Surgery with Dr. Chettawut
in Bangkok, January 2003

By Shauna Ford

It is almost the first birthday of the new Shauna. Was it really a year ago that I left England for that wonderful southeast Asian country of Thailand?

It was with trepidation that I left my home in Nottingham, England, tickets in hand, headed down the M1 motorway by myself to Heathrow airport. Words of my mother echoed in my ears from the phone call I had received from her that morning: "Are you sure you know what you are doing?"

I wonít dwell too much on Heathrow: Parked car, airport, plane, get on, next stop Dubai, Dubai airport very clean, straight in the smoke room and smoke a packet of cigarettes, got a coffee at Starbucks coffee shop, nearly died at £3.00 for a latte.

Two hours later, I boarded another Emirates plane and settled down for the final journey into Bangkok. I arrived at Bangkok airport at 1820 local time, really starting to get nervous now. I got through customs, got my passport stamped, and then in the arrivals area saw hundreds of Thai guys, all touting for taxis. I spotted a card with my name on it, held by a delightful young Thai lady who introduced herself to me as Tair. She spoke English well, and we were soon on our way out of Bangkok airport, heading for downtown Bangkok. What an eye openeróThais tend to drive a little bit wildly.

After about 45 minutes, we pulled into a large hotel complex, the Ban Siri Rama. Tair got me booked in and settled in my room for the night and explained she would pick me up and check me out of the hotel in the morning. The first night I couldnít sleep. It was hot, I was alone, and I was I frightened. What would happen? Was I doing the right thing? Would I survive the operation? Endless thoughts went through my mind that night. Should I go back to England and wait for the NHS to make my dreams complete? I had come so far; was I brave enough and strong enough to go through it by myself? After years of being unhappy, I was so near to my goal, but so far away and so alone.

The morning came quickly and I showered and waited for Tair to pick me up to take me to the doctor's clinic. Tair arrived spot on at 12 o'clock and off we went to the clinic to meet the man who within 24 hours was going to be performing my operation. God, was I nervous.

All my doubts disappeared when I was introduced to the doctor. He was a fresh-faced guy who appeared to be about 25 years old, with an amazing humility and the ability to make you feel at ease. He spent ages talking over the procedure and how he would perform the operation, answering all my questions in depth. I felt completely at ease. I always have followed my instincts about people and feel I am a good judge of character and everything felt right about this guy from the first moment.

After a couple of hours of very intense questioning, and examining me and my paper work in every detail, I was fully aware of all the complications that could arise. We agreed on 500 cc breast implants. The breast implants would be carried out first, and the vaginoplasty second; this was due to me being overweight, and also smoking 30 cigarettes a day. He was a bit unsure as to what my reaction to the anaesthesia would be and wanted to err on the side of caution. The doctor also explained to me that I had an awfully small penis, which would lead to shallow depth of my vaginal cavity. I felt that this would be no real hardship, and he assured me that he would do his best to give me as much depth as possible.

The next stop was the hospital, just up the road from the hotel. Tair was in the driving seat as ever. I could get used to being chauffeured around, I thought.The hospital was quite large. The doorman took my cases and I was whisked off for a barrage of tests: blood, urine, weight, height, ECG, history. Everything was fine. Then off to my room. It was nice, with Juliette balcony overlooking the local school and a building site. I could see and hear the local mosque and the call to prayers, morning and night.

I settled in for my first night in the hospital, knowing the next day was going to see an end to my search, the culmination of my years of pain and suffering. The nurses came and introduced themselves to me. What nice people the Thai people are! Anything I need, just ring the bell. The fridge in the room had cold drinks in it; there was a TV, a settee, fresh flowers, and I could smoke on the balcony.

I had been prepped the night before, and now was the day. Today it happens, the final chapter. Two porters arrived and wheeled me to the operating theatre. Do I run? Do I say no? A thousand thoughts were screaming through my head. Is this what I want? YES, this is what it has all been about. Finally my dream has come.

Into the theatre: The doctor was there with his team, all dressed in green. As I was placed on the table, the doctor asks if I was OK and was I ready? All I could think about was, would I wake up? Would I survive the operation? Was this the last thing I would see in my life, a Thailand hospital ceiling?

God, did I hurt as I awoke. Did anybody get the number of the truck that hit me? I felt like I had been run over. My head hurt like hell, and so did my leg. Where was I? Who was I? What am I doing here? I had lost it completely. "Nurse, I need a pee." "Itís OK, Shauna pee in the bed." No way. I am not going to start peeing the bed at 40 years old. We argued for 5 minutes before it was explained that I had had a catheter fitted and did not need to pee. Next thing, I was in my room.

The doctor appeared in my room as if by magic and explained that everything had gone really well, better than he anticipated. He had managed to get more depth than he thought he could. If I wanted more depth, he could do more surgery at a later date if I lost some weight. The relief was fantastic. The pethidine was betteróI floated around the ceiling. It seemed like the nurses came in every two minutes. I had never had so many bed baths. My breasts looked great and I felt at peace. At last things were right. Six days I lay in bed. All I saw in the morning was the doctor and Tair standing between my legs, going, "Very good, itís all healing well."

By days seven and eight, I was well on my way to recovery. I still had my catheter in place, but I could get out of bed and walk with my bag onto the balcony; and, yes, I was still smoking. My bag and I were pretty much inseparable and spent lots of time on the balcony together, looking out onto the open countryside, and beyond that to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

On day ten it was time to leave the hospital, and Tair arrived to take me back to the Ban Siri Rama Hotel. My cases were placed in the car and a few minutes later we were at the hotel. I got Tair to book me a chalet-type room away from the main hotel, and it was just a short walk through the lovely manicured gardens to my chalet. The chalet was airy and well equipped, with air conditioning, TV, a small kitchen, and everything I needed, plus a local cat who took a great liking to my shoes.

I spend the next few weeks recuperating and seeing the doctor every morning. I took taxis out into the local areas for a bit of sightseeing. The temples, or Wats as they are known, are well worth the visit. The floating market is worth a visit, too.

Finally, it was time for me to return to the UK. My time in Bangkok had been wonderful, and it filled me with great sadness to leave. The doctor and Tair both took me to the airport to see me off. When we arrived at the airport I felt very emotional. I had to tell the doctor and Tair to leave me and go home. I knew they wanted to see me onto the plane, but I knew that if they had come with me I would have found it too emotional, and I would have had floods of tears.

The journey back to the UK was pretty uneventful. Boy, did I know I was home when I got out of the airport at 5:30 AM and it was freezing. I felt elation as I drove back to Nottingham. I remembered how scared and worried I had been on the way down. I did not even know if I would ever come back, and here I was a month later, still alive to tell the tale.

It's not for everyone to take the course of action I did, but it was right for me. It has been a lonely journey, fraught with anguish and pain, but the hardest part of my journey is now over and I can begin to live that has always eluded me.

To my dearest friends in Thailand, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will never forget your friendliness and the care you showed me while I was with you.

© 2011 by Anne A. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D. All rights reserved.