Three weeks into my great adventure to the far east and I find myself in hospital, staring at the strip lighting above me and listening to the rumble of the trains outside. It wasn’t meant to be like this I think to myself, and bitterness swells momentarily as the long list of things I might not be able to do writes itself inside my head. But that was ten days ago, and I write this on the eve of my hospital discharge day, raring to go and thankful for the life I have ahead of me.
“Just get me to a hospital” I shouted above the din, someone passed me ice for my misshapen knee which was swelling visibly. “Taxi! Taxi!” shouted someone, but there were none to be found as we waited on the ground in one of Seoul’s busy pedestrian areas. Finally, a taxi was hailed and made its way towards us. Myself, two friends and an extremely kind bi-lingual Korean woman who had joined us that night piled in. The driver reluctantly agreed to take us to a hospital in Seoul, shaking his head and tutting disapprovingly. The moments which passed before, an opportunistic reveller landed on me from the stage they had fallen off, knocking my knee out of its socket, replay themselves in slow motion and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Within 24 hours of seeking medical attention I had been moved to a hospital in my local area and had been seen by a specialist knee consultant. A friend had stayed with me the whole time, packing a bag for me and helping me fill in insurance forms with my shaking hands. I’d had a constant stream of visitors in the shape of colleagues and new friends, and without their commitment to my well being, those first few days would have been a living nightmare, and I am forever grateful for that time they spent with me.
I had an MRI scan two days after the accident which showed that I needed surgery to realign my broken knee cap and fix the ligament supporting it. My co-teacher Jae Yoon accompanied me and kept me smiling the whole time, and we discussed the North Korean situation in detail as we waited for the scan.
“The younger generation, they don’t care anymore” she crossed her arms and fixed her gaze at the TV “but really, we need to unify with North Korea.”
“ the sooner the better, I suppose, before it’s too late”, I replied, conscious that there is a big wide world out there and lucky that this didn’t happen in a developing country with inadequate healthcare.
Since the surgery I have had phenomenal healthcare from dedicated professionals who have showed nothing but kindness and respect, and used all the resources they have to help explain what was happening in English. My surgeon even took the time to show me pictures of the procedure where the knee cap was carefully replaced at different degrees, ensuring I would regain full range of movement. I have had intensive physiotherapy since the day after surgery, using intricate machines which bend my knee for me, and an extremely patient and good humoured physiotherapist. The physio room is on the eleventh floor and whilst I do my exercises, I can gaze far off into the distance and watch the sunlight glinting off roofs far away, and think about a day in future where I am hiking up the mountain I can see in the hazy background.
For anyone reading this who is thinking about coming to South Korea, I would urge you to do it. You can tell a lot about a culture by the way they treat those in need or who are vulnerable, and I couldn’t have asked for better care. From what I gather healthcare insurance is easily accessible if you are a foreigner working here, but I would recommend taking out backpackers insurance too, which I did just before I came. My MRI scan and leg brace was not covered by the insurance I have with my employer and I would have had to pay upwards of £1000, so do get some. I paid £200 for an annual package with Go Travel Insurance which will cover medical expenses as well as damage to personal belongings.
So, the adventure continues and I now have far greater insight and understanding about Korea and Koreans, and still happy in the knowledge that I know I did the right thing by coming here. With the help of an attractive blue leg brace for eight weeks and regular visits to physio I can just get on with my life now, teaching as normal but just ever so slightly lop sided.