Tuesday, 11th November 2003 - The flight out
As I write this I'm sitting in a bar in Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport.
It's been a busy couple of days. Yesterday was my last day at work (I don't have to go back until 2nd March next year!) and in the afternoon I was given cards from both my immediate colleagues (all guys) and the other girls, who also gave me a lovely sapphire pendant which I certainly wasn't expecting! I felt quite humbled and wanted, and was struggling to hold back the tears at times. When I finally left the building at 5:30pm, I just ran out of time and still didn't get a chance to say goodbye to everybody. I'm hoping to drop into the company in January when I'm back in the area.
After work I drove down to Weston-Super-Mare to pick up my friend Kazzy, who is accompanying me on my journey to rebirth in Thailand. I stayed over that evening, driving back to my place with her at midday the following day. After a last minute bout of packing and rearranging, my friend Helen arrived at 5pm (she and Kazzy haven't met before so I got to do some introductions) and drove us to Heathrow shortly later (thanks honey!).
After check-in we found a rather crowded bar where I have to say I felt a little uncomfortable at first, but after securing a seat I felt much happier. After wandering to the loo I returned to find that Kazzy had been joined by a couple, one of whom was a Thai girl travelling on our flight to Bangkok. That certainly helped put me at ease.
It's all rather amazing. I felt some pretty big butterflies on the trip to Heathrow but now I'm feeling oddly calm.
We're on the plane waiting for takeoff, and I'm now feeling what I can only describe as euphoria - it's finally sinking in that my dream is about to be fulfilled. Kazzy gave me a big hug when I told her how I felt!
Wednesday, 12th November 2003 - Arrival in Thailand and the consultation with Dr. Suporn
2pm (Bangkok Time)
Only two hours to go now. It's been a very peaceful flight - I think we each managed to grab about 5 hours sleep, and in between that there were movies (I watched Uptown Girls, which I thoroughly enjoyed) and documentaries on the in-flight entertainment system. The seats are very comfortable (although I'd have preferred it if the footrests lifted higher) and the service absolutely immaculate. I'd seriously recommend EVA to anyone doing this trip (ask for Evergreen Deluxe rather than Economy).
In another hour or so I'll get changed into something lighter and put some makeup on (I'm a little self conscious of the stubble that's grown since leaving home).
It's almost time to land now - there's another 40 minutes or so to go (we left Heathrow a little late). I've just got changed into something lighter and put on some makeup so I'm feeling a lot happier and more confident, but Kazzy is starting to get a little nervous about the descent.
We landed at 4:10pm, and now the real adventure has begun - with a fun and unexpected twist. When we checked in the baggage at Heathrow I asked about wheelchair access on the return flight, and guess what? A wheelchair was waiting for us as we left the plane at Bangkok Airport! Rather than waste the opportunity, Kazzy took it while I walked (as she pointed out I'll be getting a ride on the way back!) and as it turned out it was a rather useful "dry run" and also got us through passport control and customs rather quickly...
Tom (one of the clinic staff) was waiting for us at the airport and now - as I write this - we're driving to Chonburi. My first impressions of Bangkok are many, and varied. Although much seems familiar it is very different in character to any European city I've visited. It's the little things that draw my eye - the power cables which seem to line every road (in the UK they're largely buried), palm trees I occasionally see by the side of the road; the colourful designs painted on the buses; the very distinctive style of the buildings. Also plainly visible is the contrast between the affluent style of some buildings, and the ramshackle (almost shanty town) nature of others. Make no mistake, Thailand is no paradise - just very different to what I'm used to.
Although it's quite hot (32ºC) and oppressively humid, it's bearable and I think I'm really going to enjoy my stay here.
Everything I've been told about the friendliness of the staff at the Suporn Clinic is true - and much, much more. After arriving in Chonburi and checking into the Mercure Hotel, I accompanied Wannee (who was waiting for us, and about whom I've heard so much!) to the clinic, while Kazzy stayed behind and chatted to several other girls who are here, including my friend Toni. The clinic itself is only a short walk from the hotel, and inside it's not only absolutely immaculate, but the staff are so friendly you really do feel like part of the family.
What's more, having heard so much about some of them from friends, I feel I already know them, and of course they know several of my friends already (I did the obligatory hellos from friends back home of course!). Aey, Fai and Aoi (Dr. Suporn's wife) in particular were just lovely, and we talked for what seemed like ages.
One very unexpected part of my welcome was that I was given a garland of fresh flowers. I can't begin to describe my emotions but they truly did make me feel special and welcome.
At one point one of them noticed that I had a burn on one of my fingers (a result of rushed cooking on Monday evening I'm afraid), and they insisted on treating it for me - even steralising it with Betadine before dressing it.
I was asked for my passport and referral letter, and while waiting to see Dr. Suporn I was also given a personalised booklet describing the what will happen at the hospital before my surgery, and what I need to know about post-op care etc.
All to soon our chatting was interrupted when the time came for me to see the man himself. He was very friendly and I felt immediately at ease with him. I was shown diagrams of his techniques and photographs of results (including comparisons with natal females - and a very impressive comparison it was too!) before being asked to lie on a couch to examine the "donor material". Oddly enough it's not the first time I've had to lie on a couch with my legs apart this year (I've had two sessions of laser treatment on my genital area this year) so it wasn't something I found at all difficult - which is probably just as well given what's going to happen on Friday!
After manipulating the "last turkey in the shop" into various configurations, he told me that my scrotal sac wasn't particularly "baggy", and asked how important depth was to me. When I told him that "as long as I had at least 6" I'd be happy" he seemed pleased, and told me that as I was uncircumcised sensitivity and appearance would not be a problem. Apparently he prefers to use material from the foreskin to form the labia minora as it gives a more realistic appearance, so being uncircumcised is a distinct advantage.
One thing which did intrigue me was what Suporn said about sensitivity - that his technique could
leave the patient with more sensitivity than a natal female. That's especially impressive given
the much lower density of nerve endings in the glans than in the clitoris of a natal female. Although
some will probably argue that to be excessive, I find the prospect rather intriguing - just maybe it
makes up for all those years of missing out?
After seeing Dr Suporn Aey and Fai walked me back to the hotel, all three of us arm in arm! It's the little things like that that really make me feel at home here. Suporn is of course running a business, but the sort of care I'm being shown is way beyond anything I ever expected.
At the hotel we found Kazzy chatting with the other girls there, and I was hugged by everyone before Aey and Fai left. Kazzy and I then dined with the others (I ordered a fish in chilli sauce dish which turned out to be as hot as I hoped but huge! I barely managed a quarter of it).
After dinner Kazzy and I went up to our room (323) and I visited Toni for a chat in 316.
Tomorrow morning at 10am I transfer to the hospital, and then the fun begins! Right now though, it's the end of a busy couple of days, and I really need to get some sleep.
Thursday 13th November - Arrival at the Hospital, and preparation for surgery
It's been a rather busy morning - not unexpected given that my surgery is tomorrow! Kazzy was awake
before me, and went down for breakfast at 6:45am. After a heavenly shower I joined her at about 7:30
(I have to say the food in the Mercure is excellent, by the way!) and afterwards we sat outside on
the front terrace for a short while drinking tea and coffee and relaxing. While she went for a brief
wander to look for a newsagents, I went back to the room to prepare for check-out.
Wannee popped her head around our door at 8:45am to tell me that check-out was at 9:45 and that we could leave some of our baggage with the hotel, so I spent the next half an hour sorting out what we needed in the hospital (not much, as it turned out!) and what could be left at the hotel. Kazzy returned shortly afterwards.
When the time came to leave we said goodbye to Toni, and Wannee and Fai accompanied us down to reception where I was promptly ambushed by the other girls! After saying our goodbyes and paying the bill for the night (1750 Baht, or which 1100 Baht was for the room and the remainder for the meal last night) Wannee drove us to the hospital.
It's a busy place, and after waiting for a few minutes, things happened rather quickly. A nurse (Minda, who we later came to know very well) took me through the process of checking into the hospital. First of all I had blood samples taken. Next came the X-Rays (chest and face, the latter for my FFS in January) and finally ECG, weight, temperature and blood pressure. I actually found it to be quite a relaxing experience, particularly the ECG.
A few minutes later we were taken to the 8th floor of the hospital, and waited for an hour or so in Room 881D (the "VIP suite" according to the map on the door) while we waited for our room to be prepared. We spent the time relaxing, taking a few pictures of the view from the balcony and chatting. In the meantime, a nurse took our orders for lunch and the evening meal - my last for a while!
Soon afterwards we moved to the room I'll call home for the next 8 days - 803, next door to the room Susie stayed in back in May.
Shortly afterwards the nurses moved in an extra bed for Kazzy. That was a beautiful gesture and something I didn't expect as there is a couch in the room I thought she'd have to sleep on. When I was in the maternity unit with my now ex-wife for the birth of my children back in the UK I had to find somewhere to sleep myself, so this was a lovely surprise.
After eating a light lunch earlier we're now just taking it easy waiting for things to happen. The
real fun starts at 8pm when I'm due to prepped for surgery - and that means enemas! From midnight onwards,
I'm nil by mouth, but I'm minded to only drink water from 8pm until midnight.
I've just had a visit from my anaesthetist, who explained about what she'll be doing tomorrow and why, as well as what I can do to keep my circulation ticking over during my immediate recovery period. Although I'll be bed-bound and unable to even sit up for 5 days, moving my limbs will help to keep me in shape so that when I do finally try to stand I'm less likely to have problems - and reduce the risk of me suffering from DVT. As well as my wearing support stockings during the surgery, the nursing staff will massage my legs regularly to reduce the risk still further.
Another set of blood pressure, heart rate and temperature readings have just been taken. That's the third since I arrived this morning!
At 7:30pm a nurse arrived to shave my genitals and give me the dreaded enemas (always plural!). Having an enema is probably the most unpleasant experience I've had in quite some time, and thankfully I only needed three - far less than what I'd been led to expect. That may be in part due to the fact that since breakfast today (toast and other bready things) I've only eaten a light salad and some soup though! By contrast, being shaved just tickled - it wasn't at all unpleasant.
I now have a "Nothing Per Oral" sign hung over the end of my bed.
Kazzy is sleeping right now. I'm still fairly wide awake, relaxing and watching City of Angels on DVD (my laptop has a player, and with the aid of a couple of cables I managed to route the output through the TV in the hospital room). Given its theme of rebirth, a more appropriate movie for tonight I just can't imagine, and watching it has really brought on the tears that those who know me well are all too familiar with.
This time however, it's so much more. I feel at peace; serene; content with the knowledge that by this time tomorrow I'll be whole at last. Even if the worst happens, I will be myself, and that's something I never dared dream possible when I took my first inadvertent steps on this journey in April 2001 at a prayer meeting in Buckskin Evangelical Church.
I find it rather ironic that the Church which couldn't cope with my transition played an integral part in my accepting this was a journey I must make. It's a real tragedy that they felt the way they did, and even more so that so many of us with Faith are without Fellowship wandering alone and feeling alienated because of those people or Churches who've reacted the same way.
As I've said many times before, I'm one of the lucky ones.