Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rigor Mortis

Ok, so hospitals don't bring out warm fuzzy feelings in most people - but yesterday's experience really, really got my blood boiling. Not that it needed it - I was already feverish . . .
I've caught a particularly nasty cold that started as a mild sniffle one night but by the wee hours of the next morning had turned into some kind of mutant virus that was attempting to destroy me from within. It was bad, it was ugly, it was not fun. Normally I'm healthy as a horse, and on the rare occasions I am sick I tend to go about my daily life as much as possible. That once backfired and my school actually took me out of class and "kidnapped" me to go to the hospital, and it turned out my "mild cold" that I insisted would go away just fine was actually bronchitis. Oops. My family has always belonged to the "if you're not dying, unconscious, or waving a severed limb then you are GOING TO SCHOOL, YOUNG LADY" train of thought, and I've never gotten used to the idea that anything short of consumption should bring you to the doctor. Experience, as shown above, has softened my views somewhat, and this time I was feeling bad enough to merit a visit to those nice men in their clean white coats.
I retract the nice bit. Since it's on my way to work, I decided to go to the university hospital instead of hunting out a clinic, which would have been less expensive. Besides, they already had a patient history on me from last year, when I was enrolled as a student. The nurse at the info desk has always been especially nice to me, partially, I think, because even though she's technically their designated English-speaker I usually speak to her in Korean. She's patient, nice, and makes sure I muddle through all the necessary paperwork each time. The problem is when she hands me off to the tender mercies of whichever specialty I'm supposed to be seeing.
For the record, those of us used to the American medical divisions of labor will be surprised at how the Korean medical system is divided. For example, if you're having a problem with your foot, there are no podiatrists - you can choose between an orthopedic surgeon, who will assume all your problems are bone problems, or you can chose a dermatologist, who will assume that everything is a skin problem. That's great, unless your problem isn't related to either of those, in which case you will spend the rest of your life on crutches and in medical limbo. The doctor who I saw last year for a muscular problem was virtually no help - other than ordering a bunch of expensive x-rays that told him nothing because my problem wasn't a bone problem . . .in the end I had to tell him what I had, and then he sort-of, kind-of remembered possible treatments.
Near as I can tell, surgeons of various stripes are vastly over-represented. It's almost certainly where the big bucks and prestige are, and few doctors want to bother with the unsexy jobs that don't involve slicing and dicing and their attendant big paychecks. Anyway, I digress.
I spent about thirty minutes waiting (not bad, considering I was a walk-in) to see the doctor for . . .less than a minute. No, I'm not kidding. I came in, sat in the exam chair, and he asked me what my symptoms were. I was just starting to explain when I was interrupted by him jamming a very cold instrument up my nose, then a brusque command to say "ah!" so he could look at my throat . . .for about half a second. He was still circling things on his chart while I was being hustled out of the room. I went up to ask the desk staff a few questions, and the resident behind the desk would not say a word to me. He just gestured rudely that I should slip a piece of my paperwork into a particular box. That was a little less than helpful.
Mind you, I'm doing all the asking and everything in Korean. The staff was answering other people's questions . . . but the mental arithmetic for many Koreans goes something like this:
foreigner = English = difficulty x potential embarrassment = AVOID AT ALL COSTS
So I was ignored. Again.
Did I mention I was also prescribed what is almost certainly too much medication? And some of it clearly unnecessary . . .I told the doctor when I came in that I had been taking tylenol for some of my symptoms, yet lo and behold if he didn't PRESCRIBE IT FOR ME?!? Just more proof that he wasn't listening. I would have gone back and complained if I thought for a second it was worth my time to do so.
Yeah, I know that hospitals are busy places and doctors are overworked. But its things like this that lead to all kinds of dangerous situations. I'm sure if there actually had been a problem, it would have been blamed on me and my lack of communication skills (because obviously, as a foreigner, I couldn't have expressed myself in Korean). I don't expect somebody holding my hand and walking me through the entire process and listening to my every woe and worry. But I do expect a medical professional to act . . .well, professional.
And just to add insult to injury, this morning my cab driver pulled essentially the same stunt. Usually I walk, but sometimes I'm tired or sick or late and the only other alternative is a complex set of bus transfers. My research institute is the very last building bar one, and virtually nobody knows where it is and how to get there. It also doesn't show on any of those GPS Nav units that are steadily ruining the average cabbie's ability to remember how to get places (geez, talk about a technological crutch . . . this is practically its own rant), so I usually have to explain how to get there. That's not a big deal, but every once in a while I get a driver who sees a foreigner get in the cab and just plain stops listening. I'll tell them "head to hospital x, but after the turn go straight and keep on the road for the funeral hall. Keep going on this road until you pass the stadium and see building z on the left." Some taxi drivers, including the one today, stop listening as soon as I say "hospital x" and try to go directly to the hospital instead of taking the road I need and it gripes me to no end. I know this can happen to Korean people, too, but Korea Beat just had an article translated today on cabbies and foreigners.

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