As the Spring semester draws all too slowly to a close, adventures remain elusive. I seem to spend most of my time cramming my sweet wee ones full of English they will probably forget as soon as the tests have been written. And so here is another story from the last time I lived in Korea. Thank goodness for previous adventures eh? 😀
After my contract finished in February, I had made plans to travel through Indonesia with a friend. A few weeks before I left Korea, it suddenly occurred to me that I might need some shots before I went. I had been living in Asia for what felt like centuries, so I was sure I would be fine, but I thought I’d check anyway.
I went to the Canadian foreign affairs website and printed off their recommended vaccinations list for Indonesia, and then I asked at school where I could go to get them.
After many phone calls, discussions and searches in dictionaries for the Korean words for the various vaccinations, we discovered that the only place to get travel vaccinations was a local internal medicine doctor.
I arrived at the doctor, surprisingly alone. Usually multitudes of curious teachers liked to accompany me whenever I went to the doctor. Perhaps vaccines were boring, because nobody wanted to come with me.
I was relieved until I realized the receptionist didn’t speak English. And judging from the look on her face when I made what I thought to be the international gesture for vaccination, she thought I was looking for a place to buy illicit injectable drugs.
Eventually we muddled out the reason for my visit (although she continued to watch me suspiciously the whole time I was there), and I took a seat in a waiting room decorated with graphic pictures of the surprisingly numerous and varied diseases of the stomach, intestines and colon. It was difficult to know where to look. Should I feign interest in the putrid duodenum? Or perhaps the suppurating tumours in some unfortunate’s lower intestinal tract?
Happily, the doctor wasn’t busy and I was soon called into his office. Korean doctor’s offices are not very private; usually there are several nurses listening, and the door to the waiting room is seldom closed. The doctor sits in a fancy chair, behind a large paper-strewn desk, while the lowly patient is given a small stool to perch on.
This particular doctor was a little, moon-faced balding man, who was not pleased that I was taller than him, even perched on my wee stool. He quickly adjusted the levers on his fancy chair so that he could look down on me.
I handed him my list, and watched in amazement bordering on panic as he began to cross them off, snorting in disgust as he went.
Tetanus apparently is only given in Korea at the hospital and only once you’ve stepped on a rusty nail.
He scoffed at Japanese encephalitis, and laughed outright at typhoid.
He consulted my vaccination record.
“I see you had the Hep A shot 12 years ago! You don’t need new ones, you are safe! They are good for life!”
Not according to the Mayo Clinic website, but one just does NOT question Korean doctors.
When I tentatively mentioned Hep B, he peered suspiciously over his glasses at me, cleared his throat, looked slightly embarrassed, fiddled with his levers, and coughed several times.
“Are you planning to um… (cough cough) engage in many (cough) many (cough cough) many sexual acts (cough) with many (cough cough) strangers?”
There I sat, in my turtleneck sweater, woolly cardigan, and my shockingly short cords. I had tried to hide my long undies by pulling up my socks but they were still visible when I sat down. I had a hairstyle that more closely resembled a mushroom than hair. Did I look like the kind of person who was going to Indonesia to engage in many, many, many sexual acts with random people? How exciting.
“Ah,” he said sounding relieved, and faintly disappointed.
I cut him off before he could suggest that I didn’t need that shot either then. I’d be damned if I left that office without getting at least one vaccination!
We established that for optimum Hep B protection I needed 3 shots over the course of 3 months, but since I didn’t have that option, he assured me that just the one would do fine. Presumably if I had been about to depart on a wild tour of sexual cavorting and other debaucheries, he would have insisted on all 3 shots. Probably at once.
I then received a lecture about how Koreans go to Indonesia with no problems, and no vaccines.
“Because Koreans have very strong immune systems,” he stated proudly.
He looked me over uncertainly, as if my poor immune system’s glaring weaknesses were visible.
“But,” he continued, in a voice that was meant to be comforting but ended up being vaguely condescending, “you have lived in Korea for so long, maybe your immune system might be OK.”
After that, I just didn’t have to courage to bring up malaria pills. 🙂