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Growing older, past 40, is strange all by itself. You cannot do what you used to, your joints ache, your stomach doesn’t function as well and the thought of getting up before noon on the weekend is, for me, a complete waste of good sleep time. For someone living away from an English speaking country things are even weirder. You have to go to a doctor and discuss things that require a level of detail you’re not sure your translator can handle. Plus you have someone prodding your body who may not care for your particular set of foreign modesty.
I have solved at least one problem by dropping modesty altogether. That’s not to say that I’m walking the streets with nether cheeks flapping in the pollution saturated wind, but I am less shy about some nurse getting a peek at the pathetic front piece of my body.
–She’s a nurse. She’s not impressed. Too bad her lunch has probably been ruined–
And before someone aims to correct me about nurses being female, I have to say that I have seen one male nurse in Korea, and he was over 40 himself. I felt sorry for him for a different reason: he had to pick up my 90 kg bulk and move me to another bed. I doubted he could do it. I was mistaken.
Nurses here don’t seem to keen on wearing gloves when dealing with bodily fluids. I have had my blood drawn and urine sampled many times, and very rarely have I seen gloves. The cavalier way they handle fluids makes me squeamish to even enter a hospital. Doctors have told me that some hospitals don’t want to spend the money on gloves. Other doctors have said nurses don’t like wearing gloves as they are uncomfortable. But gloves are a known method of preventing the spread of disease, and if I had a hospital within a short hop of perennially infectious China, I’d wear gloves all the time.
One time I went to a hospital with a South African co-worker, and she was definitely not having the no gloves thing. She asked politely if the nurse would wear gloves. The nurse demurred and instead squirted sanitizer on her hands. Well, she said, I suppose that works.
The panicked look on some hospital staff’s faces when they see a foreigner come to their hospital would be comical, if it weren’t for the fact that miscommunication leads to serious complications. Perhaps even death. One would think it behooves a patient to learn the language, and it does. But the other part of growing older is one’s brain doesn’t compute as well as it used to, and learning language is liable to lead to other blood curdling problems.
Despite these minor problems there are great advantages in living in a country with universal healthcare. You don’t spend all your money in medical billing, you don’t have creditors chasing you, you can afford the medication and no matter what you know the doctors are good at what they do.
I heard of one instance where Korean culture got in the way of a diagnosis and almost killed a man. A young doctor said that an American patient was suffering from appendicitis, and needed surgery right away. An elder doctor said it was the flu and all that was needed was antibiotics. The two doctors got into a disagreement until test results resolved the conflict to the younger doctor’s, and patient’s, advantage.
Seeing a doctor is no fun, but it’s especially strange when the doctor cannot ask you direct questions, when they disagree with your need for serious pain medication, or when they chide you for being a wuss. Still, I’d take all this over an American medical nightmare any day.