Unexpected Biopsy in Thailand

We’ve been dealing with a fairly significant issue here behind the scenes in Northern Thailand. For the last several months I’ve had some concerning symptoms that I’ve been trying to ignore. But it finally got bad enough that I knew I had to address it, so I booked an appointment with a local doctor.  That appointment was last night.

Although I considered going into the appointment alone, Ethan came with me. I’m so glad he did. After the preliminary exam the doctor decided to do an ultrasound, and I started to get nervous as the ultrasound dragged on and she started printing out pictures.  Back in her office following the exam she told us she had found a tumor. She was sure this was the cause of the symptoms I had been experiencing and that removing it would alleviate those symptoms. But she also insisted on testing the tissue for cancer. The operation needed to happen quickly and was scheduled for early this morning, just 14 hours after the initial exam. Though the doctor speaks some English, her accent, limited vocabulary and general lack of fluency makes for a difficult and confusing conversation. In addition to language, there are some cutural tendencies with Thais that are endearing, until they aren’t. One such tendency is to answer “yes” to almost everything, even if “yes” is not the actual answer. Ultimately we gathered that she was concerned the tumor could be cancerous. These conversations go something like this:

Doc – You have tumoh(r) little big that cause problem now. And two very small. I want remove fix problem and leave other one and tes(t) for cancer.

Us – So there’s one tumor?

Doc – Yes

Us – But you mentioned something else?

Doc – Yes

Us – So…is there more than one tumor?

Doc – Yes (smiling and nodding now)

Us – Ah, ok. Where are they? The other ones?

Doc – Yes, the others very small not problem. We take big one and test, if ok then maybe ok. We remove small ones but maybe cannot because in wrong place for procedure. Take out different way but maybe not need.

Us – Okay…so we remove the bigger tumor now, and leave the others?

Doc – Yes.

Us – Yes, we leave the other two?

Doc – Yes because maybe cancer not normal.

Us – Not normal?

Doc – Yes, maybe not normal okay.

Us – Oh! Do you mean those type are not normally cancerous?

Doc – Yes

Us – But the other one sometimes is?

Doc – Yes

We left, minds reeling with an early surgery appointment suddenly scheduled for our Saturday morning. We hadn’t eaten dinner yet and it was late, so after leaving the hospital we stopped by a friend’s restaurant to eat before going home. I felt so disoriented and disconnected. It was hard to enjoy the food or the celebratory Friday night atmosphere, which included an amazingly talented 16-year-old local boy playing solo acoustic guitar. We texted both sets of parents and messaged our confidential prayer group during dinner to ask them all to pray for peace for the next morning.

This morning I packed everything I thought I might want for a hospital visit, including a blanket. From my visit the night before I had a feeling creature comforts wouldn’t be high on the list of patient needs. We’ve noticed in the past that much of the medical care in our part of Thailand tends to feel like it’s from the 1980’s, but had high hopes that going to the most popular hospital for expats in town would help.

After arriving at the hospital we did all the check-in procedures. Surgery was set to take two hours, during which time I’d be unconscious and Ethan would be missing breakfast. I encouraged him to find something to eat at a nearby cafe. So when I was called back into an exam room and it appeared I was all set for surgery, he left. You can imagine our surprise when the nurse asked for me to call my husband back fifteen minutes later. We were confused and at first thought they wanted him to push my wheelchair into the operating room. But no. Apparently they just didn’t want a crazy, doped-up foreign girl loose in the hospital without a responsible adult to keep an eye on her! They commanded Ethan to sit in a specific chair in the waiting area and insisted that he not move.

We went back to surgery and I quickly realized NO ONE back there spoke English. They tried to ask some questions but since I’ve not studied much medical terminology in Thai, I was pretty lost. They then left me sprawled out on the operating table, alone, for about twenty minutes. I texted Ethan, wondering if he knew what was going on, and he told me he had just seen my doctor from the night before shuffle-running through the hospital. It appeared she was late, or possibly forgot she had a patient waiting in surgery.

After reading about my specific surgery online, I had expected a lot of pain during the procedure. But there are some benefits of getting treated in a different country. The only real pain that happened was from the IV, and then they put me to sleep!

After the surgery I woke up in a huge room. There was nobody close by, but I was done with being in the hospital and ready to finally eat breakfast. I sat up slowly and the room started swimming, but still managed to call out “excuse me?” in Thai repeatedly until I got someone’s attention. While I couldn’t quite focus on the person’s face, I told them in Thai that I was hungry and ready to go home and eat rice. (This is the easiest way to convey you want to eat — to say you want to eat rice.) I think the person was amused at the crazy foreigner trying to get up and leave, but had mercy on me and took me out to Ethan.

 While medical expenses are quite a bit less here than it would have been in America, it still shocked us how quickly we were able to burn through baht. It’s the same adjustment we’ve been making for years now…things cost less, but you also have less to spend, and somehow in our heads we think “less” is just a little more than “free”, which is most certainly not the case. In the end we were thankful for that universally understood English phrase: You take Visa? We will find out the results of the biopsy in just over a week. It’s tempting to worry about this, not knowing the medical results or how deep the cost might extend from here. But I’m determined to keep my eyes on Jesus and the hope we have in him. He continues to give us new opportunities to trust in His provision, and we know that He will be no less faithful this time. Thanks for praying with us!


  1. Wow! I can only imagine. Praying for you, what an experience to endure. You amaze me to no end. Your faith blesses me. We will keep praying! Lots of love!

  2. Oh, Kimberly…I am so sorry to read about this. I will be praying for you and that the tumor is not cancerous. You are not alone. I don’t think you know this but, I had a lump removed several years ago, in 2001. I was so thankful that it wasn’t cancer. The docs removed it, but it came back and they had to do surgery again to remove it. It hasn’t recurred. I do so hope that yours isn’t cancer.

    Love to you, sweet girl
    Marty Nichols

  3. Wow! I’m praying for you girl! Hang in there! You’re super brave! And just keep remembering that even though all of this is a surprise and a shock for you, that it wasn’t that way to God. He’s got you <3

    "You hem me in~ behind and before. You have laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, to lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I hide from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens You are there. If I make my bed in the depths You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I go to the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me. Your right hand will hold me fast." Psalms 139:5-10

  4. Oh Kimberly. Thank you for sharing your experience. I will share with our family and we will be lifting you, Ethan and the kids up in prayer. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling but am grateful that God is by your side every scary step. Love you guys, praying against cancer and that whatever else was visible on your scan be gone in Jesus name. Amen.

  5. Dear Kimberly…my prayers are with you. After being in a foreign country for two wks with the language barrier I can’t even image what it must be like for the two of you. God is good and your faithfulness to him in far reaching. He is a God that never forsakes his children. Love and Hugs Tracy

  6. Kimberly,
    You, Ethan and the kiddos are always in my prayers but now I’m sending more extra special prayers your way! Your family is very special to me as well you are a very special family in God’s heart.
    Love, peace and understanding to you all.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *