Thursday, February 27, 2014

Things I've learned so far: Differing expectations during doctor visits.

I have shipped my laptop home so there will be no more photo updates. In the mean time, please enjoy my adventure in the Korean medical system!

A few weeks ago I was suffering from a sinus infection. It was to the point where my face was stinging from the congestion and it hurt to just breath. I was waking up in the middle of the night in discomfort, and unable to fall back asleep. As a result I took my first and only sick day on a day I knew I didn't have any classes, hoping some rest would do me good. My symptoms were only getting worse so I decided to go see a Korean doctor. I may as well use the cheap health care while I had insurance...

The next day my co teacher was kind enough to take me to a local doctor. We were able to walk right in and have the doctors undivided attention. The family physician was very kind, but not the most fluent in English. He listened to my description of symptoms and then started looking at my throat. This is where things start to change from previous experiences in America. He looked at my throat and then used a little suction tube to clean it off. It was like the tube that the dentist uses to suck up all your drool during an exam. Okay, I thought. Maybe it is easier to see my tonsil after a little cleaning? Sure. why not?

Next he wants to look up my nose. okaaaaaay? He then tells me that he will clean out my nose. He tells me to lean my head back, relax, and breath through my mouth. He propped my nostril open with a little clamp and gave me a quick mist of what I assume was anesthetic. He also told me repeatedly not to be scared. Why would I be scared? At this point I should have noted that the nurse was still holding onto my head after she had positioned it into the correct angle.  The dental-sucking-tube poked around my nose removing snot. It was a little tender in my sinuses, but I have a decent pain tolerance and just let him do his work. That wasn't so bad I thought. The pressure had really reduced and I could breath without pain for the first time in days. So when the doctor asked me if I had any remaining fluid in my nose I noted that there was a little bit left and figured I could manage another go at the nose sucking.

I was wrong. Round two was when I realized why the nurse was holding on to my head and why the doctor had told me not to be scared. What happened next was not a happy light cleaning as much as an attempted lobotomy. It felt like he was piercing through my inflamed sinuses with a needle. At one point I felt a breeze on the back of my throat from the suction. I started to flinch and utter out noises involuntarily from pain while the doctor tried to comfort me by repeatedly saying ¨Believe in me! Relax! Believe in me!¨  When he was finished my sinuses felt battered and bruised although admittedly quite clear. My right eye was watering from the trauma my face had just endured. When the doctor asked my how I felt, I answered oh much better! I would have answered anything to not have that tube back in my nose.

Next up was a shot in the butt. This I was totally prepared for. It's very common to go to the doctor's in Korea, get a quick injection in the butt and be on your way. You just drop your pants, get a few slaps on the butt and it's over. I was later told that this is how horses are given  injections. So now I get to say I was treated like an animal, but I think its much more amusing to say I was spanked by a nurse. Oh my!

I then sat down and breathed in a machine that produced some sort of Vick's vapors. It felt kind of nice to breath in but honestly did little to ease the discomfort on my recently raked nose cavity. I then paid for my treatment and walked next door to pick up my 3 days worth of mystery pills. Total time into the doctors office and out the pharmacy was about 30 minutes and cost me about $10.

In America I'm pretty sure this would have gone down as follows: Wait for 20 minutes to see anyone, quick exam, prescriptions, pay about $30 for copay plus whatever medication you will need to pick up after another wait. You have to admire the efficiency and price of the Korean system by comparison.

I'm fairly certain the nose sucking procedure was just a quick fix, but it did temporarily relieve my congestion and pressure instantly before the meds could kick in. I wouldn't recommend it for anything less than severe discomfort though, because it's not pretty and I'm still finding traces of blood when I blow my nose.

I think I may have been the only foreigner the doctor in my neighborhood has treated because he was eager to offer any other services I might need. Gynecology, surgery, he does it all! He looked rather disappointed when I told him I'd be leaving Korea soon. It's okay doctor man, I will never forget the time we shared together up my nose, and I will always believe in you!

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