Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Price of Beauty - At Least In Thailand

We have been back in Thailand for two weeks now; two very busy weeks.  Our time has taken up with household repairs and cleaning.  Last night we did not get home until 1:00 AM.  No - we were not in a fight or auto accident.  Duang had some work done on her face last night.

I have written a few blogs on medical care and its associated costs here in Thailand.  This blog is about the costs and procedure for Duang's blepharoplasty and rhytidoplasty - face lift and eye lifts..

Duang is approaching her 49th birthday and has been wanting to have some work done on her face for a while.  I did not think that she needed any work and I don't see anything wrong with looking your age.  However during the course of photographing Duang over 4,000 times, I was aware of certain areas around her eyes  and mouth where I  consistently made 'adjustments" when post processing her photograph.  These were also the areas that Duang wanted to be worked on. While is the United States she became interested in the television ad campaign that has saturated the airways for over a year.  I called to get more information as the ad informed.  I ended up speaking with what appeared to me to be a boiler room type operation.  The operator on the other end of the line wanted my telephone number.  Well I can be a difficult type of person especially when it comes to spending my money.  My adage when it comes to money is "I will call you.  You don't call me"  I refused to give the number and requested the additional information packet as promised on television.  About two weeks later I received a packet with basically a regurgitation of the television ad and print ads.  It was generalized as well as very lacking in specific details as to procedures, methods or costs.  The information basically pointed out that you needed to schedule an appointment with a represented doctor in the Boston or New York City area.  All in all it reminded me of the sales campaigns of the 1980s for time shares.  That was more than enough to dissuade me from pursuing the matter any further.  I told Duang to wait until we got back to Thailand and reminded her of the many foreigners who go to Thailand for plastic surgery as well as other medical procedures.

Well it turned out the Duang's brother's ("Number 4") girlfriend had a friend who had just had "face make" in Khon Kaen, 2 hours south of here.  I point out how we got the information because that is how things work around here.  As far as I know there is no telephone book or yellow page directory for Udonthani.  There is no local newspaper for the area.  We have cable television so  we do not watch local television.  As such we are not subjected to daily and nightly barrages of lawyers seeking us as clients or helpful information such as advertising by local businesses or services.  Information is passed from person to person.  Fortunately Duang has a large family as well as many friends so there is always someone or someone who knows someone that can help with needed information.

Anyhow this woman had her eyes done 5 days ago.  The doctor was the number 1 plastic surgeon in Khon Kaen and worked at two hospitals.  He had been practicing for about 15 years.  His pricing seemed very good.  However after my experience with "Doctor Feelgood" ( an earlier blog about a the man who knew how to give injections out in the rice paddies and was injecting everyone with Valium), I wanted to check this doctor out before any commitment was made. Interestingly, I have yet to be informed of any doctor or business that was considered to be #2 or even #3.  I know that they have to exist but I have no idea who they are. Arrangements were made for Duang to visit with the doctor for last night.  As most things are here in Isaan, this was not a simple task.  It ended up that Number 4's girlfriend would drive us down to the doctor along with her friend who was having the stitches removed from around her eyes.

We ended up being 5 women and myself in Thailand's equivalent of a Toyota Corolla.  Four women were in the back, one woman sitting on another woman's lap.  Duang's former sister-in-law came along to see about having additional work done on her nose - Michael Jackson Syndrome?  many woman in Isaan have silicone inserts placed in their noses to make their appearance to be more "Western"  In may cases this does not work out well.  Another female friend came along I guess to provide morale support - that is how things are done here in Isaan.  If you are going somewhere there are always plenty of people ready and available to tag along.  I survived the two hour drive with 5 Lao Loum women all speaking at the same time just about all the time.  Actually I rather enjoy the sense of family and community these situations provide.

We ended up seeing the doctor and he informed Duang's former sister-in-law that no further work could be done or should be attempted on her nose.  I am still trying to figure out what was wrong with it to begin with other than it was not a nose belonging on a Lao Loum face.  Score one for the doctor.  I liked that he was not going to slice and dice as long as you had the cash.  We had a consultation with him and my concerns were addressed and my reservations were diminished.  Some work that Dung wanted he indicated was not necessary.  The next thing that I know that happened was that Duang and I agreed to have the work done.  I was shocked when his assistant came with two pieces of paper of which Duang was required to sign once.  After signing, he said "Let's go to the operating room"  Duang entered the operating room at 8:00 PM for a scheduled 2 hour operation.  The nurse came out at 10:00 PM and informed me that it would be another hour or longer.  Duang came out at 11:00 PM, 3 hours after the surgery commenced.

We had to pay for the entire operation that night - 35,460 Baht ($1,182 USD!) including take home medications.  The hospital took my credit card to pay for the operation.  We walked out of the hospital at 11:30PM.  We will return on Monday to have the stitches removed.

When we were in the USA, I estimated that a face lift along with eye lifts would run around $20,000.  Today, prior to writing this blog, I researched estimated prices for the work in the USA and came up with about $15,000.

I walked out of the hospital with three pieces of paper.  One was an invoice for the surgeon - 20,000 baht.  Another was an invoice for 5,000 baht for something.  The third was an itemized bill for 10,476 baht from the hospital.

For the three hour operation, we were charged $81.66 for the operating room, $2.50 for the nurses, and $172.80 for medical supplies.

It is hard to believe that two upper eye lid lifts, two lower eye lid lifts and a face lift cost $1,182.  However this is in line with what we previously paid to have Duang's eardrums repaired.  I guess this is why medical tourism is a growing trend here in Thailand.  Almost $14,000 in savings over having the procedure done in the USA more than covers the round trip flight and hotel stay.

To be honest with you readers who are in the USA, the facilities and conditions of the facilities did not measure up to what we are accustomed to and for the most part expect in the USA.  However you get what you pay for or not pay for.  As was often a determination in making decisions in my construction career, solutions need to be fit for purpose.  I suspect, no I actually know, from my parents medical experiences over the past year and one-half in the USA, that Americans, be it out of their pockets, their insurance premiums, or taxes are paying for a great deal more than is necessary or required for their medical care needs.  A great deal of American medicine today as it is practiced today is "Voodoo" medicine.  The witch doctor, chants and incantations have been replaced by high tech equipment, ostentatious facilities, as well as cost insensitive procedures.  To quote a former boss of mine "The juice is not worth the squeeze"  It may not be worth the squeeze but you are all paying for it.

I am not certain that we would not accept it any other way.

Bigger is better.  Newer is better.  More expensive is better.

They just all cost more.

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