CityNews reporter Cynthia Mulligan travelled to Thailand to cover the story of Danica Rain, a Ontario transgender woman who underwent gender reassignment surgery at a clinic in Bangkok. CityNews had world-exclusive access inside the operating room as Ontario funded the surgery, for the first time, as it’s not available in this province.
Note: This piece contains explicit language.
“Are you scared?,” the nurse asked me. “No,” I said.
We are in the operating room at the Kamol Clinic in Thailand. Danica is under anesthesia, her gender confirmation surgery is about to begin. Seconds before she was put under I had just taken the most remarkable shot that I found absolutely riveting, Danica had a serene look on her face as she looked up at the ceiling, she was smiling and there was one tear in the corner of her eye. In that moment she seemed to me like someone who was facing death, accepting it with grace, peace. In a way I suppose that is what was happening, she was ready to end the life that had caused her so much agony as a man and wake up reborn as a woman.
She turns to look at me from the operating table as the lone tear falls from her eye.
“It is a tear of happiness Cynthia,” she says.
And then the mask is put over her face and she is under. Dr. Kamol is set to begin her transformation.
Staff at the clinic had told me I could watch the three-hour surgery from the gallery. I wasn’t allowed to shoot it because Dr. Kamol’s method is top secret. He is only one of a handful of doctors in the world who can perform the male to female surgery and has perfected it in his own way it over the past 18 years, how he does it is a closely guarded secret to prevent other doctors from stealing his technique. They tell me I am the first reporter they have ever allowed to witness this surgery.
My camera is off and I am waiting for someone to take me to the gallery so I can watch the procedure. In my mind I am picturing a “Grey’s Anatomy” scenario and I will view it from behind a glass window in another room.
“Where is the gallery?,” I ask a nurse.
She just looks at me and motions at the room, I suddenly realize THIS is the gallery. I am about to watch the surgery first hand — with no glass barrier offering a shield from reality.
“Are you scared?,” another nurse asks me, her eyes twinkling, wondering if I can handle it.
“No,” I lied.
I’ve never been in an operating room during a surgery before. I honestly don’t know how I will react to what I am about to see and the inevitable blood, but there is no way I’m leaving.
The room is freezing cold. Dr. Kamol sits down and doesn’t get up or speak during the entire surgery. There is a quick efficient team around him handing him instruments, suctioning blood away so he can see. And yes there is blood. As he makes his cuts with the scalpel, I stand as far away as possible, but then I force myself to separate the fact I am looking at Danica and watch this purely from a medical perspective. Gradually, I inch closer to the operating table to see more clearly. I am now about two feet behind Dr. Kamol.
What he is doing is fascinating. (Just to warn you I’m going to get a little graphic now.)
Dr. Kamol makes a large cut.
The testicles are removed.
The skin from the scrotum and penis saved; this skin is crucial. It is rich in nerve endings and will be used to make the labia and clitoris, allowing more sexual sensation and the possibility the patient will be able to climax.
In the corner of the operating room, two people are sitting at a small table, ever so carefully cleaning this skin, delicately flattening it so it is as thin as tissue paper. They work silently for about two hours.
The clinic manager is in the room with me, watching. She tells me Dr. Kamol’s technique has less scarring so the patient can wear a bikini. “Lots of other doctors would like to see how he does that,” she says.
After about three hours, Dr. Kamol makes his final stitch and it is done. I have just watched a surgeon complete Danica’s transition to a woman. Her dream is now a reality.