Thursday, August 20, 2009

Things To Do Once You Land in Korea

Having just gotten off a fourteen-hour flight, one-hour bus ride, and three-hour train trip to get home I started to wonder what I could do for fun now that I was back on the ROK.

Major surgery, I thought to myself, that's an interesting way to deal with jet lag. My schedule is generally insane, and the tonsils really were trying to kill me, so as much as I did not want to have to have surgery, once I knew they had to come out; it was more a matter of finding the time. The time I had was the roughly ten days I had between jobs upon landing back in Korea after my month-long class in Chicago.

I made arrangements for the surgery before I left, scheduling my pre-op day for the 10th. It was not until I landed in Chicago that I realized that was not going to work as I was going to be a flight back that would put me in Korea ahead a day, so I'd land on the 10th not the 9th as I was thinking when I made the original arrangements. One fine evening in Chicago I used my cell phone to phone Korea and talk to the doctor. He had a lot of trouble understanding me but somehow between the two of us and his nurse he managed to suggest that I move my surgery back one day (which is what I had been asking for all along) and I agreed to his arrangements. With that done it was really just a waiting game until August 10th rolled around.

And so at noon on August 10th I found myself walking into the second floor of the large Daegu Fist hospital. The nurse was happy to see me and we started to make arrangements. Being this was the pre-op day I expected to get the usual pre-op stuff and be made ready for a fast, etc, and return to the hospital the next day.

"No, no, you check in now," the nurse explained.

"No, the surgery is tomorrow, I can be here tomorrow morning."

"No, no, today, you must check in today. We have to monitor the fast." I was thinking what's to monitor? I don't eat; you're going to watch me not eat? Okay.

Finally I acquiesced, there was no way I was getting out of this. I had to be back to the hospital by four in the afternoon as I saw no good reason to check in around noon if I didn't need to. I phoned home and made arrangements to eat a last meal with the Boy before checking in. The nurse helped me make arrangements for the room and asked if I'd like to be in a larger room with five people or in one of the smaller rooms with two people. I also had the option for a private room.

"I think the two-person room is fine."

"Maybe many people recovering will make you feel better?" I thought about this. Me recovering with five other Korean women, who would be in the hospital with their husbands and their kids. Not a chance in hell did I want to be the waygook on display while I was recovering.

"No, I'll feel better with less people."

"Small room big cost."

I took the bigger cost, roughly seventy dollars a night for the smaller room with less of a crowd and went home to pack my bags. I packed some things to wear at the hospital as I knew the Korean clothes they where going to try to force me into would not fit. I brought my computer, a book, and my ereader, I figured with that I'd be set. I was checking in Tuesday night with the prospect of being freed on Friday morning.

The check-in went smoothly enough and they shuffled me off to my little room, which was surprising a small solo room. It was a single off a double compartment, which is what was meant by a double room? Beats me. What I did discover was that I was able to hack an internet connection. Happiness.
I watched a movie on the computer until the first cute Korean nurse came in  to give me the expected IV. For some readily apparent reason as she tied off my arm she turned it toward the thumb and started slapping a vein that went right over my knuckle joint.

I turned my arm around and offered a vein slightly further up my arm toward my elbow joint, but the nurse promptly turned my arm back around again and started going for the vein on my thumb. I figured that there was no way she really meant to stick a needle in there next to so much bone and was about to say so when the nurse jammed the needle into the vein right over the bones on my thumb. I sucked in my breath and started slapping my leg while the stars started spinning in my eyes.

"Apayo?" Does it hurt?

Fucking A it hurt. I just smiled and nodded and said a little. She smiled back, started the IV and walked out and I just sat there waiting for the throbbing to settle.

Later in the evening an older nurse came in as I sat in the bed looking out the window of my room into the rain. "Is my brother." She handed me the phone.

"Yes hello, tomorrow you surgery?"


"The surgery is at 9:30 am."

"Yes, I know."

"You will have much pain. So much pain. Really awful. Okay, only cold things after surgery. You will be much pain so nothing food. Okay?"


"Okay, much pain, don't worry, no problem." He asked to speak with his sister I handed the phone back over and wondered what the hell I had managed to get myself into.

I had several nurses coming around at intervals to check my blood pressure, which broke up the tedium a little. The hospital bed was something straight out of a Klingon battle cruiser, so I did not sleep very well that night. The Boy planned to meet me at the hospital before the surgery the next morning; lucky bastard got a full night's sleep, I tossed and turned, and woke up around four to check email, chat online and read until the surgery started.

They came in around 8 to give me my backless hospital gown; the Boy showed up and we talked and giggled until a gaggle of orderlies entered at 9 on the nose, all of them smiling and staring at me. Yee and ha. I climbed onto the stretcher they had wheeled in, they strapped me in, tossed a blanket over me and we were off.

I was wheeled through the hospital, into an elevator, and then out the door and into an ambulance which took me over to the main surgery area. I was asked to transfer to a second gurney, which I did, and I laid back while they strapped me in again. This time I was pretty sure we were going in for surgery and sure enough a few minutes later a nurse came by who strapped me down harder and rolled me into a room with bright lights.

There was some poking and prodding for only a second when a nurse strapped on another arm cuff for my BP, then adjusted the IV. A friendly old Korean doctor in a green suit leaned into the large bright light shining over my face and told me to breathe deep. I tried to. Most of me was scared out of my mind, worried I'd not wake up again, and then I felt like someone was crawling under my skin and I was gone.

The Korean nurse woke me up and asked me to move back to the stretcher, which I managed to do. I was having some trouble breathing, which I tried to convey, but found I couldn't really talk. Finally I wrote asthma on a piece of paper, which got some shocked reactions before I passed out on the stretcher and woke up back in my room with people asking me to move to my bed. I realized at that point that there had not been a catheter, so I removed the hospital pants I had on and with some help managed to change underthings and scoot into the bed as six surgeons burst into the room with a gigantic oxygen tank.

Okay, I thought. "Mmm, cough...mmmm...bebnnemmemme...memem..." I explained.

Finally I laid my arm flat and shook my head no, then tilted my arm to 90 degrees and shook my head yes. The nurse seemed to get it and she turned a crank to lift the bed and I crawled in happy to be able to breath around the mucus in my throat. It wasn't an asthma attack so much as whatever they had given to knock me out had caused a lot of draining and I was all sorts of full of phlegm. The doctors backed off, but left the oxygen tank handy. I asked for water (all right I mimed getting a cup and drinking), but the nurses said no, pointed to the clock and said I had to wait until 8 pm.

I shook my head and promptly crashed and passed out for a few solid hours. I woke up again around five feeling actually pretty good. I assessed. My throat was sore. But it wasn't pain, not the pain I had been expecting anyway, certainly no worse than any of the really severe sore throats I'd had over the last few months. Actually the throats where I had to get a puncture were definitely much higher on the pain scale. It was the worst when I had to cough but for the most part no problems.

The nurses kept me on the saline drip all day and finally at 8 a nice nurse walked in and said "Water, milk, ice cream. Okay." She smiled. I smiled back, I could tell she had been practicing this for hours. I asked if it was all right for me to go the bathroom as I know on occasion hospitals like to monitor these things, but she told me I'd be fine and so after some venting, I had the first sips of water and a little ice cream.

I slept fitfully again that night, waking up to make frequent trips to the bathroom and to refill the water cup, but overall I felt pretty fantastic considering I'd just had a couple of doctors cut out parts of my throat. The docs woke me up at some point and gave me a thumbs up saying "The surgery was a success." Which I could also tell was a nicely practiced phrase. I dreamt that night of knives, and Koreans, ice cream, water, all dancing about to the light throbbing in my neck that tempo-ed my dreams.

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