DEAR ABBY: I'm 42, and the mother of three children. I love my kids, but after many years of wanting to do something about my "mommy belly," I decided to have a tummy tuck.
As a woman of color, my preference was for a sculpted, curvy shape. For aesthetic reasons, I liked the work being done in a certain foreign country. That it was cheaper there was an added plus. After months of researching, I settled on a board-certified doctor. His before and after pictures were great, and I was told that he and the clinic had a "zero percent infection rate."
Two weeks after I returned home, things quickly went bad. Fluid drained from my tummy tuck and belly button incisions. A local plastic surgeon sent me immediately to an emergency room.
At the ER, my fever was 102 and I was admitted to the hospital, where I was diagnosed with mycobacterium abscessus infection. I was hospitalized for 11 days and had surgery to manually clear the infection from my abdomen. I was sent home with a PICC line so I could continue receiving my IV meds at home.
Two months after my elective surgery, I cannot stand up straight due to the pain. The experience has been awful, and it's still far from over. I'm still on IV antibiotics, have daily nursing visits, multiple visits to the ER and have had multiple surgeries.
I won't be able to work for three to six months, and my medical bills are over $100,000. (Thank goodness I have health insurance!) The side effects of the meds I'm on are nausea, diarrhea, lack of appetite and drowsiness.
It's hard for me to take care of myself or my children. I feel guilty about the pain I'm causing my family, and I'm so depressed I don't like going places and have withdrawn from those closest to me.
I know infections are a risk with any surgical procedure and this could have happened in America, but the fact is, this infection is known to be caused by poor sterilization in the OR, and this should have been avoidable if the proper sterilization procedures were followed.
When I contacted the doctor who did my surgery, he denied that I got it from him. He offered to repair any cosmetic damage, but I'd be crazy to go back there for additional procedures. He's in no way accountable, and the system over there promotes that. As an American, I have no recourse. I'm just stuck here suffering.
I know others may have had wonderful experiences, but I want to shed light on life after surgery abroad that went wrong. I also want to encourage others to make sure they plan for the worst-case scenario: Consider who will provide extended care to your kids during periods of hospitalization, how you will pay your astronomical medical bills, and whether you can afford living on reduced or no income for the duration of treatment, which can be several months.
Thanks for printing this, Abby. -- LESSON LEARNED
DEAR LESSON LEARNED: Wow. I'm very sorry you learned all this the hard way. I hope your experience will alert readers to the fact that there's risk involved when considering surgery in countries where the regulation of hospitals and surgical facilities may not be up to American standards.