Archive for November, 2013

Avoiding Death In A Korean Hospital

November 7, 2013

Before I left the USA to teach English in Korea, I got an eye infection in my left eye that lasted for 2 weeks. It was extremely painful and really scared me. I was told by my ophthalmologist that I needed to have my left eye removed because I was still at risk for getting more infections. When I asked him how much the surgery would cost, he said that I would have to call the eye center at UC Davis and get a price from them. I called them a few days later and they said the surgery was going to cost around $24,000. I didn’t have any insurance, so I would have to pay the full amount.

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I knew there was no way for me to afford the surgery in the US.

Seven months later, I was in Korea teaching English. While in Korea, I decided to find an ophthalmologist in Korea. One who was recommended to me by another ophthalmologist in Mokpo. I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Yoon over the phone. While I was on the phone with Dr. Yoon he promised to have one of his assistant’s waiting for me in the waiting room on the date of my appointment.

The morning of my appointment, I took a taxi to the hospital.

“What’s your major problem?”

I didn’t know where to begin. I wasn’t used to being greeted at the door of a hospital. I was a little unnerved to be asked such a direct question after I had only taken less than two steps out of my taxi.

“Dr. Yoon.” I replied.

“OK, follow me.” replied a young doctor who appeared to be about 25 years old.

We walked through the waiting room full of Korean senior citizens in varying degrees of decline. Some had walkers, others sat uncomfortably as if they were waiting for a flight that had been delayed for over 10 years. We walked up to the second floor to see another waiting room filled with aging seniors. The young doctor asked me to sit down on a bench across from the elevator doors. In less than two minutes he returned and brought me into an examination room. I stared down the barrel of his eye examination equipment and tried to focus on an air balloon that was lifting off over a narrowing highway. Before I could get the balloon in focus the examination was over and he led me into another room. There was another doctor staring into a computer screen as we entered the room, as soon as he saw us come in he cleared out without saying a word. I sat on another examination chair and the young doctor told me that Dr. Yoon would be in shortly.

The door opened behind me and I was greeted by Dr. Yoon. He apologized for arriving late, I glanced over at a computer screen and checked the time, 10:12 am. “No problem, I’m glad that I could come and see you.” I said.

His first question was to ask me if I wanted eye surgery just for cosmetic purposes. I then went into my entire life history of having been blinded in my left eye by a rooster. After saying the word rooster Dr. Yoon’s head cocked slightly to the right, a non-verbal cue that he didn’t know the meaning of rooster. I then stuck my elbows out and flapped my arms while bobbing my head forward and pointing my nose out. “Oh, ok.” Replied Dr Yoon, acknowledging that he was following the story. I then told him about the fact that I had a slight scar on the left eye that was prone to infection and because of this I had to get the eye removed to avoid infections in the future. I also had an envelope full of documents in Korean and English that gave specifics on my eye problem. Dr. Yoon examined the documents and asked me who referred me to him. Luckily I had brought the business card with photo of my doctor in Mokpo. Dr. Yoon was very happy to see the card and said that he had lived in Mokpo for 10 years. Perfect, we were hitting it off so far. He then asked what city I was from in the US. I said San Francisco, knowing how much everyone in Korea loves San Francisco.

“Oh really, I studied at San Francisco State.”

It seemed that half of the Doctors in Korea have studied in California.

“What’s the name of the island there, Alcohol?” asked Dr. Yoon.

“Ah, Alcatraz, yes, have you been there?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Wow, I have always wanted to go there.” I remarked, not sure if I was thinking of alcohol or Alcatraz.

“Can you put your chin on the bar?” asked Dr. Yoon.

I leaned forward and stared into another eye exam machine. Dr. Yoon asked me to look right, left, up and down. After the exams there were several photos of my left eye on his computer screen. I could clearly see the stitches over my cornea.

“Wow, that’s the first time I have seen the scars from my eye surgery.”

Dr. Yoon then started to explain about my two surgery options; Evisceration or Enucleation. Evisceration would be the cheaper option in which he would just basically suck the soft center of my eye out and fill it with a porous material (like draining the center of a raw egg). He’d then attach a prosthesis to the outside of porous center which would look like my original eye looked before my accident, 30 years prior.

“This option is what I recommend for older patients. For younger patients like you, I recommend getting Enucleation. Enucleation is the complete removal of the eye. You will also have to wait a month before the prosthesis is reinserted into the socket. The advantage of this surgery would be that you will have a fuller range of movement with the new eye but you’d have to wear an eye patch for a month between the first surgery and the final insertion of the new eye,” he informed me.

I didn’t much like the idea of wearing an eye patch while teaching my students, but at least I’d be in Korea. None of my friends back home would see me with my eye patch.

Dr Yoon pulled out a book of artificial eyes from a drawer. All the eyes were different shades of brown.

“Will I be able to get a green eye instead of a brown one?” I asked.

Dr. Yoon cocked his head to the side and sucked wind through his teeth, indicating that I had asked an extremely difficult question. Dr. Yoon quickly fired off some questions to his younger assistant, who was standing behind him with his arms joined behind him. The younger doctor then went foraging through another drawer that was filled with business cards. He found the one which belonged to the doctor who makes the prosthesis. He dialed the other doctor on his cell phone and left the room. He came back a few minutes later and confirmed the other doctor could make a green eye for me.

There was just one more minor impediment, I still didn’t have medical insurance in Korea. So, Dr. Yoon told his assistant to call my work and see when I’d be able to get insurance. Dr. Yoon then pulled out his 2010-2011 schedule. It was the size of a telephone. In this book was a list of all the surgeries he had planned for that year. I estimated that he did about 25 eye surgeries a month. He only did surgeries on Friday which meant each Friday he had between five and six surgeries. He looked like he was fully booked until January 2011 but he offered to open a window for me at the end of October 2010.

“That would be fine with me.” I responded.

Dr. Yoon then closed his book and looked at me. “You’re not rich are you?” he more or less stated it as a declaration and less like a question.

I said that I wasn’t.

“Maybe we can adjust the price for you. It still will be a little expensive.”

“How much?”

He pulled out a paper and starting totaling all the services I would need. First there would be an admission exam $90, second was the price of the surgery $750 and third was the price of the prosthesis $1,500, which totaled $2,340 without insurance. With insurance I’d only have to pay half that.

After I got back to Mokpo I asked my dermatologist Dr. Seung about Dr. Yoon.

“He’s a bad guy.” Dr. Sueng said after staring into his desk with his hands crossed over his forehead.

“Is he sleeping with a lot of women or is it a drinking problem,” I asked.

Surprised at his own forwardness Dr. Sueng became uncomfortable with the conversation.

“He was bad to his students,” replied Dr. Sueng, still in a state of discomfort.

“Was he having sex with them?” I wondered out loud.

“No, he was taking money. He was in the newspapers and he had to leave Seoul,” Dr. Sueng reported without elaboration.

“From the students? I asked.

Dr. Sueng couldn’t share any more information with me. I guessed it wasn’t so much a language problem, it was more of an etiquette thing, in which doctors generally weren’t supposed to engage in gossip about other doctors.

“I don’t know his skill,” was the last piece of information I got about Dr. Yoon from Dr. Seung.

I started to panic. Should I go through a surgery with a doctor who may be a perfectly competent doctor although he extorts money from his students? I walked home in a daze. Needing some advice, I called Jackie.

“There are two kinds of hospitals in Korea. The ones that rich people go to that are located in Seoul which are modern, clean and have qualified doctors. The other kind of hospitals are all the others not located in Seoul, where the poor people go. These hospitals are viewed by Koreans as roughly the same as going to India for health care.” Jackie replied over the phone. I decided I should go to Seoul for surgery since that’s where all the rich people went to be treated for their medical problems.

I talked with my dentist, who had a sister working in Seoul at Samsung Hospital and she booked me an appointment with a doctor in Samsung Hospital. While checking the Samsung Hospital website, I saw that Samsung Hospital was affiliated with Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. I was also using a Samsung cell phone at the time which was pretty reliable so I decided this must be a sign. I arrived to Samsung Hospital at 8 a.m. Monday morning. There weren’t any doctors or interns waiting for me outside the hospital like my previous hospital visit. Samsung Hospital was huge, from the outside it looked to be at least 50 stories high. The inside looked like an M.C. Escher drawing, there were staircases winding in every direction. The information desk was unmanned so I decided to go to the pharmacy where there was one hospital employee hunched over her desk looking into a drawer. I showed her my appointment slip and she pointed at the opposite corner of the hospital. I wasn’t sure if she meant go down the hallway at the corner of the hospital or go upstairs. I decided to ask a guy who was dressed in a business suit talking on his cell phone. As soon as he saw my appointment slip he hung up his cell phone and we went on a mad chase around the hospital. We ended up in the International Clinic.

The first thing I saw when I got to this wing of the hospital was a stack of English language newspapers sitting on a table in the waiting room. There was one receptionist typing into her computer at the front. When she saw me walk in, she spoke loudly towards the back room in Korean. A minute later another receptionist came out from the back and started to talk to me. She looked at my slip and said that I needed to go back to the first floor where the Ophthalmology wing was located. I gave a heavy sigh indicating that I wanted her to carry me down there but she was already wishing me good luck and she walked back to the back room. As a means to further my inconvenience to her I asked if I could bring the stack of newspapers with me.

“They are for our patients,” she explained.

Darn it, foiled again. I receded back through the automatic doors and went to the Ophthalmology wing. I grabbed a ticket from the automatic ticket machine. After taking a ticket, the receptionist said to me. “Now closed, waiting.” I checked my Samsung cell phone and was pleased that it had only taken 35 minutes for me to find my appointment location. Promptly at 9:00 a.m. I was registered in the hospital and directed to another waiting room. 10 minutes later I was called to take an eye exam. For the thousandth time in my life they asked me to cover my right eye and read the letters and numbers off the board. I decided not to try and explain that I was blind in my left eye, I just said the number four about 17 times and the eye screener took away my eye cover to indicate that the test was over and I sat back in the waiting room. I then took one more test and by 10 a.m. I saw my first doctor. She looked to be about 17 but was very kind and didn’t seem to be offended in the least when I admitted that I couldn’t speak Korean. We chatted for about 10 minutes and she took notes on her computer about how long I had been in Korea and when I first started having problems with my left eye. She covered my right eye first with her hand and shined her light over my left eye to check to see if I could sense light. I felt relieved after this moment and started to relax. I told her that my left eye couldn’t sense light but I could see the light with my right eye through the cracks between her fingers. If I were to guess, I would guess that not many patients failed the light test. I was already setting records in my new hospital.

After our brief interaction, I was ushered back into the waiting room. As soon as I sat down another patient told me to put my jacket back on. I was too tired to put it back on and reminded me what month it was. I was too tired not to conform December rule of always wearing my jacket no matter what the temperature was indoors. I settled by draping it over the front of me and went to sleep instantly.

A few minutes later, I was awoken by another hospital employee and led into another room. This time the doctor was 20 years older and she had a team of medical staff working behind her. Her first question was to ask if I spoke Korean. I told her I didn’t and she then asked me why I didn’t get the surgery done in the US. I told her that I didn’t have medical insurance in the US. She then asked me if I had insurance in Korea. I said that I had just gotten it from my academy. She recommended that I get an Evisceration surgery which was less evasive than the Enucleation surgery. I told her that my last doctor, Dr. Yoon recommended that I get Enucleation surgery done. She asked why he would recommend that surgery and I got out my paperwork from Dr. Yoon.

“You have been studying about this surgery?” she asked, with a hint disbelief.

“Yes, I thought that the Evisceration surgery was only for older patients.” I replied.

She defended the Evisceration by noting that the recovery time was quicker and the results better. I was a little relieved that this doctor was taking the ball out of my hands and telling me which surgery I needed. We then discussed which orbital implant I wanted. I said that I wanted the Bio-Eye (made out of corral reef), the most expensive one they had. We made an appointment for surgery later the following month.

The night before my surgery date, I received a text message from Samsung Hospital informing me of all the things I needed to bring with me to the hospital: soap, bedding, slippers, water bottle, cup and a towel. The text message also said that I shouldn’t leave Mokpo until they called me and confirmed that there was a bed available for me. Ignoring the second part of the message I left Mokpo the day of the surgery at 6 a.m. I reasoned with myself that even if I got there three hours early and there was no bed for me, I could spend the extra time talking with my dermatologist and urologist who were also working at the same hospital.

As expected, I arrived to the hospital three hours early with no bed waiting for me. This was no problem since I still had to see my dermatologist before being admitted to my room. My dermatologist said he was prepared to operate on my backside to remove a cyst but said he would prefer to wait until I got my eye surgery, so we scheduled an appointment for the Friday after my eye surgery.

As soon as I went back to the ophthalmology wing, my room was ready. It was a double room and I could see that I had a roommate behind the curtain next to my bed. It sounded like he was sleeping, so I decided just to move my things in quietly and take all the extra layers of clothing off I had brought with me. The first thing I noticed about the room was that the bed had sheets and a blanket on it so it was unnecessary for me to have brought my sleeping bag along with me. Oh well. I moved the rest of my things into the room and decided to get a magazine out and do a little reading. The overhead light was burnt out so I rotated my body 180 degrees and used the light from the hall to illuminate my magazine. After reading for a half hour I decided to call one of my nurse friends working at the hospital. I had met her during my previous visit. She was nice enough to help me schedule my appointment, which I couldn’t do by myself because the person working in the scheduling department didn’t speak English. Inha answered the phone and surprisingly she remembered who I was. I told her which room I was staying in and she promised to visit me the next day. It was nice to have a friend working on the inside.

A few minutes later the charge nurse came in to welcome me. By this time my roommate was awake and he turned out to be another American who was from New York. His name was Stradlin and he said that he’d been living in Korea off and on since the 1970′s. He also had a heavily-bandaged head and a patch over his left eye from surgery.  In Korea, Stradlin worked as an actor in Seoul and was married to a very beautiful Korean woman. He was also finishing up the last four pages of his book in the hospital. I remembered seeing Stradlin’s name on the outside door of our room listed as, “Stradlin Izzy.” At the time I thought it was a strange name. I wondered why they had arranged his name to neatly fit with Korean-formatted names (last name before first name) but mine was still in the North American format. I guessed this meant that Stradlin had been accepted into Korean culture because they listed his last name first and his first name last.

“It was as if someone pulled a lampshade over my eyes. Two years ago the lamp shade was 25% closed, a year ago it was 50% and two weeks ago it was at 98%.” Stradlin quickly jumped into his vision history of how cataracts had slowly eroded his vision.

I didn’t really understand what he was talking about, so instead of replying to his initial thread of conversation, I started talking about Korea and how long each of us had been here. Shortly after we had started getting to know each other, I let the cat out of the bag and told Stradlin that I was working on a book about Korea.

“Oh really, I’m also working on a book.” Stradlin replied.

“What’s your book about?” I asked.

“It’s about a family living in a Post Apocalyptic New England town.” Stradlin answered.

“Oh yeah, like the movie that came out last year, The Road, did you see it?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?” replied Stradlin with a touch of anger.

(Awkward pause)

I decided to change the subject by asking him if I could read the pages he’d just written while in the hospital.

“These pages will be worth millions once your book gets on the New York Times Best Seller List.” I joked as I looked the pages over.

“Yeah, kind of like the original ten commandments.” he countered.

It seemed like we were off to a positive start. I was trying to make a connection with him so I wouldn’t have to worry about him going through my pants pockets while I was in surgery. The next few hours were a verbal pillaging of the soul of Stradlin. Who knows when was the last time he had the chance to speak with another American. He told me a story about a time he went to visit his blind cousin in Maryland when he was only six years old. “The only thing I can remember is that he was touching my face for a very long time, I think that’s the longest anyone has touched me face before.”

He then told me a little more about his book publisher who was living in Tokyo. “The guy’s an idiot, he’s 62 and has just had his 6th child with his 3rd wife. What kind of a life is that kid going to have?”

Stradlin’s idea of a two way conversation was verifying the name of the city where I was from every 15 minutes or so. “You’re from Chino, right?”

“No, Chico.”

“Is that near LA?”

Then we’d get into the same revolving door conversation about how Chico kind of sounded like Chino, but aside from the name, geographically speaking it wasn’t in Southern California nor did it have a famous prison.

My cell phone started ring. “Brian, it’s Young. How are you? Are you in Samsung Hospital?”

“Yes, I’m in Samsung Hospital,” I responded.

“Good, when is your surgery?” he asked.

“Tomorrow,” I responded.

“Brian, I am going to call my friend who is the CEO of Samsung Hospital and tell him that you’re my friend. I need to know which room you are in,” instructed Young.

I went outside and read the number off my hospital room door. “I’m in room 758,” I said through the phone to Young.

“OK, don’t worry. I will make sure my friend knows who you are. I will come with SooHee to visit you after your surgery.” It was the first time in my life that I ever felt happy to be getting surgery in a hospital.

“OK Young, Thank you. I’ll talk to you after my surgery,” I responded before hanging up.

After hanging up the nurse came in to install my catheter. As she was installing the catheter, Stradlin came over to my bed to take a closer look at the procedure. He noticed me gritting my teeth.

“What’s the matter, you afraid of needles? They don’t bother me, I can take a needle in the arm, in the eye, up the ass, don’t bother me a bit.” Then he casually took a stroll into the hall to call his wife on the cell phone. After the catheter was installed our American dinners arrived to the room. Stradlin informed me that each American meal would cost an extra $23USD on my bill. Or, I could have Korean food for free. I decided to change my meals to Korean after that. As I was eating Stradlin wheeled his food tray up next to mine.

“Are they giving you local or general anesthetic?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” I honestly hadn’t thought my surgery that far through.

“They gave me local anesthetic, I was awake the whole time. I watched them as they stuck a 4-inch (10.63 centimeters) needle into my eye. It was supposed to kill the pain, didn’t really work. Then they started cutting at my eye and pulled the lens out like a Chinese noodle. I watched the whole thing,” he reported.

“When will you get your vision back?” I asked.

“It will take months, the doctor says that I should come back in three weeks. I can’t shampoo my hair for another two weeks, I can’t drink any alcohol for another three months or have sex with my wife either.” The whole reality of what I was really here to do started to sink in.

The next morning the nurses woke me up at 6 a.m. and gave me my full ration of food, pills, IV’s and asked me about my most recent bowel movement. Surgery was still four hours away, but I guessed they wanted to make sure my body was still in good enough condition to carry everything out as planned. I spent the next four hours watching a slightly sound-delayed version of CNN. The voices of the broadcasters could never quite keep up with their lips.

Before I knew it the nurses came for me and told me it was time for surgery. They told me to take off my underwear and socks. I got back into my bed just in my gown. They wheeled me into the hallway and I started my journey to the elevator. We went one floor down and I was wheeled down another hallway through some automatic doors. My first conversation was with an anesthesiologist. He explained which drugs I’d be getting.

“Will it be general or local anesthetic?” I asked, trying not to bite through my lip.

“General” replied the anesthesiologist.

I wanted to give him a kiss. Instead, I signed the paperwork and met with another doctor who I couldn’t recognize because she was wearing a face mask, until I heard her voice. It was the voice of the most famous eye surgeon in Korea, Dr. Kim Duck (as well as the best name of any doctor in any country).

“Brian, I got a call from the CEO of Samsung Hospital. He wishes you a successful surgery,” proclaimed Dr. Kim Duck. It was one of the few times in life I felt important.

I was starting to feel more confident. They wheeled my through another set of automatic doors and finally I was in the operating room of the space ship. I had to transfer from my bed on wheels onto the operating table. I looked over at the operating table and noticed that instead of a pillow, there was a blue gel donut. I assumed it was there for either displaying bowling balls or more likely, that is where my head would lie while I was having surgery. I transferred my body onto the operating table and lied flat on the table. Something wasn’t right, I could feel my head wasn’t properly aligned with the gel donut, so I scooted down the table a few inches, then leaned my head back down. I still couldn’t get it on top of the donut. This went on for another six minutes. Finally all the doctors lined up around the table and gave me oral instructions on how to get my head onto the donut. Unfortunately their instructions were all in metric, so I had to do my best and guess how much distance three centimeters was. Finally I got my head onto the donut. As soon as I was in place, they pulled the sheets up around me and folded me into the bed like a mummy. Next thing I knew, they are strapping the gas mask onto my face. I waited for someone to ask me to start counting backwards. Nothing. Don’t they know that in order for the sleeping gas to take effect, you must count backwards or it doesn’t work? Is this thing even hooked up to the gas? I better start breathing through my nose, so I can smell if there’s gas in this coming in or not. All I could smell was the plastic from the mask. Are they going to warn me when the gas starts? Maybe I should just rest my eyes here for a second….

The next thing I know, I wake up back in my room. Stradlin is still watching CNN and my head is pounding. I ask Stradlin to turn the volume down while my three nurses try to get my body in the right position in bed. Stradlin turns the TV off.

“Pain killer, please,” I mumbled to the nurses as they were rolling me into bed.

The nurses instantly went scrambling out into the hallway to fetch my meds. I had a short conversation with Stradlin about my last experience with taking Vicoden after I got my wisdom teeth taken out. Before I finished the story, I was given a glass of water and some pills. “Probably not anything that going to make me feel too psychedelic but who knows,” I thought to myself. I popped the pills, made sure that the rails were up on my bed and took a nice nap. The next ten hours are spent sleeping, eating and listening to Stradlin talk to his wife over the phone while in bed. It sounded like she wanted to come over tonight to sleep with Stradlin, but he tells her to get her work done first and then come in the following day.

“I’m hoping the doctor will let me go tomorrow,” these were the last words I heard before falling back to sleep.

I wake up again a few hours later and Stradlin says he’ll be staying in the hospital for another two days. I tell him that it’s better to be in the hospital than at home in case something goes wrong.

“I don’t believe in over-billing my health care provider. I could have stayed in a one bed room but am trying to keep health care costs down. My whole stay is covered here in the hospital, I don’t even have a $25 co-pay….”

In mid sentence the doctor came in to take Stradlin’s blood pressure. “Aw Doc, I have something that’s called white collar hypertension, I get an elevated heartbeat every time a doctor takes my blood pressure,” Stradlin reached into his pocket to show the doctor receipts from the auto pulse taker from the first floor of the hospital, “See, 116 over 70,” he exclaimed as he put the printed receipts of his blood pressure into the doctor’s front pocket. “I’m still planning on losing some weight, I want to get back down to my college weight which was 190 pounds, I only have 30 more pounds to go.”

Sometime shortly after the doctor left, I felt the bandage on my face. It felt as if there was about 20 pounds of cotton packed into the bandage. The pain wasn’t that bad unless I looked to my left or blinked too much. I decided just to let my right eye stayed closed, thus limiting the movement of my other eye. Every twenty minutes I had a little tear drainage from my left eye.

I got my first visitors to the hospital an hour or so later. SooHee and Young came to visit me. I couldn’t really open my eye for too much time so I mostly just talked to them with my eye closed. While we were talking, Young held my hand and prayed with me in English and Korean.

“Brian, did Dr. Kim Duck say anything to you about receiving a call?”

“Yes, she said she received a call from the CEO of the hospital. He encouraged her to give the patient in room 758 a successful surgery.”

I couldn’t see Young’s face, but I knew that he was very pleased when he heard this news.

I was thousands of miles from home, but the CEO of Samsung Hospital knew who I was and was making sure I was properly taken care of. While they were in the room with me I would blink my right eye open for a second every half minute. That’s as long as I could keep my right eye open without causing my left eye discomfort. During one of the times I blinked my eye open, I saw that they brought me a box of fruit juices, a bag of donuts and a box of oranges. They couldn’t stay for too long but brought a week’s worth of food. I was happy to know I’d have some snacks around to break up the monotony.

The next day Stradlin’s wife came over and she was definitely very pretty and probably 30 years younger than Stradlin. They had apparently met on the set of a Korean TV show called Giant. According to Stradlin he had a semi-steady acting gig as a US Army Colonel on the program.

When Stradlin’s wife asked him how he was doing his answer was flawless.

“Honey, I’m fine. The only problem in my life at the moment is that my tenet who’s living in my house in New York is thinking about moving out of the house. He’s been there nine and a half years, he’s worried about his job security and wants to find a cheaper house,” Stradlin informed his wife.

“What time will you be discharged tomorrow?” Stradlin’s wife asked.

“I want to see the doctor after lunch and then we can leave,” Stradlin replied.

“Is there a reason why you can’t see the doctor before lunch.” trying her best to hurry along the process.

“Naw, honey, we already made an appointment, besides, I want to get a meal before I leave,” replied Stradlin.

“This is why the Korean health care system is in crisis….” she cut herself off before finishing. I decided to take a walk and let Stradlin and his wife brainstorm ideas about solving South Korea’s health care crisis.

The following night was pretty casual, the only problem I had while sleeping was that the pulse reader kept slipping off my finger and that in turn would set the alarms off warning the nurses that I no longer had a pulse. This of course couldn’t be solved by simply putting the pulse reader back on my finger, the whole machine needed to be reset. I had a nice night’s sleep aside from the pulse reader slipping off twice. I had another half day to enjoy listening to Stradlin and his wife discuss how much work she was missing by coming to the hospital and at what time she could go home. I secretly wondered to myself why anyone gets married in the first place.

Before Stradlin left he gave me his business card and repeated the name of the city where I lived in the US to prove he was paying attention. “Not quite, I live in a place that sounds like Chino but isn’t on the coast nor is it in Southern California.”

I thanked him for being my roommate and wished him a quick recovery.

Later that day, I was moved into my new room which had six beds instead of two. For the next four days, I would wake up each morning at 6 a.m., go in to have my vision in my right eye checked and then have a doctor unbandage me and look at my left eye. I would then go back upstairs for breakfast and pills. Four days later I was out of the hospital and looking forward to teaching one day of class and then going on vacation for another four days. I left the hospital with a backpack full of drugs and instructions to come back to the hospital in two weeks so they could do a follow-up exam of my eye. I ended going back to Samsung Hospital once in February and six times in March before I finally got my replacement artificial eye. When my new doctor, Dr. Park took his first look at my new prosthetic eye he gave me a look commonly given when you accidentally get egg shells into the omelet. It wasn’t very reassuring. I wondered to myself if maybe the new eye was maybe the wrong color staring down and to the left.

“Different pupil color,” apologized Dr. Park.

After a couple more moments of uncertainty, Dr. Park agreed to give me a mirror and let me take a view for myself. I half expected to have been given an orange wolf’s eye. Some of the doctors’ assistants came into the room and were smiling pleasantly at me over Dr. Park’s shoulder as I checked out my new eye. It was eerily similar to my real eye, so much so that it took a few seconds for it to sink in that the new eye didn’t actually have vision. As far as I could tell the color was almost exact, maybe just a half shade difference and the eye tracked to the left and right with the other eye. Dr. Park then gave me a bag with a tiny suction cup and a bottle of contact lens cleaner. We practiced together how I should properly remove and clean the artificial eye. While I was at the sink I squirted some red hand cleaner into my hand in preparation to clean the artificial eye. “No.” echoed Dr. Park as he rinsed the soap out of my hand and loaded my hand with a clear soap. “What’s the difference between the two soaps?” I asked.

“Thursday Dr. Kim Duck explain.”

We then continued cleaning the eye. As I watched my new eye swish around in my hand, I did a quick mental measurement of the exposed drain at the bottom of the sink. One false move and the eye would spill out of my hand and be sucked down the drain.

“No Miss,” I didn’t bother turning to his assistant to ask for a translation. Dr. Park seemed to be reading my mind. He clearly was imparting upon me the importance of not losing my eye down the drain of a sink. I still had a lot of questions to ask about my eye maintenance but my questions would have to wait until Thursday when I would meet with Dr. Kim Duck.

When I came back to Samsung Hospital the following week, Dr. Kim Duck explained that I didn’t need any special soap to wash my eye and that I should use eye drops if the left eye ever felt uncomfortable.

________________________

Everything You Wanted To Know About Teaching English In Korea But Were Afraid To Ask

There has been an exploding demand for native English speakers to teach English in South Korea. English programs and English academies have been spreading like wildfire all over Korea. And, due to an unpredictable economy, many university graduates, travelers, and people from all walks of life are packing their bags and taking advantage of the English boom in Korea.
Korean institutions are paying good money ($2,000-$2,500 a month) and offering excellent benefits (free housing, 30 hour work weeks) to Westerners who are willing to explore the unfamiliar, pack up their bags, and teach in thriving South Korea.
324288_10150780210710405_5010733_o
This is the complete guidebook on how to relocate to South Korea and become an English teacher. This book illustrates the many advantages (low taxes, high standard of living, friendly people, safe streets) and challenges (dating, language barriers, disciplining students, getting along with co-workers) that the first time teacher can expect to confront in Korea.
Funny, fact filled and always informative, “First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” provides the necessary knowledge you need to make the most out of the experience. Jam packed with practical information, “First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” addresses all of the topics and taboos a prospective English teacher needs to know, from finding the right job and negotiating a contract settlement to avoid eating dog while ordering food off of a menu.While other books focus solely on classroom experience,“First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” explores life outside of the classroom, providing you with an in-depth and often hilarious guide to Korean culture, food, friendship, drinking, dating, religion, health and history are just some of the subjects discussed in detail.Last but not least,
“First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” looks at the embarrassing realities of life abroad, offering pause for thought on such issues as learning how to pronounce Korean students’ names, a 15-minute golf lesson I got in Korean that increased my driving distance 20%, my interactions with my Korean co-worker “Kid” who confesses to me that he was accused by his ex-wife of burning down her house and the cheapest and best eye surgery I’ve gotten in any country. “First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” will awaken readers to the transitional opportunities available in a place that shares few Western customs but many of the comforts of home.
Written by Brian Ward, a semi-qualified middle school teacher whose walked the fine line between sanity and a nervous breakdown in the classroom, “First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” is an irreverent and insightful survival guide for anyone brave enough to try their hand at teaching English in South Korea or who just wants to have a laugh at author Brian Ward’s backwards approach to living in Korean culture.
This guidebook also compares teaching in the USA to teaching in Korea.
_______________________________________________________
Country Salary
(Year)
 Taxes (yr)
Yearly Housing Expenses Total Remaining
Korea $26,000 + 50% of medical bills paid       $780   $0 $25,220
USA   $35,000      $8,000 $8,400 $18,600
_______________________________________________________
“First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” by Brian Ward, can be found on Amazon.com
Here is a chapter by chapter synopsis of the book:
Chapter 1
Dreams vs. Getting a Paycheck
This chapter profiles author’s friend Nick Lee, the hedonistic boozer surrounded by books, half-finished paintings and an old LP player — speaks in English rather than Greek or Latin. Prodigious nose, has been retooled as a heroic pretty boy. As Nick Lee’s life finally falls apart due to alcohol and lack of physical contact with women, the author decides to get on a plane to Korea. Upon his arrival to South Korea, he is taken back when he learns the true meaning of “Hair Shops” in Korea.
Chapter 2
Academy Owners
This chapter discusses the 4 major types of academy owners as well as which category I was working for. This chapter also discusses my “first contact” with my boss and Korean co-workers. This chapter reveals what a failure I am at teaching and includes the letters I received from Seoul which explained where I should improve. Introduced in this chapter is Carlo, an English teacher famous for drinking with Russians, getting bit by his students and his travels throughout Morocco.
In this chapter I get fired from my first job and start a new job. I am also forced to learn a little bit about Korean culture in order to be able to converse better with my students. Also introduced in this chapter is Jackie and the story of his dog “Blackie.” Also discussed is the Korean co-worker culture and what that entails.
Chapter 3
First Non-Monopoly Month in Class
I learn which class tattled on me for playing Monopoly every day in class. I also try different techniques for disciplining my students. I also discuss the advantages of talking with the students versus making them do exercises and what makes talking to the students so difficult. Also discussed is more of Carlo’s antics outside of the classroom. I finally get the bright idea of discussing the rules in class. I meet Carlo again out of class and we discuss the problems of his life; mainly how to deal with a belligerent student who happens to be the boss’ daughter in class.
Chapter 4
Bars and Churches
There are two types of English teachers in Mokpo, those who hang out in the bars and the other who hang out in church. Frankly I was getting tired of hanging out with the English teachers in bars. I decide to go to church instead. On my first day of church I discover that there is free orange juice and cookies served after each session. I meet Ms. Jung who explains to me why the street in Korea are so clean and how it affects retired Korean people. I also get my first private English student. Jackie’s house becomes haunted by a ghost and he reveals how to chase ghosts away. I go to my first baseball game.
Chapter 5
Modem vs. Router
I have my first run in with Korean modems and their downfalls. Jackie comes to my rescue and gives me some much-needed internet advice.
Chapter 6
Golfing in Korea
I meet my first Korean golf instructor who gives me best golf lesson ever using no English. Using my new-found golf skills I decide to golf a few rounds of golf with my new co-teacher George and his brother.
Chapter 7
English Meetings at Angel-In-Us Café
In addition to going to church, I join another group in Korea. This one is and English group that is run by my Korean friend Jackie. This group becomes a great way to meet new friends and discuss current events in Korea. Next, my former roommate, Carlo, gets taken to the police station and I talk to him before he gets deported from Korea. I also meet my replacement who’s teaching at my previous academy.
Chapter 8
4th of July in Korea
Author goes to a 4th of July party with his new-found church friends. He meets another English teacher named Tareck. Tareck is famous for kicking chairs across the classroom to get his students’ attention as well as living in the same apartment as his nudist boss.
Chapter 9
Kidman
Brian meets his first English-speaking co-teacher who goes by the name “Kid.” During their first time out for a hike together Kid confesses to Brian that he was accused by his ex-wife of burning down her house and that he likes dating Japanese women.
Chapter 10
Modem vs. Router
I have my first run in with Korean modems and their downfalls. Jackie comes to my rescue and gives me some much-needed internet advice.
Chapter 11
Golfing in Korea
I meet my first Korean golf instructor who gives me best golf lesson ever using no English. Using my new-found golf skills I decide to golf a few rounds of golf with my new co-teacher George and his brother.
Chapter 12
English Meetings at Angel-In-Us Café
In addition to going to church, I join another group in Korea. This one is and English group and is run by Jackie. I find another way to meet new friends and discuss current events in Korea. Carlo gets taken to the police station and I talk to him before he gets deported from Korea. I also meet my replacement who’s teaching at my previous academy.
Chapter 13
Lesson Plans
Brian reveals the most effective way to plan for his classes; by downloading lessons plans off the internet. Included in these lesson plans is  sample menu that is used to help the students role-play the purchasing of a hamburger in class.
Chapter 14
Dating in Korea
Brian shares four case studies of native teachers (males) who are dating Korean women. Included in these case studies are the reactions of the host-woman’s friends, families and social network.
Chapter 15
Surgery on a Budget
Brian get learns the difference between hospitals in Seoul (where the rich Koreans go) and all other hospitals in Korea. Brian finds the best value in Korea which is eye surgery which is priced at $2,500 in Korea vs. $28,000 in the United States. While in the hospital Brian meets an American man named Roman who’s been living in Korea since the 1970′s and publishing a book about a Post-Apocalyptic New England town. When Brian asks Roman who his book publishing agent is Roman replies, “The guy’s an idiot, he’s 62 and has just had his 6th child with his 3rd wife. What kind of a life is that kid going to have?”
“First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” by Brian Ward, can be found on Amazon.com

I Was Thrown Out Of My Last Korean Gym

November 6, 2013

“Brian, did you join a gym in Korea?” asked my Korean teacher Ms Jung, covering her mouth as she laughed.

“Yeah, but I got thrown out of my last gym.” I answered.

“Why?” asked Ms. Jung as she leaned in for my answer.

Image

“I asked the owner to turn down the music. He spoke enough English to understand what I was saying but refused to adjust the volume. So, I waited for him to go into another room. Once he left, I went behind the reception area and manually turned down the music volume while the receptionist was busy text-messaging. As soon as I walked back to my exercise bike a middle-aged Korean lady walked behind the reception area and turned the music back up. She then approached me while I was on the work out bike. She started yelling at me in Korean. As she was yelling at me, I looked around for the owner of the gym to come and protect me, he was no where to be seen. So, I walked over to reception to ask the receptionist for help. She ignored me. So I stood there in reception while the Korean lady yelled at me. A few minutes later the owner walked out into the work out area sipping a coffee. I walked over to him and I explained to him that the music is too loud in the gym and it was giving me a headache. Before he could answer, the Korean woman walked over and gave him an ear full in Korean. After she finished I asked him whether or not he was going to turn down the music again. ‘You must understand the middle-aged Korean woman,’ he responded. ‘Are you going to turn down the music or not?’ I repeated. He answered my question by repeating the same phrase, ‘You must understand the middle-aged Korean woman.’ We were getting nowhere. I then made up a story saying that I was expecting a call from my work on the cell phone and wanted to be able to hear it ring. He wouldn’t let up on the whole middle aged Korean woman thing. Clearly we were discussing two unrelated issues here. I decided to cut to the chase, “Are you going to turn the volume down or not? Yes or No?” He then went into a routine about how the customers didn’t appreciate the fluctuation in volume.

‘After you turn the volume down 15%, you can leave it at that volume until 2014 without any fluctuation.’ I responded as I stood there waiting for him to walk over to the radio and turn it down. Instead, he just stood there looking back at me. I pointed at reception and asked him to turn it down one last time, but he wouldn’t budge. Finally I went back to my workout bike and pretended the whole thing never happened and finished my work out. Two days later I went back to the gym and the radio was at the same volume. When I checked in, I had a sticker on my gym key saying it was time to pay up for the next month. I went into the locker room, threw my towel into the sink and decided I would wait until leaving Korea before I went back to another gym.”

________________________________________________________

Everything You Wanted To Know About Teaching English In Korea But Were Afraid To Ask

There has been an exploding demand for native English speakers to teach English in South Korea. English programs and English academies have been spreading like wildfire all over Korea. And, due to an unpredictable economy, many university graduates, travelers, and people from all walks of life are packing their bags and taking advantage of the English boom in Korea.
Korean institutions are paying good money ($2,000-$2,500 a month) and offering excellent benefits (free housing, 30 hour work weeks) to Westerners who are willing to explore the unfamiliar, pack up their bags, and teach in thriving South Korea.
324288_10150780210710405_5010733_o
This is the complete guidebook on how to relocate to South Korea and become an English teacher. This book illustrates the many advantages (low taxes, high standard of living, friendly people, safe streets) and challenges (dating, language barriers, disciplining students, getting along with co-workers) that the first time teacher can expect to confront in Korea.
Funny, fact filled and always informative, “First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” provides the necessary knowledge you need to make the most out of the experience. Jam packed with practical information, “First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” addresses all of the topics and taboos a prospective English teacher needs to know, from finding the right job and negotiating a contract settlement to avoid eating dog while ordering food off of a menu.While other books focus solely on classroom experience,“First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” explores life outside of the classroom, providing you with an in-depth and often hilarious guide to Korean culture, food, friendship, drinking, dating, religion, health and history are just some of the subjects discussed in detail.Last but not least,
“First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” looks at the embarrassing realities of life abroad, offering pause for thought on such issues as learning how to pronounce Korean students’ names, a 15-minute golf lesson I got in Korean that increased my driving distance 20%, my interactions with my Korean co-worker “Kid” who confesses to me that he was accused by his ex-wife of burning down her house and the cheapest and best eye surgery I’ve gotten in any country. “First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” will awaken readers to the transitional opportunities available in a place that shares few Western customs but many of the comforts of home.
Written by Brian Ward, a semi-qualified middle school teacher whose walked the fine line between sanity and a nervous breakdown in the classroom, “First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” is an irreverent and insightful survival guide for anyone brave enough to try their hand at teaching English in South Korea or who just wants to have a laugh at author Brian Ward’s backwards approach to living in Korean culture.
This guidebook also compares teaching in the USA to teaching in Korea.
_______________________________________________________
Country Salary
(Year)
Yearly Taxes Yearly Housing Expenses Total Remaining
Korea $26,000 + 50% of medical bills paid $780   $0 $25,220
USA   $35,000 $8,000 $8,400 $18,600
_______________________________________________________
“First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” by Brian Ward, can be found on Amazon.com
Here is a chapter by chapter synopsis of the book:
Chapter 1
Dreams vs. Getting a Paycheck
This chapter profiles author’s friend Nick Lee, the hedonistic boozer surrounded by books, half-finished paintings and an old LP player — speaks in English rather than Greek or Latin. Prodigious nose, has been retooled as a heroic pretty boy. As Nick Lee’s life finally falls apart due to alcohol and lack of physical contact with women, the author decides to get on a plane to Korea. Upon his arrival to South Korea, he is taken back when he learns the true meaning of “Hair Shops” in Korea.
Chapter 2
Academy Owners
This chapter discusses the 4 major types of academy owners as well as which category I was working for. This chapter also discusses my “first contact” with my boss and Korean co-workers. This chapter reveals what a failure I am at teaching and includes the letters I received from Seoul which explained where I should improve. Introduced in this chapter is Carlo, an English teacher famous for drinking with Russians, getting bit by his students and his travels throughout Morocco.
In this chapter I get fired from my first job and start a new job. I am also forced to learn a little bit about Korean culture in order to be able to converse better with my students. Also introduced in this chapter is Jackie and the story of his dog “Blackie.” Also discussed is the Korean co-worker culture and what that entails.
Chapter 3
First Non-Monopoly Month in Class
I learn which class tattled on me for playing Monopoly every day in class. I also try different techniques for disciplining my students. I also discuss the advantages of talking with the students versus making them do exercises and what makes talking to the students so difficult. Also discussed is more of Carlo’s antics outside of the classroom. I finally get the bright idea of discussing the rules in class. I meet Carlo again out of class and we discuss the problems of his life; mainly how to deal with a belligerent student who happens to be the boss’ daughter in class.
Chapter 4
Bars and Churches
There are two types of English teachers in Mokpo, those who hang out in the bars and the other who hang out in church. Frankly I was getting tired of hanging out with the English teachers in bars. I decide to go to church instead. On my first day of church I discover that there is free orange juice and cookies served after each session. I meet Ms. Jung who explains to me why the street in Korea are so clean and how it affects retired Korean people. I also get my first private English student. Jackie’s house becomes haunted by a ghost and he reveals how to chase ghosts away. I go to my first baseball game.
Chapter 5
Modem vs. Router
I have my first run in with Korean modems and their downfalls. Jackie comes to my rescue and gives me some much-needed internet advice.
Chapter 6
Golfing in Korea
I meet my first Korean golf instructor who gives me best golf lesson ever using no English. Using my new-found golf skills I decide to golf a few rounds of golf with my new co-teacher George and his brother.
Chapter 7
English Meetings at Angel-In-Us Café
In addition to going to church, I join another group in Korea. This one is and English group that is run by my Korean friend Jackie. This group becomes a great way to meet new friends and discuss current events in Korea. Next, my former roommate, Carlo, gets taken to the police station and I talk to him before he gets deported from Korea. I also meet my replacement who’s teaching at my previous academy.
Chapter 8
4th of July in Korea
Author goes to a 4th of July party with his new-found church friends. He meets another English teacher named Tareck. Tareck is famous for kicking chairs across the classroom to get his students’ attention as well as living in the same apartment as his nudist boss.
Chapter 9
Kidman
Brian meets his first English-speaking co-teacher who goes by the name “Kid.” During their first time out for a hike together Kid confesses to Brian that he was accused by his ex-wife of burning down her house and that he likes dating Japanese women.
Chapter 10
Modem vs. Router
I have my first run in with Korean modems and their downfalls. Jackie comes to my rescue and gives me some much-needed internet advice.
Chapter 11
Golfing in Korea
I meet my first Korean golf instructor who gives me best golf lesson ever using no English. Using my new-found golf skills I decide to golf a few rounds of golf with my new co-teacher George and his brother.
Chapter 12
English Meetings at Angel-In-Us Café
In addition to going to church, I join another group in Korea. This one is and English group and is run by Jackie. I find another way to meet new friends and discuss current events in Korea. Carlo gets taken to the police station and I talk to him before he gets deported from Korea. I also meet my replacement who’s teaching at my previous academy.
Chapter 13
Lesson Plans
Brian reveals the most effective way to plan for his classes; by downloading lessons plans off the internet. Included in these lesson plans is  sample menu that is used to help the students role-play the purchasing of a hamburger in class.
Chapter 14
Dating in Korea
Brian shares four case studies of native teachers (males) who are dating Korean women. Included in these case studies are the reactions of the host-woman’s friends, families and social network.
Chapter 15
Surgery on a Budget
Brian get learns the difference between hospitals in Seoul (where the rich Koreans go) and all other hospitals in Korea. Brian finds the best value in Korea which is eye surgery which is priced at $2,500 in Korea vs. $28,000 in the United States. While in the hospital Brian meets an American man named Roman who’s been living in Korea since the 1970′s and publishing a book about a Post-Apocalyptic New England town. When Brian asks Roman who his book publishing agent is Roman replies, “The guy’s an idiot, he’s 62 and has just had his 6th child with his 3rd wife. What kind of a life is that kid going to have?”
“First Contact in Korea: A Native English Teacher’s Journey Into The Backwoods of South Korea” by Brian Ward, can be found on Amazon.com