SINGAPORE - Prominent plastic surgeon Woffles Wu said plastic surgery is not just about making the rich feel better.
He said he has operated on babies born with deformed skulls, those undergoing sex changes and, in one memorable case, an accident victim who had broken every bone in his face. He spent 14 hours operating on that man, putting his skull back together "as if it were a jigsaw (puzzle)".
Dr Wu, 58, dished on the details of his memoir Life In Plastic to Straits Times head of training and talent development Lydia Lim at the seventh edition of the Straits Times Book Club on Wednesday (Sept 26).
"The public perception, of course, is that it's just about Hollywood and movie stars but it really isn't. Not everyone who does cosmetic surgery is rich - it's not the prerogative of the rich to want to look beautiful. Everyone wants to look better."
More than 300 people attended the session at the National Library headquarters' programme zone.
Many were curious to know about the tricks of his trade, such as how to tell if somebody has had work done. "The most obvious way is to press it," he quipped, adding that if one were able to tell, it would not be good plastic surgery.
He expands in his book about his unusual childhood, in which he accompanied his divorcee mother to London at the age of four so she could study law, and the ups and downs of his career and personal life.
Qualified as a craniofacial plastic reconstructive surgeon, he spent 12 years at Singapore General Hospital, then went into private practice in 2000. He pioneered several techniques, among them The Woffles Lift, which incorporates the use of special threads to suspend sagging facial tissue.
Though going private has been "rewarding in more ways than one", he added that he feels some regret at not being able to treat the people he went into medicine to treat in the first place. In recent years, he said, he has been doing voluntary work with the less fortunate overseas.
It is a heavy responsibility, he said, to take on the risks that come with each operation. A slip of the hand could mean irreparable damage.
The simple act of injecting filler into the face could go awry - the material could get into the wrong blood vessel, block off the ophthalmic artery and cause the patient to go blind.
"It is routine for us to tell the patient that it is a low risk, but it exists," he said. "You have to be fair to your patients, you can't gloss over certain things."
"It is a very heavy burden to bear, but that's what we're trained for and part of the excitement and adrenaline of the profession."
Teacher Frances Chan, 54, found the talk "very humorous".
"It gave a good insight about things we wouldn't normally know, like how plastic surgery is done."
The rebranded book club takes over the Straits Times' non-fiction book club The Big Read Meet and runs every last Wednesday of the month.
The next session on Oct 31 will feature clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet, author of Dr Delinquent, and Institute of Mental Health senior consultant psychiatrist Chong Siow Ann, author of Fieldnotes Of A Psychiatrist.
They will discuss teenage behaviour, psychiatry and mental health with ST journalist Denise Chong.
Readers can register at str.sg/oeZU.
Life In Plastic ($35.20) is available from leading bookstores.