I’m six months in to my stay here, and it was bound to happen at some point.  Some good ol’ Korean nasties have settled in my system and blessed me with a pretty brutal cough.  I’ll spare you the details, but I’m typically a very healthy person and get over illnesses quickly.  So, once I hit the one-week point without seeing much progress, I decided it was time to see a doctor.

Korea has a fantastic health care system that even covers us native teachers during our contracts.  I think the cost and efficiency of this system comes as the biggest shock to Americans, who have exorbitant costs and wait times associated with hospital and doctors visits.  Here, when you mention that you’re unwell, the first suggestion a Korean will make is that you go to the hospital.

The hospital?!  For a general visit or check up?!  It sounds strange to those of us from Western countries, who associate hospitals with serious medical issues, long-term stays, or emergencies.  But here in Korea, the hospital is the first stop when assessing your health problems.  Only after you’ve been checked out would you possibly receive a further recommendation to see a doctor, who is a specialist in a particular field.

On Wednesday night, I finally gave in and headed to the Hospital here in Boseong (보성아산병원) after work.  Lorna had been to the hospital once before, and kindly came with me so I wasn’t awkwardly navigating the situation on my own.  We filled out the paperwork at the front desk before heading down the hall to the primary treatment room.  As I stood at the counter describing my symptoms to a nurse, she walked over and took my temperature in my ear–as I still stood there in my jacket!  Having a tiny woman grab your head down and shove something in your ear is awkward, to say the least.

I found myself a seat with Lorna and we waited until the doctor himself (dressed in plain clothes) walked in.  He proceeded to talk to me from across the room and jot a few notes, asking again about my symptoms.  I was explaining my concerns about my cough when he interrupted me to ask if I had a headache [no…] and then ask if I wanted an IV [why?] as that would alleviate my symptoms.  This is a very, very common solution in Korea.  Koreans work incredibly hard and often “don’t have the time” to be sick.  They’ll still got to work even when incredibly ill, and most try to soldier on with an IV bag full of vitamins and a few pills to bolster their system.

Apparently my doctor at the hospital thought this was the appropriate solution to my problem.  He ordered the nurse to get me an IV, shot, and a set of pills and then went on is way.  I was made to lay down on a bed (despite asking if I could just stay sitting) while I got an IV and a shot in my hip.  Lorna and I chatted for the 20min it took for the IV to be administered, and then I was sent on my way.  The doctor never laid a hand on me.  Didn’t check my throat, nose, or ears and never once listened to my chest.

My “prescription” the first time around.  Vitamins and sugar pills.

Needless to say, I was unimpressed with my visit, especially after paying ₩30,000 ($27.00 USD).The next morning I did feel like I had more energy, but–not surprisingly–my cough was unchanged.  Two days later my co-teacher and one of my closest friends was at school for a meeting.  She asked how I was feeling and was shocked by the experience I’d had at the hospital here in Boseong.  She generously offered to take me to a doctor in Gwangju (광주), which is a large city about 45min from us.

Fortunately, my second visit was far more productive and much more in line with what I consider an appropriate doctor’s visit.  Seon took me to see one of the top doctors in Gwangju (thank you!!!) and he diagnosed me with acute bronchitis and a sinus infection.  He listened to my chest, checked out my ears, nose, and throat, and even snaked a tiny camera through my nose to take photos (yuck).  I left with some proper antibiotics plus a few more boosting vitamins.

The craziest part?  The doctor’s visit cost me ₩5,200 ($4.75USD) and my prescription cost me ₩5,500 ($5.00USD)!  Let’s not even get started discussing what that would cost back home.  I also don’t know if that was with my insurance applied or not.  If it wasn’t, I’ll get a refund for half.  Crazy!

All and all I’m on the mend, and hopefully will be healthy enough to go scuba diving on Thailand in a few weeks.  The best advice I can give to other foreigners while they’re in Korea is to take care of your health, don’t be afraid to go see a doctor (most speak English, at least enough to communicate in medical terms), and don’t be afraid to insist on the quality of service you believe you deserve!  It always helps to bring a Korean friend along too.  Stay healthy, people!

I’ll be spending my Saturday recovering.