Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Doctor, doctor give me the news

Visiting the doctor in Korea is a very unique experience and is something I'd like to share about. First, I'll give a little back story to tell about the reason for my most recent visits.

This winter, I decided to take up snowboarding. I feel fairly confident in my skiing skills and have gone a few times in Korea but had yet to ever step foot on a snowboard. Among all of my friends that I hit the slopes with, I am the only skier so I thought, hey, what the heck! It can't be that hard...right? My first experience was painful as I was warned it would be. The first thing to master is standing up. Fast forward to 30 minutes later. Ok. I've mastered standing up. Now, I have to figure out how to go down the hill. Muscle control and shifting my weight. Right. Got it. It wasn't as hard as I expected but I took some hard falls that would later leave me with swollen and bruised knees.

That was my first go at it. My knees took about a week to heal. After I got back from Thailand with my sister and after she had returned back to America, I was invited to go again by a different group of Korean friends. My first mistake: saying no to knee and butt pads. My second mistake: to keep boarding after I took some really really hard, painful falls. After the day was done and the group went back to the pension for dinner, hang out, and rest I inspected the damage. Both of my knees were swollen, the left one being the worst of the two and my right shoulder was of no use to me. I collected some sympathy from my friends and they all helped nurse me. I iced my shoulder and my knee that night and kept my leg elevated all night in hopes of waking up with the same body I had the day before. However, we don't always get what we want and I woke up more stiff than ever. I couldn't use my shoulder at all and absolutely no weight could be put on my knee. It was time for a trip to the ER...

Later that night when I returned back to Seoul I took a visit to the ER. The check-in process is quite different from that in America. No wrist bands are given with my name and ID number on it, no pulse or heart rate are taken. Rather, I just give my ID and medical insurance card to the woman at the desk, then go over and sit on one of the beds that has a pull curtain draped half way around it. Language is never an issue at any sort of medical establishment (ALL doctors in Korea obligatorily study their field in both Korean and English.) I've made a handful of trips to the doctor for a variety of reasons and I've had the same encounter at every single one in terms of communication: the receptionist can't speak English or if he/she can, it's unknown to me because he/she will never use it, the nurse can speak a little bit of English but it's choppy and she(he) feels extremely shy to do so (their English is usually padded with shy giggles and/or long drawn out "uumm..."s and "eerrr...."s but they manage), the doctor speaks fluent English and knows more English medical terms than I do. So, the challenge at at Korean doctor's office usually exists at the front counter--when you explain why you're there and who you want to see. After you get past that, you're golden. Anyway, the doctor came to check out the injuries and decided to take x-rays of both my shoulders and my left knee. I'm not sure if all x-ray machines are like this now but the one that I experienced in Korea was much more simple and easy than the ones I remember in America. I just laid on a hard elevated surface while they took many different 2-second shots of what they needed with a machine that was extended from his suspended base on the ceiling. No heavy jackets like I remember there being in the States. I then waited a bit more while my x-rays were being reviewed.

Nothing was broken. Thank goodness. I was given some pain killers, paid $80 (for an ER visit, 5 x-rays, and medication....amazing) and was on my way in no time.

Fast forward to present day (elapsed time is 2.5 weeks) and my shoulder is finally beginning to feel normal again (after acupuncture) but my left knee is still having some problems. Plus, the bruising has crept its way down into my entire lower leg, foot and ankle. Plus, there is swelling in my entire leg from the knee down. Basically, it looks like this, 3 weeks after the incident.

This might be totally normal if it had looked like that the day of the incident or if I had injured my leg, ankle or foot but the fact that only my knees were injured and the bruising has crawled down my leg bothers me a little bit. It's been almost 3 weeks since the accident and there is no sign of my knee healing at all. It's still very very swollen and there is a gathering of what feels like hardened tissue that makes a patch of tough texture under my skin. So, today I will go get an MRI to see what exactly is going on. The cost is projected to be much cheaper than in America; I'll find out first hand.

Something else that is very interesting is the treatment I received for my shoulder. I decided to go see a doctor that practiced traditional oriental medicine and healing. I went for four different visits. The idea of this treatment is that it draws out the old blood that is in the troubled area so the body will send fresh new blood to heal the strained muscles and tissues. In order to do this, they must prick me about 50 times with a needle to draw out the old blood then use suction cups to really suck it out. They also put suction cups on my shoulder that stimulate the muscles. Also, they put things on certain points that use heat (the things they put on my are actually burning and smell quite nice) to trigger the body to heal that area. Each treatment takes about an hour and cost me $9. Acupuncture is not painful at all and I would highly recommend it to anyone. After the first treatment, my muscles were the most relaxed they've been in a long time.

It's always a learning experience...

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