Sunday, January 23, 2011

Getting to Know You…And Another Hospital (20 December)

It’s starting to feel like every second or third post is about yet another hospital or doctor’s visit. Following last week’s frustrating day at the Gunsan Medical Centre, my fantastic co-teacher has asked a few Korean teachers for their opinion and has made an appointment for me with a doctor at the Jeonbuk National University Hospital in Jeonju.  Since she lives in Jeonju, she’ll meet me at the hospital and then we’ll return to school together.  I really appreciate that she’s taken a morning off from school in order to help me with a doctor’s appointment and trust that she’ll be able to translate things for me far better than anything that’s happened so far in Gunsan.

Getting to Jeonbuk National University Hospital

I very nearly miss the 9:00am bus to Jeonju and literally manage to catch the bus as it’s getting ready to leave.  It’s my first time taking the bus to Jeonju but I’m fairly confident with the directions that I’ve been given – until I get to Jeonju and realise that I’ve forgotten at which of the two stops I need to get off the bus.  Since the final stop is the bus terminal, I rationalise that I can’t go too wrong with waiting until the second stop.  It turns out, I should get off the bus at the first stop since it’s closer to the university. 

I manage to get to the hospital where I’m shocked to see just how big it actually is.  It’s certainly larger than I had anticipated and I’m starting to worry that I may not be able to find my co-teacher in the mass of people who are already sitting inside.  A sign on the outside of the building catches my attention and I start doubting that I’m actually in the right place. I see a general map on the other side of the entrance and, comparing the pictures and the building where I currently am, I reach the conclusion that I must be standing outside of the main building so I phone my co-teacher to ask where I should meet her.  As we’re talking, she drives past the main entrance, waves and heads to the over-filled parking lot.

A "Western" Approach?

We then head inside and try to find the doctor with whom I have an appointment.  After a 30 minute wait, we’re finally called in.  My co-teacher had asked me to email her with all of my concerns and symptoms and she’s written them out for the doctor who seems to understand a fair amount of English.  Incredibly, this particular doctor spends over an hour with me as he questions every last detail.  I feel a bit guilty that my co-teacher has to translate so much information but she does an amazing job and it’s the first time a Korean doctor has spent so much time with me.  It’s somewhat ironic that I’m now surprised by doctors who spend more than five minutes with a patient when, in fact, this is fairly common in most Western countries.  Even more impressive is the fact that the doctor refers me to the head of the department for a second opinion and “because he speaks better English”. 

The second doctor is equally thorough and asks just as many questions before reaching the most unexpected and difficult question of all: Tell me about yourself.  I never know what to say when people ask me this question and it’s almost always asked in the context of an interview.  To suddenly be asked this by a doctor is even more perplexing and I find myself struggling to answer the question.  At the end of the consultation, I’m advised to have a MRI done since I can’t have a CT with iodine and a full set of lab tests are ordered to make sure there are no general health problems.  The doctors are kind enough to arrange to fit me into the MRI schedule today when my co-teacher explains that I actually live in Gunsan and it’s difficult for us to both come back on another day.  Unfortunately, I’m still going to have to wait until 16:00 in order to have the blood tests done since they can’t be done within eight hours of having eaten a meal – so four hours ago.

The Korean health system requires patients to pay for all procedures and tests in advance.  I’m dismayed to discover that the MRI is going to eat up all of my savings since this particular test is only covered by health insurance if there is actually a problem found on the test results.  Unfortunate situation but if it needs to be done then so be it. 

Do These Test Scores Count? 

In the MRI room, the doctor explains the vital information to my co-teacher who translates it and then attempts to give me instructions in English during the procedure.  One of the most important things is that I don’t swallow during the first part of the procedure.  I’m one of those annoying patients who, when told not to do something, will become so fixated on trying not to do it that I can’t seem to do anything else but the very thing I shouldn’t be doing.  As a result, I soon find myself face to face with a different doctor who speaks a bit more English and who recaps the important parts of the procedure.  I feel like a schoolchild being reprimanded by the teacher.  With firm encouragement all the way, the 30 minutes seem to pass at a reasonably pace and I’m soon being released from the myriad of straps and grates holding me down.  The doctors are all really patient and kind but I once again find myself in a situation where I’m not entirely sure I understand what is happening – and it has nothing to do with verbal communication.  In my haste to be finished with the procedure, I sit up a bit too quickly and soon find myself being physically supported by all four doctors in the department; apparently moving too quickly after an MRI is not a good idea.

You Really Like Me...

By the time I’ve changed back into my clothes, I discover my co-teacher is no longer in the waiting room.  Fortunately, she’s only just stepped outside in order to make a phone call. She has two classes later this afternoon which means that she may have to leave me alone at the hospital.  When phones our principal with a status update, however, he tells her not to worry and rather to stay with me. As strange as it sounds, my only thought is “YES!” – my school really likes me if they’re prepared to make a plan for a Korean teacher to be away all day with a foreign teacher and I now get to spend quality time with my co-teacher and get to know her a bit better.  We have at least two hours to kill so we head over to the pharmacy to fill my script and then to a convenience store for her to get some lunch. 

This is perhaps the first time my co-teacher and I have had uninterrupted time to just chat about anything.  It’s not ideal that it’s the result of a hospital visit but then, since I seem to form friendships with people while at the hospital, I’m not going to object.  The time passes far too quickly and we’re soon heading back to the hospital for the blood tests which take a total of about 10 minutes.  Once done, my co-teacher suggests going somewhere to eat and, since she studied at Jeonbuk National University (which is apparently the fourth largest university in Korea), she takes me on a brief tour of the campus before leading me to a coffee she used to frequent as a student.  We chat a bit more, she shares some personal details with me, invites me to have dinner at her home sometime after the winter camp is finished (it’s a huge honour to be invited to a Korean person’s home) and then accompanies me to the bus station where she waits with me until I’m safely on a bus back to Gunsan.  Although it’s been a long day, I feel like we’ve bonded a little more and we’re on our way to becoming friends – finally!

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