Friday, October 8, 2010

Changing The Way I Look At Things

One of my reasons for coming to Korea was to have my perceptions challenged. Living in a country as different from America as Korea is a great way to challenge the way I think about things. On paper. When you're actually living through such an experience it's like having your teeth pulled—you recognize on some level that it's good for you but it's hard to see that through the blinding pain.

I recently had an issue with an ingrown toenail. It's been an ongoing issue, actually, but I didn't have time to take care of it before leaving the US. That's a shame because I had been seeing a really good podiatrist for bunion surgery. Actually, I think it's because of the bunion surgery, and having limited mobility for almost 4 months, that when I arrived in Korea and started walking a lot the toenail problem came back with a vengeance. I won't disgust you with the nasty, infected details but after a month of walking around in pain, waiting for my health insurance to be processed, by the time I was able to see a doctor things had gotten pretty bad.

The bus terminal, where my new doctor's office is.
I asked an English-speaking co-teacher to take me to the big new hospital by my house to have this taken care of. I assumed it would require surgery, having had a similar problem on the left side 15 or so years ago. But my co-teacher insisted on taking me to see his doctor, who, it turns out, practices in a dimly lit office above the bus station down the street from our school. Privacy is a concept not familiar to Koreans and so all during my consultation other patients traipsed in and out of the examination room, which was more of a wide hallway than anything else. I put my feet up on a table, the doctor said I didn't need surgery, his nurse swabbed it with iodine and wrapped it in gauze and they sent me on my way.

A few days later it started to bleed. After taking a look at my toe, which I was asked to display in the teacher's office, everyone agreed that I should get that nastiness taken care of. My co-teacher asked if I wanted to go back to his doctor and, assuming I now needed surgery and remembering the office and the Grand Central Station approach to privacy, I said I wanted to go to the big new hospital. "But my doctor has a lot of experience," my co-teacher insisted. "Hospital doctors are young." No, no, I thought. I don't want some horse doctor yanking on my toenail in barn-like darkness. Big new hospitals are better.

At the big new hospital, under bright lights and in complete privacy, a young doctor looked at my foot, thought for a few moments and then asked me if I wanted surgery. "Why are you asking me?" I sputtered out. "You're the doctor." He then had a long conversation with my co-teacher in Korean, which could be summed up as, "Let's wait and see." I did not feel comforted in the least bit, and my co-teacher doubted this youngster's skills as an MD, so back we went to the country doctor. There, in the half-light of his hallway examination room, the country doctor explained to me that prevention was the best medicine, and that even if I had surgery the problem could recur again in as little as a month. His English was pretty good but I wanted to make sure I absolutely understood what he was saying so I asked him the same questions repeatedly in different ways, and he patiently answered them all. "The bleeding is a sign that the toenail is healing," he explained. That's all I needed to hear. My fears were allayed.

When I got back to school, my toe once again swabbed in iodine and wrapped in gauze, I relayed to my co-teacher what the doctor had said. "You were right," I told him. "That doctor is great. He really made me feel at ease." And as my co-teacher headed off to his next class, I added, "From now on, he's my doctor too."


  1. No, no, no. I'm a lazy writer who doesn't go deep enough. But thank you.