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Female Trouble (or, Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain)

This isn't about Oz, it's about the gynecologist's office.  And it must
say something about how long I've been in Korea that for the moment I've
stopped writing about 'travel' and started writing about trips to the
doctor's office.  And not just any doctor's office either, mind you -
the 'woman's' doctor.  Consider yourself forewarned.

First of all, perhaps I shouldn't assume anything.  A gynecologist is a
doctor who specializes in a woman's reproductive health.  (S)he's the
'breasts and bits' guy.  A trip to the gynecologist ranks somewhere
below having molars extracted without any Novocaine for most* women
(acknowledging that I haven't used this actual comparison in talking
with my female friends...), not because of any pain factor but just in
terms of sheer enjoyability.  I mean seriously, does any man relish the
thought of that prostate exam you have to get?  I wrote this message
first without this paragraph, but then in trying to come up with a good
comparison for my male readers I realized that not only do I not know
what a doctor who specializes in male reproductive health is called, but
even if there is one.  It seems reasonable to think there would be, but
I can't for the life of me recall ever hearing about one.  If you are
highly sensitive to 'too much information' type messages, this is your
last warning.

I am sitting quietly in the 2nd floor waiting room of one of Changwon's
larger and newer private hospitals.  Although judging from the variety
of patients cruising the grounds in wheelchairs or tied to IV-poles the
hospital treats everything, it has a special reputation for obstetrics
and gynecology.  The percentage of women in the last stages of
pregnancy or toting freshly spawned offspring rivals that of Seoul's
air conditioned Coex Mall when the baby fair was in town in the middle
last August's heat wave.  The only thing stopping me from bolting in
terror is the soothing presence of a cute albino hedgehog beside the
nurse's desk.  None of the children tearing around the place seem to
notice them, but I am greatly comforted.

I didn't come to this particular hospital because of its reputation.  I
came because I'd met one of the doctors at the top of the mountain
behind my house when I fist came to town and was pretty sure his English
was good.  Call me crazy for not being eager to bring along any of my
Korean friends to translate (or not, depending on their comfort level). 
A trip to the physiotherapist or ENT I can handle in Korean - 'I have a
cold' or 'other side please' are not too tough for any novice language
learner.  The vocabulary involved in this endeavor however seemed likely
to be a bit less mundane.

One of the nurses comes over to me, walking very softly in her white,
orthopedic, nurse-or-nun sandals.  She looks very uncomfortable.  I'm
absolutely sure this is because I am a foreigner and not because she's
actually uncomfortable with the subject matter.  She leans in close and
whispers something in rapid-fire Korean.  I stare at her dumbly.  She
asks me, in Korean, if I speak any Korean.  Under the circumstances I
think it's best to say no.  She purses her lips for a moment, looks at
the hedgehog (probably comparing our intellects), then smiles and comes
back with something that may have been English.  She says it so quickly
that I can't tell.  She repeats it a little louder, still no response
from the mute in the chair.  Then, very loudly and very clearly, she
barks 'COITUS HISTORY!'  She's asking about sex.  Every eye in the
waiting room turns to us.  She turns on her heel and goes back to the
nurse's desk. This is probably not going to go as smoothly as I had

Luckily, the doctor does speak English.  After asking me for the 6th
time if I am absolutely sure I am not pregnant we move on to the
physical examination.  While he sits at his desk in the adjoining room,
the nurse hands me a black, floral-print skirt with a narrow lace ruffle
around the bottom and an elastic waistband.  Like I really want to look
feminine under the circumstances.  As I pull it on, I swear to myself
that I will never complain about an ugly green hospital gown again.  The
vinyl-covered chair looms large in the middle of the room, looking
suspiciously like one of the weight machines from my gym stripped of its
weight stack.  In position, I am almost sitting up, the entire length of
my legs cradled by the massive, padded rests that curve away from each
other at a most uncomfortable angle.  The nurse hitches the skirt up
high around my waist - I don't know why she bothered making me put it on
in the first place.  

And then she pulls the curtain across my upper body, slicing me neatly
in two.

A curtain???  What does she think she's doing?  All of the equipment and
machines, not to mention the exposed half of my body, is now out of my
view.  How will I be able to understand what's going on if I can't see
any of it?  I'm not a claustrophobic person, but the thought of not
being able to see the proceedings is truly frightening.  I open the
curtain.  She mutters something about not worrying and pulls it firmly
closed.  I open it.  She glares at me. The doctor comes in.  'Oh my god
I'm sorry!' he yelps as he makes to hightail it back to the other room. 
The nurse stops him, telling him that I won't let her close the curtain
in a tone of voice usually reserved for snitching on siblings.  The
doctor looks a little bemused as he asks me if I'd prefer to leave the
curtain open, and we get underway.

The examination itself goes as smoothly and comfortably as one could
hope under the circumstances.  He explains everything he's going to do
BEFORE he does any of it, in the best tradition of enlightened
gynecology.  He is gentle, fast and very professional.  He goes back to
his desk, I get re-dressed and go out to meet him.

'What do you mean you don't want to take any medicine??' he asks,
completely incredulous after explaining his diagnosis to me.  I have had
my period for 3 solid weeks and he's just finished telling me that it's
either caused by stress or something unknown-but-innocuous, that it
happens very, very commonly to women my age who have not had any
children.  We have already ascertained that there is little or no danger
to me from the mandarin-sized cyst that is attached to my left ovary,
and that it will almost certainly disappear on its own very, very soon. 
As for the period, it's annoying and fatiguing, but also not dangerous. 
'I don't want to take oral contraceptives if I don't have to' I tell
him, and he drops his pen that I know what his carefully unnamed
'hormone-type pills' are.  When he realizes that I have at least half a
clue, he cuts the crap.  'I have no idea how long the bleeding will
continue,' he says, 'no one has ever refused them before.'  

I leave the office without a prescription, but with a promise to return
a week later if the bleeding continues.  It doesn't.  Relaying the story
in my Korean friend's kitchen (a middle aged mother with a couple of
teenaged sons -  not present), she almost falls off her chair when I
tell her about the curtain.  She sticks her knees up in the air in a
fair impression of a dead cockroach and asks, 'you mean face-to-face,
here?????'  I ask her how else I am supposed to talk to him during the
examination and she looks utterly gobsmacked.  'Why on earth would you
want to TALK to him???????'.  There is a lot about this country that I
have left to learn.