23 August, 2011
Today was the day of the dreaded medical examination. Rumour had it that failure resulted in immediate contract termination followed by swift deportation fromKorea. Nobody was exactly clear on how failure was possible however. Some said it would happen if any traces of illegal drugs were found in your system. Others said abnormal quantities of alcohol while still others were convinced that any medical abnormality of any kind would result in the loss of their new job.
We had been told not to eat for at least six hours prior to the medical test so after dinner last night, we all went to buy large quantities of snacks to tide us over. It was as if we were about to fast for 6 months, not 6 hours.
This morning, I woke up ravenous. I knew it was all in my head; I’m not normally starving first thing in the morning. If anything, it takes my tummy about an hour to wake up. But it was as if my stomach knew it wasn’t going to be fed until around lunchtime, and it wasn’t happy. I also knew I was going to have to give a urine sample, so to avoid performance anxiety I filled my water bottle before boarding the bus to the hospital.
We arrived at the hospital at about9amand walked into the special clinic reserved for medical check ups. Many Korean employers require a medical check up so the system is efficient and effective. They were not however expecting 28 foreigners to stroll in first thing in the morning. We were ushered into a somewhat grotty conference room down the hall and told to wait.
Eventually they came back and told us we would be called in groups of five. Anxiously, I gulped a bit more water, then a bit more for good measure. The first group of five was called and we all wished them luck. About 20 minutes later, the second group was called. No sign of the first group.
Eventually, there were only five of us left and my bladder was close to bursting; I think my eyeballs were floating. Breathlessly I quizzed the returnees on when the urine sample was to be given. “Second to last station,” was the unfortunate reply.
Finally we were called and we filed into the main room. I was trying to figure out the Korean for “I really need to pee RIGHT NOW,” when I was called to the first station. The room was like a star fish with the waiting room as its body and each testing station one of its legs (or an octopus maybe… something with a lot of legs anyway).
In a very short time, I had my height and weight measured, my blood pressure taken and my eyes tested. I pondered my increasingly uncomfortable bladder as I was ushered back to the waiting area. I had barely taken my seat when I was called to the hearing test station. I sat in the little box and pressed the button when I heard the beeps. When I came out, the woman congratulated me on my hearing and measured the circumference of my chest. “Sorry,” she muttered, staring at my breasts. Was she apologizing for the some what intimate measurement she had just taken or the results of the measurement?
No time to ponder that question! I was swiftly moved through to the chest X-ray section. The man grunted at me and gestured towards a screen in the corner. He pointed at a gown that had very clearly seen a wide variety of clients in various states of hygiene. “This, on! You, bra, no!”
I emerged to find him raising his chest X-ray machine to what I had to assume was the maximum height. He looked at me then back to the machine and shrugged. “You, here!” I went.
I had barely managed to put myself back together when I was called to the ECG room. I went behind a thin curtain to find a stern looking lady who gestured for me to lie down on the bed. She gestured again and I pulled up my shirt rather uncertainly, hoping that I had interpreted her gesture correctly otherwise I was about to flash a nurse. She gestured again but I couldn’t figure out what she wanted. With an impatient sigh, she hoisted my bra up around my chin (which is not a particularly comfortable place for a bra to be, in case anyone was wondering) and proceeded to attach a number of suction cup electrodes to my chest.
She pulled them off with a pop (leaving lovely circular hickeys) and I was off, thankfully to the urine sample station. I was handed a paper cup, exactly the same as the ones being used to serve water across the room. I was told to fill it and bring it back, which was an experience as close to heaven as I’m likely to get.
I filled it and brought it back to the Urine Man. He was a cheerful man who obviously took great pride in his job in spite of the fact that his desk was a little damp and he wore no gloves. He filled a few test tubes and gave me back my pee. “You dump!” he announced, pointing back towards the bathroom. Interesting. Why have sterile, screw top containers in a special lab when coffee cups and a messy, wet desk will do?
I then had to return to the urine station and sit beside all of the open containers of pee while a nurse took my blood. I glanced around and noticed pictures of happy, frolicking bunnies on the wall. I wonder if that was to distract people from the open pee collection right beside them.
Last but certainly not least, was the dental station. Someone in a mask (who I assumed was a dentist) stared in my mouth as if I was a horse at auction. Grunting in satisfaction, she made a mark on my chart and I was free.
On a side note, check out the emergency evacuation device we found on the balcony of our dorm. It looks like it’s a one time use kind of contraption. How do you decide who gets to use it? And we were on the 7th floor. I think I’d rather take my chances with the stairs.