Thailand carves out unique niche in surgery

SURGICAL SPECIALITY: The kingdom has become the world center for penis reattachment due to a potent mix of a tradition of polygamy, phallic symbolism and knives

AFP , BANGKOK

Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 5

They have been boiled, fed to ducks, even attached to balloons and cast into the night sky -- when it comes to permanently depriving a cheating lover of a recently severed penis, the imagination of the wronged Thai woman knows few bounds.

Thailand has become the world center of penis reattachment surgery, but then it has been forced to be. While not unique to the kingdom, penis severing has been honed in the kingdom to its most devastating effect through a heady mixture of routine infidelity, assertive womanhood and a national cuisine that lends itself to a kitchen full of sharp knives.

The men are now fearful of a rash of Thailand's most notorious crime of passion, according to the surgeon who has stitched back many a male member for grateful patients.

Sitting in his office at Bangkok's Paolo Memorial Hospital, surgeon Surasak Muangsombot recalled how he re-attached his first phallus in 1978 and soon discovered that penis hacking was a peculiarly Thai form of sexual violence.

Since then Sweden has had three cases, the US two and one in Australia.

In the same period, Surasak's team alone has operated on 33 cases and many more have been reported around Thailand.

"Some years there are three or five and then it goes quiet. It goes in and out of fashion but sometimes its like an epidemic," he said, mimicking with his nimble surgeon's hands the swoop of a blade on an unsuspecting member.

Doctors and psychologists blame the shocking attacks on a cultural mix of Thailand's tradition of polygamy, which was banned about 100 years ago but still persists, and the fact that the phallus is revered as a symbol of power and fertility.

The phenomenon has become so widespread that doctors have had to keep up with increasingly inventive and angry wives and lovers who want to prevent the offending item from being reattached.

"They boil them, feed them to ducks, flush them down the toilet, bury them and have even tied them to balloons and let them float away," Surasak said.

He said his hardest case required bribing an angry wife to confess its location in a septic tank and the hiring of a wrecking crew to retrieve it.

"I asked the nurse to clean it up well and warned the patient that he may get septicemia and he said, `do your best and if it gets septicemia I will die with my penis.'"

"It was 15 hours between it being chopped off and reattached, which is much longer than the books say it can be done, but I went ahead and to my surprise everything went fine," he said.

The latest case was reported on Tuesday when a 29-year-old northeastern farmer was admitted to hospital for surgery with a severed penis, claiming that his wife kicked him.

The couple had fought, she then denied his requests for sex and kicked him when he complained, according to his account to doctors. Such were the length of her toe nails, she severed his penis.

Thai psychologist and media commentator Dr. Wallop Piyamanotham said the practice stemmed primarily from the outlawed, but flourishing, habit of keeping secret wives.

"Before a man could have many wives but later we followed the Western law of one man one wife, but men still act the same and have many wives so the only revenge open to the wife is to cut off his penis," Wallop said.

"Very few of these men have sex with their main wife and this leaves her feeling sexually unimportant and the only joy they have is getting him to come home and spend more time with his family," Wallop said.

The phallus also plays a special role in Thailand as a symbol of personal vigor and prosperity, and carved wooden and stone phalluses are found everywhere from shop fronts to ship prows.

Wallop said this special symbolism also made it a prime target for a vengeful partner.

"It's not just about being practical and getting his mind off sex, it is like a symbol of potency so they cut off his power," Wallop said.

In another reported case this year, a bloodied Preecha Nasomyon, 31, was found by neighbors after he had an argument with his wife over an extramarital affair.

The fight ended with Preecha's privates being nearly completely severed by a large kitchen knife.

The distraught man refused to press charges against his wife and had his penis successfully re-attached by experienced surgeons.

Surasak said despite the damage done to patients such as Preecha, the recovery rate is surprisingly high.

"The operation success rate is 100 percent but I think only about 50 percent can again experience normal reliable function again," he said.

"The wife of one recovered patient complained her guy made love to her four to seven times an night and was waking her up at all hours because it only lasted two to three minutes," said Surasak with a resigned shrug, adding "we do our best."

He warned men who insist on being unfaithful to follow a few golden rules.

"If you have a mistress they [wives] will get mad and cut it any time, so make her very happy, always carry a thermos to put it in and keep the name of a good doctor close by," he said.