As of this month, I can now officially say I've spent time in a foreign emergency room. Go me! The weekend before I went to Taiwan I was experiencing flu-like symptoms, and severe abdominal pain. At first, I wrote it off as a bad lunch or dinner but the pain persisted and gradually became worse so on Sunday I headed to the hospital. As it turns out I had a severe kidney infection. Before anyone freaks out (Mom) let me say I was in no mortal peril - I went to the ER because in Korea you go the hospital for all general care, and it was the weekend so I wasn't sure where else to go.
During my ER experience, I encountered and overcame (like a boss) two of my big fears - IV's and looking stupid. Why do I fear these things? IV's are obvious... a needle chilling in your vein pumping unknown substances into your body. Not a good look. This was the fourth time I've had to get one, and if I could go my whole life without getting another, I would die happy. As to looking stupid, no one wants to check into the emergency room with extreme abdominal pain only to find out that it was just some bad indigestion... talk about embarrassing - "Ma'am, you'll be fine. Next time just lay off the beans and cheese.."
I'm telling you all about this not because it was that significant of an event,
but rather because it was a significant learning experience for me on several counts.
First, the Korean emergency room is quite efficient and affordable. I got blood work, a urinalysis, an X-ray, two IV's (one saline and one antibiotic), and three prescriptions for the bargain basement price of 170k won ($170). Getting all of that from the emergency room in America would cost a third of my paycheck and my first born child.
Another big positive was that most of the doctors did speak a little English. This was definitely a time that I was grateful English is widely taught here. Between my cut-rate Korean and their proficient English we were able to come to an understanding about what was wrong, and what needed to be done. Even if our communication to each other wasn't perfect, we managed to find a way.
The second part of the learning experience was a bit more sobering. I was in the hospital for close to five hours, and as I sat there I couldn't help but notice that I was literally the only person that didn't have someone sitting by their bedside.
This realization was definitely a low point from the last year. Walking in the rain, to sit for hours by myself in a foreign emergency room woke me up to one of the less glamorous aspects of traveling alone. Though it was not a life threatening situation by any means, it also not an experience I am eager to repeat.
I couldn't help but think that if I was at home,
instead of gallivanting around the world - someone would have been there with me.
In retrospect, I know that had I called one of my friends they would have come; however, my decision to go to the ER was very last minute, and I honestly did not think it would take as long as it did.
Once I got home and slept for about a million hours, I started feeling better. The antibiotics worked great, and now I am back to my usual healthy and fully functional (awesome) self. Long story short, I got through it just fine, and I now know first-hand that Korean emergency rooms are modern, affordable, and very efficient. So, if you are ever in a situation where you need medical attention, please don't hesitate to go.
I am still committed to my international dreams - as much as ever. As I said earlier, it was just a sobering realization. When travel is your life, as opposed to your vacation, it's not just unique experiences and beautiful views... Normal life things happen too, and when they do it's 100% up to you deal, because your comfort and safety net might just be on the other side of the world.
Enjoy the view - beautiful and otherwise.
Photo Credit: IV Drip