Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hospital Stay

That last entry, while true - was written when I was very tired and really feeling blue. I hate the fact that probably half the posts I write these days seem to warrant "I hope you're feeling better" comments. Life isn't all a drag here, but I tend to just not write much at all. When you're caught up in a bit of a self loathing pity party, you might tend to think everything you produce sucks. Ah well. Suffer along! I think you might know the words!

Let me tell you about my weekend. Some expats really enjoy a good weekend temple stay. I'm sure there is a lot that can be gained from the bowing and meditation one does and I'll bet you can learn quite a bit about Buddhism. But I've never been a good early riser by any means, so I opted for the less popular and more necessary (in my case) hospital stay.

By the time the doctor asked me Sunday morning if it would be alright if he admitted me I was just about out of my mind with pain. I'd been barfing for more than 24 hours by then and was again dehydrated with a blinding headache and seizing muscles. He wanted my boyfriend's number (who had already taken off to go to work) to be clear about the cost, which was going to run 600,000 won (about 520$ US) per day!! Whaaaaaat?!?! But I quickly found out that this was for a private room, and alas, I don't require such luxury. Until very recently I didn't have any sort of health insurance, but I snapped after breaking a tooth on a stale baguette and complained to the manager who spoke to the boss who finally actually DID SOMETHING ABOUT IT and enrolled me in some private insurance scheme. So now hospital bills and doctors visits and medications are covered to about 90%. Hallelujah. I still have to pay and get reimbursed and it's still unclear if medications for shingles will be covered from when the policy became active. (My boss was initially very confident but I was dubious that any insurance firm would cover a pre-existing condition. Since having gone to the hospital last week to pick up the correct form my boss has become less sure - and has re-contacted the hospital to give him new forms with dates of visits listed only after the policy started. As it is, it's costing me about a hundred dollars a week, which is a drag. I've spent my entire year end "bonus" - a month's salary - on shingles. Bummer.)

Anyhow. I didn't need a single room. I could share. Administrator Man asked me if it would be okay to room with some "halmonies" (grandmothers) and I said sure. If he had asked if I would mind staying in a fish tank filled with barracudas, but they doctors would make me feel better I would have agreed. So I signed a few things and they walked me upstairs to the sixth floor and into a room with four grandmothers and a blaring television.

The first many hours are a blur. I noticed two of the grannies had IVs but they only had one smaller bag of yellow stuff, where I had two hefty bags of clear liquid. ("I win!!") But, I couldn't do much of anything but feel horrible and miserable. Conversations were out of the question and even though two of the grandmothers seemed to have plenty to say to me and about me, I just ignored them. What really got them riled up was how I ignored the lunch tray they'd delivered to the table at the end of my bed. They told me to eat about 47 times and I kept moaning no, my stomach hurt. Later, when a snack came and I ignored that, too, well - apparently that was some sort of crime. There was quite a commotion as the grandmothers complained to one another and then to an orderly that came by, and finally to people passing in the hall. At last a nurse came in and hung a sign from my IV pole that read "No Food" on one side and "Requires Deep Rest" on the other side. I wanted to hug that nurse, but the sign didn't really dissuade my new granny-fans.

One of them, curiously the youngest one who was sixty years old, was the clear Boss of the Room. She was the controller of the TV remote control and no one seemed to question her choice of shows. Most were dramas with a lot of people who cried and screamed and hit themselves and threw themselves upon the floor as they cried and screamed. I didn't even really care. I imagined they were feeling my pain, so I understood their antics. Finally, the nurse who had hung the sign came back with a syringe of something wonderful and shot it into my IV tube. (Then I wanted to make out with her!) Within a just a few short minutes my stomach eased up just enough that I fell asleep. For about forty five minutes. I woke up to find the Room Boss yanking my foot back onto the bed and tucking it under a blanket. She wasn't very delicate, and scolded me for not staying awake enough to make sure my feet didn't get cold. I thought that was funny, since the room temperature was conservatively just a few degrees less that the surface of the sun. It's a wonder I didn't lose some toes to frostbite! Thanks G-Ma! I sort of dozed on and off for a couple more hours until my boyfriend swung by with some things from home, like my pillow - which unlike the ones provided by the hospital, isn't made of lead and filled with rubber tires. The grannies had to pass my bed to go to the bathroom and there was no door on that, just a shower curtain which slid in front of the toilet. Earlier, I had noticed a very old feeble-looking woman in the next room hoisting herself onto a combination chair/toilet thing right beside her bed in a room with four other patients. She just had to get her business done right there in the openm, so I was thankful for the still-mobile grannies in my room and the flimsy shower curtain that provided at least a tiny bit of discretion. Speaking of bathrooms, neither the unisex one in the ER or the one in my room had any soap. There ere signs illustrating how to wash ones hands, but nothing to wash them with. Seriously?

I thought the idea of a hospital was to make a patient comfortable while they attempted to recover, and even take some burden off the patient's family as healthcare professionals tend to their care, but Korean hospitals seem to go out of their way to do the opposite. The bed would have been only slightly more uncomfortable if they had an angry crocodile living inside it. It was hard and lumpy with zero cushion or support. It probably doesn't matter to the average Korean, I know, who has spent a lifetime of sleeping on the floor, but man! It sure mattered to me! I just couldn't find any position comfortable enough to let me slumber for more than a few uninterrupted minutes at a time. Also, the nurses would come around and take your blood pressure and temperature pretty often. They change the IV bags. But that's about it. All of the rest of life is left up to the patient or the patient's family. When I finally came around enough to look at a mirror I had to laugh at the crazy hair I had going on, and by the 2nd day my skin was just crawling for a shower. I also know they've got an a vault of nice narcotics in that place, but why they gotta make a sister beg for it? My moans of pain and whimpers of "bey appayo, jinja yo." were attended to, but only in pitiful increments of aid. At first they brought me a hot water bottle, because that's worth five hundred dollars a day innit? Then they double checked to see that my IV drips were drippy enough. I saw that they employed a flicky-finger for this, so that's good. I finally sort of very loudly asked my boyfriend to just take me home already because nothing they were doing was making me feel better - and he went over to talk to the nurses. This was about eight hours after the first syringe of goodness had been produced, so I knew for sure they had something that worked better than a pat on my crazy hair. I sent the boyfriend back home because I'd forgotten to ask for a couple things and while he was gone they finally came over and stuck another needle in my IV and I woke up about forty minutes later with the imaginary gut-fist tightening its grip yet again.

It wasn't until I finally chewed up about 30mgs of oxycontin, the dandy painkiller I have for shingles - and what I sent my boyfriend home to get - that I was finally able to get ahead of the pain. I slept solid for a whole two and a half hours despite the blaring TV and the sweat dripping down my back. My friend came and visited me around 12am. Families are encouraged to care for their sick relatives around the clock, so there is no such thing as visiting hours. My friend scolded me for medicating myself, but I didn't care. I'd finally beaten the pain down enough that it seemed to be slowly going in reverse. I was just relieved to finally be able to have a conversation after a day of a half of non-verbaliciousity. After she left I was even able to focus enough to finish the last few chapters of a book. Three nurses watched the over-sized TV in the common area of the floor and I enjoyed the relative peace of a hospital at night. There was one exception, what I thought was a man but was told was a grandmother in pain - she screamed ALL NIGHT LONG. I wondered why on earth they couldn't make her comfortable. Surely that verbalized anguish couldn't be conducive to healing. It certainly wasn't making me feel any better. I wondered what was wrong with her and how come no one went to check on her as she screamed in some private room at the end of my hallway.

I finally slid into the room which had cooled slightly, making me so thankful, shortly after 3am and I got to sleep for a couple hours before nurses slammed in and snapped on the lights to slap on a blood pressure cuff and stick a thermometer under my armpit. It was just after 5:30 in the morning.

I was finally starting to feel more like myself, and I could drink small amounts of liquids. I sat quite contentedly in the common room with three different bottles of beverages in front of me. I even scored the remote control and turned to some show on Vincent Van Gough. My boss, his wife, and the manager I've grown to hate (a steady growing source of stress) stopped by before noon. We sat and talked quietly and I appreciated the sympathy my boss had. I told him I'd be back to work on Tuesday and he argued the doctor wanted me to stay until Wednesday. I told him not to worry about it. My boyfriend stopped by later with a change of pajamas (since I was already wearing some, they thankfully hadn't insisted I don their P-Jays, flannel white and pink for the ladies, and blue and white for the lads.) I spent the day in the common room pretty much, avoiding the TV and bossy grandmas in my room - both seemed far too overbearing now that I was lucid. Still, every time I stopped in the Room Boss had something to say to me. You shouldn't drink that. You should lie down. Aren't you going to eat? They should take that sign off you, you can eat already. She even shrieked at my manager who failed to take off her whoes when she walked in the room. I liked her for that.

In the common room I got too much attention as well. The nurses would stop by and pick up my book or a paper from in front of me. An elderly couple sat at the next table and wondered what was wrong with me, where I was from, was I American, had I eaten, did I like kimchi, but they didn't ask me directly - just spoke about me like I wasn't there. A woman being fed by the only intern I'd seen in the hospital turned and glared at me between bites. An old ugly man scowled at me all day long when he wasn't scowling at the television.

It was that old man who helped me leave early. As staff stated to set out trays of food for dinner a nurse had set a container of kimchi across the table from me. The old man barked at her and she moved the container to the table behind me, smiling apologetically. I didn't care. Suddenly, though - an arm appeared before me and the ugly old man swept the contents in front of me, a book, my phone, a pen and some paper - violently to the floor. Then he started to yell at me and puff up like an angry fish. "Eassssssssy cowboy!" I said, as nurses rushed in to pull him away. Apparently I was sitting in "his" chair where he liked to dine. There were lots of patients there, as well as many of the nurses, and I was pretty embarrassed. I gathered up my stuff and brought them to my room and then went back out to the desk where I saw my doctor and convinced him to let me go. I was feeling well enough and assured him I would rest better at home. My presence was causing too much commotion for the patients there, and their curiosity was getting on my nerves. I went back to my room to fetch my wallet and heard the doctor yelling at the old guy. "This is not your hospital and that is not your chair. People are here to get better just like you are and you should treat everyone here with kindness." The old man grunted.

I wasn't even angry at the old guy anyhow. I get his need to stake some ground. When just about everything seems out of your control I understand the desire to cling to these little things that make a day seem somewhat routine - that make a person feel somewhat normal. So he liked to eat in the same chair everyday, fair enough. I don't think even if he could have he would have asked politely, but that's his problem. Even if he'd asked me rudely, I would have moved. He was really scary looking.

220,000 won later and after a nurse pulled the IV out of the top of my hand I was free to leave. I saw the skies overhead, just like my head, were starting to clear though a thick fog still blanketed the close-by neighbouring town and surrounding mountains. The air was damp and cool but smelled like spring and not like sterility and sweat. It was just what I needed.

So my advice for you is to stay healthy. If you're going to get sick, try to not to have to stay in the hospital here. But if you do have to, then bring your own soap or something. But really, just stay healthy m'kay?

**A little note - because of the comments I've gotten (thank you for them and the wishes for better health) I really think that I cast the whole hospital experience in an unfairly negative tone, which wasn't really my intention. The experience was negative - but only really because I was in a lot of pain. The staff was very courteous and helpful and the other patients, except for Billy Goat Gruff, were very kind to me. When I was finally well enough to interact with them we smiled at each other a lot and I understood it was strange to have a stranger among them and as usual regarded their interest in me with a laugh. It's been my experience that one does have to generally "beg" for mercy with doctors - especially the "countryside" ones**, who expect you to just endure a certain amount of pain. (I prefer the "medicate me until I'm realllly fiiiine" approach, heh.) Commenter Todd is right, I sometimes mis-use "yo" and use it for emphasis like it might be used in Japanese (honto yo, ne?) but I guess it's better than using "YA!" Honest, the staff wasn't put off by me, they were lovely and even the Room Boss was a sweetie. The woman who scowled at me - I think her face was stuck like that unfortunately. By far and away, the pain was what coloured my perception - and if you have to go to the hospital don't be scared; it's the best place to be if you're really ill as I assurred my worried mom Sunday night.

**As a matter of fact, after I was admitted, the doctor in charge of my are was the same one I had problems with when he treated me for shingles. He told me "I think you express your pain much." which I understood to mean either I'm expressive or more likely I over-exaggerate. I marvelled at his ability to be able to mentally climb inside his patients brains and be able to determine how much pain they're feeling. He has no idea. I hope in the future us humans will develop the power to temporarily mind-meld with others and just for a moment allow another person to feel exactly the same as us. Wouldn't that be trippy? Then you'd truly be able to empathize. I really don't think I'm a wuss, so if I'm complaining about pain it's for realz. (Have you ever had a sort of pain where that's simply all there is? I mean - like there is nothing else going on in the world that matters except for that pain. All you can do is focus on breathing and pain. I think I can understand childbirth now.) I need to call my mom and say thanks.


Anonymous said...

That's awesome. The hospital I visited in Suwon didn't have any soap in the bathroom either. Maybe it was the same one?

Todd T said...

With respect, I think a lot of the friction you encountered with staff(? -- having to "beg" for meds) and scowling patients around you could have been due to what they would deem inappropriate informality in language and behavior/body language.

For example, you said to the nurses your stomach ached " jinja ya", which for sure is too informal. At the *very least* you should use ~이예요 or ~요.

As for the old people, if you're not going to talk with them then eye-contact is probably a no-no. Best case scenario put on a "fake" smile constantly around elders.

As foreigners, we pretty much are in a no-win situation culturally.

Get well soon.

Kevin Kim said...

I've heard many nightmare stories about Korean health care. "Stay healthy," indeed. Sorry you had to go through that experience.

Jelly said...

Thank yo for the comments and well wishes, I'm feeling a lot better. I think I'm going to add something to the end of this post, though!

Foreigner Joy said...

It concerns me you aren't off the oxycotin. It also concerns me that it sounds like you were just rehabilitated for your stomach troubles and didn't see a GI doctor.

i hate to sound rude but why are you still working there? They don't even cover you national health insurance? And your new boss makes you stress out. It confuses me ..but maybe from your shoes everything is ok.

Jelly said...

Hey, Joy. Yes it concerns me, too and I keep hoping I'll stop feeling like I need it - but alas I'm not driving the PHN ship of pain. I don't know if they have pain management specialists here, but I'm still seeing my doctor. Last visit he suggested switching to a fentanyl patch but I didn't find that to be very effective before. We'll just have to see what happens.

As for working here, that's a 6 year long story. I stayed the most recent year for my former boss, but luckily enough I really like the new boss. It's the new manager that I can't stand - and she's very new, having just started in January. She's not my boss. I've got four months to go and am looking forward to collecting severance and finishing up once and for all. I'll post more about this, but thanks for commenting.

Foreigner Joy said...

Ah good to hear Jelly. Just so many red flags when I read your post. I am sure there are pain specialists in this country. Also I believe taking pain meds constantly may have adverse affects on your gut. I hope you get the care and rewards for your hard work.

Gwen said...

I recently had a stay in the hospital after giving birth. The ward nurses were the sweetest, but the people in labor and delivery were evil. Apparently, "Your husband can be with you during labor" actually means "Your husband can be with you during labor for 10 minutes every hour between 7am and midnight. Oh, and no way can he be in the delivery room." Considering I arrived at 2:30am and delivered at 7:50, I was by myself for all but 10 minutes!

If being alone wasn't bad enough, the nurses didn't care at all that I was in pain and scared. They were drinking coffee, chatting, laughing and surfing the internet. When it came time to push, one particularly evil nurse put her hand on my mouth and tells me to shut up (시끄러워!)!

I sprung for the private room. Didn't want to have to deal with other patients and their families and an ungodly hot room after leaving that torture chamber.