Boobs in Bangkok: Going Under the Knife

by Kate Clark


One of the reasons plastic surgery is cheaper in Thailand is that the entire process is streamlined. Same-day consultations and surgery make the process more efficient, so instead of making an appointment, you basically sit in a line and wait until the doctor can see you.

The waiting room is packed and feels like that afterlife scene from Beetlejuice: we’re all kind of messed up, looking around wondering what happened to whom and what needs fixing. With some of the patients it’s clear: a child with a harelip, a burn victim, and a row of lady-boys waiting for sex change operations. Then there are the rest of us: Europeans, Australians, and Americans who are either seeking nose jobs, facelifts, liposuction, or implants (me).

The hospital is colorful and bright, and — this is my favorite part — the nurses are on roller skates, wearing tight suits like flight attendants in the ’60s, gliding by with documents, medication, syringes. There’s also techno music playing in the background as if the whole experience should say, “Plastic surgery is fun! Let’s do it again!” Similarly, throughout the hospital advertisements encourage you to “Be happy. Be beautiful” and include a running list of procedures you can undergo to make this happen.

I find myself holding my breath at several points: first when I hear my mispronounced name and stand, weighing the implants in my palms; again standing nude in front of the doctor while he takes pictures and makes incomprehensible comments in Thai; and again lying down on the operating table, arms spread wide, a split second before I inhale the anesthesia.

The good thing about general anesthesia is that you’re fully aware that in what seems like seconds you’ll wake up and it’ll all be over. The bad thing is that when you wake up, you’ll have been sliced open, prodded, stuffed, and sewn back together. (I don’t remember much from the procedure except yelling at one of the roller-skating nurses to rub my arms because I couldn’t feel them, although she reassured me in broken English that everything would be fine soon.)

So, in less than 48 hours after landing in Bangkok I wake up with breasts. Big, swollen, tightly wrapped fake breasts. It’s like coming out of The Matrix, only with new body parts. And I don’t mean this in a positive or negative way — just that laying there, knowing that the seemingly 50 pounds pressing down on my chest is now part of my own body is definitely a WTF moment.

I stay in the hospital overnight and within a few hours of waking up am trying to prepare for departure. I know I have to go back to my creepy old Bangkokian hotel alone to take care of myself for a week before the stitches come out, so I do my best to get there with minimal anguish. Everything hurts: sitting up, bending over, lifting, reaching, picking up the phone… reading. I feel like a good primate when I use my feet to pick up my purse. I also have to relearn sitting up on my own. Not to keep referencing movies, but I had just watched Kill Bill and was channeling Uma Thurman in the backseat of the Pussy Wagon, but instead of “Wiggle your big toe,” it’s “Sit up. Sit up. Sit up. Sit up.”

After packing up my things, I throw some cash for my new tee-tas at the check-out, then hail a cab (unable to lift my arm, I give a low-five wave). Up in the room I’m prepared: Pirated DVDs cost less than a dollar in Thailand, and at least one guy in the kitchen takes room service orders in English.

In a few days, I’m out and about. Another great thing about Thai health care is that you can pretty much get whatever you want from the pharmacy — they even have a walk-up Botox counter. (Be wary, though: the guy behind the counter is so tight and shiny, he looks like robotic Jude Law in AI.) So when I show the pharmacist my painkiller prescription, she says, “That’s for kindergarten pain! You need this!” and gives me what I suspect to be some concoction of Oxycodone, Percocet, and Vicodin. She also throws in a pack of Valium, saying, “You just take easy and relaaaaaa-AX” (winks and smiles).

The million dollar questions: How are they and how do I feel? My friend warned me about body dysmorphic disorder and the psychological dangers of plastic surgery, but for me, there is no dysmorphia because (well, maybe this is dysmorphic), I believed they were supposed to be there the whole time. My only complaint is that they might not be big enough, but the doctor laughed at me today when I asked if he could make them bigger. Since he doesn’t speak English very well, he made a series of gestures and sound effects, which I interpreted to mean that the implants would overflow from the side, implode (or explode?) beneath the muscle and potentially collapse and come out my mouth. Really, I have no idea other than something terrible would happen if I tried bigger implants.

And so he takes out my stitches, and it’s time to get the F — out of Bangkok.

A longer version of this story can be found on Wayward Betty, where Kate Clark, a freelance writer, is chronicling her life as she travels the world.