A nip/tuck nightmare
Lindsay McCurdy wanted a facelift for her 50th birthday. But when she signed up to a television makeover show, she got far more than she bargained for...
Published 10/10/2007 | 14:58
I always said that when I turned 50 I was going to have a big party and instead of having presents, ask for contributions to a facelift fund. But a few months before my birthday, one of my daughters saw an advert on the internet asking for people to apply to go on a makeover show called A Brand New You.
So I applied and, two weeks later, got invited in for a series of interviews with the production company RDF. There were just eight contestants picked out of 8,000 applicants and, the day after I was told I'd been selected, I was on a plane to Los Angeles.
When I arrived, we checked into a hotel on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. My original plan was just for a facelift but during the initial consultations they suggested I also have a tummy tuck, liposuction and a boob job. A lot of the other applicants were having boob jobs done and I could see why, but I definitely didn't want one - I am very happy with my bust. I started to feel as if they were trying to give me surgery I'd never thought about or wanted. When I told them that, it caused a bit of upset. They told me I should take the opportunity while it was all free, that we'd have the best cosmetic surgeons in the world and that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They said, the treatment I'd be getting would be worth around £200,000.
The first operations I had were the facelift, eyelid job and brow lift. All those went really well. It was an eight-hour operation but there was no pain and I was up and about straight away. A week later I had the tummy tuck. That was a nine-hour operation and they took away three pounds of fat. Because I'd had five kids my muscles were gone so, at the same time, they tightened them all up. As soon as I came round, when I was still half awake, I was taken out in a wheelchair, put in the back of a car and driven back to the hotel. We didn't have any hospital care - they provided nursing staff for 24 hours after the operation in the hotel just to keep an eye on us. I got moved into another room to share with another contestant - that way we could have one nurse between the two of us, making it cheaper. I can't actually remember much of the journey back to the hotel because I was still only half conscious from all the anaesthetic, but within six hours of the tummy tuck, the staff were making me sit up and trying to get me to walk around.
Not long after that I started to feel ill. I was in lots of pain on my right-hand side and I couldn't put my leg down on the floor properly. Despite this, three days later, they came and took me to get my hair done. I had my hair dyed black at the time and they wanted to strip all the colour out. They had me in a hairdresser's seat for six hours while they did this. Remember, I'd been stitched up from one hip to the other - hundreds of stitches deep into my muscles just days before. I was in agony.
On the way back to the hotel they started talking to me about me having liposuction on the Thursday. You're awake during that operation and they stick metal prods into you and suck out the fat. There's no way, I told them, in the state I'm in that I can go through with that.
I still wasn't feeling right at all so I asked if I could see a doctor. They sent one over the following evening and it turned out that I had a bad infection called cellulitis. They put antibiotics into my drainage tubes, drips in my arm and I was taking strong antibiotics every couple of hours. I was becoming increasingly worried. I was talking to my family back in the UK about what was going on and they were so worried for me they asked my cousin, who is a doctor and lives in America, to come and visit me. She flew down from Colorado but they evicted her from the hotel before she could even get to my room.
I think they thought I was trouble because I kept raising questions about what was happening to me. If we wanted to talk to anyone about our medical procedures we had to go through our directors, as opposed to the doctors, and we were never given the chance to see the doctors alone. It was difficult to have a normal conversation and ask important questions about your body with a camera seven inches from your face. I felt incredibly isolated and worried, and actually rang BA to try and book a flight home. But when BA heard about all my drainage tubes they refused to fly me. I felt as if I was trapped in the States unable to make any decisions for myself. On the Friday night at midnight they came and collected me and took me away to a local clinic called Tranquility. They said it was for my own good.
I stayed there for the weekend and then, on the Monday, they came and picked me up. Now it was time to get my teeth done. They were going to put implants in my gums in place of my dentures - a new £100,000 revolutionary treatment apparently. I was in the dentist's chair for 12 hours and they broke my upper jaw eight times with a hammer and a chisel. I was conscious throughout and by the end of it my body was completely giving out. I got back to the clinic at midnight and then the next day they picked me up in the morning for another five hours of work. After that they took me to get my eyes done. Even though I'd never had to wear glasses in my life they gave me laser treatment. They told me that although my eyes were fine now, as I got older the muscles would start to go, leaving me with bad sight, and this surgery would help delay the moment I had to start wearing glasses.
Finally, the ordeal was over and I had my "reveal" in Keanu Reeves' mansion up in the Hollywood Hills, which was all very nice. I thought my face was fantastic but my body shape hadn't changed at all, I was still in pain and I couldn't see properly - I now have to wear glasses. When I got back to England my stomach started to feel very wrong - it felt hot to the touch and very tender. Then, in May, I was having a cup of coffee and four of my teeth fell out. It took weeks of me walking round with metal spikes in my mouth before I found a dentist who could sort me out. In June, the other eight fell out.
I found out later that all the contestants who went on the show suffered from some sort of depression afterwards. Perhaps it was a result of having so much surgery in such a short space of time. One woman had one side of her boob job collapse. She flew back to have it sorted, but when she came back the other one collapsed. The marriages of another two of the contestants broke up after we got back as well - these were really strong, long marriages.
I think that someone definitely needs to take some sort of ownership of what they do to people on these shows. This is surgery we're talking about, people's bodies, it's not all just over and done with straight away. Of course, I didn't expect aftercare for life, but I do think there is a moral obligation to look after people. I have spoken to a lawyer who said he thinks I have a case, but to be honest my life has moved on and I'm not sure I can be bothered.
Not all bad has come of it though. Last year the contemporary artist Phil Collins got in touch with me. I thought it was a wind-up but he invited me to London to take part in a project for the Turner Prize. Me and a group of other people who'd had bad experiences on TV went to the Cafe Royal and got to tell our stories in front of the press. I found it enormously therapeutic. I'm now going to be an "artwork" in another project he's doing at a London gallery.
I fear that one day something really drastic is going to happen on one of these shows. I don't think I'm naïve, but when it comes to how TV shows are made I think I was incredibly naïve. I was vain and wanted a facelift but that was it. n
A spokesperson for Channel Five declined to comment on the allegations in this piece.
Lindsay McCurdy appears in 'The Return of the Real' by Phil Collins at the Victoria Miro Gallery, 16 Wharf Road, London N1, tel: 020 7336 8109, until 10 November. For more information visit www.victoria-miro.com
While we were there, if we wanted to talk to anyone abut our medical procedures we had to go through our directors as opposed to the doctors. We were never given the chance to see the doctors alone, every time we had a consultation we'd have a director filming us. It was difficult to have a normal conversation and ask important questions about your body with a camera seven inches from your face.
I phoned and emailed the production company to find out what I should do but nobody answered - the production team had moved on to other jobs and I felt like they had washed their hands of me.
I feel until something really drastic happens, until somebody actually dies on one of these shows, they will continue to get away with it. They are a law unto themselves and entirely unaccountable
When I emailed the production staff to tell them about my stomach I found it hard to get a response from them. After the show was made many of the staff had moved on to new projects, and it was hard to get in touch with anyone. We came back to England at the beginning of December but it wasn't until February that I went to a clinic for my aftercare.
I ended up in agony with directors shouting down the phone at me telling me how ungrateful I was.