calls my name. Gathering up all my stuff, leaflets flying everywhere, I scuttle after her. We disappear into one of the white clinical rooms and I settle into the leather-upholstered operating couch. Sick with nerves. Want to leave with the Mexican deliveryman who’s delivering lunch to the receptionist.

I hear Dr. Brandt before he breezes into the room, loudly wishing everyone a bright and cheery “Good Morning” as he darts down the corridor from room to room, soothing the worries of every client as each waits patiently to be unwrinkled. “I can’t decide which one—collagen or Botox?” I hear one woman’s plaintive cry from next door. “Pleeeease tell me you’re going to be in Europe soon,” pleads another voice from somewhere else.

Diary of a Beauty Junkie: Lethal injectionAnd then in he sails, in head-to-toe Prada, effusively lovely, warm, welcoming, chatty, friendly. All my fears of large, looming needles vanish. “Oh, we’re going to have you looking GORGEOUS!!” he enthuses. “We’ll just soften a bit here,” (points to my forehead) “we’ll take away these,” (waves a finger at my crow’s feet) “and….”

“Er…will I still be able to raise my eyebrows?” I interject hastily. (Let’s not go too mad here, I want to add.)

“But, of course!!” he soothes, encouragingly. “You’ll be FABULOUS!” I believe him, and sneak a peek into the large handheld mirror to say a goodbye and good damn riddance to the lines staring back at me. Now he’s firing rapid questions about my skincare routine…any health problems?…I sign the medical form, and then he’s off out the door again, sing-song-ing over his shoulder. “We’ll just get you numbed up…and then I’ll be right back” he trills, as he disappears into another room, leaving Debbie, the nurse, to scrape back my hair with a headband, and lather my forehead with numbing cream.

I’m in awe. “He’s just an artist,” Debbie sighs dramatically. “A perfectionist. Won’t leave until a patient’s face is absolutely perfect.”

I love him.

I’m thumbing through a heavy binder stuffed with magazines articles, the top half of my face covered in a thick coat of numbing cream, when Dr Brandt sweeps in again. “I’m coming in for your close-up!!” he says. I’m mentally prepare myself for a new me.

He snaps on medical gloves, pulls down his visor, and positions his magic needle alarmingly near my eye area. “How are you feeling?” he asks softly, as the first pin prick goes in. “Fine,” I mutter, through clenched teeth. Then in it goes again. “Feeling OK?” he muses, happily going about his business. “Uh huh,” I manage, far too busy concentrating on the excruciating pain to focus on an actual word. “My, you’re a great patient,” he adds approvingly, as my eyes are watering and I’m about to cry.

I’ll be honest. It hurts like hell. Of course, it hurts. It’s a big socking needle poking it’s way all around my most delicate eye area. Don’t let anyone convince you that it doesn’t hurt. But his obvious joy as one wrinkle disappears after another, and his running commentary with the assisting nurses, makes every moment worthwhile. “Oh that’s GREAT!!” between “You’re just going to LOVE this,” and “Let’s just put one here!!” as he inserts a needle under the bottom of my jaw and the entire left side of my jaw instantly lifts. “Just look at that, Debbie!” he shouts. “Look at her face!!! An instant facelift!”

I’d quite like to see what all the fuss is about at this point: Debbie hands me a mirror. Incredible. Unbelievable. He rushes over to the other side of my jaw to match me up. “Let’s just open up her eyes even more,” he grins, moving another needle up to my forehead. A series of pinpricks, and seconds later, my eyes are bigger. Much bigger. And yet I have no idea why.

“I think that’s it!! Let’s see. Yes, we’re done”, he says approvingly, peering closely at my face as I blink back at him. “Look, look—don’t you just love it!” And love it, I do. My skin is instantly firmer and the crow’s feet by my eyes are less noticeable. Not gone completely, but far less visible. And so he’s off again, waving goodbye like a pixie waving a magic wand, and he darts out and into the next room to perform yet more miracles on more wrinkles.

“Just don’t bend down, or lie down for the next three hours, and keep your head upright. Don’t want the toxin to drip anywhere we don’t want it to.” Debbie says breezily. “And don’t forget to squint and frown a lot for the next few hours—so your muscles will absorb the Botox.”

Right. Don’t look down. Frown a lot.

I wander into the bathroom, somewhat dazed at the speed of everything, to reapply a touch of makeup to the pinpricks. It’s quite a difficult maneuver, attempting to extricate my makeup bag from my purse without remotely looking down, or sideways, or up, for that matter. I’m feeling wildly self-conscious about not moving my face up and down more than a millimeter, and negotiate an elevator full of people as if I’m a car-crash victim with a neck brace. I spend the remainder of the day as if in a trance, barely moving my head and announcing dramatically to my colleagues “I CAN’T LOOK DOWN – YOU’LL HAVE TO TALK TO ME LIKE THIS,” as each one pops over to my desk to peer at the results.

Diary of a Beauty Junkie: Lethal injection

The day wears on and I check my reflection constantly. “My wrinkles are still there!! ” I wail in dismay, “Look I can still see them!!” I complain, jabbing at a slim, far, far, less entrenched fine line on my face. Except that I haven’t given it a chance yet. I’m going to have to wait for 3-5 days for the results to really start to manifest into the face of my dreams—an airbrushed, soft-focus-lens kind of face.

And as the days wear on, it seems to be working. I catch sight of myself in reflections in shop windows and am amazed at the transformation. I run my fingers under my eye and feel baby-smooth soft skin. I have to force my hands away from the telephone. “Dr Brandt? Are you back in New York soon?”

Yes, the wrinkles are gone, but something new is surfacing—an addiction.