Never before Korea have I gone to the doctor for something as common as a cold. My dad, though generally proactive with his own health, always believed we could battle the illnesses with old fashioned remedies – rest, a lot of water, and Vitamin C. My brother and I grew up thinking doctors were only for serious illnesses and routine check-ups. As a result, I learned to self-diagnose, or more accurately, I learned to use the Internet to diagnose the various symptoms whenever they surfaced, and only after I could no longer avoid thinking about them. 2013 New Year’s resolution #7: Don’t use Google to diagnose symptoms – for you, for your friends, for the cat. Ever.
At home, the ill are all but quarantined, hospitals sterile walled-in cities. Here, the ill mix with the healthy. There are three hospitals in this neighborhood, and when the admitted need to eat, they come out in their scrubs still attached to their IV drips. Their families visit and take them for coffee. They step outside for fresh air, or for a smoke.
Culturally, it’s common and expected in Seoul to visit the doctor for whatever the ailment, large or small. It’s also common to get a shot. For a cold, for dermatitis, for the flu. At first, I resisted when given the choice between pills or the prick. (Can we call a shot the prick? Let’s go with it). Why would anyone choose a needle over a pill, I’ve always asked. At some point, the levee breaks, you throw up your hands, and you say fine – stick it to me.
Yesterday I sat with a stupefied smile between the local ENT doctor and my boss while they discussed my nasal congestion and eczematic hands. My poor boss has to accompany us whenever we want to see a doctor nearby. I, a woman of nearly 30 years, depends on her boss to translate ailments I’m used to ignoring, or toughing out until they heal naturally. But as kindergarten teachers, we’re often sick, and there comes a point when you’ll take a shot in the ass to feel better even if all you know about it is that ‘it works.’ Even if your boss has to order it for you.
“Is this for my nose or my hands?”
“Both.” she answered, and a nurse pulled me into a tiny room and motioned for me to get ready. I turned and gazed into a waste bin of bloody gauze and used syringes, as exposed as my cheeks would soon be. I drew in a breath and wriggled my jeans down an inch. She prepped the needle, laughed, and pulled them down further with a swift tug, one-handed. I didn’t know what I should do – bend forward, look back? So I did both. And then, she spanked me. Smacked the flesh, two or three times, which took me so off guard that when she stuck the needle in, I completely missed the instant. After it was over, she gestured for my hand, and I was so tentative that she had to grab it and place it where she wanted it – right on top of the square of cotton that covered the point of entry. She scooted around me, opened the door, and slipped out, all before I had a chance to pull up my pants.
Today, I feel better than I have in weeks.