A few weeks ago I was scheduled for endoscopic sinus surgery and a septoplasty. Since moving to Houston I have suffered from chronically clogged sinuses and allergy symptoms and finally decided to see an ENT specialist, who ordered a CT scan and on the next visit showed me the films, pointing out the ghostly impression of my ineffective sinus tracts. She recommended the surgery, blithely telling me that she had had it herself and was at the mall shopping two days later. That sounded good to me, so I scheduled it.
As the date for the procedure came closer, I started doing more research and found that the procedure is a lot more serious than my doctor had led me to believe. If you can stomach it, search “endoscopic surgery” on youtube (as I did) and you’ll see that the doctor goes into the nose, alters the shape of the deviated septum, then makes her way up into the sinuses, re-shaping and excising portions of them along the way, with the goal of clearing inflamed sinuses and making more room for air to pass through them. It looked disgusting and painful. I spent the week prior to the surgery trying to decide if my symptoms really warranted this surgery. I even had a dream in which the doctor carved tunnels through the inside of my face. By the morning of the surgery I was very, very nervous.
I was actually on a stretcher, in a gown, with an IV in my arm when I decided not to go through with it. When the anesthesiologist came by, the first thing he said was that I was going to be in a lot of pain today and over the next few days and that it would be several weeks before I would feel “normal” again. I lay there and cried for a bit and finally decided there was nothing so wrong with me as to merit the severe pain, swelling, bleeding, restriction of activity, and even the risk – which my doctor did not tell me about – of having to have repeat procedures, endoscopic irrigations, etc. When I left the hospital intact and pain-free it was such a relief.
Among my considerations in the week prior to the surgery was that maybe from an Islamic standpoint altering my anatomy wasn’t the right solution. As I said, if you really want to know, check out a youtube video and you’ll see what they do with their little clipping and clamping and sucking instruments. I would have no problem with surgical treatment of something life-threatening or dangerous, such as a tumor or cyst. But to undergo it electively is another story.
I wrote an article for Azizah magazine a couple years ago about plastic surgery from an Islamic standpoint. The virtually unanimous consensus of Islamic authorities is that elective cosmetic surgery runs contrary to Islamic principles. Many of the sources I interviewed quoted these verses from the Qur’an:
Allah did curse him [Satan], but he said: “I will take of Thy servants a portion Marked off;
“I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the (fair) nature created by Allah.” Whoever, forsaking Allah, takes Satan for a friend, hath of a surety suffered a loss that is manifest. (An Nisaa, verse 118-119, Yusuf Ali translation)
The message is that vanity is a base emotion which diminishes your humility in the sight of God and your reverence for what he has created. Although my sinus surgery wasn’t intended to alter my appearance, it was intended to make my breathing easier by “improving” the shape of my nose and sinuses.
The day after my canceled surgery I read this article in the NY Times about a Lasik procedure gone wrong – the author, Abby Ellin, ended up among the small percentage of patients whose vision is decreased, not improved, by the procedure. She writes, “In our quick-fix culture, we forget that there are risks with any surgery, elective or not.” She was less fortunate than me. Somewhere along the way she didn’t absorb the idea that, as she points out, surgical “success” is relative and may mean something different to the doctor than to the patient.
Interestingly, she starts the article by acknowledging that it was vanity that led her to the procedure. Although my surgery was not cosmetic, we were both guided by the idea that remodeling the anatomy is a good way to improve your body’s function. But I’d bet she would agree with me that unless you have a high-risk or life-threatening condition, maybe it is better just to be humble and live with your flaws and challenges.