Difference between Bad Surgery and Good with a Complication.

As trifling as it may seem to the layperson, aesthetic surgery is serious business. Apart from obvious cosmetic ramifications, the seriousness becomes understandable when one considers that the surgeon must first make a healthy patient temporarily unwell in order to make he or she look better in the end. It is for this very reason plastic surgeons have an added unique responsibility which surgeons of other specialties simply do not bear. Choosing to undergo elective surgery is a series of decisions made by both the surgeon and the patient. As with all aspects of medicine, nothing is absolute, it is about controlling probability.

In this day and age, patients increasingly view plastic surgery as nothing more than a haircut with a short recovery, let alone one with a complication. Even under the best of hands, a complication can arise for any number of reasons and if it does, acting as a team with your surgeon is crucial.  Whether following a facelift, rhinoplasty or any plastic surgery for that matter, almost all complications can be fixed in the end, even if multiple surgical revisions are needed.

It is normal for the layman to consider surgical results as either “good” or “bad”,  but those adjectives can be misleading and are certainly inadequate in revealing the true story behind the result.

“Good” surgery with a complication is not the same as “bad” surgery per se. In other words, complications do not all come from “bad” surgeons and indeed, “bad” surgeons may have  successfully completed an operation without encountering obvious complications. I think it fair to say most patients consider themselves as good people and if a complication happens to them, they will perceive themselves as victims of a bad surgery and by extension, a bad surgeon. So what is the difference between “bad” surgery and a “good” surgery with a complication?

Look at it this way… in any profession, there are the “good”, the “bad” and the “excellent”. For the sake of this discussion, let’s just oversimplify the comparison between “good” and the “bad”. Since plastic surgery is as much an art (or at least an artisanal craft) as it is a science, whereby results are measured both objectively and subjectively, it is not unreasonable to compare a plastic surgeon to any artist or craftsman, including sculptors, painters and woodworkers. Artists filter their talent and vision through years of experience to not only earn but continually solidify their reputation as either being “good” or “bad”. Moreover, good artists become respected by not just producing one “good” piece but doing so consistently, whereas the “bad” consistently create sub par results as judged by the median consensus.

However, all artists, whether good or bad, are limited by the quality of material with which they work. It is known that Michelangelo’s David has been deteriorating at a far more rapid pace than would be expected because of the poor quality of its marble composition. Bernini also broke a piece of marble in half through chiseling into an unexpected vein in the stone causing him to start all over with a brand-new block. Does that make him a bad artist? Hardly not.

In other words, complications happen and that’s why there are consents to protect not only the doctor but also the patient. Consents should ensure the patients are informed as to the shared risk both they and the surgeon take when undergoing surgery.

Many complications are avoidable. Both doctors and patients must do their part to optimize a certain outcome and minimize the risk of complications. Patients must avoid certain medications that may promote bleeding, cease all smoking for optimal circulation, follow instructions and take medications as prescribed. Otherwise, surgery may be self-sabotaged. On the other hand, surgeons must do their part in educating and performing the proper operation in the right patient with skill and dedication.

Other complications are unavoidable and just because they may be explainable in hindsight does not mean they were avoidable within the context they occurred. This is why it is paramount that patients disclose all of their medical history and follow their surgeon’s instructions to a T in order to minimize unexpected situations such as abnormal bleeding, poor wound healing, etc..

What spurred me to write this particular blog was a recent experience having performed a complex revision rhinoplasty on a dear friend of mine of 20 years. Unfortunately, this advanced detailed nasal reconstruction was exacerbated by unexpected physiological conditions including excessive bleeding and poor tissue characteristics. The next day, the patient presented with so much swelling underneath the pressure cast that it was being pushed off the face. The swelling was a hematoma which I immediately evacuated from under the skin (it was 4 1/2 mL, being the largest nasal hematoma encountered by either my colleagues or myself). Accompanying this was necrosis (death) of the columellar skin (the partition separating his left and right nostrils). This was particularly disappointing to say the least because the surgical results in terms of nasal shape, symmetry, tip definition and projection were otherwise excellent. Yet losing coverage over the columella would have serious ramifications.

Despite attempts to bring vascularized tissue using local intraoral flaps, my friend eventually needed the help of a certain specialist to bring fresh tissue to the columella below the nasal tip with a temporary forehead flap.

The arrows on the drawing illustrate that portion of the nasal skin (overlying the columella) that was necrotic. Replacement is required through vascularized tissue flaps

Albeit exceedingly rare, this 1.5 x 1.2 cm skin loss was enough to eradicate not only their trust in me as a surgeon but also our long term friendship. Most patients understandably experience a spectrum of emotions including panic, sadness, denial, anger and ultimately acceptance from a complication such as this. However, nothing could prepare me for the degree of ongoing vengeful anger and hostility the patient and their partner have directed towards me including threats to go to the press and ruin my reputation.

Anger is not only destructive but also lacks focus, therefore it can be especially counterproductive to both healing and a good result (not to mention friendship!). Premature castigations of blame fuel brash, illogical decisions which actually complicate the original complication.

Understanding the differences between “bad” and “good” surgery and “good” surgery with a complication can certainly help put things in perspective. When a patient concedes the net surgical aesthetic result, at least in terms of shape and symmetry, as good if not excellent, he or she is less likely to question, and more likely trust, their original choice of surgeon. Whether their breast lift incision opened or, as in this case, a small but strategic portion of nasal skin died, the affected patient will see the “bigger picture” and believe their surgeon will  do the right thing by having their best interests at heart. This same patient understands that they were not necessarily a victim or unjustifiably punished by “bad” surgery. Instead, they will accept things for what they are, learn patience and develop a sense of optimism to set themselves up for the best possible outcome in the future.

The majority of complications concern wound healing and minor infections. For these, possible antibiotics and the “tincture of time” for healing to occur are required. Other times, simple, clinical interventions such as laser treatment, injections, the occasional scar revision and creams are all that are needed.

Other complications require more invasive solutions. Depending on the type of complication, an expeditious trip to the operatory maybe all that is required (e.g.,to drain a hematoma) whereas staged surgical revisions may be undertaken in the extremely rare case of tissue loss.

Most surgeons will recognize if a particular complication is beyond their level of expertise. A patient should not feel abandoned or simply passed off if they are referred to another expert if a complication warrants it. It is important to recognize that medicine is team work and the referral is simply a reflection of the original surgeon’s dedication to the best outcome possible.

Emotional advice after a complication

Watch out for advice with an agenda. It is understandable that if a complication does arise, fear and anxiety will prompt you to seek solace and advice from friends and family members. While this is wholeheartedly encouraged, it is important to remember that not all the advice given is good especially considering that those giving advice are not often doctors nor do they know the intricate details of the patient’s particular case. Though most advice is well-meaning in intent, some may be motivated by guilt, jealousy, personality disorders or just plain ignorance. Furthermore, the advice a patient may obtain from elsewhere may be counterproductive because it may only increase their level of anxiety.

Stay optimistic and avoid jumping to any pessimistic conclusions. It is not unheard of that acute anxiety will provoke a patient to impatiently reach for the help of an alternative plastic surgeon. Unfortunately, some plastic surgeons may be unscrupulous and advise the fragile, highly suggestible patient into unnecessary and ill-timed surgery claiming it is urgently needed to prevent some permanent deformity. Always keep a line of communication open with the original plastic surgeon to not only help allay personal fears but also be guided in the right direction with a second opinion if necessary.

“A good patient is an educated patient”-

Randal D. Haworth M.D., F.A.C.S.

Board Certified Plastic Surgeon

Beverly Hills

Open or Closed? the Pitfalls of a Cookie-Cutter Rhinoplasty.

New techniques always emerge which supplant the old. The same is true with the plastic surgical procedure called rhinoplasty, or in common parlance, nose job. A nose is basically composed of three materials: overlying skin with associated fat, bone and cartilage.


A rhinoplasty involves:

  1. changing the shape and slant of the bones through selective filing and cutting
  2. changing the shape of the cartilages through removal, adding and reshaping with sutures and
  3. in selected cases, “defatting” the skin to allow the shape of the cartilages and bone to “shine through”.  

In order to perform the rhinoplasty, the surgeon must gain access to the underlying bone and cartilage through either through a closed or open technique. The former involves making incisions confined to within the nostrils and performing the surgery through the limited exposure that these incisions thus provide.  The latter, open technique, involves making the same incisions within the nostrils but joining them across the columella (the fleshy partition that separates the left and right nostril at the base of the nose).

I am frankly surprised and amused that in 2017, some plastic surgeons still insist that the closed technique, when “performed properly”,  provides equal or even superior results than those obtained with an open one. These same surgeons cite a few old masters of closed rhinoplasty from  the 1970s and 80s to support their contention that the closed method is superior. However, the best results from these old Masters do not parallel those obtained from top rhinoplasty surgeons today. Whether you like it or not, progress is inevitable and the new masters of today produce better results than the masters of yore.

I recently attended two conferences  hosting some of the top thought leaders in rhinoplasty surgery. As expected, there was not one expert in the room who would consider closed rhinoplasty an option to achieve the delicate and precise results expected by their patients.  Indeed, even in their hands they  felt that a closed rhinoplasty generally leads to a subpar result. Imagine having to work on the engine of your car only through the left and right front wheel wells. Without opening the hood to gain full unimpeded access to the engine, your ability to effectively work is exceedingly hampered.

The results of any plastic surgery should be measured by the end visual result and not by the process to achieve it. 

Those who promote closed rhinoplasty as better invariably cite less swelling and no potentially visible scar as their main selling point,  but this is a fallacious argument. When properly performed, as a top Beverly Hills rhinoplasty expert, Dr Randal Haworth has seen minimal to no difference in postoperative swelling between the open and closed methods and the scars essentially become invisible whether you are a young model or a 70-year-old person. The proponents of closed rhinoplasty  proudly display their early smooth and symmetrical results as being superior. However, in the early postoperative period, it is the very swelling that the closed proponents claim is not there that may be masking inaccurate nasal construction below. This can be seen in the many examples of  famous noses heralded in their early postoperative period but turn out poorly constructed when their swelling dissipated. Generally avoidable deformities such as inverted V deformities, pinched tips and crooked noses become unavoidably visible no matter how much makeup contouring and good lighting is available.

Famous Noses and  Deformities via Closed Techniques:

After closed rhinoplasty with obvious ‘inverted V” deformity, pinched tip and lack of harmony between the upper and lower portion of the nose
Bella Hadid with nasal deformities after closed rhinoplasty
Note the lack of continuity between the upper bony portion of the nose and the lower cartilaginous portion. An obvious “inverted V” deformity and pinched tip do not help the situation.
Ashlee Simpson with nasal deformities after closed rhinoplasty
After a closed rhinoplasty, note crooked appearance, asymmetrical and drooping pinch tip
                         

Examples of Complex Rhinoplasties Performed through the Open Technique:

Open rhinoplasty
Significant congenital asymmetry of the nostrils. After an open rhinoplasty-note significantly improved symmetry with minimal scar that a closed rhinoplasty technique can’t achieve
Unfortunate result from a closed rhinoplasty with “inverted V” deformity and asymmetrical, bulbous tip. An open rhinoplasty was performed with significant improvement of the nose
Unfortunate result from a closed rhinoplasty with “inverted V” deformity, retracted nostrils and asymmetrical, bulbous tip. An open rhinoplasty was performed with significant improvement of the nose
Unfortunate result from a closed rhinoplasty with “inverted V” deformity, retracted nostrils and asymmetrical, bulbous tip. An open rhinoplasty was performed with significant improvement of the nose
Another example of noticeable congenital asymmetry of the nostrils. After an open rhinoplasty-note significantly improved symmetry with minimal scar that a closed rhinoplasty technique can’t achieve

When precise control over the shape and symmetry of the nose is required as well as control over the subtle light reflexes and shadows embodying the beauty of a nose, nothing beats an experienced surgeon with a precise touch, an aesthetic sensibility and an open rhinoplasty technique.

Dr.Randal Haworth

2017

Nostril narrowing through Weir excisions does not have to look fake

Wier excisions are very powerful tools to augment a rhinoplasty. This is a procedure that I usually perform at the conclusion of a nose job in order to refine and narrow the nostrils while controlling the flare when smiling. Most people and surgeons alike equate this procedure to simply narrowing the “floor” of the nostril by cutting out some skin but it is actually more nuanced than that. The design of the excision can be customized by changing the angulation, the position and the width of the cuts which, in turn, can change not only the dimensions but also the curvature of the actual nostril itself. A deep permanent suture is often used as well to prevent re-widening of the nostrils and reduce tension across the scar. Reducing tension across the scar as well as accurate angulation is important to achieve a nearly invisible scar. So many times I have seen obvious notching that is visible from 5 feet away and is a definite giveaway of having had a rhinoplasty. Weir excisions can be also be performed in conjunction with an upper lip lift adding to the complexity of the procedure. As a rhinoplasty and lip lift expert, I have performed hundreds of these combination techniques with excellent results. All facial plastic surgery, whether it’s primary or revisional, is challenging but taking the time to address all the details and plan them accordingly can maximize the aesthetic outcome that is not only beautiful but natural as well. The devil is in the details so to speak.
Poor rhinoplasty result with crooked , distorted tip and obvious nostril scarring after a Weir excision
Poor rhinoplasty result with crooked , distorted tip and obvious nostril scarring after a Weir excision
Again, note obvious nostril scarring from Weirs and tell-tale signs of a past rhinoplasty
Again, note obvious nostril scarring from Weirs and tell-tale signs of a past rhinoplasty
Before and after revision rhinoplasty and Weir excision as performed by Dr. RANDAL HAWORTH
Before and after revision rhinoplasty and Weir excision as performed by Dr. RANDAL HAWORTH
Primary rhinoplasty and Weir excision to narrow the nostrils in Asian patient. Note added tip projection and lack of notching
Primary rhinoplasty and Weir excision to narrow the nostrils in Asian patient. Note added tip projection and lack of notching
Primary rhinoplasty, Weir excision and concomitant upper lip lift as performed by Dr. Haworth
Primary rhinoplasty, Weir excision and concomitant upper lip lift as performed by Dr. Haworth