Surprise! I’m sick again. I mean, really, what vacation would be complete with a trip to the local doctor? I’m going to pretend it’s all part of my anthropological study of different cultures and say that my body was just cooperating with me in an effort to further my understanding of hospitals in different countries. It’s easier than admitting that my immune system has ceased to function since arrival in Korea.
Honestly, I’ve been trying. I see these snotty-nosed kids at school sneezing and hacking all over everything and I make a mental note each time, “orange juice! orange juice!!”. I’ve been staying hydrated, exercising, eating my veggies and getting a pretty solid night’s sleep most of the time. But my immune system just doesn’t give a shit and goes on strike anyway.
Thursday I woke up with a sore throat. Thought maybe it was some psychosomatic opposition to the touristy day ahead of me (I have a bad attitude about sightseeing). However, as the day progressed it became apparent that it wasn’t just a cold, but something that could only be eradicated by antibiotics.
By Friday morning I was miserable. Both because I was in extreme ear pain, and because it meant that I would not be going to Everland, one of only THREE things on my list of stuff to do while here.
And that STILL wasn’t the worst part. The kicker was that I don’t have health insurance. “Technically” I have health insurance through my EPIK contract. However, the bureaucracy of this entire program has made it so that I travelled to Seoul sans Alien Registration Card (ARC – it’s ‘processing’), PASSPORT (because it’s being used to process by ARC) and health insurance (or any notion of how to go about obtaining medical treatment).
I ended up relying on Google to direct me to a doctor in one of the more foreign friendly neighborhoods of Seoul. “International Clinic” it was called. Sounds good. Erin was kind enough to give up her day of fun to accompany in my miserable search for a someone who can prescribe drugs, and together we dragged ass up and down the San Francisco-like hills of Itaewon looking for this hospital.
Ultimately, it was a kind foreigner, himself searching for the nearby Thai embassy, who took pity on my pale, snotty soul and used his Korean skills to ask someone if the hospital was near.
We rolled in only to find the door locked and no one around. “Lunch time!” a lady passing by told us. So we waited about 30 minutes, plenty of time to read the sign on the wall that said “BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.” Why yes, of course, let me call and make an appointment from my cell phone! Oh wait, I don’t have one of those because I need a fucking ARC. So I panicked a little bit, but shortly the doctor came back and asked if I was waiting for the office to open. “Yes,” I whimpered, and then sputtered pathetically, “but I don’t have an appointment…” He shook his head and said, “That’s fine, no problem.” And then I really wanted to hug him.
I had to fill out a form. Name, check, birthday, check, sex, check, occupation, check. Address? Hm. Insurance? Erm. Phone number? Uh.. I left them all blank. Turned out the only one that mattered was my address. I had a copy of it in my little book that I don’t leave home without, but I still couldn’t rewrite it on the form. The poor nurse had to transcribe my info for me, giving me a solid two minutes to feel like the biggest asshole on the planet.
After that, this doctor’s visit was one of the better ones I’ve experienced. Right there in the hallway waiting room, the nurse asked, “Um..what is wrong with you?” I pointed to my ears and whined, “My ears. They hurt.” She promptly walked me down to the hall to the window next to the door that said Otolaryngology. She sat me down in the chair along the wall, had an exchange with the lady at the window and told me that there’d be ‘a wait’ for the specialist. There were quite a few people around, so I thought that would mean maybe an hour or so, especially since I didn’t have an appointment. But within 10 minutes I was sitting in a cube, doctor at his computer, beginning the examination.
Some 8 minutes later I was finished. Exam, done. Prescription, written. Fees, paid. And let’s talk about those fees, friends. For a mere 35,000W (that’s about $30), I had my examination WITHOUT insurance. Let’s note that is the same as my co-pay used to be with my fancy insurance in the US. I was given three prescriptions (don’t ask me what they were, at least one was an antibiotic and that’s all I know). You take your prescriptions across the street to the pharmacy, they hand you a little bottle of vitamin C booster drink (even Erin got one for free), and they fill your prescription in about 4 minutes. And these THREE prescriptions, well, they cost me a whopping total of 14,000W ($12). They even come in handy dandy little pre-divided packets, so you don’t fuck up your doses. Could this get any simpler?
So for less than $45, without insurance (or even an appointment), I was able to see a doctor and get a prescription in less than one hour. National healthcare, y’all. All I’m gonna say.