Boobs, Botches and Bribes
Chloe awoke to the feeling of a foreign object scaling her oesophagus. It was long and thin, like a rogue piece of spaghetti trying to escape its demise. She began to suffocate. Her eyes filled with saline, her nose congested and black specks danced along her vision.
But Chloe hadn’t eaten any spaghetti. In fact, she hadn’t eaten in days. Even the cold, metallic feel of the operating table beneath her failed to prompt where she was. Chloe had come-to mid-operation, during a surgery to amend her botched breast job in Thailand. She had arrived back in the realm of consciousness as the breathing tube was being jerked from her throat. Her chest seared and panic shot through her body, before quickly dissolving as she was infused with more sedative.
Thailand reigns supreme when it comes to operative getaways, and has held its place in the market for quite some time. In an effort to rebuild its economy after the 1997 East Asian currency collapse, government officials directed the tourism board to endorse Thailand as the hub for “cheap plastics”. In 2012, the World Health Organisation estimated its gross tourism revenue from surgical travellers and their companions had reached USD$900 million.
Granted, these figures don’t account for the impractical separation of medical tourists from expats and immigrants, or visitors getting banged up abroad. However, given that usually Western medical costs are sliced by 50 – 75 per cent in Thailand, the slogan “cheap plastics” definitely bears some weight.
The discount by no means implies the technology is inferior, either. Thailand is currently heading up critical research in stem cell transplants, and numerous hospitals in Bangkok could easily be mistaken for five-star hotels, some even fit with airline counters and ‘International Patient Lounges’. The care available to foreigners includes cancer treatment, dentistry, orthopaedic and cardiovascular operations, LAP-BAND surgery, sports injury reconstructions and even general CT scans, health screenings or second opinions.
Despite the range of options on the menu, the most popular item is still, by a long shot, cosmetic surgery. This particular type of treatment has clamped down on a huge Western market, and racing to the bottom dollar sits high on its list of priorities.
With the healthcare schemes of numerous capitalist nations crumbling before our eyes, and, paradoxically, the expansion of the middle class in some developing countries, it’s no surprise patients are legging the pond to have their bodies modified. But what really is at stake by being thrifty when going under the foreign knife?
Chloe grew up on Australia’s Gold Coast – an area rife with babes in bikinis and some of Australia’s finest purchasing power. At 21 years old, she decided her A-cups wouldn’t do and started shopping around for an affordable option to climb the alpha-boob. She came across an international patient care company run by two women, which specialised in elective surgery. “Quality Assurance”, read the website, so off Chloe went on a nine-day trip to Bangkok to make mountains out of molehills.
The surgery, flights and accommodation were arranged through the patient care company, setting Chloe back a total of AUD$4000 – less than half the price for the procedure in Australia at the time. Chloe met her surgeon the day after she landed in Bangkok and was on the operating table the following afternoon. Her surgery required a mandatory one-night stay in the hospital, but the morning after she was free to scour Bangkok’s esteemed shopping precincts for brand new bras, in which to house her brand new boobs.
The doctor had very nonchalantly informed Chloe there was an infection in her right breast, but discharged her from the hospital anyway, as her bed was booked for the next patient. Two days after Chloe arrived home, the pain in her chest flared and she went to see her general practitioner. She was prescribed a course of antibiotics and the pain subsided. The problem, however, did not.
A couple of months later, Chloe noticed a large lump underneath her right breast. She contacted a friend who had undergone surgery through the same patient care company, and the two girls swapped notes. In both of their cases, an implant had slipped south from the chest cavity, causing a second bulge to appear below the natural crease of the breast.
Distressed by her lopsided torso, Chloe consulted a plastic surgeon on the Gold Coast. To her dismay, he informed her that the surgery had been executed very incorrectly.
Several ultrasounds, emails, translations, threats and international dial tones later, Chloe was flown back to Bangkok to have her ‘double bubble’ amended by the Professor of Plastic Surgery at the same hospital. The hospital agreed to cover the costs of her operation and accommodation, but declined to provide her flights. This time, Chloe was also told she was not allowed to choose her cup size.
Chloe awoke from her second surgery only to discover she had sustained permanent nerve damage to both of her nipples as well as to her right pectoral muscle. She was advised she would never be able to breastfeed, nor perform certain chest exercises without the risk of her breast tissue tearing further. Upon being discharged from the hospital for the second time, her right breast had swollen to twice the size of her left breast and the double bubble had barely moved. Her breasts were also four cups bigger than the original surgery.
In 2017, the culture created by the Western beauty construct deployed so much booby-business in South-East Asia that Aussie surgical companies were forced to rethink their own pricing strategies. Hospitals on the Gold Coast slashed the cost for a standard silicon upgrade by almost AUD$3000 and resorted to marketing themselves with taglines such as “bargain boobs” or “Australia’s cheapest boob job” just to maintain top positions in Google.
Even more telling of its popularity is the growing market for overseas group expeditions. Australian women (or men) and their flat-chest fellows can now indulge in tropical full moons by the dozen, with busty discounts for crowds of 10 or more.
Chloe returned to Australia after her second operation, devastated and told it would cost around AUD$15,000 AUD to fix her most recent butchery. Gathering her last round of ammunition and what little confidence she had left, she made one final call overseas and threatened the Bangkok hospital with taking her misconduct to every single news publication on the Gold Coast. The hospital responded with an immediate indemnity clause voiding her 10-year warranty and deposited AUD$15,000 AUD into her bank account that very same night. Hush money for her hush puppies.
An international chest upgrade may be easy on the purse, but the risks involved and costs for repairs, however, are certainly not. Chloe learned that post-surgery care goes out the window once you step foot on your flight home; the language barrier can mean your Cs become Es; and, as with most hot commodities, the higher the demand, the sloppier the make – this applies in Australia too.
In the wake of every horror, there are of course stories of great triumph too. Plenty of women from across the globe have successfully treated themselves to Thai-tailored love humps or other foreign enhancements, and wouldn’t change a thing. The crux seems to be that the human body is unpredictable and complex, and not everyone reacts to treatment in the same way. Similarly, not every patient follows post-operative care with the same level of diligence, nor does every doctor know precisely what they are doing. Yet amongst these variables, there does seem to be one general consensus: usually, you get what you pay for.
Cover via Bigstock