I’ve always been thankful that I was born in Canada. There are many reasons that Canada is an amazing country but one of the best things is our health care system. Or so I thought until I decided to go to the doctor in Korea.
I’ve had a random abdominal pain for a while but as it was neither chronic nor particularly painful, I ignored it. This week I had a few days off, and I decided to use my precious vacation to try and figure out what was going on down below.
Koreans don’t really have GPs like we do in Canada. You need to sort out what’s wrong, then go to the appropriate doctor. Sore throat? See the ENT. Strange rash? Head to the skin doctor. There’s even a neuro-surgeon near my grocery store, although I do wonder how you’d know you needed to go there.
Another thing that amazes me about Korea is that you don’t need appointments for anything, you just show up. Doctors, dentists, car mechanics, hair dressers… you just go when you want to go. In a country of almost 50 million people, I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for anything. Incredible.
As I didn’t know what was wrong, I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I decided to go see Dr Jun.
Dr Jun is quite possibly the only English-speaking doctor in Ulsan; all the foreigners go to him. He’s also a pediatrician. I felt a bit strange at first but then I figured that kids and adults have the same parts, ours are just bigger. Apparently nobody else in the waiting room shared my opinion. As the only childless adult in the pediatrician’s waiting room, I got some funny looks. I tried to look as inconspicuous as a 6-foot, white redhead squeezed into a Korean child-sized chair can look.
Dr Jun didn’t know what was wrong and blushing, recommended I visit “the lady doctor” for an ultrasound.
My friend Ellen (who knows everything) recommended a lady lady doctor who spoke English. I headed there next.
I found the Frau Medi Clinic easily, only of course, it was pronounced Pu-ra-oo Medi in Korean. Nice to know English isn’t the only language they massacre with impunity.
The waiting room was heaving with babies, mothers and mothers-to-be in all stages of gestation. Once again, I was the odd woman out. Perhaps I should borrow someone’s baby the next time I need to see a doctor. I settled myself next to a woman who looked like she should have had her baby weeks ago, and took out my book. I had barely opened it when my name was called.
I followed the nurse into the doctor’s office. I was led to a curtained alcove and given a pink, ruffled patchwork skirt. I decided not to think about how many other bare bottoms had been in that skirt.
The nurse came back and led me to a large, comfy armchair. The doctor drew a ruffled pink curtain across my waist. “Please, don’t be embarrassed!” she told me, smiling. Right. Should I be? Were Koreans? It was all very odd. It looked like I had no body from the waist down. Whose modesty was the curtain protecting? This was not a location I had expected to be having a cultural experience.
As I pondered the mysteries of the pink ruffled curtain, I felt warmed ultrasound gel being placed on my stomach. The young doctor kept up a cheerful stream of chatter the entire exam.
“Oh!” she said with an excited gasp, as though she didn’t see millions of them every day. “It’s your uterus!”
“And look!” she continued, peering around the pink curtain, and beaming at me like I’d just won the Grade 6 spelling bee. “There’s your left ovary!”
“Gee whiz,” I said weakly, trying to muster the appropriate level of enthusiasm. “I’ve never seen it from quite that angle before!”
Ultrasounds are amazing. Everything just looks like gray blobs to me. The doctor was certainly excited. Perhaps she’d never seen a foreign uterus before.
Finally she finished, and pulled back the pink curtain.
“Good job!” she said smiling.
“Um… thanks?” I replied, awkwardly. I’d never been congratulated on my ultrasound receiving skills before.
By the time I put my clothes back on, the results had been printed and were sitting on the doctor’s desk. Amazing. She didn’t know what the mystery pain was either, but was happy to recommend another kind of doctor for me to visit.
And so my medical tour of Korea continues. Doctors in Canada will seem so boring after this! 😀