Melania Trump recently resurfaced after a 24-day absence from the public eye, following a statement from the White House stating that she’d undergone an embolization procedure for a benign kidney condition. Because Ms. Trump was in the hospital for five nights afterward, and because most embolization patients leave the hospital within 24 hours, and especially because nobody saw her for three weeks afterward, the internet ran wild with a number of theories as to the real reasons for her disappearance. One of the most popular was that she had gotten some kind of plastic surgery.
Now, we definitely don’t know that that’s the case, and would never claim to know that’s the case, and there’s definitely not anything wrong with that if it were the case. But since this is what so many amateur sleuths on Twitter have been theorizing for days, it seems worth a quick fact-check: Which procedures, if any, might merit a three-week-plus recovery time?
Recovery time: Five to seven days.
Dr. Tracy Pfeifer, a New York–based plastic surgeon on the board of directors of The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, tells me there are several common procedures popular among women around Melania Trump’s age (48). Perhaps the most common is eyelid surgery. “Blepharoplasty, or eyelid surgery, is very common procedure as people start to see changes around their eyes and usually their neck in their late 40s, early 50s,” says Pfeifer. But the recovery time for eyelid surgery is generally pretty fast: Pfeifer tells me that a common phrase plastic surgeons use to describe patient recovery time is “church ready” — as in, when can you get away with going to church (i.e. a community of people who know you) without anyone noticing the work you’ve had done? For eyelid surgery, says Pfeifer, it’s only about a week. “Typically for eyelid surgery it’s about seven days, because you have sutures that need to come out around day five,” she says.
Verdict: Not likely.
Breast lift, liposuction, or tummy tuck
Recovery time: About a week.
Most body-based procedures (like breast lifts or augmentations, tummy tucks, and liposuction) would be even easier to hide under your clothing, says Pfeifer. Swelling for cosmetic procedures peaks at 72 hours, and starts to dissipate afterward. “You could be out in public and looking normal and feeling okay by seven days,” she says.
In some cases, surgeries like these will require a drain to help prevent the buildup of fluid, and that could lengthen the recovery time, but probably not by much. “The drain will usually come out by the fifth or seventh day, and even if for some reason it’s still in place you can hide it underneath your clothes,” says Pfeifer.
Verdict: Probably not.
Recovery time: Ten days.
Laser treatments, like resurfacing of the skin, are also fairly common, says Pfeifer, and do require a bit more recovery time. “Laser treatments [on the face] take a good ten days, because there’s a lot of visible healing where you’re red,” she says. That means that laser treatments would be more obvious to the public than both bodily cosmetic surgeries and even eyelid surgeries, which can be easily obscured by sunglasses. Not so easy to do with one’s entire face.
Verdict: Doubt it.
Recovery time: Three to six weeks.
There is really only one procedure which lines up with a 24-day recovery time and an apparent need to hide from the public, says Dr. Robert Tornambe, a board certified plastic surgeon on New York’s Upper East Side. “By far, in someone that’s out in public, the face-lift would be the one where she would need this much time,” he says. Pfeifer agrees. “Depending on what type of procedure you have — for example, if somebody has a cheek lift where they’re going into some of the deeper planes of the face, you could have swelling for six weeks,” she says. “If you do kind of a New York socialite face-lift, I would say two weeks before really you could go out and get away with it. You’d still have some swelling and you’d still look a little tight.”
Because face-lifts are generally pretty evident, even to the untrained eye, Tornambe says he’d be surprised if someone as prominent as Ms. Trump had one. “That would be pretty drastic. That’s a big deal.” he says. “But [that time frame] would certainly fit. I haven’t seen pictures yet.” There’s also the possibility of a mini face-lift, which requires a smaller incision, and thus a shorter recovery time. “Someone like her would be the ideal candidate. She’s still young,” he adds.
Verdict: … Maybe?
Pfeifer points out that recovering from all of the above procedures is also about how each individual patient feels, and that some will feel back to normal more quickly than others. So although the evidence for the cosmetic procedure theory is thin, there’s really no way to know for certain — which, in turn, makes for a pretty perfect online conspiracy theory.