You know you have an interesting medical practice when you’re seeing patients in Wilton on Wednesday, on Park Avenue in NYC on Thursday, and treating wounded warriors on Saturday.
But such is life for Dr. Elan Singer, a plastic surgeon based in Manhattan who is in Wilton seeing patients two times a month at Renaissance Beauty on Old Ridgefield Rd.
“Oh absolutely, it’s a brain switch. I’m going this Friday. I may be treating people with horrible injuries and Monday morning I’ll have someone complaining about Botox. People ask me all the time, how do you deal with cosmetics when you’re seeing these horrible real reconstructive issues?’ The answer is, if you have something that bothers you about your body or your face, and a reasonable person would agree, and I can see the problem and think I can offer a treatment that would actually improve it, then the answer is, ‘No problem.’ As long as you’re willing to accept the small risks that go along with these types of treatments, and you’re not asking for changes from head to toe, then there’s no problem with it.”
Most of the patients he sees or consults with here in Wilton talk to him for non-invasive procedures–Botox, fillers, chemical peels, etc., all office-based, non-surgical kinds of treatments. He also does consultations for surgical procedures that he performs in Manhattan. That’s one of the reasons he likes working at Renaissance Beauty, because the owner, Wilton resident Melissa Calafell, is also a registered nurse.
“Pre-op and post op visits can all be done here. Because Melissa is an R.N., she can really help me out with all kinds of surgical issues.” That is especially true, too, when Singer isn’t in Wilton, and something crops up, a patient can always give Calafell a call.
For her part, Calafell said it’s helpful having Singer as a medical director of the salon, because it makes it easier to provide some items like retinoids and eyelash enhancers to patients and clients because they’re available only by prescription. But, she said, there’s something more special about him than that: “So many things stand out, but first and foremost is that he still serves our country operating on our troops.”
Singer joined the Navy Reserve when he was a resident, but he’s become more active even since his initial commitment finished, reactivating in 2009 when he started his own medical practice. “Most military reserve medical units don’t do much more than go in on the weekends and do physicals, with the exception of my unit. We’re based in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, MD. I go once a month and do surgery–on active duty soldiers, reserve personnel, some of which are wounded warriors. That’s mostly during the week, so 3-4 times a year I’ll do that with active duty surgeons, doing major reconstructive surgeries.”
For some, the connection between a Park Ave. plastic surgeon and military medicine may seem illogical, but as Singer explained, his expertise is one that is crucial to the armed forces.
“People think about plastic surgery being fillers, Botox and liposuction, but if you look at the actual number and types of cases, most of plastic surgery is reconstruction, not cosmetic. In the military, it’s almost entirely reconstruction. Almost all of the wounded warriors end up getting plastic surgery procedures. You think more about general surgeons or a chest surgeon, and that’s all true, but almost everybody passes through the plastic surgery department. When 80 percent of the injuries are bomb blasts, although that’s dropping precipitously with Iraq and Afghanistan finishing, the numbers have gone down. But until then everyone was getting plastic surgery,” he said.
Singer’s decision to reactivate after he had already fulfilled his required time of duty grew out of his deep sense of philosophical commitment.
“I grew up in a military family–my father served in the Navy, my mother was in the Israeli Defense Forces, so I grew up with that. I believe in service to country, and I have a skill I can offer and I enjoy it, so why not.”
Perhaps because of the perspective his military work gives him, he often encourages patients to sit on hasty choices and think long and hard about it. “All the time, both for the small non invasive procedures and the larger surgeries. Based on a sense you get from somebody, or if I don’t think they’re ready. I once had a patient who was a model, whose agent told her she needed breast implants if she wanted to advance her career. I asked her, ‘What do you think?’ She said, ‘I’m scared, I don’t really want it, but if they tell me my career won’t advance I’ll do it but reluctantly.’ I said, ‘You’re not getting surgery from me, because you don’t want it, your agent wants it.’ Yes, it happens all the time.”
Singer makes some suggestions for things to consider first for anyone who is thinking about potentially having any kind of cosmetic work done, whether it’s surgical or non-invasive.
“One, it helps to talk to people who have had it done. There are a lot of people who are doing cosmetic procedures; it’s becoming more socially acceptable and less hidden, so it’s okay to talk about it with your friends and families and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. The second thing is go in for a consultation, and it should be someone you can trust. Look at their credentials—find a board certified plastic surgeon. See if you have chemistry with the doctor. Most times consultations are free or not expensive so it can’t hurt to see what your options are and if there’s a reasonable treatment for what’s bothering you.”
Another crucial thing to do, he said, is to ask to see before-and-after pictures. “That’s how you can tell what your expectations should be. Seventy-five percent of my job is expectations, and the rest of it is the procedure. That’s why I tell people to think about it or not do surgery, because the expectations that they have are different than my expectations. I think before-and-after pictures can help.”
And what about the cliché about Botox, that once you start you can’t stop and have to continue?
“That’s not true. Botox is a paralytic agent—it partially paralyzes muscle. It’s a short-acting product and lasts about three months. When you’re done, you go back to where you started from. You’re not worse off if you stop doing it. There are arguments that it can prevent wrinkles from getting worse. That’s not to say that 18-year-old women should come in for Botox, I don’t believe in that. But as soon as you start seeing an issue, or do have a problem, and you want to prevent it from getting worse, it’s not a bad thing to do.”
Renaissance Beauty is located at 134 Old Ridgefield Rd. Dr. Singer will be in the center next on Wednesday, March 19. To book an appointment, call 203.762.3449.