Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baby Lipo

(Re-print of my article that appeared in National Lampoon)

In October 2009, my darling daughter Molly was born. At 7 pounds, 13 ounces and 21 inches, Rita and I thought she was a petite, perfect bundle of joy. But as the weeks and months wore on, we watched helplessly as Molly ballooned from a sleek 8 pounds to nine and then ten--an added 25% of her bodyweight!--and our adoration turned to consternation. Molly was not only packing on the pounds, she was flabbing up in those hard to exercise places: the hips, buttocks, thighs and umbilical stub. Why was our little angel morphing into a flabby porker right before our postpartum eyes?!

My wife Rita was particularly alarmed. A professional nutritionist and former “Laker Girl,” Rita approached her pregnancy with the same discipline and self-sacrifice she had brought to her cheerleading career. By limiting her first and second trimesters diet to sushi and pine nuts (and then cutting out the sushi in the third trimester), Rita avoided the common pitfall of stacking on twenty or more pounds of ugly and unnecessary pregnancy fat, adding a mere 13 pounds during her 41 week term. Indeed, thanks to a rigorous workout program that continued until she had dilated 8 centimeters, Rita even dropped 3 pounds in her last trimester - a feat the rest of her Lamaze class could only dream of.

But Molly, she was a different story. By twenty weeks Molly was tipping the scales at fourteen-five and literally busting out of her baby shower gifts. “What are we to do,” Rita railed between Molly’s now daily nighttime feedings, “just throw all those cute 0-3 month outfits away?”

That’s when a miracle named Dr. Raj Kapoor came into our lives!

Dr. Raj

Raj Tandori Kapoor, an India born, Taliban trained doctor, is a board certified* pediatric cosmetic surgeon. Known by the press as the “plastic surgeon to the stars’ babies,” Dr. Raj (as he likes to be called by friends and in court documents) is one of a literal handful of surgeons who performs baby liposuction. 

Upon our first visit to his unassuming fifth floor walk-up office in the heart of Koreatown, we sensed that our prayers had been answered. Stapled to the balloon and candy painted asbestos walls were photos - hundreds of them - showing the before and after results of Dr. Raj’s god-like talents. There was Bobby (not his real name), the once chunky cherub who had dropped two full diaper sizes overnight. Then there was Chandra Estelle (not her real first or middle name), a heifer of a preemie who was now showing a waistline for the first time in her 18 months (not her real age). And finally, Sherman (his real name, just misspelled), a brawny tyke who had entered the terrible twos with a definite “chick chest.” (As if the terrible twos aren’t hard enough!) Now sporting pec implants to contrast his rippling “six pack” abs, Sherman had been transformed from a tragic Gerber baby into a 2’9” hunk!

Sister Henny

The first person we met was the doctor’s patient coordinator, a gregarious former nun named Henny. Seated in her cramped yet cozy “orientation lounge,” we huddled around the folding card table and leafed through albums full of “before and after” snapshots…each two-picture set so astounding you hardly believed they were the same child. (Somehow the overall visual effect of baby lipo had made even their hair and eye colors seem “different.”) As we flipped from page to page, Sister Henny explained that cosmetic surgery for babies was really nothing new; pediatric surgeons for ages had been essentially doing cosmetic procedures on children born with unsightly deformities. The know-how and skills they had amassed with every cleft palate or three nostril nose they repaired was now being applied to more subtle birth defects like pudgy thighs and outies. Even moyles had added to the science of “cosmetic pediatrics.”**

Henny explained that the minimally invasive procedure was done under general anesthesia. (Or for those patients too young for safe anesthesia, sucking on a wash cloth dipped in Manischewitz wine. Thank you, moyles.) Henny went on to counsel us that any crying or screaming we might hear during the 3-plus hour operation was not due to pain, as children under the age of four cannot feel pain as we know it, but rather is due to the traumatic shock of seeing yellowish stuff shooting out of their tummies through a tube and into a large vacuum-like machine. (Children are afraid of vacuums, she reminded us with a smile.)

Henny then asked Molly what she considered her “problem areas.” Molly, as is typical in social settings, chose to simply hide under mommy’s jacket. Rita, on the other hand, recited a litany of body parts that she wanted improved or otherwise lopped off. From Molly’s saddle bag thighs to her Pillsbury Doughboy belly and buns, Rita felt that Molly deserved all the benefits that medical science and Molly’s ten thousand dollar college trust fund could serve up. Henny enthusiastically agreed, adding that “baby fat” was a social stigma best left back in the twentieth century, like polio and near-sightedness. (Yes, Molly was also a candidate for baby LASIK, we learned, and could be tested as soon as she knew enough alphabet letters to read an eye chart.)

Moments later, we were ushered into the examining room, where we finally met Dr. Raj himself. A tall, bearded Sikh with chiseled good looks and a warm three tooth smile, Dr. Raj quickly bonded with Molly by letting her talk into his stethoscope and play with his scalpel.

While Molly happily “played cosmetic surgeon” on an old teddy bear, Dr. Raj showed us a computer simulation of what the new Molly would look like. As we watched an image of our only child morphing before our eyes from pudgy cherub to the striking princess we both knew was inside her, Rita and I gushed with pride. “I always knew my baby could be beautiful,” Rita whimpered into her fat-free mocha latte. Molly occasionally glanced at the onscreen images with a bewildered look on her face, as if to say “Who is that lucky kid that looks like me but with an hour-glass figure?”

Then after being ushered back to Sister Henny’s lounge for an hour of signing consent forms and legal releases that apparently prevent the doctor from committing malpractice as it’s defined by the courts (a welcomed comfort, to be sure), we set out to the serious business of picking a date. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years - these options were all quickly rejected as no parent wants to play nurse to a recuperating toddler during their paid vacation time. The end of October? That was perilously close to Halloween, and why take a chance that Molly would still be bedridden when Rita and I had already picked out our hilarious Sonny and Cher costumes for our health club’s annual Monsterobics Ball?

That’s when Henny again came to our rescue. “What about October 9th? It’s a Friday, the doctor has a late tee off time, and you’ll have the entire three day Columbus Day weekend for Molly to recuperate.” “October 9th!” Rita exclaimed. “Molly’s birthday!” And what better present to give any little girl than a full-body makeover? So it was agreed; Molly would spend her second birthday in the loving hands of Dr. Raj and the caring staff at The 93rd Street Medical and Family Planning Institute. (Or as Mapquest curiously labels it, “El Instituto Medico y Aborto.”)

The Big Day

October 9th couldn’t have come soon enough. That morning I think Molly was more excited than us, waking as she did at 5:35 a.m… a full ten minutes before her normal wake-up time. Once Rita and I were freshly showered and Rita had plucked her eyebrows for the big day, we were in the car and on our way, arriving at the Instituto just in time to see the nightshift surgical staff greet the morning daylight and head for their Metro buses back home.

In the O.R. waiting room, we met ten other families who had also booked Dr. Raj for this morning. Whether by coincidence or design, I relished the chance to share this life changing event with people from third world nations on every continent. It warmed my heart to see the smiles of all those parents as they whispered “goodbye” in their native tongue and handed their screaming, kicking bambinos to the nurses who would be their “O.R. mommies” for the next five to nine hours. With the last of the crying tykes gone, the parents were left to bond as we silently pantomimed what procedures our kids were having done. Rita even evoked a hearty laugh from the others as she ran her hands from head to toe and then gave a seductive lipo lap dance to a Guatemalan double amputee.

The next four hours were fairly uneventful, save for the two or three “code blue” calls that sent the staff scurrying in every direction. (“I’d hate to see what they do for a code red,” I chuckled to myself.)

Before Rita was even back from her tanning session, Henny emerged to tell us Molly was in the recovery room and that “we were one of the lucky ones.” (Which I took to mean that the results were even better than promised.) By the time Molly started to come to, I could already discern through the heavy gauze and IV tubes that this was not the same girl I had read “Corduroy Goes To The Doctor” with the night before. Her lifeless eyes and fully dilated pupils did little to hide the joy she must have felt, knowing that by the time she was potty trained she would be thinner and lovelier than even the most emaciated preemies.

Before and After!

It is now six months later, and while the final results won’t be fully apparent for another 8 to 16 years, we can begin to see the woman who will evolve from our little girl. Once a toddler’s T2, Molly is already back in 6-12 months sizes and Rita can happily shop in the infant department again. (And saving all that $ on smaller clothes makes the operation almost pay for itself!)

And Molly, well…you be the judge. A picture is worth a thousand words. And ten thousand dollars. And whether we can ever replenish that college fund seems insignificant now. Because we know that our little angel - the in vitro fruit of our loins - will now and forever be the petite and shapely girl we can be somewhat proud of.

* The Mostly International Board of Elective Pediatric Surgery
** A medical term stubbornly rejected by the AMA, FDA, PTA and FBI.

Kevin Kelton is a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and the proud father of two very sexy toddlers.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Writing in Coffee Houses

Years ago, I read David Mamet's Writing in Restaurants and it had a profound impact on me. But the title of this blog is not autobiographical. Yes, I occasionally match laptop to latte and answer a few emails or surf the web while enjoying the coffee house view. But I write in the solitary confides of my home office, where real objective commentary can take place.

As Mamet said, the restaurant writer can be "both observed and unobserved" - at once an actor in the scene and its audience. But even if the writer goes truly unobserved, it "affects not a jot the scourge of popular opinion on his overactive mind." In that sense, the title "Writing in Coffee Houses" is a metaphor for our present media culture, where newscasters cover stories while being inexorably entwined in them. Trying to be a referee while playing in the game.

Case in point: MSNBC's "Morning Joe," which is not only brought to you by Starbucks, the hosts sip from Starbucks cups during the newscast and joyously profess their addiction to it. The network apparently has no qualms about this shameless product placement and the potential conflict of interest.

But this morning that conflict morphed from theoretical to real. While reporting a news story on a new Temple University study that suggests caffeine does not "sober you up" when drunk and may even make matters worse by creating the illusion of sobriety (an ominous finding given the scourge of drunk driving), "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski hugged - yes, literally hugged - a bag of Starbucks coffee grinds emblazoned with the "Morning Joe" logo and did a pitch for it ("did you know you can get this in your local grocery store?") as she questioned the news story's accuracy and relevance. "I just drink it to get rid of the [alcohol-induced] headache," she protested - therein endorsing both the product and the exact destructive behavior the coffee study was meant to discourage. If that isn't a journalistic conflict of interest, what is?

But "Morning Joe" regularly takes product placement one step further, also product placing their heavily biased political opinions into their news coverage - again with no qualms about the inherent conflict. When his book, The Last Best Hope, came out last fall, host Joe Scarborough regularly injected plugs for his conservative "how-to-defeat-Democrats" handbook into the news coverage and political discourse - oblivious to the inherent conflict of interest.

Doesn't anyone at MSNBC realize that when they embrace this mix of analysis and advocacy, shamelessly plugging their own books that argue one side of the very subjects they are ostensibly "reporting" on, they are breaking the time-honored rules of journalism? They are not merely writing in coffee house; they are the customers and owners.

A lot of what I write in this blog will be personal - some meant to be funny, some meant to be insightful. But if I start writing in a vacuum of self-denial, let me know. In which case, I'll close my laptop and enjoy my latte and the view.