Un-hip in Chicago

Bernie and I went to Chicago last weekend for another meeting (read: cocktails, yummy food, and plastic surgery pow-wow-ing). Ostensibly, these mavens of microsurgery were assembling to discuss research and stuff. Could they have hammered out logistics over a conference call? Maybe. But thing is, these incredible surgeons–the reconstructive geniuses you need when a shark bites you, cancer ravages you, or when you literally fall on your face—is a tight knit group. Over the years, we’ve logged many hours in hotel lobby bars, guzzled gallons of mediocre wine at “gala” dinners, and attended scientific meetings at finer resorts everywhere to keep abreast of an ever-advancing field. The plastic surgeons I know are wicked smart and quite a bit of fun, and I was only too happy to see a handful of my favorites.

So Bernie and I flew to one of my fave cities where they put us up at the tragically hip Virgin Hotels. We knew right away we were two decades too old for this scene. After our eyes adjusted to the nightclub-dark check-in desk, we were greeted by young men with alarming facial hair, giant ear holes, and man buns. The couple in front of us was dressed for Burning Man and had two skittish dogs wary of the funereal foyer. Behind us, another dude with a messy, high ponytail and a large guitar case waited to be greeted with how awesome it was that we were there, no worries, alright, niiiiiice, etc.

Bernie and I giggled the entire wall-to-ceiling carpeted elevator ride to our room. Virgin Hotels beds are ultra modern, white leather creations with a raised lip at one of the corners. Our inner 8 year olds immediately imagined Superfly Snuka. I suggested it was for lounge-reading; Bernie proposed something more… gymnastic. I doubted they ever Chlorox wiped the leather. Moving on…

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After a grown up dinner at Smith & Wollensky’s, we braved the roof deck bar back at the hip hotel. I love chatting up strangers. So I did. Chicago is really the best. Sharing cocktails in an upbeat, cooler-than-us spot with a racially diverse crowd doesn’t really happen in Boston. What struck me the most were the ladies. Oh, the ladies. I’d forgotten what it was like to go to a bar on a Friday night in my 20s: hair up, body perky, the swagger of youth and beauty. Back then I loved chatting up strangers, too. So I did. But these gals? No engagement at all.

“You look gorgeous,” I said to the 14th flawless millennial attempting an identical selfie as her parade of friends at the very same railing. She looked at me like I had just asked her for a tampon. Oh, dear. I’m old, hideous, and embarrassing. But I am me, so that thought didn’t take hold for very long and I continued making more friends out of strangers. We closed that place down.

The next morning, Bernie was off to be bow-tied and collaborative at the meeting, so I grabbed my book and attempted to nurse a minor, but still-needing-hash-browns Prosecco hangover at Miss Ricky’s, which is like a diner that spent one semester at Parsons. Outside, young people sat in actual swings as they ate avocado toast. I ordered coffee. The wait staff couldn’t have been nicer, but were more likely hired for their cool cred and sleeve tattoos than any sort of, you know, wait staff experience. Here’s how it went:

Waitress: Anyone help you yet?
Me: Hi! Nope. But I just want the breakfast sandwich. Scrambled egg.
W: Did you want The Wabash?

*scans menu where there is no such thing*

Me: I don’t know what that is.
W: Oh it’s like the breakfast sandwich but it has this kind of hot sauce.
Me: Got it. It’s not on the menu, though.

*still scanning menu where there is no Wabash but there is a breakfast sandwich*

W: So did you want The Wabash?
Me: I don’t really know what that is.
W: Oh, it must be on the lunch menu or something. Do you want me to get that?

Me: No, it’s alright, I’ll just have the breakfast sandwich that’s on the menu.

W: Ok. With the fried egg?

Me: Scrambled.
W: Oh, right. Should I put the hot sauce on the side?
Me: … sure.

A few minutes later: an oozing fried egg topped with sausage on an enormous hamburger bun. And two bottles of hot sauce. On the side. This would be decadently delicious for most, but I abhor fried eggs. Hated them since I was a kid. Not changing. They’re gross. Giggling, I ordered the check and laughed louder when it arrived:

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I swear, The Wabash is nowhere on the menu. But I paid for it and left a weirdly large tip because sometimes that is fun to do. Moving forward, I’ll probably call any restaurant blunder a “Wabash.” She should get royalties for that. Maybe I’ve already become an odd anecdote in Veronique’s life: the blonde mom who laughed at her uneaten breakfast and left a wad of cash.

Virgin Hotels didn’t really want us to eat. (Maybe most guests are too busy with, um, that bed.) The next morning I ordered oatmeal that said it would arrive with “all the trimmings.” Sadly, “all the trimmings” meant “just raisins” which are only a half step above fried egg on the gross scale. Luckily, Chicago is bursting with incredible restaurants and we never leave there without going to the Slurping Turtle. Only the Lees would go to Chicago to eat sushi and ramen instead of pizza pie. But Slurping Turtle never disappoints. And after slurping, we saw all of the things that make Chicago so fun to visit.

And later… a yummy dinner that wasn’t a total Wabash. Love you, Chicago!

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Lees on the Road

We’ve been gone for 10 days. Two consecutive plastic surgery meetings required four flights and long hours wasted in airport security lines. In Phoenix, the retractable barriers separating switchback lines of shuffling travelers boasted “The Friendliest Airport in America!” which was contradicted by exasperated staff barking at us to empty our pockets and remove clothing that might beep. As we padded through the fucking garbage hateful scanner, I fumed at the futility of this pre-boarding nonsense. “Not one of us is a terrorist!” I didn’t scream, because then everyone would think I was a terrorist. I blushed at uniformed strangers getting a glimpse at my implants in the name of national security. “Hey, these contain MORE than four ounces!” I didn’t joke because the security line doesn’t like jokesters. Finally aboard the plane—fondled, humiliated, and bathed in the breath of strangers—it was two to four hours of restless, foodless discomfort. Hats off to those of you who travel frequently and don’t offer a constant stream of more-annoyed-than-thou tweets about the experience.

I might be a grumpy traveler, but I’m a darling meeting attendee. Honestly, I’m so darned impressed with anyone who stands up in front of a huge audience of peers to talk about what they do. Especially when what they do is restore women to pre-cancerous normalcy, even beauty. Also, there are always new people to meet and I love love love new people to meet. Isn’t everyone amazing and smart and delightful? I think so– especially when meeting them happens during cocktail hour.

I also “met” a broader tweeting community, as Bernie and I launched the Journal of Reconstructive Microsurgery into the social media sphere. I’ve been playing with Twitter for years: following the funny people, writing little nothings, and getting to know @JustinGuarini all over again. (He’s delightful. Go see.) With a handful of new plastic surgeons following, my feed is full of facelift facts and why you might want your implants to be textured. This community has only a small toehold in the virtual world of opinion-shouters, but it’s growing thanks to charmers like @OlivierBranford and @danielzliu. And now that I have two more #SoMe sites to monitor, I’m more attached to my phone than an Instagrammer with an Etsy, new kitten, and a kitchen remodel project.

Monitoring social media is more of a time suck than deciding what to watch on Netflix, and I have stuff to do. Or, maybe I don’t. Between these two meetings I was asked 163 times if I’m ever going to be a surgeon again. Some are genuinely wondering if that is a thwarted dream on temporary hold. Other inquiries gently imply that my days are spent waiting for repairmen and searching for delicious crockpot recipes. Which is ridiculous. I hardly use the slow cooker at all during the summer.

Once again, I found myself defending my days, recounting hours spent on “pathological volunteerism” and reminding them that submissions to the Journal are read and vetted by me first. So there, you little misspellers and Oxford comma omitters… I’m judging you!

At long last the meetings had ended and it was time to race back through airport security to attempt a standby flight to see our little boys even one hour sooner. I wanted to be home instantly. Ten days is forever. I was sure they were taller and better at math. There were missing teeth to appreciate, stories to hear, snuggles to give. We were miraculously awarded the last two seats on the plane. Squished into middles… in separate aisles… bathed in the breath of strangers. Couldn’t have been happier.

It’s nice to be home. HVAC guy should be here any minute.

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Bow tied Bernie and me. Lees on tour, now happily home.

 

 

 

Humiliation Hall of Fame

Does everyone spend a portion of the night awake in bed replaying all embarrassing moments? It can’t be just me. Anyone else have a Humiliation Hall of Fame that plays as a closed loop of highly edited memories when the room goes dark? Here are some gems from my highlight reel:

My crush and his ex-girlfriend rekindling their romance right after I delivered that flirty note.

Referring to my research project as “sexy” to the unamused Harvard interviewer.

Ignoring all signs that the elderly man was more randy than charming and awkwardly escaping his open-mouthed, grabby advances with backpedaling apologies for being married.

Debuting my spot on seagull imitation to partygoers who were more accustomed to girls with cherry stem tongue knot or leg-behind-ear talents. (Never was invited back to that frat house.)

These memories flood many a pre-REM moment. Sometimes the recollection of past blunders is so vivid that I actually recoil and conk Bernie in the head or loose a shiver of mortified regret that makes him fear there’s a spider in the bed. I hope we were all too drunk to remember me nicknaming that surgeon Asshole Khaki Pants. Maybe it wasn’t that awful when my charming repartee prompted, “I have a girlfriend.” Are all of you occasionally (if not as frequently) ridiculous as I am?

I hope so. Sharing the errant gaffe is the good stuff of late night cocktail parties. And those with consistently impeccable manners and good judgment are laudable, but rarely the ones to whisper with you in dark corners. And I’m a whisper in dark corners kind of girl.

Recently I learned there’s an extra level to the heights of humiliation I can reach because my husband is a plastic surgeon. Just as interior designers have gorgeous furnishings and computer scientists wield the latest iThings, plastic surgeons have injectables. And plastic surgeons like Bernie have a prop patient for poisons and lasers. I promised to love, cherish, and submit to wrinkle-zapping and fat-freezing till death do us part. Apparently.

Having your own, personal (and lovely, talented, and generally awesome) aesthetic guru shouldn’t be anything short of delightful. But I can make even simple forehead smoothing ridiculous. Here’s some handy advice: don’t go swimming after Botox. At the very least, maybe don’t squeeze goggles around your toxin-filled eye sockets and expect fantastic results. Luckily, only one lid drooped… and only for a week or so… and I’m sure no one thought my travel mug was brimming with vodka or anything. I may have appeared concussive, but I looked young, dammit.

Recently, I killed at Garden Club, winning first prize for my dahlias for the third year running. And I don’t even lift my tubers. This should have been a totally not embarrassing day. I arrived early to help other garden clubbers match genera and species to their cuttings. I chatted up other flower fanatics over buttery baked goods and coffee. I wore the girliest of dresses and it was all lovely lovely lovely. Skipping around in my cashmere ruana oohing and ahhing over foliage and photos and fall arrangements, I had completely forgotten that Bernie had attacked my lower lids with the handheld laser the night before.

To be clear, Bernie doesn’t zap me because I’m not already stunning (duh), but because the new laser is a fun new gadget. And boys must test fun new gadgets! There’s something about being a Mom that makes one forget to look really closely in the mirror. With just a smidgen of attention and a bit of concealer, I could have avoided attending Garden Club looking like an Athletic Warrior for the Cure wearing pink-hued eye-black. Until Bernie suggested I don sunglasses, I had spent an entire morning twirling around town Ridiculously Unaware. (The garden clubbers were too polite to inquire about my crosshatched half moons of sunburn.) Friends who are as vain as I am swear they would love to have live-in staff willing to zap away the years. Maybe they’d be smart enough to forgo the goggles or attack crow’s feet on the weekends.

I’m not.

The best beauty treatment probably isn’t found in a syringe or de-wrinkling light saber, at all– but in a long and restful night of sleep. And I plan to implement this regimen. Real quick. Right after I relive decades of ill-timed waterfowl impressions and other embarrassments. Sleep well, my pretties.

The quality of my impression was entirely wasted on the brothers....

The quality of my squawking was entirely wasted on the brothers….

The Importance of Angelina Jolie

The Breast Conservationists are on full alert. Angelina Jolie bares everything but her new rack, and now responsible scientists and doctors are scared that stupid, stupid women will be lining up for bilateral mastectomies like it’s the wedding dress sale at Filene’s Basement. Otherwise healthy women will be demanding expensive genetic testing, insisting on amputations, and requesting Jolie Boobs from their plastic surgeons. If Angelina Jolie did it, then it’s possible that stupid, stupid women will start shopping for their own, Celebrity Cancer-Preventing Surgery.

Have we demonstrated an uncontrollable need to Be Like Angie? Do we all have slit-up-to-there dresses in our closets and a gazillion babies? (To be fair, I do have my own, Asian Brad Pitt… but I had mine first.) I have to believe that we’re smarter than this. Most of us aren’t Golden Globe-winning UN ambassadors. And most of us don’t carry BRCA mutations: only about 5% of us with breast cancer have the unlucky genes. Angelina Jolie’s story is one of access to superb health care, intelligent, informed consent to risk reduction treatment, and bad-ass, story-sharing bravery. The Breast Conservationists worry that her boldness will undo years of work informing women that they do not need to suffer barbaric surgery to live. But I think Angelina Jolie has done more for breast cancer awareness than all of the pink crap in the world. Angelina heralded the possibility that breast cancer isn’t a dreaded path to ugly.

Perhaps we are all a bit more informed about BRCA mutations and statistics and recommendations than we were on Monday. But what this beautiful woman did in one day was to put a spotlight on breast reconstruction after mastectomy. Living in Boston, and specifically in the same home as someone who does this sort of surgery every single day, (and personally with my own set of silicone bags), it is impossible to believe that only 30% of women are offered or encouraged to seek breast reconstruction options after body mutilating surgery. Despite many, many studies showing that quality of life is significantly improved with breast reconstruction, many women are still discouraged from “unnecessary” or “cosmetic” or “long, painful, and risky” operations that would restore their sense of self. They are (ill-) advised that reconstruction will delay their cancer treatment. Of course I need to insert all sorts of disclaimers that some women are not eligible for current reconstructive efforts because of radiation or extent of disease or other underlying conditions, that some opt out of reconstruction and live comfortably with that choice, that there are always more risks with more surgery. However, everyone should have the information about and access to breast reconstruction. And although there are thousands of cancer bloggers cheerfully over-sharing about their bikini-rific , gravity-defying post-Cancer boobs, you know who they’re really going to believe? Angelina Jolie.

Because Angelina went public with the story of her reconstruction, it’s possible that she has inspired other women to advocate for their right to restore their bodies, to feel empowered, to feel whole. While any diminishment of her hotness was always impossible, she explains how it is also surgically preventable. She writes,

“On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

Of course, those of us in the shitty sorority know what she’s not telling us: that she is changed, she’s scarred, and where there was once sensation, there is now the numb reminder of an ever-lurking Cancer. Strong, indeed. And she’s more beautiful than ever.

Bringing sexy badass to the Big Cancer Fight

Bringing sexy badass to the Big Cancer Fight