I wake much earlier than usual with bad chest pain and I’m startled and scared when I’m not able to get out of bed for nearly 20 minutes. After all, I’m living in a foreign country where I not only don’t know my neighbours but can’t even communicate with them. I try to go back to sleep but am unsuccessful so I get up as soon as I’m able to do so and try to distract myself. My head feels like it’s going to explode and, nearly two hours later, I phone my co-teacher to tell her I’ll be in later and drag myself to the ER at the Gunsan Medical Centre. I also text my Kiwi-mom so that another English speaker knows where I am – I’m not feeling too optimistic at this stage so I’m covering all of my bases.
I feel like a hypochondriac going to the ER but it’s too early for any other doctors to be available and I’m starting to wonder if there is something seriously wrong with me. Part of me wonders if I’m having a mild stroke but I scoff at this as ridiculous considering there is no real history of heart disease in my family and I’m only 28 years old! Still…rather embarrassed than sorry for my paranoia so off I go. At the ER, I have to attempt to communicate my concerns to nurses who don’t really understand English. When I see them reaching for the phone, I assume they’re trying to contact the international coordinator (interpreter) who works at this particular hospital.
The usual string of tests follows and I’m once again having blood drawn – Do I even have any blood left at this point? I’m then placed on a drip which is the standard procedure in Korea, and told to wait for a doctor. When the doctor arrives, I show him the notes that I’ve written down in the hope that his English reading comprehension is better than the average listening and spoken comprehension. It turns out this particular doctor speaks English fairly well and just has terrible bedside manner. I spend the next 8 hours in the ER where I have to wait for the drip to finish and a chest x-ray. The international coordinator arrives late afternoon and tells me that I can go home – without providing any information as to what happened to me or what they even think might be wrong. The doctor’s given me a prescription for a sedative so it seems that all they think I need is a good night’s rest. I leave the hospital more frustrated than ever and head back to school to face my co-teacher who is probably thinking I’ve left the country in a hurry.
By the time I get back to school, it’s 16:45 so I go straight to the International Department where I’m bombarded with questions about how I feel. My honest answer is to burst into tears – tears of worry that I still don’t know what is wrong with me or what happened and tears of frustration at constantly having to seek medical treatment. I probably am just stressed out but that’s not a very reassuring diagnosis when I don’t quite know how to effectively communicate with a doctor in Korea….