Sheila had been the victim of a terrible crime and she hoped cosmetic surgery would help her face the future, but going under the surgeon’s knife was about to make things a whole lot worse.
Sheila suffered a massive allergic reaction to the staples in her facelift and could have died from an infection that ate the flesh of her cheek leaving her without earlobes and facing years of reconstructive surgery on the NHS.
Now after winning a pay out, she remains scarred and wants to warn other women against surgery…
The man towered over me, his face hidden by a black balaclava.
‘Open it!’ he yelled, pointing towards the safe with the iron bar he clutched in his other hand. ‘Open it now!’
Frozen to the spot, my mouth opened and closed like a fish.
‘I can’t!’ I eventually managed. ‘I haven’t got the key!’
Suddenly, I felt something brush my cheek. The iron bar? My hands jerked up in self-defence…
‘No! Please, no!’ I screamed.
‘Shhh, it’s alright, love,’ my partner Steve soothed. ‘It’s just a dream. You’re safe now.’
‘Oh Steve,’ I wept. ‘When is this ever going to end?’
It had been over two years now, but the nightmares still seemed just as real.
I was cashing up in the back room of the petrol station when I heard a kerfuffle out front. I walked out to find three men grabbing fistfuls of money from the till, looting the CDs, anything they could lay their hands on.
‘Call the police, Sheila. We’re being robbed!’ my colleague yelled.
I pulled out my mobile but it was too late. One of them frog marched me to the office, demanded I open the safe.
‘I’ll kill yer if you try anything stupid,’ He threatened. ‘I swear.’
But I didn’t have the key for the safe.
‘Please don’t hurt me,’ I cried, frantic.
Luckily, a passerby realised what was going on. As he entered the shop the robbers panicked and legged it past him.
I pressed the panic button.
‘Thank God you’re OK,’ Steve said when I made it home and called him to explain what had happened.
But I wasn’t. Not really.
As the weeks passed, the police were no closer to catching the men. I couldn’t remember their faces but knew they had local accents. Soon, every group of young men I saw became a suspect.
‘What if they recognise me?’ I fretted. ‘Find out where I live?’
I couldn’t stop worrying. I refused to leave the house on my own. And even then I wasn’t safe. I suffered panic attacks, flashbacks and awful nightmares.
‘You can’t go on like this, love,’ Steve said.
He made me an appointment with our GP. I was diagnosed with stress disorder, prescribed antidepressants and referred to a counselor.
But more than anything, I wished there was a way I could just disappear…
I’d daydreamed about having a facelift in the past, but now I needed it more than ever. As well as ironing out all those worry lines, looking younger might help make me less recognisable to the robbers.
‘If I could afford it, you’d have one tomorrow,’ Steve promised.
There was fat chance of that. Neither of us had a spare £10,000. But then I had a thought…
By the time my compensation for the attack finally came through, I’d made up my mind.
‘Are you sure about this, Mum?’ my daughter worried.
But it was the perfect solution. With my new face I’d finally be able to put all this behind me and move on.
The following month, I was wheeled down to theatre for a facelift, eye job and chemical wrinkle removal.
I was in surgery for nearly five hours. But I didn’t mind. It would all be worth it.
But as soon as I came round from the anesthetic, I knew something had gone badly wrong. I’d expected some swelling My skin felt like it was stretched so tight it was going to burst and I was struggling to breathe.
When the nurse handed me a mirror I gasped. My face was the size of a beach ball and I could hardly breathe.
‘Please,’ I need to see my surgeon,’ I begged.
But he didn’t seem concerned. ‘Take these antibiotics. It’ll settle down,’ he said.
But my face continued to swell. Soon it was more than twice its usual size.
‘There’s something terribly wrong,’ I said to a concerned Steve. ‘I just know it.’
After three days I was allowed home. But I was still in agony.
Would my face ever go back to its normal size? I fretted. Yes, I’d wanted to look different, but not like this.
Back home, I couldn’t sleep. I had crippling stomach cramps and terrible diarrhoea too.
Wanting to help, Steve turned to the Internet.
And after a few hours of trawling, it seems he had a lead –
‘Listen to this!’ he called.
Research showed the staples from my facelift would have contained enough nickel to trigger an allergic reaction, botching the surgery.
But I’d told them about my nickel allergy at my consultation, seen them write it down on my notes. How could they have been so stupid…?
We went back to the hospital. But nobody would admit to anything. Still, Steve refused to give up. So he did some detective work, managed to find out whom the staples were manufactured by.
And when he came off the phone to the company – ‘I knew it! They’re 14% nickel!’ he announced.
‘So what do we do now?’ I asked.
He wasn’t sure. ‘But this isn’t the end of this,’ he fumed
Finally, after a week the horrific swelling started to recede. I was relieved, until I noticed a foul smell, like rotting drains, following me around.
‘It’s coming from my face!’ I finally realised.
We rushed back to the hospital. After examining me, surgeons discovered a pus-filled abscess in my cheek. I screamed in pain as they siphoned gunk from the abscess to be sent off for testing.
But days passed and instead of getting better the pain worsened. Then a small black hole appeared in my right cheek. My flesh was being eaten away!
‘What’s happening to me?’ I sobbed.
Tests finally revealed I was suffering from a pseudomonas infection. Usually only transmitted during surgery, it was potentially lethal.
‘Am I going to die?’ I wailed.
I could hardly believe it. I’d escaped armed robbers only to be staring death in the face again…
To fight the virus I was put on a drip, which sent strong antibiotics coursing around my body.
‘We’ll get you through this,’ Steve promised.
But I felt like I was being eaten alive as the skin around my ears also started to blacken and die.
After a week of treatment doctors finally got the infection under control and the patches started to scab. But my whole face was a mess. It looked like I’d been savaged by a dangerous dog. The flesh under my cheek had been eaten away giving one side of my face a sunken appearance; I had scarring from the infection, and my ear lobes were destroyed. In short, I looked and felt awful.
The robbers definitely wouldn’t recognise me now…nobody would. Looking in the mirror, I broke down. My surgery was supposed to make me feel better, but I’d never felt – or looked – worse.
‘What have I done to myself?’ I wept.
I refused to go out unless absolutely necessary, and even then I would wrap a scarf around my face. I felt like a leper.
I could hardly believe it when my surgeon offered to carry out reconstructive surgery on my face.
‘That man isn’t going anywhere near me ever again!’ I cried.
The following February, I began reconstructive work on the NHS to try and shape me new earlobes.
It was one of my doctors who asked if I planned to sue. Until then, I hadn’t even realised I could.
Do you really think I’d have a case?’ I asked him.
‘What do you think?’ he asked, handing me a mirror.
I called my solicitor that afternoon.
The following January, I accepted an out of court payment of £10,000. But no amount of money would help me to regain my looks, my confidence. and my life.
Yes, the reconstructive surgery is making a difference, but I still need more. My surgeon’s explained I’ll need fat grafted from other parts of my face to try and rebuild my collapsed cheeks.
It’s a long process and I don’t know how I’ll feel at the end of it. I still don’t like leaving the house and will turn my face away when I speak to people, especially strangers.
It’s ironic really. I did all this to feel better about myself, to look like someone else. Now I’d give anything to go back to looking like the old me.
I thought a facelift was the answer to all my problems. In fact, it was only the start. So if you’re thinking of having surgery, I beg you to reconsider. Take a good look at my face – what’s a few lines and wrinkles compared to this?