Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On being non-Korean in Korean Medical land

The worst thing about not being Korean in Korea is that doctors simply don't get it. End of the day I'm from the good ole USA and that means a couple of things. First, even the lowest back-birth has some education in the field of medicine particularly in diagnosis. At an early age Americans learn to diagnosis illness, determine the cause, create a treatment plan, and then implement a treatment plan. This is a necessity because, as all Americans know, going to the doctor is too damned expensive or requires insurance and one are both will prevent going.

However being very well versed in the medical sciences we also know when it has become apparent that a doctor must be brought in damn the cost. You know how it is you are having a conversation with your neighbor....

"Bill, you think that bone should be poking through the skin like that?"

"Well, no Chuck, that looks like it might need a doctor."


"Bertha I been coughing up blood for a few days, what you think?"

"You try mustard?"

"Yep, lot's of mustard."

"Time for a doctor then."


"Joe, take a look at this rash will you?"

"Um, dude, go to a doctor, seriously, that's disgusting."

So, yeah, we know when it gets to a certain point that The Doctors Book of Home Remedies has been maxed out and it is time to hit up the local quake and get either a)antibiotics, b) the prescription for actual condition, c) a diagnostic to find out whats wrong, or d) surgery, jesus man it's freaking broken already.

As an American, when going to the doctor it is a safe bet that I have spent some time researching the possibilities of what is wrong with me (god bless Google and Web MD which saves Americans thousands in insurance and health care dollars each year). And yet, I live in Korea.

There is a basic Korean truth. Koreans don't know the first thing about the human body.

I had a girl in class once that was pale, flushed and running an easily 103 degree fever. She was shivering and sweating. I brought her personally to the office and asked that she be taken to a doctor. The teacher talked to her for a few minutes and then told me she wanted to go back to class. I was irate. She needed at the very least an IV and definitely something for the virus she was suffering from.

In other instance in the middle of summer I would excuse students to go drink water. I kept telling teachers that hydration would help calm the kids down and get them to concentrate. I was told that they kids had water at 10 am and should be fine after a day of sweating and gym at 2 for a class.

Had a kid with a broken finger. Took him to the office. Said, pointedly, "his finger is broken."

"No, it's not, he's fine."

He came to class the next day with a splint on.

This is Korea. Korean's don't really know if something is wrong until an actual professional diagnoses them. At the same time, while stubborn, Koreans will go to the doctor for pretty much anything. Docs are a three dollar visit with not waiting. You have a tummy ache, go to the doctor after work. Kid not well, take them to the doctor (after school, you leave classes only on fear of death). You have a runny nose, head to the doctor and get a three day run of antibiotic to clear that up. It's a little wacky.

Doctors here are also completely infallible. You go in, the tell you what is wrong, you thank them, pay them, and come back for every follow up visit they demand.

So imagine the surprise of the doctor I went to see on Tuesday when I practically begged for a blood test diagnostic.

Instead he told me I had an interesting story and he wanted to do some trials. At first I was all for it. What kinds of trials.

What he then lays out is the exact same "trial" I've been running on myself for the last six years. I pointed this out mentioning that I did not believe that his "trial" would be effective, that what I needed was to stop hypothesizing and to actually test some freaking theories. What was his response....

"Sara, Sara. You don't listen. I'm a doctor. Okay? First I will talk with some other Doctors about your problem."

I hold out my arm. "Take my blood. Please, run some kind of test on it."

"First I will discuss the case with another doctor."

I want to kill.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that illness in Korea is like Korea itself. It's homogeneous. Most people here get the same sick. Even major illness have consistency. Stomach cancer, gall bladder problems? Come to Korea you can't get better care. Have a strange disorder like say celiac disease? You will die before they figure out what is wrong with you.

It is both the blessing and the curse of the Korean system. Here I have full health care coverage for $25 dollars a month, no co-pays, or deductibles or premiums or being told what doctor to choose or confusing plans. I can walk into a doctors office and see someone within five minutes and pay three bucks for the visit no matter how long I'm there. For getting my prescriptions refilled or for other basics its no problem. For something that might be major, though, the cheapness and the ease truly fails.

And so here I sit a week later still wondering what is wrong and trying to find out if I can order home kits on the internet to test myself.

American medical know how, Korea style.

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