Laces out!

Hopefully this is the final chapter in this story. I got my stitches out today. But it didn’t go according to plan.

My doctors in Seoul told me to come back today to remove the stitches and get my biopsy results. I made a 2 pm appointment, not realizing in that moment the significance of today’s date. Today is the beginning of the four-day Lunar New Year weekend.

I have to make a side note here about the Korean public transportation system – it’s beautiful. The infrastructure is modern, clean, fast, extremely efficient, and cheap. Subway trains are always on time (I’ve had one delay in two years), they come every four minutes, and the seats have ass-warmers. You can’t beat that. The country’s rail system, Korail, is another wonder. The fast KTX lines go from Busan to Seoul in less than three hours. They usually leave every 30 minutes. They board 15 minutes before, which means you never have to sit around the train station waiting. And if the train is scheduled to leave at 9:40 and arrive at 12:25, it will leave exactly at 9:40 and arrive at 12:25, if not earlier. To make matters even better, I get a 30% discount through my university.

The point here is that I’m used to showing up, buying my tickets, getting a quick train, and arriving in time for wherever I need to be. But when I showed up today I learned that I could get to Seoul, but I couldn’t come back. All trains from Seoul to Busan were sold out through the whole weekend. I called my friend Minju for advice. (She had recommended my doctor in Seoul, and is just an all-around good friend.) She said don’t worry, you can take a flight or at worst take a bus back. She sent me the Korean Air number and I called. Same thing. All flights out of Seoul were booked. But I bought my train ticket up anyway, thinking I could take the bus. I texted Minju: “No flights. I just hope I can get a bus back.”

I hear the announcement that the train is boarding, so I join the mass of humanity on the catwalk to my train. I get a call from Minju: “Hello?” “There are no flights?” “Nope, none.” “Don’t go then! If flights are booked you might also have a hard time getting a bus. And it’s going to snow all over Korea this weekend so there might be problems on the road.” OK. I reverse my trajectory and go back to the counter, get a refund on my ticket and head to my university. I’ll get my stitches out in Busan.

Minju calls the doctor in Seoul for me and explains the situation. She also recommends a hospital for me. I get in a taxi and tell the taxi driver, in Korean, to take me to that hospital. He doesn’t understand. I say it again. Still doesn’t understand. I tell him to go to the general neighborhood. We approach to the hospital and he says “ahhh” and then repeats exactly what I told him earlier. I hate this. It happens all the time. C’mon, man, my accent is not that bad.

When I get to the hospital I see a sign for foreigner help. There I meet Kathy (actually her name is 착순, but this is for my benefit). This is yet another cool thing in Korea. “Kathy” will now take me everywhere I need to go to accomplish what I need to do. (The same thing happened at the hospital in Seoul.) The first place we went was the waiting room. She said it would take 10 minutes. So we sat there and chatted for 10 minutes. She didn’t major in English in college but learned on her own through Hagwons, Friends and Sex In The City. Now she watches Gossip Girl, which apparently is the new big show, but according to Kathy is nothing like high school in Korea. Her TOEIC score is 900. Not bad. She likes her job but is thinking about shifting careers into public service. She asks where I’m from, why I’m here, what I do, what my students think of me, etc, etc. Nice girl, nice chat.

Then we’re led to the examination room. I lie on the table and Kathy explains to the nurses what I’ve told her about my situation. They take off my bandages and take a look. “How many stitches?” “I don’t know.” The nurse sits down, tilts my head, and starts going to work, snipping and pulling. Kathy stands and watches. After one particularly hard tug, I hear that sudden Korean inhalation sound (or is that a Busan thing?). This means something’s wrong. “What’s wrong?” I ask. Nobody responds. Another nurse looks. They speak rapidly, but the only word I understand is “continuous.” I think they’re trying to say something about a continuous thread. She tries. More tugging and a little bit of slightly painful digging. “…(indecipherable) continuous (indecipherable)…”

A doctor comes in and takes a look. More “continuous” talk. His English is good and his bedside manner is vastly superior. He talks to me as he digs around, explaining what I assumed was the case. “Your doctor used a different technique than we’re used to. We think it’s a continuous stitch, but we’re not sure.” The nurse is on the phone, talking to my doctor in Seoul. Yep, it’s a continuous stitch. My new doctor explains to me that he now has to find all of the thread to snip and pull out. Eventually he succeeds, then holds up the blue thread proudly. I ask him some questions: “Can I go swimming on my vacation?” “Yes, but wait for 5 days.” “Do I need to put any medication on it?” “No.” “Can I be physically active?” “Sure, no problem. You’re fine.”

So it’s done and Kathy leads me to the payment counter. She says she’s jealous about my trip to Singapore and Malaysia. I ask about her plans for New Years. She says she had bought a ticket to go to China, but her father is in bad health so she has to stay and take care of him. I get the bill: 9,000 won, about the price of a 삼겹살 dinner.

And there we have it: my little adventure in Korean medicine. A bit confusing at times, but not bad at all.

3 Responses to “Laces out!”

  1. Who cares about the stitches? It sounds like Kathy made a big hit.
    Seriously, I’m glad you’re fine.

  2. can you tell me what hospital in busan you went too. I like they have a foreign service and i need to see a doctor about some symptoms i have.
    I was going to goto Sajic but i’ll need help from a korean.
    PS nice blog..

  3. Sure David, here you go…

    Good Gang-an Hospital, right outside the Geumyeongsan subway station on the green line.

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