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.