Earlier today, around lunch, Julianne developed a severe headache. She suffered through the rest of her day at the middle school and then came home.
When I got home from work she was sleeping, and I thought that other than a headache she was okay. Around 6pm she woke up--and I realized she was NOT okay.
I started asking her to describe the pain, but she wasn't verbalizing herself very well--so I simplified it to asking her to give me a number from 0-10 so I could assess whether or not she needed to go the emergency room at nearby Gangwon National University Hospital.
She told me her pain was an 8, maybe a 9.
0 – 10 Numeric Rating Scale
Indications: Adults and children (> 9 years old) in all patient care settings who are able to use
numbers to rate the intensity of their pain.
0 = No Pain
1-3 = Mild Pain (nagging, annoying, interfering little with ADLs)
4–6 = Moderate Pain (interferes significantly with ADLs)
7-10 = Severe Pain (disabling; unable to perform ADLs)
So I got her up off the bed, dressed, and then asked her if she could manage walking outside to get a taxi.
While getting Julianne ready to go outside I called her co-teacher from the first semester of her contract. This woman is an awesome human being. Her English is great, she understands Western culture, and she's very helpful. I didn't waste time calling Julianne's current co-teacher whose English is terrible, who lacks Western cultural awareness, and who just seems to amplify Julianne's stress on a daily basis.
We found a taxi and headed to the hospital. Julianne's old co-teacher told me she'd keep her phone near her in case I needed her to translate and communicate with the doctor if he/she didn't speak English well enough to assess Julianne, and let us know what they wanted to do.
During the taxi ride the car went over several speed bumps, and the driver accelerated in the usual floor it style . . . needless to say this didn't help Julianne's pain level, and a few tears were shed during the short trip.
Arriving at the hospital we went into the main entrance to find a dark almost too dark main foyer with an empty waiting area, and everything closed down for the night. Walking in even further we saw in a back corner a set of doors with Emergency written on them in English. We headed in that direction.
Walking into the Emergency Room I began having flashbacks to the last time we had to go to the hospital for Julianne . . . I told myself to wait and see what kind of doctor we got, and what level of English he/she had.
I sat Julianne down at the entrance of the ER and walked forward to find someone to help us. A doctor and ? (another doctor) walked over to me and I explained that Julianne's head had "shooper pain"--I dropped the Konglish (Korean English style pronunciation) talk the second I realized the doctor was able to speak English.
The doctor gestured for Julianne and I to follow him and took us to an area with 14 hospital gurneys, seven on each side of the room. (Later on I pulled out my Flip Mino and took a few pics).
Something I still dislike about medical care in Korea is the completely communal organization and structuring of space. Fortunately for us there only 3 other patients in the area, and the doctor took us to a gurney that was 3 beds away from the nearest patient.
Then he began asking Julianne questions. Some of the questions were about her pain . . . and a few were about other basic things like allergies, etc. The doctor asked twice if Julianne had diabetes and I began to see where that inquiry was heading and firmly said no she doesn't.
Julianne could barely keep her head up and eyes open due to how much her head hurt. I tried to help with the communication without getting in the way too much of the doctor or Julianne giving an answer (though she was having trouble thinking clearly, and a few of the doctor's words had some pronunciation issues).
At this point I called Julianne's GOOD co-teacher and asked her to confirm what the doctor was telling us. He wanted to do a blood test, a urine test, and X-rays of Julianne's chest and head to make sure nothing serious was going on . . . we thought this was a little excessive, but when in Korea . . . you have to go with the flow--to a degree.
After confirming that was what the doctor wanted, he left, and I helped Julianne to lie down. I then headed about 15 feet away to a registration booth with Julianne's Alien Registration Card and Korean National Health Insurance card/booklet. I handed them to the guy behind the desk and with no questions asked he signed her in and did the computer thing--whatever it is that they do when they sign you into a hospital here.
Getting the cards back I went back to Julianne. She told me they had done a stick test (where they puncture the tip of your finger to get blood), and I groaned. I assumed, rightly so I think, that because Julianne is "fat" (according to Korean norms) that they must think that Julianne has diabetes and that that must be the source of her problem.
The stabbing throbbing pain in her head was still severe and Julianne was not doing very well. I was not happy that the diagnosis wasn't going faster.
And then the nurse walked up with an IV stand on wheels and began setting up a tray full of syringes and IV kit. She began to set up an IV--and Julianne and I both look at each other with a WTF is going on instant communication.
We stop her (Julianne a little more vehemently than me, lol) and ask her why she's setting up a saline bag when no diagnosis had been made, and the problem wasn't clear.
The nurse unfortunately didn't have a lot of English, but actually she did quite well after a moment's hesitation (probably due to us refusing the treatment--I suspect that most Koreans just let her do whatever she's doing without questioning it).
At this point the doctor also walked up. Julianne was about 3 nanoseconds from going ballistic--which actually might have had very high entertainment value if the situation wasn't medical, lol--and I tried to calm her down so that the doctor could explain what was going on and why.
We told him that it seemed very odd, when compared with Canadian and American medical practices, for an IV saline drip to be started when Julianne did not have any medical symptoms of dehydration . . .
The doctor backed off on the IV bag, and we agreed to the IV catheter being put in to take blood. The nurse explained fairly well that she wanted to put in an IV catheter because Julianne needed to have blood taken (possibly more than once) and her veins are small and hard to get to. She never really explained why she ALSO had been planning on putting Julianne on a saline drip . . .
The nurse put the rubber hose tie-thingy around Julianne's elbow and after 90 seconds Julianne and I both looked at each other as the nurse got a quizzical look on her face, and began lightly smacking Julianne's arm trying to get a vein to pop up--nothing.
Julianne told her to use a vein in the top of her hand, and gestured to back up the communication. The nurse moved the rubber band tie down to just above her wrist, and then spent the next 2 minutes waiting and tapping and smacking Julianne's hand trying to find a vein. She finally began probing with her fingers searching for the vein, and after a moment of hesitation decided that she'd found it.
Blood was drawn with the ole fashion style needle with a plunger--as opposed to the vacuum needle blood drawing that most of us are used to back in North America.
We were then told that it would take 90 minutes for the blood test to be completed.
AFTER taking blood the nurse then proceeds to take Julianne's blood pressure, and her temperature using an ear thermometer.
I notice two things. The first is that the blood pressure cuff doesn't fit Julianne's arm--seriously, she's not that big! So I put my hand on the velcro to help keep it secure while the nurse finishes up.
The second thing that I also see is that she doesn't swab the head of the thermometer to sanitize it before sticking it in Julianne's ear. Later, on another patient, I watch even more closely and see that nothing is done to sanitize the ear piece before and after . . . . sigh, why do I torture myself with these things . . . ?
I mention this to Julianne and her reply is, "They don't use gloves so why bother with little things like sanitizing a thermometer?"
Julianne was still experiencing stabbing throbbing pain behind her eyes and forehead, and things were not good.
After about 15 minutes of watching her in pain we talk about it, and I got to find the doctor and tell him that something needs to be done about the pain. He says we should wait until after the blood test . . .
He shows me a computer screen and sas that only part of the blood test results were available and that we needed to wait longer.
Five minutes later Julianne's pain jumped up another notch, and she started crying. I returned to the doctor and while I was telling him that something needed to be done now to manage Julianne's pain levels a nurse was behind me at the bed administering a needle full of "red stuff" through the IV catheter . . . needless to say I was shocked.
I get back to the bed and find out from Julianne that a nurse had just given her a needle full of "red stuff" and I was furious with myself for not keeping her in sight at all times. I had thought that the doctor would tell me he had told the nurse to give her an injection, but he didn't. The nurse also didn't try to tell Julianne what she was doing, and Julianne had had her hand covering her eyes due to the pain in her head so she didn't realize a needle was being put into the IV catheter until it was too late . . . yeah.
I decide that I'm going to remain calm and not freak out that someone just put "red stuff" into my girlfriend and hope that it lowers Julianne's pain level.
About 10 minutes later I decide that I should ask what they are testing Julianne's blood for. If they were just testing to see if she was diabetic I was going to nip that in the bud and suggest that other avenues of diagnosis be explored. The doctor tells me that they are looking for "infections in the blood" . . . odd, but okay . . .
The drug kicks in after about 10 minutes and Julianne's pain levels drop to about 6, though I still feel her pulse beating regularly for about 5 beats, and then racing for 5, as the pain ebbs and flows in her head.
About 25 minutes later Julianne's feeling better, and she says the pain is down to around a 4. She's a little more talkative, and her mood has improved slightly--and so had mine. It's hard to watch your girlfriend in pain . . . never a good thing.
Looking around the room I notice the little guy with an IV--it seems like EVERYBODY who goes to an ER in Korea gets an IV--and an evil thought enters my head.
I tell Julianne, "Wouldn't it be funny if I walk over there and tell him that we're going to have an English lesson" because I'm bored. Can you imagine the poor little guy thinking, "Oh my god! I can't escape being forced to learn even when I'm sick and in a hospital bed!" Lol . . . I didn't do it, but for a moment I thought the entertainment value might have been worth it.
After about an hour the doctor returns and goes over the blood test results with Julianne. He tells her a few things are slightly elevated. He then says that he thinks that stress must be the trigger of the headache, and that she needs to rest and take some 'oral medication.'
We wait for about 20 minutes and he comes back with the meds. Julianne and I look at them and ask him to explain what each pill is--there were THREE. One was the uber-tylenol that apparently only ER's have, the second was a mild sedative (this got Julianne and I raising our eyebrows), and the third was for Julianne's stomach/nausea to help it calm down.
The doctor walks away, and I quickly grab her cell phone to take a pic of the pills. Julianne examines each pill to see if she recognizes any letters, the shape of the pill, and the size or color . . . her mother was an ICU nurse back in America, and her step-mother is also a Radiology nurse . . . so Julianne has a bit of a background in drugs to say the least.
After trying to find out what kind of drug the "red stuff" had been in the injection the nurse gave her while my back was turned for all of 90 seconds . . . and the pronunciation the doctor had while trying to say the name, and then after we didn't understand he tried to describe it which came out as this, "something-flammatory something-steroid something something" . . . he was trying, and if we'd really been concerned we'd have asked him to write it down--but seeing as the drug had already been administered it was a little late to say hey, no, stop . . . sigh.
Julianne pops the 3 pills and then we wait a little more. At this point I'm really ready to get out of there--I hate ERs.
I ask the nurse if we can go, and she goes to Julianne and takes out her IV catheter, and then goes to print out the bill.
The bill was 70,000won. By American standards the pricing it's a fabulous price. By Canadian, a little expensive as the system there is different. I didn't mind paying the fee, and would have paid more without complaining because the doctor was friendly, kind, caring, and spoke pretty good English all things considered.
While I paid the bill the doctor returned to say goodbye to Julianne, and make sure she understood the instructions for the 3 days of meds he'd given her of the same stuff she'd just taken.
I give him my name card and invite him to visit the university. He enthusiastically pulls out his wallet to give me his own card but doesn't have any, lol.
I tell him his English is very good, and thank him profusely for helping us. He gives the typical response, "No, no, my English is poor." Julianne and I thank him again, and then leave.
Overall, a positive experience in spite of the delays in getting Julianne some pain meds, and a few odd attempts to put her on an IV saline drip when there wasn't really a reason to do so.
I seriously hope that this trip to a Korean Emergency Room is the last one I ever have to do.
Julianne is sleeping now, and the pain is almost entirely gone. I hope she wakes up with a painless head tomorrow, and doesn't have to take the drugs the doctor gave her. But at least we have them if we need them.
What a day . . .
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