At 3 o’clock I went to the hospital hell bent that I would not be admitted and no one could do anything to make me stay. Seriously, what would they do?
Because there are no hospitals in our area we had to drive about 30 minutes away into proper-Daejeon. I’ve only been to a Korean hospital once last year when I got my renewal checkup. They’re all laid out pretty much the same, it’s pretty well organized. Because of the sheer amount of people you take a number for ______ (take a number to be x-rayed, take a number for blood drawing, take a number to pay, etc). You wait and then come up with your number. This hospital was better than the old one because you plugged your patient number in and then you took a number. When it was your turn the person already had your patient number on the screen and there was no need to keep introducing yourself to keep your file figured out.
The clinic that had x-rayed me gave me a CD with all my images on it. We had to submit it to the new hospital. They took 6 minutes to copy it onto their own disk then we went back to the Cardiopulmonary area of the hospital. They took my temperature and decided I had a fever, I was given a mask to wear. We didn’t have to wait long before it was our turn. The other doctor had been much younger and nicer but that’s also pretty typical for where we live vs proper-Daejeon.
He said hello to me in Korean and I just said “hello” in English. I’m not in the mood. He listened to my lungs and decided I would take antibiotics and would come back in 5 days. That’s it.
On the way out he came running after my co-teacher to talk to her about something that was never translated for me. When I came back next week I would get a blood test and more chest x-rays and if things were still bad I would be admitted.
It just so happens that I need to get a major checkup this week or next so I can renew my contract. I asked – well I have to get a chest xray to check for TB and I need to get blood tests for AIDS and drugs, could we just do all of it at once?
“Well then you should be admitted tonight for a week” he said suddenly. I rolled my eyes which was literally the only thing he could see since I was wearing a huge medical mask that went over my nose and mouth.
“We’ll start you on an IV and you’ll get better for the medical test.”
“My health checkup for my employment isn’t checking if I have pneumonia or not, it’s checking for AIDS and drugs. I’m not going to admitted to the hospital just for that.”
My coteacher helped translate how bad of an idea admitting me into the hospital would be.
“Well okay, see you in 5 days then.” Damn right you will.
The receptionist for the Cardiopulmonary area made up my bill for today and for next week. It would be easier to just pay now which I found interesting. We went and took a number and scanned my bill so they knew who I was. It was only a 3 minute wait for about 6 other people.
For the doctors appointment today: $8
For the doctor’s appointment next week: $6
Chest X-rays next week: $4.80
Blood work next week: $21.80
And while this comes to $40.60 I paid $35.35 after my insurance.
I got this huge list of medicines to pick up. We walked across the street from the hospital to a huge pharmacy. We took a number and waited. They called us and we paid first then waited again. The pharmacists were running all over the place filling up these huge paper bags (like a packed lunch) full of medicines for everyone.
팩티브정 – “Factive” LG brand antibiotics, $7
큐란정- a kind of antacid, $14
엘도스캅셀 – dissolves mucus in lungs, $14
락토바이장용캅셀 – stops the diarrhea I don’t have, I imagine this is to counteract the side effects of the other medicines, $14
시네츄라시럽- Cough syrup, $21
Pharmacy Total $56
This is what it all looks like, its a mess. I’m interested that my cough medicine comes in a pouch. It’s a little wasteful compared to just selling it to me in a big jar but then I can only take what I have, no more, no less. So I guess it makes sense. I usually really hate liquid medicine but this one is orange flavor so it was actually okay. Plus it has these terrified guys on it:
I take one of everything 30 minutes after breakfast. 30 minutes after lunch I am to enjoy just one cough syrup and 30 minutes after dinner I get to have cough syrup and the trio packet.
The biggest annoyance besides the lung destroying cough I have is that I have to eat. I’ve really lost my appetite (except for sprite and pringles. Those are okay). I have to eat when I take the medicine so I begrudgingly had a bowl of Frosted Flakes (except they’re called Corn Flight/Corn Plight) with my meds.
My supplies last until next Tuesday but I have my appointment to get chest xrays and blood work on Monday. It feels like a trap a little since if I’m not better by then I’ll have to be admitted. The antibiotic won’t even be finished on Monday.
Also if at any time my fever and aches come back between now and then I’ll have to go back and be admitted to the hospital. Boo.
My coteacher explained all the medicines. “Oh they may make you really tired so if you want to call in sick tomorrow you can just text me.”
Meanwhile my other coteacher has been constantly, “oh are you sure you don’t want to go home?” She was pretty worried about pneumonia and contagiousness.
So I took the hint and called in “sick” today. I don’t have a single class anyway so it makes sense. Just sitting or laying at home is better than walking to school, sitting at my desk and being exposed to everything else. Sitting at home is probably best. Anything that can keep me out of the grips of the hospital. That’s the only goal.
This is extra long but I don’t feel like breaking it up into multiple posts. Instead I will put labels at the top of each part so you can leave and come back if you’d like. Also I guess this is a story where I used 10 words when 3 would’ve sufficed but it entertained me to write it so I’m not editing it down.
In which the author tells you about the past month’s terrible air quality
The story begins in October when this whole stupid place was covered in this massive blanket of horrible smog.
“It’s Chinese smog! Those bastards turned on their central heating system and now we’re all EFFED!” shouted the foreigners in Korea
“It’s China and yellow dust” shouted some Koreans
“What air quality issue?!” shouted some other Koreans (both because many people didn’t seem to notice and because many parts of Korea had clear skies)
“It’s your own smog you idiots” shouted the Chinese.
It was everyone’s smog and maybe it was a little bit of yellow dust, too. The huge problem is that if it is coming from China then all this super fine dust picks up factory byproduct chemicals, hard metals, carcinogens and even hormones. Also, it’s smog. It’s not that great to begin with. So you have this hell dust cocktail floating around, settling over Korea (at least our part) for almost 4 full weeks in October. We didn’t see a blue sky for a full time. It was the worst fall ever.
For the first week we didn’t notice or care. It gets smoggy or foggy or both often. But then we noticed how you could smell it and even taste it. Something was very obviously in the air. I got a cough overnight and given my past asthmatic tendencies I immediately started wearing the best mask we had from the MERS days.
It was all for nothing because we learned this dust was about 30 times smaller than a human hair’s width. It was something that could go inside your lungs and never come out. So a mask may as well have been a chain link fence. Unless I actually wore a sealed gas mask or some kind of re-breather there was NOTHING I could do to protect myself.
I think this is why I didn’t blog in October. It put me in a really bad mood. Not only waking up every morning to a shitty sky. But walking to school and getting exposed to it. Then everyone acting so ignorant and stupid about it. They opened the windows and let it all come in – there was dust on my books, my computer, in my coffee. If I closed the windows they would just open them again. My cough got really bad and I had to ask my students not to open the windows. Even then they needed reminding.
I’m telling you this because I have had a cough since all this – which means I have had an on and off cough for 5 weeks now.
Besides having a cough for so long I’ve been sick 5 times in October-November – that’s an awful lot even for me. I kept thinking that it was just unlucky but it seems it was all related. Honestly that poisonous dust may have really did me in.
This past Thursday I felt fine but by the time we got home I had a fever of 100.9 degrees. I felt like hell on Friday morning so I did the unthinkable and called in sick. You basically aren’t allowed to have sick days in Korea. We have 11 sick days in our contracts but you just don’t take them. You just kind of ignore them. Koreans always come in if they’re sick or not because there’s a bad stigma against sick days. My coteacher has actually come in with a stomach flu and threw up in the sink as opposed to just staying home.
Since I had just gotten approval to renew for my final year I thought enough, I don’t need to keep anyone happy anymore so I’m taking a sick day. I felt like hell and with my fever climbing it made sense. I didn’t care if they got mad I was calling in sick. But they didn’t get mad. They were actually very very nice about it.
My fever hit 101.7, I had a headache that I’m almost sure can be categorized as a near migraine and a cough that at first went away but then as the fever subsided it came back (10 bucks if you can guess what it is at this point). I was shivering so bad I couldn’t even put my clothes on. And then the sweats. All night I drenched the sheets and pillows with sweat.
Bit of a funny story about what feverish brains value- during what must have been the best part of my fever I made my bed all nice for myself. I stacked every blanket we had over my side of the bed and folded it back carefully. I named this blanket stack the “procedure” and decided that we mustn’t disturb the procedure. All night long careful attention was made to keep “the procedure” aligned. It was an obsession. This is really the only memory I have of Saturday.
Anyway my fever broke on Sunday and I felt I should go back to school on Monday. I didn’t feel good but I didn’t have a fever. No excuses, I didn’t want to take advantage of their kindness (kindness to allow me to take 1 of the 11 days I am allowed to take. Whatever). My coworkers were almost angry that I hadn’t gone to the hospital. Koreans go to the hospital at the drop of a hat which works for them, in my culture you just don’t do that. Between medical prices and the fact that you expose others/are exposed to so much in a hospital my culture thinks its best to stay home unless you’re really sick.
But let me just run you by how well that wasn’t going to work
I don’t even know where a hospital is
I don’t have a car
I can’t call a taxi
I don’t speak Korean
I wouldn’t know where to go or what to do if I even made it to the hospital
So I would have had to bundle up “the procedure” (obviously it would come with) with my delirious fever Chris and I would have to try to catch a taxi and somehow find a way to the right hospital (many are specialized). After that …what? It was best to just drink a lot of liquids, sleep and take aspirin to keep the fever down.
Pharmacy Adventures and a Pediatric Doctor
The kindly head of my department Mrs. Park had offered for me to go home since the cough was bad (again breaking all these stigmas about sick days). “You can go home… Tell us if you need anything, we can help.” I assured her it was just my old asthma back with a vengeance.
I have an old prescription for an inhaler from 2012 and I even have an old inhaler from 2005 if that means anything to anyone. I brought the two to a pharmacy and they told me “tough tiddlywinks, your US prescription’s authority isn’t recognized here.”
We were about to leave dejected when a woman told us in English she could help. Her husband was the pharmacist but she was sort of hanging out there. She brought us across the hall in the same building to a pediatric doctor. “Don’t worry, it’s a pediatric doctor but I go here when I need to.” She signed me in and got my insurance all sorted out then waited nearly 25 minutes with us. We talked – her son is going to enter my middle school next year.
It was finally our turn, I showed the doctor my inhaler and prescription. That was really all I needed to turn it into a Korean prescription.
The doctors visit was $4.
We went back across the hall to the pharmacist’s husband and got an inhaler plus a small supply of heartburn medicine. The total was $3.20. Wow. Inhalers in the US are $60+ and you can’t even buy Tums for under $8.
I wheezed and coughed my way home where I finally got a chance to take my fancy new inhaler.
I wheezed and sweated through the night and the next morning asked – what the actual (and I’m sorry but I have to say it) what the actual fuck was wrong with me? The sweating, the coughing. The headache was back, I got hot/cold/hot/cold as if the fever was back.
So I looked it up and figured I had all the symptoms and most of the minor symptoms of mycoplasma (walking) pneumonia.
“I have pneumonia” I declared.
“Oh.” Chris said.
If we wait a month it might go away on its own.
I’m sure some of you can judge “what the hell is wrong with you, just go to the hospital!” but I had figured that if I waited and suffered through a month I could maybe get over it naturally.
But what it comes down to is that I don’t like Korean hospitals, I don’t trust them after the MERS scare.
I don’t like what I’ve heard about incompetent doctors, doctors who believe you can be killed by a fan at night or that eating kimchi will actually cure pneumonia. I don’t like the idea of being alone in a hospital in a foreign country, and as of today a clinic in Seoul accidentally infected 45 people with Hepatitis C.
If I started to get short on breath I would do something but I was actually prepared to just suffer through it than deal with hospitals that don’t seem to understand the idea of cross contamination.
On Tuesday morning Mrs. Park said my cough seemed worse, I mentioned the inhaler having done nothing and then in passing mentioned my pneumonia suspicions.
Within the hour I was headed to a clinic across the street from my school. My handler who is basically in charge of all my school things was sent with me to help with the language barrier.
I was signed in as “Chella Keetee.” When the doctor saw me, he brought out a most excellent picture book showing the nose and skull as well as the chest and lungs. “When you have a chronic cough,” he said in perfect English, “there can be a few causes. You can have a nasal infection” (he showed me his books) “or you can have pneumonia, bronchitis or some other things” he showed me all of it. “So we are going to xray your chest and skull to see what it is. Okay, see you sooooon” he singsonged.
I went to a locker room where I took off my top and put on a funny little robe. I had my chest xrayed from two sides. Then had my head xrayed up, down, and to the side.
In the locker room I put my shirt and things back on – what if I have cancer? The thought came out of nowhere. All that second hand smoke and now all these dangerous China chemicals. God I swear to god- I don’t even know what I would do. Actually I do know -and the top of my list would be straight up arson. Burn everything down.
Sorry, that was dark. But lets continue since I obviously don’t have lung cancer or else I wouldn’t be posting about it on a public blog. If I did have lung cancer I would obviously be burning everything down and making some private phone calls.
Back in the doctor’s office he showed me my skull. “If you had a sinus infection all of this would be filled with liquid.” None of it was filled with liquid. “Ah, see” he said, his tone changing, he clicked to the picture of my lungs. It looked, well, not good. “You have pneumonia” he said. I knew it. But not the walking kind, it seemed. The real kind.
Doctors Appointment, 2 private consultations and 5 x-rays: $11
Tuesday – T-Minus 1 hour
In which the author is going to the hospital
So as I write this I’m waiting to go to the hospital. The doctor said I needed to go to the hospital within 1-3 days. And not just go to the hospital, but that I needed to be admitted in the hospital for a full week. I almost cried. I really really really really really really don’t want to stay overnight but a full week?!
Korean hospitals are hell (from what I’ve heard and read from other foreigners who have had to stay). Nurses don’t really take care of you, there’s a bed under your bed and you have to have a caretaker (family member) come live at the hospital with you. If you ever want any help it’s the family member that takes care of it. There’s no privacy or private rooms, you share a room with 6-12 other people. Sometimes there aren’t even bathrooms and people just use bedpans in front of 12 other people. Sounds like a damn prison. Not to mention all the other things I mentioned of MERS spreading and now hepatitis C.
On one side Koreans go to the hospital for anything. Even hangovers. So I’m hoping that he’s overreacting. But I honestly don’t know how bad this pneumonia is.
Do I know I’m now not getting enough air and have a serious cough? Yes.
Do I know if it’s serious enough for a hospital? I’m thinking no but I have a bias against that.
Do I know if it could be treated with antibiotics for 2 weeks like they would do in the US? No. I don’t know what this would do or if it would work.
Why did I tell that huge story at the beginning about the hell dust – because I’ve had this cough since then. I’m not sure if that shit gave me pneumonia (likely not but maybe) but I sure as hell know it aggravated things in there that made me more susceptible to it. And I’m having a hard time not being mad at Asia (yes, all of it. Let me be in a bad mood for a minute). I blame the dust, the smog the selfishness of people for not closing the windows, the stupidity of everyone who has to drive when they could walk, and yeah, all the jackass shit that’s produced in China that creates that kind of hell air all of us get to enjoy.
So in 20 minutes I’m headed to a hospital. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know the name and it’s just my coteacher and me. There’s a high chance I really am so sick I need to be admitted to the hospital. In which case I will be left there and Chris is on his own to find me – if he even can. For a while I’ll have no one to help me. We won’t know if he can get time off work to help me. Not to mention I don’t speak Korean and won’t be able to do anything on my own. Finally I’ll probably be the only white person there so the staring and prejudice could be interesting. I don’t want to be admitted at all.
My coteacher agrees I would be screwed if I was left at the hospital overnight but if I have to, I have to. I’m actually scared. This is first time I’ve ever been scared abroad, the first time I’ve ever wished I was back at home. I know it could be worse, a lot worse, but I’m just annoyed and pissed off.
This is just a little update mostly about money money money. Everybody’s money. Our money, Korea’s money, and then our future money, I suppose.
We’re pretty chuffed to announce we paid off Chris’s loans in full over a month ago. It was a pretty nonchalant deal, no parties were had or thanks shouted to the heavens. We paid it off and by the time it cleared we still owed a dollar in interest so we paid off the dollar and that was the end of it. We always knew we would pay it off in Korea easily so they were never a crushing force on us. Which was lucky but not really because luck didn’t get us to Korea.
Korea apparently has enough money to renew all the English teachers. This is really quite comical if you remember this time last year. If you don’t, here’s the story.
A bunch of places fired all their teachers. Particularly the city of Daegu (where we almost went instead of Daejeon). Daegu claimed it had no money so they fired a lot of people. Most everyone else left out of fear of losing their jobs later anyway. Now Daegu is sending out emails to all those people offering them their jobs back. Whoops. Except “whoops” couldn’t possibly apply to a government making that big of a mistake.
Daejeon offered us our renewal earlier this year than last year which means their budget was finalized earlier. Aka things are probably going well for our office of education. Maybe things are completely stable again. Now if only the exchange rate was better for us when we send money back.
Our Future Money:
The renewal page landed on our desks two weeks ago. I’m not exaggerating when I say we’ve been talking about renewal on a near daily basis since August. Almost everyday if not about twice a week. We sort of hate this job. On and off. If we don’t hate the job we are very very tired of Korea’s shenanigans. So there has been loads of discussion of the benefits of staying or going.
If this job was in any other country I could maybe do it for 10 years but sadly it’s not. Korea just is not a very good place for us. We aren’t happy here. The poisonous air, yellow dust, almost getting hit by cars and buses en route to school. The xenophobic and racist behaviors – getting glared at, pointed at. Kicked out of taxis, ignored in shops, laughed at. Koreans go all out -they’re either the nicest people or the biggest jerks.
So we looked for other jobs – some low paying jobs in Japan, long term positions in Hong Kong or Taiwan and even looked at going to Rwanda or Macedonia through the Peace Corps. But we forgot how much it sucks to apply for new jobs. If you think it’s hard in the US try doing it across borders and time zones. We would be requesting papers from home to be shipped to Denver then to Washington DC then to Korea where we would ship it to whomever we needed it to go to (Japan, Taiwan, etc). This would take over a year so we’re already SOL.
Ultimately we’re staying.
We know what’s going on and we’re pretty comfortable. Next year should be a breeze. All of our lesson plans are already made and fine tuned. We know how things are run and it will be easy. This also means we’ll have about 18 extra hours of paid time we usually put to lesson planning turning into free time. We could write a book, learn a new language, read books or do anything we want with that time. We’re thinking of next year as a huge opportunity to prepare for and build skills up for the next thing. Whatever that is.
We like the class of 2017. They were first years when we started teaching. We’ll see them through to their graduation in February 2017. Those kids are all pretty amazing so I’m happy we got to stick with them. The class of 2018 on the other hand – we’ll both be happy so say goodbye to them.
We’re making good money here. We would have loved to go to the low paying job in Japan because Japan is an amazing, civilized, clean place. Teaching there for a year would almost worth it. But Korea pays almost the best in all of Asia. And I’m sure you can guess why- because Korea isn’t an easy place to live and so all the benefits and high salary was created so people would be enticed here.
We’re building up a fund. We paid Chris’s loans off and so now we’re looking at saving quite a bit of money next year (how much is nunaya business ). Half of that money is going to go to bumming around the world or bumming around the United States until the money runs out. The other half is going to go to getting our feet planted firmly wherever we’re going to live next. So far this is the plan but it could change. Also if you don’t like this plan we really don’t care. It doesn’t effect you anyway.
Things change when it’s the last... This year has been bad because it was the middle. Nothing was new any more but there wasn’t any pressure to go try something new because we always knew deep down we would stay for another year. Next year should be a little different psychologically because it’s the last.” Do you want to do X?” “Not really but we probably should because we won’t ever get a chance to do it again.”
The papers are already in with the office of education and we should find out today if everything is okay. In the tiny chance that we’re losing our jobs then things will be very very interesting and busy for the next few months.