So, it’s been quite a while since my last post where I was detailing my plans for surgery. I’ve been meaning to do this post for quite a while, but it appears my life got in the way a bit. Just so everyone knows, I’m fine and doing well after returning from Thailand. This post is all about my experience while I was there. I have to warn you, it’s a long one.
On the 19th of May, 2013, my mother picked me up from home and we made our way to the airport for the most important trip in my life. I had never been out of the country or even on a plane before. So aside from the excitement of surgery, there was another bout of excitement from me taking my first ever plane trip. We had to fly from Perth to Singapore, then onto Bangkok. We landed in Singapore and my first ever experience outside Australia had begun. It was 3:30am when we arrived and we were hungry. We hunted around for somewhere to satiate our need for food and found a McDonalds store. I ordered a Sausage, bacon and egg muffin and was very surprised to find that there was absolutely no pig involved. It ended up being chicken sausage and turkey bacon. I have to say, I definitely prefer the original.
We arrived in Bangkok at 8am and the first thing I did after clearing immigration was go to the local phone provider kiosks and get a SIM card. If you’re planning on going to another country, this is probably the best thing you can do. It worked out to be 800 Thai Baht (~AU$26) for the whole month for phone and internet access. After getting my SIM card, I continued down the airport entrance to find Bow, one of Dr Suporn’s nurses, holding a card with my name on it. Once we hopped in the van, it was time to head over to Chonburi, about one hour’s drive outside Bangkok, where I would spend the next four weeks.
On the way to Chonburi, we had a chat with Bow and took in the sights. Now bear in mind, this is more of a working class city than a tourist city, so there were mostly factories along the way, with a few temples thrown in here and there. We could already feel the heat that I was dreading. At this point, I had been a week without any hormone pills, so I was well into the depths that is menopause. As we arrived at the Chon Inter Hotel, we were welcomed with a nice cool drink as I checked us in for the night. Our hotel room booking had all been taken care of, so all I had to do was show them my passport and get the key.
We were told to head over to the clinic at 2pm for my appointment with Dr Suporn. The clinic is just around the corner from the hotel, but they insisted on picking us up in the van as we hadn’t been there before. In the clinic, we were welcomed with an offer of an amazing Thai iced tea. This tasted like no other iced tea I’ve ever had before. Time came for me to see the doctor and once I was in the room, it was time to drop my pants. I hopped up onto the bed with my legs spread and he seemed quite happy with what he saw. I was handed a bouquet of flowers and told to head back to the hotel and rest up for the night, as tomorrow I would be checking in to hospital.
We ended up sleeping a lot that night as we had almost no sleep on the plane the night before. Twelve noon rolled around, time to board the van for the trip to Aikchol Hospital, where I would spend the next week. In the van, I met another woman going through the same thing as me named Nicole. She was scheduled for surgery the day after me, so we both had our tests at the hospital at the same time. Her mother, Ann, came to Thailand to support her also. So while we were having our tests, our mothers were getting to know each other in the foyer of the hospital. One of the most interesting tests would have to be the psychiatrist. He simply asked me a few questions, we talked for a total of about 5 minutes, then he diagnosed me with Gender Identity Disorder. Guess that was just a formality.
We left Nicole and her mother and were taken up to the 9th floor to check in. The hospital room was amazing. It was better than the hotel room we had the night before. Of course, being a geek, it was my duty to sort out my technology first and foremost. I would be stuck in this bed for the next week, so it was imperative that I had entertainment. Turns out the TV in the hospital room had a USB port on the side and just enough room behind the mounting bracket to hold my portable hard disk that I had loaded with things to watch while on my trip. I then set up the hospital WiFi using a repeating router and was away.
At this point, I jumped on my laptop and started chatting with other trans people, letting them know how I’m doing and such. Turns out, one of the women who I’d been talking to, April, was in the room right next to me. I went over there and we had a chat about how everything was going, what to expect, etc. At one point, she told me to go to the fridge in her room and grab the bag on the top shelf. I did exactly that, then thought for a moment and said “I’m holding your balls, aren’t I?” Turns out she asked for them to be preserved in formaldehyde so she could use them as a paper weight in the future. Definitely not something I would be doing.
10pm rolls around and up comes by far the worst part of the trip. The enema. I think it’s safe to say that I never want to go through this again. Running to the toilet while you’re full of soapy liquid is not fun. Then after you’re empty, time to do it all again, and again. I think I ended up going back and forth a total of six times before the nurse was satisfied. I have never been so exhausted in my life. From midnight I was not allowed to consume anything at all. No water, nothing. I think it’s safe to say that by morning, I was extremely thirsty.
22nd of May, my surgery day. At 6am, I’m woken up by the hospital nurses and instructed to shower and put on the hospital gown. I receive a visit from Dr Suporn, then the nurses all come to take me down to the operating theatre. Once in the theatre, there was a lot of poking and prodding, as you’d expect. Everyone was extremely nice though. The anesthetist asked my weight, then started to put me out. I was beginning to think the anesthetic wasn’t working at all until I was told that it was done. The operation was a success. One of the nurses then proclaimed to me “Happy Birthday.”
After about 20 mins of me laying in the recovery room with an oxygen mask on, the nurses took me back up to my room, where my mother was waiting impatiently. Once we were alone, I burst into tears from happiness. I was finally complete. My mother was hugging me, I’ve never been so emotional in my life.
I was told that I must not leave the bed for the next five days. My legs were sore from being in stirrups for the five hour operation, but other than that, I really didn’t have much pain. I was told that I had to try to eat. Unlike other surgeons, Dr Suporn doesn’t impose any dietary restrictions, so I was free to choose whatever I wanted to eat. I decided to just get a small hamburger, as after everything, I wasn’t really hungry. Turns out, the hospital gets their hamburgers from the local McDonalds store, and it was a Pork Burger. About half-way through the burger, I realised my body wasn’t happy with the anesthetic. I started to feel sick and one of the nurses handed me a small kidney shaped plastic bowl. It wasn’t enough, I projectile vomited around that bowl and sprayed all over the bed. They then realised that a much larger bowl would be needed. After some more vomiting, I ended up eating some chips that my mother had bought from the local 7-11. Finally, I kept this down.
I was hooked up to a morphine pump with a button to trigger a burst of it. At first, I didn’t really need to hit the button as the pain wasn’t that bad. After a while, it started to get to me. I’d heard stories about the wonderful high on morphine. I pressed the button and a few seconds later, I felt it. I wasn’t a fan. The high was just really weird, not exactly anything I’d like. As such, I kept the button pressing for when I really needed it.
The days I was in hospital were rather monotonous. Every few hours, get woken up by nurses to have them check my blood pressure and temperature. Watch some TV and eat my meals. I was visited every day by Dr Suporn and his nurses, to check on how I was doing. On the 27th of May, five days after my surgery, the bandages were taken off and I was able to see the doctor’s handiwork. It was swollen and still had some tubes coming out of it, but it was mine. I was ecstatic. I was also able to finally get out of the bed on this day. The first time I took a few steps were very exhausting. I nearly fainted. I tried it twice more the same day and had better results on each subsequent try.
Two days later, the 29th, was time to take out the packing and tubes. I was free from tubes coming out from below. It was also the start of the dreaded dilation process. Essentially, my body treats my vaginal cavity as an open wound, and tries to close it. I need to fight my healing body to stop it doing that. It was also the day that I finally got out of hospital.
Back in the hotel, we decided to go with the deluxe room option after having the cheapest room on the first night. This was well worth the extra expense. The deluxe room had way more comfy beds, a TV from this century and just felt better all around. After getting settled into our hotel room once again, having unloaded the massive pile of supplies the clinic gave us, we went downstairs to the restaurant. There we met another woman who had her operation about a week before mine named Claire, and her father Mark. It was great getting to know other people going through the exact same thing as you.
In the morning, it was time to go down to the restaurant for the buffet breakfast. This was where most of the girls gathered to chat to each other; and where I met April again, along with her friend Greeni. After breakfast and a visit from one of Dr Suporn’s nurses. I decided it would be a great idea to head to the Central Plaza in Chonburi. At this point, I didn’t feel any need to use my special cushion as I wasn’t in any pain whatsoever when I sat down. I ended up walking around Central Plaza with my mother for about 2 and a half hours. Remember this is just the day after I got out of hospital.
People couldn’t believe me when I told them, I ended up getting the name Super Michelle at one point. By this time, Nicole and Ann had also arrived back at the hotel and were just astounded when we told them that night at dinner. We ended up becoming fairly good friends with the both of them and wound up having dinner and sometimes lunch together most of the time we were there.
As the days past, with daily morning visits from Dr Suporn’s nursing staff, I kept up my super woman attitude until six days after I left hospital, the 4th of April, when I finally started to get some pain. It was nowhere near as much as many of the other girls’ there, but it was still fairly serious. It was at this point that I finally started using my cushion as it became very painful to sit without it. I was really starting to worry, my train of thought was that it shouldn’t be hurting now if it didn’t hurt earlier. Turns out it was perfectly fine.
On Wednesday the 5th, we were taken for an afternoon of relaxation at Dr Suporn’s beach house. This was just amazing. I ended up spending most of the day just laying back talking to Nicole, April and Greeni. While my mother and Ann were talking down by the beach. We had the sea breeze blowing on us so the heat wasn’t even noticeable. All around, a really great day. We didn’t want to leave.
On my Thursday checkup with Dr Suporn, he noticed that I had a small amount of separation (where the wound isn’t healing properly), but it shouldn’t be much of a problem. He told me that he would have another look early next week to see if he needed to do anything about it. Now, I got this in my head as the reason I was experiencing all the pain lately. As such, I was panicking, etc. I needed to have it fixed now. I went back to the clinic the next day just to make sure, where he reassured me that it was nothing to worry about at this stage and that he would probably stitch me up on Monday.
As Monday came, so did the start of my final week in Thailand. I had my appointment with Dr Suporn to go to at 2pm. As with all my other appointments, I went into the exam room, dropped my pants and laid down on the bed. He had one quick look and said he was going to stitch me up. His nurses then placed numbing cream on the area and had me don a rather unflattering orange robe. When I got back to the waiting area, Nicole and Ann were there and complimented my dress sense.
About an hour after my initial appointment, the nurses had me head upstairs to the doctor’s own operating theatre right there in the clinic. After they put the needle in for the local anesthetic, all the pain went. The nurse, however, was rather confused as to why I was still a little jumpy. I just smiled and said to her “oh there’s no pain, just very sensitive.” I ended up having about 30 new stitches put in me.
The next day, we had a trip to Pattaya with our favourite nurse, Bow. We were taken to the biggest jewellery store I have ever been to. They had everything, however I really didn’t budget for any big spending so it was all out of the question for me. Nicole ended up getting a beautiful blue ring. After the jewellery store, it was time to go across the road to a souvenir store where Bow insisted we try some durian ice cream. Durian is a fruit in Thailand that has a rather unique taste, however, it’s more known for the smell. It tends to smell like bad foot odor.
After contaminating the van with our durian smell, we headed over to the tourist park area just out of town for a buffet lunch. At this point, the heat was getting unbearable. Unfortunately, the entire park only had fans to cool people down. No air-conditioning to be found anywhere. Many of us got glass after glass of water, then bowls of ice cream to cool ourselves down. It seemed to work a bit, after lunch we headed to watch a traditional dance show and we weren’t affected by the heat nearly as much.
About half-way through the dance show, Bow instructed us to come aside to watch an elephant show. This was truly amazing. The things those elephants could do. April, Greeni and Ann even got lifted up in the air by the elephants.
Thursday comes along and I get a clean bill of health to head home, am given all my documents including the documentation I need to change my birth certificate. I’m given another bag filled with things to take care of my new acquisition and given a heartfelt goodbye from the staff. On Friday, for the regular scheduled check-up with the nurse, Bow arrived at my hotel door and we ended up talking for around 30 minutes about all manner of things including how much we’ll miss each other and how much she loves her job.
Friday night, I organised a farewell dinner and the turnout truly astounded me. We ended up having a total of twelve people there, all to wish me well in the rest of my life. As I was leaving, I gave Nicole, Ann, April and Greeni very emotional hugs. I was trying to keep it all in, but by the time I got to the elevator on the way back up to my room, I burst into tears. I will truly miss our time together. When my mother came up to the room, she comforted me. We had to get up at 3 in the morning to be ready for the van to take us to the airport at 5, so we both went to bed pretty early. On the way to Bangkok, I burst into tears again. I just couldn’t hold it back.
I was given a letter from Dr Suporn to give to the airline to instruct them to supply me with a wheelchair for the trip. I was a little hesitant to use it, but now I’m very glad I did. I managed to get past all lines, security was a breeze and the trip across Singapore airport would have been hell without it. I’d even heard horror stories about how long Australian customs can take, they just waved us straight through.
All in all, I’m extremely happy with the entire experience. The level of care is second to none. I’m very glad I paid the extra to go with one of, if not the best surgeon in the world. The nurses work so much to take care of you over there, they work seven days a week and at all hours, staying with you the first night after your operation and picking you up from the airport at what ever time you land. I’m very happy with the outcome, it’s sensitive and looks just as you’d expect.
I will truly miss the time I had together with Nicole, Ann, April and Greeni. I really hope to meet them again some day.
Stay tuned for another post very soon detailing what has happened since I got home.