|Our Really Big Adventure|
| Going to hospital
in one of the less developed parts of the world is something that most people
try to avoid. That is why most travel insurance includes emergency repatriation.
So most would wait to get delicate elective surgery until they get home,
or at least to a Western country. I, however, have decided to have surgery
This may seem foolish at first, but despite being in the heart of South East Asia, in what is generally thought to be a developing country, the Thai medical system is unbelievably good. Not only is it the medical hub for expatriates throughout the region, but tens of thousands fly here each year to have elective surgery, from laser eye treatments to boob jobs and face lifts. There are lots of reasons why they come to Bangkok but invariably quality of surgery and care comes top of the list. Simply put, medical care in Thailand is amongst the best in the word, available at a fraction of the cost.
The Thai government sees health care as the next logical step in its hospitality industry. As holiday makers in Thailand reach saturation point, growth has to come from other sectors and international healthcare has many of the same requirements as the tourism industry: good flight connections, plentiful accommodation and above all staff that are understanding and friendly. Gleaming hospitals, which could be mistaken for 5 star hotels, not only have rooms with all amenities but also have suites, restaurants, shops and cinemas. Menus from the finest restaurants in town are placed in the best rooms. Going to hospital doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun - this is Bangkok after all. This is a long way from the cold greasy egg served by the kitchen’s “Miserable Person of the Year” award winner we get at home.
I have a cyst on my head that should have been removed years ago, but I’ve always put it on the long finger. Another cyst appeared on my left temple three years ago and I had it seen to in Ireland. The “plastic surgeon” had lanced and squeezed out the contents with all the skill and precision of a builder popping a boil on his bottom. This had the temporary affect of reducing its size to that of a small pimple, which was neatly camouflaged by a profusion of other pimples. Unfortunately, in Laos, it decided to swell again, this time to the size of a dime. This seemed like the ideal time to kill two birds with one stone. Surgery in Bangkok was the best of all worlds; I’d get the best medical attention for a fraction of the cost without having to sit on a waiting list for six months.
My first meeting with my surgeon was as painless as I hoped the operation would be. I turned up at the Mission Hospital at 10 am on Friday with no appointment. Two hours later I was exchanging pleasantries with my surgeon-to-be. He quickly inspected the offending lumps, letting me know that it was a simple operation to completely remove both of them. A local aesthetic was all that was required and that he would use special techniques to minimise any scaring. He took his time to ensure I knew exactly what the procedure would entail and his demeanour was reassuring. We agreed on surgery at 11am the following Monday. The cost including consultation, HIV test and all surgery fees would come to $150 – about a third of what it would be at home.
Even with all the assurances I still feel a little uneasy as I get on the back of a motorbike taxi. I’m not really sure if it is the imminent surgery or the Bangkok traffic that is worrying me. Soon, after an exhilarating journey that belonged in a theme park, we arrive at the hospital. A smiling “Singapore Airlines” nurse shows me to the surgery area and tells me that I’m half and hour early and the doctor will see me at 11, as arranged. I settle down to my “Web Design in a Nutshell” book and before I even find out what the web palette is a nurse calls my name and ushers me inside.
I’m given a blue pair of pyjamas that were obviously one size fits all, and that includes sumo wrestlers. I get changed, folding my dignity along with my clothes and leaving them in a neat pile, hoping their absence will only be short. I make my way to the surgery room and lie down on the operating table, beneath a huge halogen light that is immediately swung over me, illuminating my head like a lumbering bomber in an anti-aircraft spotlight. I just hope they remember what I’m here for.
A nurse shaves any hair beside my cysts and gives the areas a good swabbing with iodine. My doctor walks into the theatre fully gloved and masked, with an unfortunately resemblance to Dr Nic Riviera from the Simpsons – what am I doing here? Just in case I am in any doubt he tells me, and runs me through the whole procedure again.
Several painless injections later I cannot feel the needle anymore. A green cloth with a round hole in the centre is placed over my head, leaving just the cyst on my temple exposed. The only clue I have as to what is going on is a slight application of pressure followed by an occasional tug. He constantly enquires if I am feeling any pain or discomfort. Every time I hear the snip of scissors I’m sure he is finished, but then I feel a quick tug and know he is still cutting or stitching – how long does it take to remove a cyst? Thirty minutes apparently.
The green cloth is moved to the now bald patch on my head. This is different, the cyst is directly on my skull and the bone conducts every vibration to my now overly sensitive ears. Each incision sounds like paper tearing. I can’t feel anything but I’m sure things look ugly up there. The quick swooshes, like thread being pulled through leather, tell me it is over and that stitches are pulling the flaps of skin together. Sitting me up the surgeon asks if I want to see what he has removed. Not only do I want to see - I want photographic evidence.
Thirty minutes later I’m out on the street flagging a taxi. All said and done I’ve spent 2 hours on Friday waiting for a consultation and an hour in surgery. Three hours and $150 ain’t bad, now I just have to wait to see how badly I scar.