When I moved into the 7-person room yesterday at around 2 in the afternoon, I was lucky enough to have another bed beside the wall. This meant that the foot of my bed pointed directly toward the restroom and though the room is all about close-quarters, most everyone’s attention was directed away from my side of the room toward the window wall where the TV is. The TV, by the way, goes on every day at 7:00am and doesn’t get shut-off until 10pm. It’s 15 hours of Korean TV goodness that the entire population of my room can’t seem to get enough of.
The exception of course was when I entered the room yesterday afternoon and all faces swung to meet mine – including the face of Mr. Big Eyes / John-Thomas-In-Hand who I am now sharing a room with.
I guess it’s pretty surprising to see a foreigner in the 7-person room. How do I know? Because Seong-sook was able to translate the chatter in the room roughly as follows:
Ajuma #1: Why is he here?
Ajuma #2: He is American, why is here here?
Ajuma #3: Isn’t there a foreigner hospital?
Ajuma #4: Hey, where do you think we would go if we were in America? We would go to an American hospital. Don’t be so surprised.
Ajushi #1: How old is he?
Ajuma #4: his chart says 35. He’s not 35. It’s a mistake.
Seong-sook #1: No – he is 35.
Ajuma #1: Who are you? Is he your husband?
Seong-sook #1: Not yet, but soon.
(General murmurs fill the room)
Seong-sook #1: (quietly to me) They are so “country”.
One part I’m missing is that I had been carrying Mumuk in my hospital pajama pocket, so they likely thought I was mentally-challenged – how rare then for a Korean lady to not only be marrying a foreigner, but also a special foreigner. Apparently they thought that Mukmuk was very cute. So I’ve got that going for me.
All in all, the room is mostly friendly, though I can’t say I will ever completely get used to having so many people in here. For every one of the 7 patients, there is ALWAYS at least one other person. The pull-out bench that serves as a place for guests to sit when visiting also serves as a bed for family members or friends who wish to spend the night. So, at anytime, there will be 14 people hanging-out in a room that is maybe a bit larger than my parents’ living room – just to give you an idea.
As I write this, there are 7 patients, and 12 visitors – Mr. John Thomas has 5 visitors all crowded onto his little piece of earth having a kimbap picnic, and the room is alive with loud-ass visiting – which is at times literally true as some of the older patients have no shame when it comes to flatulence. It’s really not a big deal.
Big news today is that I moved from the wall bed to a newly evacuated window bed.
1) I can look outside from time to time. The natural light really can’t have a price on it.
2) I don’t have to smell the pungency of urine that was awakened by a lazy swipe of a water-wet mop under the bed by the cleaning lady this morning.
3) I have a window-sill and approximately 8 more inches of space, which is nice for visitors.
1) I am now in line with most everyone’s eyesight as I’m pretty much right under the TV. I play a little game, which involves me typing, then looking-up quickly and counting to see how many people are staring at me as opposed to the TV. I have always caught at least one.
2) I’m a bit further from the bathroom, which means that the chances are increased for my fuzzy cast bottoms to collect a beard of curly black hairs on the way to the bathroom and back.
3) I’m right under this effing TV that is always on (Roxy – you’d be loving the first-run Korean Drama action all day long.
All in all, I don’t mind the window seat, and I’m doing my best to just “blend-in”. I can draw the curtain from time to time and get a little privacy, and I suppose I’d rather hear the TV as background noise than some of the things I would hear without it. I also wish I could understand more Korean, as the room seems to have developed a bit of a sense of community, in which clearly I am the odd-one-out, and moving about the room to offer oranges or pieces of pound cake, though appreciated, only goes so far.
Before I sign-out for now though, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my old neighbour, the great, graying, round, and permanently grumpy-faced “Haliboji” (Grandfather). This guy breaks my heart. His bed was next to mine before I moved to the window bed and he’s having a really rough time. He’s an older man (haven’t read his name plate, so I can’t be exact) and he has oxygen tubes in his nose. He is apparently diabetic, which I found out when I tried to offer him some pound cake, and he really struggles at night when he lies down.
Haliboji hasn’t had anyone come to visit him yet, but I really hope that changes soon. He has a 24/7 helper (ajuma #4) who sleeps beside him on the bench at night, gives him sponge baths, changes his bedpan, and wakes him for meds etc. It’s quite the relationship – most of the day, and periodically at night, through Haliboji’s wheezing and gurgling (which, by the way breaks my heart more than it bothers me – the dude is not in good shape) I hear his ajuma yelling in Korean: “Grandfather! Wake-up. Hey!!! Grandfather!” Then cue his barely audible protests.
I don’t know why, but I can’t help but feel close to Haliboji. I never knew either of my grandfathers, but it wasn’t hard to sympathize with this man who seemed to be, in a sense, all alone. Anyway, it makes you think of many things – especially the importance of friends and family. I hope he gets some visitors soon.