Shoot Me Now

Photo by Steve LoweryThere's a party down the hall. You can hear it—the music, the laughter, the tinkling glasses. No big deal: parties happen all the time, except this one's happening down the hall of a medical building, and folks aren't usually given to getting down when scheduling a colonoscopy.

So maybe it's not a party. . . . Wait, no, it is. See? Through the door? The women holding the glasses and plates of salmon and cheese culled from the buffet table next to the crates of Pellegrino and champagne? In the doctor's waiting room? The women are happy and loud, but they're not drunk—though they appear to be, with their Elvis grins and frothing eyebrows that is actually not froth but topical anaesthetic creme to deaden the pain when the time comes to repeatedly stick the needle into their faces.

They can't wait!

“Oooohh, me! Me! Shoot me now!” says Kathleen Hansen, 38, of Orange when Dr. Richard Weiss asks who's ready to get their Botox. Kathleen really wants the Botox. She first heard about it a couple of years ago when Madonna got it, and the more she learned about the drug that could eliminate—temporarily—the lines on her forehead and around her eyes, the more she wanted it. Then she heard about the parties where women got together with a doctor and got Botoxed together at a discounted price. Then she heard a radio station say it was sponsoring such a party, that six lucky callers, along with a friend of their choosing, would attend such a party.

Kathleen picked up the phone.

She didn't pick it up as quickly as Carol Schneider, 46, of Fullerton, who's sitting next to Kathleen. Carol started calling the station at 4 a.m. to make sure she'd get one of the Botox party slots. They put her on the air right after a woman who called in to announce she'd had sex with her neighbor's husband and was now wondering how to get out of her neighbor's house.

“They offered her the Botox, but she didn't want it,” Carol says. “I was next. I said I couldn't top that call, but I'd take the Botox.”

Everybody wants the Botox. In the late '80s, Dr. Weiss started using it for its intended purpose: the treatment of facial spasms and uncontrollable blinking. Botox, the trade name for botulinum toxin A, is derived from the botulism toxin and blocks the nerve impulses to the facial muscles where it's injected. Back then, Allergan, the Irvine-based company that manufactures Botox, was selling about $19 million worth of the stuff per year.

Photo by Steve Lowery

Then, as with many medicines, doctors discovered “off label” uses for Botox. It worked well to curb excessive sweating and gave relief to migraine sufferers. And then someone noticed that by neutralizing the facial nerves in and around the forehead and eye, the crow's feet and wrinkles produced in those areas from frowning or smiling suddenly didn't show up. Word spread.

“I'd say five years ago, I was doing Botox about one day a week,” says Weiss, a Newport Beach-based ophthalmologist and plastic surgeon who was flown to South Africa in 1995 to perform a complex reconstructive eyelid procedure for Nelson Mandela. “Now I do it every day. I probably could do nothing but Botox. But the thing is this is something the patients took up. They were the ones who were coming to me and asking for it.”

They asked for it so much that Allergan made a fortune. Gregg Gilbert, a specialty pharmaceutical analyst with Merrill Lynch, told the Associated Press it costs the company about $40 to produce a vial of Botox. The company sells each vial to doctors for about $400. Last year, the company sold nearly $310 million of the stuff. Today, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery says Botox is the most popular cosmetic procedure in the country.

The parties have had a lot to do with that. As best as anyone can nail down, Botox bashes started in England, but soon folks in America, mostly women, were arranging parties with their doctors. A group of women would get together, eat some nice food and drink some wine and encourage one another while they got shot up. The advantage for the patients was price: Botox party etiquette provides that the hostess gets her shots free while partygoers get a discounted price because of the volume business.

But price, Dr. Weiss says, is not the reason he's doing more parties.

“To be honest, for the women I have doing parties, $100 is not a big deal to them. They could buy and sell . . .” he trails off, waving a hand toward his window, which looks out on Fashion Island. A few weeks before, he had been part of a Botox party at a patient's Laguna Beach mansion attended by more than 30 people. “I think they do it because they love the aspect of being together, supporting one another. They hold one another's hands. It's fun and frivolous.”


But a hundred bucks means a lot to most of the women at this party, which is why they called the radio station. Kathleen wonders if she'll ever get another shot at the shots, since the effects of Botox only last anywhere from three to six months. Dr. Weiss takes her into the procedure room and asks her to frown several times, each time marking with a felt pen the creases on her forehead that are produced. Then he asks her to smile and makes the same marks on her crow's feet. He counts the dots, tells Kathleen she'll require 65 units, and then goes to a calculator.

“That's $812 of Botox, free of charge,” he says.

“All right!” Kathleen says.

Dr. Weiss reclines the chair and readies the needle, telling Kathleen she may experience a slight pricking pain.

“Don't worry about me,” she says. “I've had three epidurals.”

And then Dr. Weiss begins to stick the needle in each of the marks. He sticks and wipes, sticks and wipes, until Kathleen's face appears an elaborate needlepoint project. In a matter of minutes, before the Ella Fitzgerald song that's playing on the office stereo has ended, it's over. Kathleen is sent off to have her makeup done while Dr. Weiss heads back into the waiting room to get another patient. He tells them that everything went well for Kathleen, and they all look at her as she re-enters the room, staring at her face the way one studies antique porcelain for cracks.

He tells them of the few risks—temporary bruising being the most common, drooping eyelids a rarity—but reassures them that the procedure is about as safe as they come.

“The last time my mom came out to visit me,” he says, “I gave her some surprise Botox injections.”

“You are the best son!” Kathleen says.

As for the money, Dr. Weiss tells them that in the future, they'll be able to budget how much Botox they get at a time. They'll each know their “Botox number,” he says, how much they usually require and thus be able to budget. “I believe it will become so common that everyone will know everybody else's Botox number,” he says.

Carol's number is next—her Botox number is in the 40s. She brought her daughter Amanda with her. Amanda is 24, lives in Las Vegas and looks a bit out of place, since her face is wrinkle- and line-free. Amanda's number is 10. She doesn't need much, but she came for the Botox anyway, having heard so much about it.

“Is that the only reason you came?” Carol asks.


“Is it really?” Carol asks.

Amanda, moving her head toward her mother but not looking at her, nods.

“I thought you came out to see me.”

Everyone tells Amanda she doesn't need to be here. But Carol stops them.

“Just look at this. Frown, Amanda,” and Amanda frowns, producing a single, subtle line in the lower part of her forehead.

“See that?” Carol says. “You can really see it from the side. That thing runs deep; you can tell that thing is going to really run deep.”

Amanda looks the other way.

One by one, the women go into the procedure room, where Dr. Weiss, still listening to Ella, gives them their Botox. More and more women have congregated at the room's observation window to literally cheer each patient on. The party just gets louder and happier. Very fun. Very frivolous. Makes you think that the days of an eye tuck or face-lift or nose job being something you did on the sly are over.

“Well, Botox is more acceptable,” says Dr. Weiss. “But cosmetic surgery is still something women don't want to advertise. Just the other day, I was having lunch at the Four Seasons, and I saw one of my patients. I just waved. I didn't go over and introduce myself to her friend. In this business, you just know there are things you don't do.”

Even when it comes to Botox.

“Don't use my name,” one woman pleads.



“I'm Jewish.”

So . . .

“I'm Jewish. My mother is very Jewish. She won't eat a pig. Whattaya think she's gonna say if she finds out I'm having botulism injected into my head?”

The promise made, all the woman are soon getting into limousines, whisked away by the radio station to enjoy a fine meal and some wine tasting at an expensive restaurant. This is Friday, April 12.

By the following Monday, most of them will have co-workers or neighbors scanning their faces, looking for the difference, asking what Botox is really like. That same day, the Food and Drug Administration grants official approval for Botox to be used in cosmetic procedures. The Associated Press runs a story about that: “Many analysts are forecasting that Botox will eventually produce more than $1 billion of revenue a year for the company.”


3 Replies to “Shoot Me Now”

  1. Pingback: her response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *