Body shop, or chop shop

November 15, 2013

Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

I thought I’d heard it all, but I was wrong.

“Doctor, a friend of mine got them and they looked great. I want to look beautiful too…”

“Doctor, when my husband turned to look at another woman I knew if I got them he would look at me…”

“I lost weight and they started to sag…”

“Doctor, I was tricked, they told me they were injections of expanding cells that would be absorbed…”

“I never researched much, but they always talked about them in the beauty salon and I got them done too…”

“Doctor, I did know what they were, but I never thought they could be so bad, I just wanted to surprise my husband…”

“I had enough, but I wanted more…”

Those were some of the testimonies that I heard from patients of Dr. Daniel Slobodianik. They were talking about unauthorized injections of liquids they received to fill in parts of their bodies they felt were lacking. Every day he attends to women and men who not only suffer from physical discomfort but also from a sense of guilt, fear, frustration, and regret. They wait months for their turn at surgery to remove the foreign substance that was injected into some part of their bodies.

GALLERY: REVERSING AMATEUR PLASTIC SURGERY

Venezuelan women are synonymous with beauty. Many of them have received top prizes in pageants around the world, and the feminine ideal that they represent has been the motor behind the lucrative plastic surgery industry that generates nearly $3 billion per year.

But if vanity and greed go hand in hand with innocence and ignorance, then that is what led many women and men to try unimaginable techniques for obtaining their goals. One of these is the injection as body fillers of liquids such as liquid silicone, motor oil, and even silicone gel made to weather seal windows and doors. I can’t imagine there even exists a substance that will solve a woman’s dissatisfaction with her body.

The Venezuelan Association of Plastic Surgeons registered more than 15 deaths in the last 12 months from complications caused by these injections. Once the substance is injected, the body begins the process of rejection. It will naturally try to encapsulate the foreign substance by making small balls filled with the fluid, causing severe pain, allergies, and even the death of surrounding tissue. There is no technique that allows complete removal of the substance after it migrates from the point of injection and invades muscle fibre.

The smell of burning oil and blobs of grease normally make us think of a barbecue or a mechanic shop. But this was my experience in a sterile operating room where surgeons tried to reverse the damage caused by this irresponsible aesthetic procedure.

“Put on some gloves and touch this.” That was the invitation from Dr. Slobodianik as I entered the operating room. I’d witnessed surgery several times before, but without a doubt this was one of the crudest yet. It is impressive to see how the oily substance sticks to the surgeon’s gloves, instruments, operating table, and the patient’s skin. But the worst was handling one of the hardened pieces, similar to the fatty edge of a barbecued steak, and the small fluid-filled balls that were extracted from the patient’s buttocks, especially when they were still warm.

As always in this type of story, finding subjects willing to be photographed in all their intimacy was difficult. Dr. Slobodianik was a great ally from the start. He does this kind of surgery at least four times a week, and his office is always packed. But even with his help, just being in the examining room with a half-dressed patient who had to show the doctor her problems, explain how it came about, and where she was injected, was uncomfortable to say the least.

In the end, I believe that at least these patients learned the lesson that they are human beings and not cars in an auto body shop. They can’t just fill in a dent wherever and whenever they want.

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