Many people in Korea need to get a medical every year for their jobs. I had no idea I was included in that number until my co-T asked me if I’d had it done.
Me: I have to have a medical?
co-T: Yes. You must do it by December 31st. I gave you a paper.
Me: Really? You gave me a paper about a medical?
co-T: Yes. It was in Korean.
Ah. Thankfully I save all the Korean papers my co-T gives me, so after a bit of a search, I was able to find THE paper.
My friend Abo and I decided to get our medicals together; there is safety in numbers. We went through the hospital doors and I brandished my paper. Neither of us had any idea how to say ‘medical’ in Korean, but waving the paper around and looking puzzled seemed to do the trick.
We found the right room and were given papers to fill out. Our relief at discovering the paperwork was in English was fleeting. The questions may have been in English but it didn’t mean we understood them.
Abo: Do we want a regular check up? Or a life cycle check up?
Me: I don’t know. What’s the difference?
My favourite question on the form was “Have you ever been to the dentist? Yes/ no/ I don’t know.” How could you visit a dentist and not know? I also wondered who would read our answers. Did anyone speak English?
The medical room was shaped like a starfish; the waiting area was the body and the arms were the test rooms. The first stop was height and weight. Next was vision.
“What?!” the nurse barked, pointing at a blob on the chart.
“Um…. a pig?” I guessed, peering at the blob.
“Eye! Changee!” she replied, glaring.
Quickly, I switched the eye covering thing to my other eye. I guess the blob hadn’t been a pig.
“What? What??” Angrily, she jabbed at another blob on the chart. Why didn’t they use letters?
“Um…. a car?”
“Um…. a…. fish?”
“You! Go!” she muttered, clearly disgusted by my terrible eyesight.
The next station was a hearing test…. and a waist measurement. What did my waist size tell them about my hearing abilities?
Passing the hearing test with flying colours, I moved along to the chest X-ray. The X-ray technician was a man who needed to find a new job; he was not a happy camper.
“You! Come on!”he grumbled, marching over and grabbing my arm. “Sweater! Off!” He stopped, peered at my chest, and then ran his hand down my back. Finding my bra strap, he seemed surprised. He gave it a good snap, crossed his arms in front of him to make an X and said “You! Bra! No!”
Had he really just snapped my bra? I was speechless.
He wasn’t. “Go, go, go!”
I ran for the changing room, and changed into the grimy top hanging there. How many people had worn it before me? Thankfully, I didn’t have time to ponder sanitary issues for long.
“Come on! Come on!”
I think he set a new speed record for a chest X-ray. And then I was on my way to the urine test desk. The woman gave me a piece of paper about the size of my pinky finger, and gestured towards the bathroom. At one end, there was a small square of textured paper about half the size of my fingernail. I was utterly confused. Did she want me to pee on the paper?
“You…. urine… here!” the technician said, seeing my confusion.
After almost two years of squat toilets my aim is pretty good but… I decided to wait for Abo. Perhaps there was something I just wasn’t understanding.
Apparently not. Abo was given the same instructions. We requested paper cups, much to the technician’s amusement.
I dipped the paper into the cup. Yay! My paper turned green. Wait… what did that mean? Was green good? Anxiously, I brought the paper back for assessment.
“Normal!” the technician announced.
Phew! What would have happened if I’d had abnormal urine? What was abnormal urine?
The urine technician finished labelling some vials of pee, and then motioned for me to sit down so she could take my blood. My Western hygiene expectations kicked in, and I felt my stomach clench in sudden panic. Was she really going to handle other people’s urine and then take my blood without washing her hands, or wearing gloves? Yes, she was. I closed my eyes.
The next-to-last station was teeth. A man I assumed was a dentist peered intently into my mouth, rather like I was a horse for sale. Muttering, he passed me onto the last station: Preventative Medicine.
It was unclear what we were trying to prevent. The lady in Preventative Medicine only wanted to tell me all about her trip to Canada.
Then we were done! And the whole morning’s fun cost us nothing. The government covered it. Amazing.