WHERE HAVE I BEEN?
Well, since I last wrote you, I…
fell ill of a sore throat. I stayed home from school for one day and watched Atomic Train on TV. I heart Rob Lowe and John and I have been watching a lot of Sex and the City lately, so it was neat to see Kristin Davis in a B movie with an F- plot. It was special. The next day I kept my talking to a minimum in class and trekked it out to a friend’s house party for Halloween. Sore throat and all, I sucked it up because A) this friend has a HOUSE. to have a house party IN. B) I’d invited a teacher from school and he was really excited about it. AND C) John and I had spent a few bucks on our first-ever couples costume: pig masks, face masks, pink shirts, and angel wings. Swine Flew. Get it? ahhhhh…
Dani, John, and Kim Tae-young
Needless to say, the cocktail of pills the doc had given me for my cold didn’t do much damage. So when I ran out that Monday, I went back for heavier ammo, explaining that it was most likely my Autumnal Sinusitus Visit.
Monday and Tuesday were miserable at school, because low and behold, winter happened to South Korea. Saturday the 31st had been BEAU-tee-ful. Monday brought bone chill like I haven’t felt since driving through snow drifts to get from Hamilton to Oneida. And apparently, Koreans don’t believe in turning on heaters until it is officially winter. So sick little sinusitus sally had to wrap herself up in her winter coat and leave her desk only to instruct chillun (literally, it seemed) and use the ladies’ room. Praise the Lord, one friend brought me a little space heater, and others in the teacher’s office gave me lots of tea and warm things to drink. So it’s not like no one took pity on me. But the fact that Engtopia’s hallway is lined with un-insulated windows meant that my room and of course hallway seemed colder than the Great Outdoors.
Thankfully, the cold spell soon passed, and the new pharmaceutical cocktail seemed to work some magic, and by Friday the 6th, I was flying high. I had a great day at school (thanks, I think, to a midnight run executed by a Native Teacher in another part of town), the weather was feeling almost warm enough to go without a jacket, I was finally catching up on my Korean lessons, and the weekend was upon us.
Stupidly, I took advantage of this encouraging smile from above, and took one innocent little scooter ride to the nearby beach and lighthouse park…sans coat.
That was Saturday.
Sunday night, I woke up every two to three hours in a pool of sweat, confused and haunted by fever dreams. Monday, I took a trip to the local hospital that lasted all afternoon. I had the cheap preliminary flu test done and demanded a test for mono. The real flu test was more than 3x the price. After hours of waiting alternatively in a cold trailer in the hospital parking lot and just inside the always-sliding ER doors, I was informed that I probably had shin jong flu.
It was REEALLLLY hard not to laugh.
I found it hysterical…of COURSE I had swine flu! God was smiting me for having a sense of humor. “I have a pretty good sense of humor, too” he says with a cynical snigger. What a punk.
Now, the test results for the cheap test aren’t super accurate, but it didn’t really matter to me. I only got the test to prove to my school that I was actually sick. I knew I was sick, and I knew I needed to stay home. But too many foreigners have called in sick with hangovers, ruining it for the rest of us…so I have to bring in a note from the hospital like I’m 4.
The last week has been strange. I never really had a bad fever again after the first night or two, and I basically just slept A LOT. I’d get up with John, eat some cereal, and read long enough to take my morning cocktail. This cocktail had fewer pills than the previous two: just an anti-viral pill (Tamiflu), a painkiller, a decongestant, and something to protect my stomach lining from all of these pills. Anyway, after my morning cocktail, I’d go back to sleep for another 4 hours and get up for a light lunch, some more reading, my afternoon cocktail, and some more reading and another nap. I’d get up in time for dinner with John and my longest stretch of waking time, when we’d watch lots of The Wire, Sex and the City, Lost, some movie, CNN, or what have you. Then it was nighttime cocktail and bedtime. Sounds like an old person, right? Well, call me Opal.
It was an eerie week. Everything tasted like medicine, thanks, I think, to the little pill that is supposed to keep my stomach from eating itself. But who really knows. Also, the weather apparently got really nasty this week, so I’d wake up from my crazy dreams to howling winds, dark skies, and rattling doors and windows. When I woke, I would read more from this great scifi novel about a terrifying black sheep of a dragon who is supposed to be helping save the world from Armageddon. That of course fed my dreams, and well, there you have it. I was feeling kinda trippy and congested for a good five days straight.
I ventured outside this afternoon for the first time since Monday’s jaunt to the hospital. John and I spent the morning 1) successfully ordering pizza delivery in Korean to our Korean address. This was a big step. 2) we watched Inglorious Basterds (hey, that’s how it’s spelled on IMDB), thanks to John’s recent obsession with downloads. Then we met up with two friends for a few rounds of bowling, then I came home to incubate some more. Slefdawg is currently out on the town with weiguks.
This is probably my first alone-time I’ve spent not passing out in weeks. It’s kinda fabulous. Let’s hope this healthy feeling sticks.
What have I learned? I’ve learned that Koreans will always prescribe a pill to ”protect my stomach” from all of the other pills they’re giving me. I guess this is a good thing, because who wants an ulcer? But I am wary, because I have also learned that one of Korea’s top killers is Stomach Cancer. Korea and Japan are apparently infamous for their stomach cancer rates. I am convinced that this has something to do with the persistent use of organochlorides (nasty pesticides like DDT that we stopped using 40 years ago) in spite of the fact that Korea supposedly banned their use in 1980. India, China, and North Korea still produce and export DDT, and production is supposedly on the rise. Yikes-zar.
I have also learned that the health system here isn’t especially nice to foreigners, especially if you ________. I’m not sure what goes in the blank. Let me explain. I met (and kept meeting) a Russian woman (very pretty, blond, but older) and her very young son at the hospital. They’d been there since 11 AM, I got there at 1 PM. They waited MUCH longer than me at every stop. When I left the doctor’s little test result briefing room just of the ER waiting area (final stop), she was still there, and furious. Her poor little boy hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink all day, and now it was getting on to about 5 PM. I tried to talk to her a bit, but I couldn’t really offer much advice aside from “be pushy”. And I had a feeling she’d already been being pushy all day. I found out that she didn’t have Korean health insurance, and all of the prices were 3x higher for her than they were for me. I sympathized: “Korea isn’t all that easy on foreigners” I offered. “Yeah” she tsked back. I left her waiting to barge in on the doctor, unsolicited. I hope they helped her out.
So I’m not sure why they ushered me around more, especially since I didn’t have a small child with me. As it was, I still sat around for 4 hours, ran out of kleen-ex (forced to just sneeze in my medical mask–GROSS), thirsty as hell. Was it because I was sneezing five times per second and she didn’t even have a tissue out? Or did my nationality raise my priority? Or was it my Korean health insurance that got me past Go?
I suspect a combination of the three. And I wonder, how would we treat two similar foreigners in a major University hospital in, say, Boulder?
Part Deux: Like I said before, it’s just different here, but still illogical. They’re terrified of each new strain of flu. But it’s the 1950s here and everybody works 6 days a week, 15 hours per day. So if you catch a cold, they slap a face mask on you and shove some steroids in your hand and send you back to work. Can’t lose productivity on account of YOUR health. Swine Flu? QUARANTINE! You’re a walking plague, and we want nothing to do with you. This is serious stuff, life and death now, you hear? C’est la vie.
It is late. We are meeting John’s cutie-pie co-teacher for cha (tea) tomorrow. And this was my first full day awake. I have some Z’s to catch. Gute nacht. And don’t let the Persistent Organic Pollutants bite.