I’d had years of great service from my ophthalmologist in California so, when I was considering cataract surgery in Thailand I went to see him when I was back in the Bay Area last Fall. But he quoted me $7,000 for both eyes. I thought this a bit rich for 20 minute outpatient procedures.
So last week I had my second cataract surgery here in Chiang Mai, at Rajadev Hospital, where I’d had the first eye done. I waited 6 months between surgeries because I’d made so many first-timer mistakes that it took 6 months to recover. The second operation was a snap and I was driving happily the next day, with perfect vision. While there are probably very few others dumb enough to make every mistake, I felt that it might be useful to create a catalog of errors – like forgetting a critical question for your surgeon or getting an eye infection because you’ve been told not to let water near it for a month – so I wrote the book whose cover you see at right. (Read it on Amazon). The total bill for both eyes, including drugs and checkups, was 90,000 Baht, US$3,000. Care was superb throughout and the pre-and post-op procedures – like triple-checking before administering eye medication – were world class and very confidence-inspiring. The hospital is run by women, (men fill all senior roles but can do little operational damage). The women are charming, pretty, and really know their jobs. My surgeon was – you guessed it – a pretty, charming woman. When I asked her, with some alarm, why she would not sedate me during the operation, she explained that the local anesthetics that are so effective for eye operations can, in rare instances, trigger a thermal shutdown that would leave the patient hypothermic in a cold operating theater. “Best to be able to talk to each other throughout the operation”, she said. Oh.
Despite my mistakes, everything turned out wonderfully. Cataract surgery has probable done more good for more people than almost any other surgical procedure. Don’t hesitate to have it done. And having it done in Thailand can save you a bundle. If you choose Chiang Mai (laid back vs. Bangkok’s hustle) my friend Aimie Paradee, the best guide to Chiang Mai, will pick you up at the airport, check you into your hotel, show you around, accompany you to surgery, pay your bill and generally care for you. That’s what she did for me. She’s a Chiang Mai native and a mother, so she knows about taking care of people. Including driving you around, she charges 4,000 Baht ($130)/day – and keeps you laughing the whole time. (Her Thai moms’ advice about healing is free. As is the scolding).
(The week after my eye surgery I went back to the hospital and I had all my actinic keratoses (minor skin lesions from youthful exposure to the Australian sun) blasted with liquid CO2. The nurses remembered me on sight and why I’d come. I was in and out in 40 minutes. Total cost was 1600 Bt ($35). It’s great to have this kind of maintenance work done promptly and cheaply).
Follow-Up: I went for my 6-month surgery follow-up yesterday. My angelic, perfectly coiffed surgeon greeted me, took my vital signs (including blood oxygen) and ran me through a battery of tests on her very cool German equipment. I was able to read down to the last line on the eye chart, without glasses! In the final one she photographed my retinas and put the images up on the screen. Then she called up my retinal images she’d taken of each eye prior to the surgery. She put all 4 images up and the difference was staggering: my pre-surgery eyes were almost opaque: you could barely see the retina and its characteristic blood vessels. In the post-op shots you could see every detail of two (very healthy) retinas.
I was in and out of the hospital’s parking lot in under an hour, even though I didn’t have a fixed appointment and the bill? 609 baht ($US15).