Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adventures in a Korean Hospital: Part 7 - My Last Night

Well, it looks like I’m getting out! I will be released tomorrow, and I’m glad about it, though I also know that I will miss this place in a strange way once I leave. I have been recalling my second stint staying in hospital for an extended period. I was 13, and the little dude beside me with some serious ailments and a very cute lisp was much younger. Every couple of hours, throughout the day and night, he had to submit to syringe-wielding nurses, and was brave up until the day before I left, where he would whimper himself awake to a nurse’s nudge, saying “No more pokethes! No more pokethes!”

Tomorrow. Another guy who will miss this place is none other than Mr. John Thomas, who today went back to the prison he had been staying in prior to his arrival here on the same day I was admitted. That’s right – prison. Turns out J.T. was actually an inmate (no idea what he was in for) who had been staying in my room along with other folk in the vulnerable sector for over a week. Again, I don’t know that this sort of thing is common practice or anything, and I have no idea what he did to be incarcerated, but I did hear today that J.T. had been in prison for 15 years already and would be apparently serving more – starting today.

I knew that there was something about him that made me uncomfortable – aside from the penetrating stare and tendency to expose himself, I mean.

In the end, I can’t be too hard on the guy. He was on his best behaviour when Ian visited yesterday and he even went so far as to address me for the first time – coming over to my bed to offer some candy, which – looking back – I’m glad to say was wrapped. Wait – did he offer us oranges as well? I don’t remember…

Anyway, J.T.’s presence, as well as a couple of other incidents, have given me sufficient pause to question the practices of Korean hospitals. For one, I have a fellow teacher at my school (let’s call her Mrs. Lee... there are a few of them) who happens to have a sister-in-law working here at Eulji Medical Center. On my second day here, Mrs. Lee called me to see how my deep vein thrombosis was going along.

“How do you know?” I inquired.

“My sister-in-law checked your file.” Was the answer.

So, I found myself wondering why it’s okay for in-laws to by-pass the doctor/patient confidentiality rule. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have the concern, but in the case of a guy who might (knock wood) one day be suffering from something a little more personal, I shudder to imagine how quickly such information would spread about the entire workplace. Is nothing sacred? For real.

Anyway, I am turning a page today – mainly because I’m leaving and have a brand new lease on life. I never really got too down here (everything was simply too interesting), though my test day was certainly a low point. I’ve been lucky to have a ton of visitors, and a rabbit constantly by my side, so there’s been a lot of love – even a skype call or two with friends and family back home. Shane even got to meet Ajuma #4 over the internet today. Point is, it’s been okay, and despite the undeniable weirdness of the experience in the details, on the whole, I might just miss being here.

Last night, Ed and the rabbit popped me into a wheel-chair and took me on a hospital tour for about an hour. It was my vacation in-place of Thailand. We stopped by the Mini-Stop convenience store in the B1 level, and that’s where I recalled what is surely my earliest memory. It’s funny because I had been recently talking with friends about my earliest memory, and how odd it is that it is from a time when I was so sick. It’s not a big deal, but it’s from a time when I was barely two years-old, and had been hospitalized for inflammation of the epiglottis brought on by constant high fever. Apparently I turned blue and had to have a tracheotomy to get the old lungs going again. The event changed my life in more ways that I suppose I can accurately measure, but I don’t remember any of that aside from how it’s remembered to me – usually by my mother. I do, however, clearly recall my dad pulling my sister and I around the hospital in a wagon while she and I sucked on green popsicles. That’s it – my earliest memory.

So, it was with a few pangs of nostalgia, home-sickness, and gratefulness that I accepted Ed’s kind offer for a melon ice-cream bar last night when he stopped wheeling me about in front of the Mini-Stop. It wasn’t a popsicle, but it was green. Obviously, I missed my sister and the people who used to pull us around.

I’m very lucky. The icing on the cake of my discharge from the hospital is that the bill is going to come to half of what I thought – the total will actually be just over 500,000 won (about $450 CAN).

Of course, I’m lucky in a thousand other ways. One learns a lot when Ajuma #4 decides to open-up the vault. For one, unlike J.T., I’m not heading back to a prison where I’ve been beaten countless times, further damaging my already strained mental faculties. I’m also not the guy beside me, who is in here for his 3rd liver surgery as a result of alcohol abuse, and I didn’t sneak out of bed last night during the soccer game to head to the Mini-Stop and down two bottles of soju before the wife came-by for her visit (the rabbit heard this story and mentioned that she would never make faces at that man’s wife again – behind a curtain or not). I’m also not 83 years-old with obvious respiratory and diabetes-related complications, and I have both of my legs, unlike the man in the opposite corner of the room who grimaces in pain near tears when it’s time for whatever he’s being injected with.

In short, I suppose my attempts to describe this experience with humour and fish-out-of-water observances has at times, in retrospect, made me a bit of an asshole. I guess I used to think that was something I was incapable of being, until a friend suggested otherwise a couple of years ago. Really, this was a week of cabin-fever, with a bunch of assholes trying their best not to be – all to varying degrees of success. Even the suicidal alcoholic offered to return my meal tray each time after I was finished.

A teacher visiting today mentioned that if I can survive a week in a Korean hospital, then I understand all there is to know about Korean culture. At the risk of sounding like an asshole, I really hope that’s not true. I will miss this place though, and apparently, Ajuma #4 will really miss me. I guess I showed her my best side through this past week. This afternoon passed quickly with the rabbit by my side and Ajuma #4 at Haliboji’s. The conversation was challenging, but full of laughs. Even Haliboji got in on the action and offered a few laboured words which the rabbit translated for me. I suppose not all elder Korean men are against inter-racial marriage after-all – Haliboji wants us to have babies 발리발리 (“quickly, quickly”) and Ajuma #4 seems sad to see me go tomorrow. Who else will she ask for leads on foreign women to date her “not handsome or rich” nephew? She’s invited the rabbit and I to her home in Dangoggae of all places when Haliboji is out of here – one way or another.

Anyway, it’s been weird, and a little bit wonderful too. Tomorrow is going to be so quiet. At least I get to take my favourite nurse home with me.

No more pokes.


Andrew said...

beautifully written dave.

Ian said...

JT, you're kidding?? He did have a crazy look in his eye, but I wouldn't have guessed that. Wow, I wonder if they've ever had anyone escape under similar circumstances. I'd probably give it a go. He did give us an orange... huh. I'm glad we offered him some Dunkin' Donuts goodies.