Just remember while you read this that I warned you (it's all right there in the subject line)...
I am told that Korean doctors are among the most highly trained in all the world. Their techniques and training are superb and their access to diagnostic technology en masse are practically unparallelled anywhere. Whether or not that is true I can't say. What I can say is that my first experience with the Korean medical franchise was quite possibly among the most frustrating experiences of my whole life.
Wednesday afternoon at work. I am throwing up. Again. My boss decides that maybe it's not in her best interest to leave me another day without medical attention (earlier she had said that maybe Thursday would be a more "convenient time" to take me...) and sends me off with the other school administrator to the clinic across the street. Dr. Lee (almost everyone in Korea is a Lee, a Kim or a Park, 75%, so the chances were pretty high). At the front desk I get asked my name and birthdate, then I get ushered into the inner sanctum to meet the man himself.
Dr. Lee is an older middle-aged man, distinguished looking. My companion (Joe) bows very deeply when we enter the room, so I know this guy has some major respect going on in society. I bow too, but in the back of my head the warning bells are already going off - this means nothing good, I think. See, I grew up at a time in North America when people are being urged to take responsibility for their own healthcare - ask questions!, take initiative!, be informed! Furthermore, several of my friends have recently earned their own doctor stripes, and I know them too well to be in awe - I know darn well how many tests they faked their way through and how very human they are (just like me, except with more specific training). Part of respect here however is not asking questions. Taking initiative and being informed go out the window pretty darn fast.
After respect, there is the whole language problem. Namely, he speaks Korean and I don't. Cue the middleman, Joe. Now don't get me wrong, Joe's English is very good - he can talk to me about pay or bus routes any day of the week. Trying to communicate symptoms and medical terminology is another thing entirely however. What we get are long periods of talking by either myself or the doctor, followed by one or two brief sentences by Joe (what is he leaving out, I wonder?!!) and much gesturing on all parts. I have no idea if what Dr. Lee thinks is going on with me is actually what is going on with me, and I'm pretty sure he is wondering the same thing. Meanwhile Joe, in an effort to be understood, is saying helpful things like (this has got to be the top of the list of things I never though an employer would say to me...) "how's your foo, um, poo?"
The entire visit, language problems and all, takes about 6 minutes. Dr. Lee does once press on my stomach, but otherwise conducts no examination of any kind. Well, I guess he did check for dehydration (what a surprise - after 9 days of throwing up, I am dehydrated!), but other than that nothing. He conveys through Joe that he is giving me two kinds of medicine, and that I should rest and be careful to get lots of liquids. When I try to ask him some questions, Joe just frowns at me and says nothing. When I talk about allergies, Joe reluctantly interupts the doctors' typing up prescriptions, but Dr. Lee just shakes his head. The visit is over. I am walked out the door, knowing only that I am not digesting anything (you think?!!), and perhaps that the 2 medicines are not going to poison me (I hope). When I ask Joe what is going on, he says only "I am not the doctor."
In the pharmacy downstairs I am handed my 2 medications. Only there aren't two pills, there are 7 - it's a regular little blister-pack drug cocktail. What the heck is all this?!!! Joe doesn't understand my surprise or confusion. I say over and over - this is not 2 medicines, it is 7, LOOK! He keeps saying, no, two, no, two. Apparently it doesn't matter how many kinds of medication are being given - only when you take them. I take the sets at two different times of day, so there are two kinds of medicine. Whatever. I won't even start with the trauma involved with trying to figure out what exactly the medicines all are - suffice to say that that particular fact will forever remain a mystery.
When we step out of the building, it is still raining. It has been raining for about 7 hours straight, and I am not surprised. Joe grabs my arm, pulls me back into the lobby worriedly, and says we will wait for it to pass. Yah right. Apparently, in the 10 minutes we've been upstairs the rain has turned deadly and we can no longer walk across the street to our own building without suffering grievious harm. Why didn't I think of that? I ask him about it and he scowls and says "China - this rain is from China." Uh huh. Unfortunately, I have not been miraculously cured by the revered Dr. Lee and need to throw up again. Waiting out the rain is not an option. When I make a break for it, Joe reluctantly follows.
I get out of the bathroom exhausted, upset, angry. I make a telephone call to a trusted friend, with the assurance of my boss that my class (it's now exactly time for class to start) will be covered for a few minutes. When I come back in however, I find my students running wild around the school while the director has her feet up reading a book at the front desk. She asks how I am doing, and when I say not well she says "at least you only have 3 more classes today." Her concern is overwhelming. The rest of the day passes and I go home to fall into bed.
Thursday dawns, cold and rainy (a nice break from the sweltering heat of the last few days). My stomach is still flipping cartwheels, although I have not thrown up for almost 12 whole hours. I wonder how I am going to make it through another day at the office. My boss has made it abundantly clear that short of death, I am well enough to work, and in any case if I take the day off it will be the other foreign staff who have to cover for me and some of them are beginning to develop the same symptoms I have. Uugh. I am all set for a teeth-gritting-endurance-test kind of day when something amazing happens. My classes go spectacularly well. All of them. Perfect. By the end of the day I find myself actually smiling again. Sick, true, but happy. Perfect.
It all started with the class that I had been trying to communicate a concept to unsuccessfully for a whole month acing a pop quiz. All of them - 100%. Then there was the group of silent misfits who couldn't wait to talk. The day ended with a class fighting each other (amicably, and in English) over who would get to answer each question (correctly!), everyone laughing and joking - all in English!! Unbelievable. It was terrific.
As I walked out the door, one of our new Korean teachers (whom I share many of my classes with) patted me on the back and summed it all up - "For all that the little buggers beat it out of you, they sure can give it back too." How true it is.
PS. It's Friday morning now and it's going on 36 hours since I last threw up. Not too bad, eh?!! The rest of my sickness has not worked itself out yet - I am looking forward to eating real food again and not getting cramps 90% of the day, but it's a start (and who would have thought that Grandma's famous chicken noodles would be just as good without the chicken in a big bowl of rice broth?). Tonight after work I hop the bus for Seoul again, and my friends at the church. My big weekend plans are sleeping lots, walking on the mountain, and getting well. I hope you have equally productive endeavours in mind to pass your time. Take care and God bless - I am thinking of you.