CARACAS, Distrito Capital - Eager to resurrect her failed marriage, Mercedes dreamed of having a shapely rear end. A risky, potentially deadly, silicone injection technique beckoned.
She said yes. Now she rues that day.
"It hurts so much I cannot sit down for even five minutes," said the 45-year-old, her voice quivering. She is so embarrassed she won't give her last name.
Thus goes body worship in Venezuela, where undergoing plastic surgery is as common as going to the dentist and beauty pageants are like a religion.
Two years ago Mercedes underwent a procedure that has killed 15 people in Venezuela since 2011. It involves having a gel-like substance called a synthetic biopolymer shot into the body.
It is not put inside an implant, but rather flows like an injection and spreads through tissues, alas uncontrollably.
Mercedes received 560cc of the stuff in each buttock. It was a low point in her life when she was desperate to rekindle her marriage and win back her estranged husband.
"I did no research on what it was. I just wanted to know who did the best job," Mercedes told AFP while waiting at a clinic. Her dream is to get the silicone out of her body.
The original operation cost the equivalent of $800. Days later, she started feeling an intense pain. She has learned to live with it, as she has with stinging criticism from her family.
"I ask God and the Virgin for forgiveness so I can get out of this. This is no way to live," she said, her eyes clenched shut.