Surgery in Korea part 3

by guest blogger Andrew T. Post 

The previous post’s title was a little misleading. The “beginning” and “middle” parts of this tale covered only the first day—Sunday, May 18—and the hospital visits and surgical operations that were performed on that day. In this post I shall tell you about the three days that followed. “End” is something of a misnomer here, too: I’m still recovering. My abdomen aches a tad yet and I still have metal staples in my belly button. (Those get removed on Monday.)

So: let’s begin. Monday, May 19. The morning foI awoke at dawn. To my relief, I didn’t have constant pain in my stomach anymore. The aches, however, were infernal. Sitting up took a good 30 seconds. I wasn’t exaggerating in the last post when I said I felt like I’d done a million ab crunches, run a marathon and sung an opera without a drop of water in between. I didn’t notice my hunger too much; I guess I’d reached that stage of starvation where the bellyache settles down to a dull, ignoble drone. I was, however, burning with thirst. Jeremy (my Korean roommate, remember?) ominously hinted that I might not even get a sip of water until the following day. Fortunately that proved untrue. At high noon, after a long dull morning of Jeremy watching bad daytime TV and me trying to plan the Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore leg of my Southeast Asia trip, lunch arrived: a bottle of ice-cold water.

Part III

A recovery ward room in a Korean hospital, similar to the one I stayed in (only way too big). Photo courtesy of Ask a Korean!, who has a rather interesting post on Korean healthcare.
Splendid. Hospital dining at its finest. To be fair, it was a haute bottle of water: crystal-clear beads of sacred moisture gleaned from volcanic rock springs on the distant tropical island of Jeju, bottled by the purest maidens and spirited away to Seoul on the gossamer wings of azure dragons or some shit.

Jeremy, on the other hand, was chowing down on a full tray. So I unfolded myself from my bed like a rusty pocketknife and hobbled to the door to call the nurse.

Shiksa?” I asked. “Lunch…?”

She explained to me on no uncertain terms that “Lunch water. Dinner food.”

Wow, she cleared that up for me in a hurry. Who needs verbs?

At 5:00 a heaven-sent tray clunked down upon my rickety folding table: juk, sludgy plain rice porridge, accompanied by a bowl of spicy white radish soup and smaller bowls of soy sauce and crunchy vegetables in brine. I was to eat this exact same meal—the only variation of which was the type of soup—a further four times during my stay at Songpa Chung. It was bland, but substantiating, and it tasted like a king’s feast after my 33-hour fast.

Miss H finished work at 6:00 daily, but she’d obtained special permission to leave after her last class finished at 5:20. She arrived just after 6 p.m. and bore with her a load of mercy: orange juice, a huge jug of water, yogurt, and my laptop computer. I was past ready to see her. It had been a long, hot, sticky, muggy, sweaty day, and I must’ve looked and smelled as crusty as I felt. But she was her typical angelic self and made no mention of this fact. She and I spent several happy hours together, playing Monopoly on her iPad and casting the occasional glance at the utterly incomprehensible Vin Diesel film Babylon AD on the idiot box.

I had contacted the assistant director of the General English Program at Sejong University by this time to inform them of my circumstances, and he had kindly canceled both my Monday classes for me. Tuesday, May 20, was a school holiday, and I never had any classes on Wednesdays. But Thursday I would have a full load, and my usual two on Friday. I still felt beat to hell. Time would tell if I would be okay to return to work.

I wrote down some questions in Korean for the nurses and Miss H delivered them. It seemed that I would be released when my fever disappeared: a brace of nurses appeared at our ward room door every hour to check my, Jeremy’s and Sang-ook’s temperature and blood pressure. That could be Tuesday or Wednesday. I was informed that the surgeon himself would speak to me on Tuesday, the next day, and let me know either way.

It was right about the time that Miss H had to leave (at 9:30 p.m.) that Jeremy and I got a new roommate, whom we would later find out was named Sang-ook. He was accompanied by a skinny, shriveled old bat with a hectoring voice and a face like thunder, whom I took to be his mother. She hardly spent any time by his bedside except to kvetch at him. “Poor sap,” I noted in my journal.

Just as Miss H was about to head out that Jeremy came back. He and his girlfriend had stepped out for a while. That is correct: Jeremy, in his hospital-issue PJs and with his clattering IV stand, had taken to the public streets. This is something done in Korea. No one looks askance at it. Countless times I have seen hospital patients, still in their whites, wandering zombie-like along sidewalks and storefronts. The first time was back in 2008, not long after I’d arrived on Geoje Island. Some bony middle-aged dude with a sour look was standing in his pajamas on a busy street corner, in the ridiculous plastic bath sandals they use here, IV stand by his side, smoking a listless cigarette.

Anyway, Jeremy and his lady had been to a nearby juk restaurant. My faithful roommate promptly informed me that the hospital’s official breakfast had been canceled on Tuesday morning for reasons unknown. He brought me and himself a huge heaping takeout portion of beef-and-vegetable rice porridge, plus sides. I nearly wept. What a guy. I had had Miss H bring him and his girlfriend a bottle ofsoju and a chocolate bar (respectively) to repay them for their kindness on Monday, when Jeremy had unhesitatingly given me some of his snacks and orange juice. Now they’d doubled down on me, the ungrateful bastards. I immediately fell to scheming about how to get even with them, generosity-wise.

After a long, humid, stagnant Tuesday morning spent trying to call my mother on a phone card that Miss H had generously brought me, and finally getting through, I was ready to go home. I was fed up with lying still, trying to get comfortable on a rock-hard hospital bed and watching bad daytime TV with Jeremy and Sang-ook, who had the most arcane taste in comedy/variety shows. Not only was changing the bandages a painful thing, but the tube—

Oh, right. Didn’t I tell you that I had a tube in my stomach?

I did. I had three keyhole incisions, one on the bottom rim of my navel and two below it, right about on my waistline. The tube led into one of these waistline incisions. More embarrassingly yet, it emptied into a little plastic squeeze-bottle that was clipped to the stupid belly-band I and all the other recovering appendectomy patients had to wear. Looked exactly like the Velcro straps you’d wear to keep yourself from getting a hernia while lifting heavy objects. Anyway, this little squeeze bottle, the nurse explained to me, was to collect…er…seepage. Yes, seepage. Sure enough, there was a minute amount of blood and intestinal juices in it, which sloshed hideously whenever I moved. I tried to avoid looking at it. It reminded me so much of Bailey’s and grenadine that I thought I might be put off bartending forever if I stared at the bottle for too long.

Anyway, about 1 or 2 in the afternoon I went downstairs to have my bandages changed. The tube was taken out. It felt like they were pulling a tapeworm out of me. It was slitheringly uncomfortable and painful in areas that I’m too polite to mention. “Felt like my wang was being turned inside-out,” I noted impolitely in my journal.

The surgeon was present, however, and he answered my most immediate questions: I would be released upon the morrow, Wednesday. I could go back to work on Thursday if I felt up to it, and I had a follow-up appointment on Friday—at which time, I hoped, the metal staples that had been used to seal up my incisions in place of stitches would be removed.

On Wednesday I was up early, ready to be liberated. The nurses handed me a note which they’d obviously gone to great lengths to translate properly, and which told me to avoid foods with flour, fizzy drinks, and alcohol for one week. Working, showering and “normal activities” were okay.

Jeremy was out all morning. At about 10:00 a.m. Sang-ook looked over at me and said “When you go home?”

I said, “I wish I knew,” turned around, marched out of the ward room and down to the nurse’s station. I asked them when I could be let go. They asked me when I wanted to be let go. I said, “Right now.” They told me to go downstairs and settle up. I did. Then I hurried back upstairs, changed out of my PJs, put on my normal clothes, shook Sang-ook’s hand, wrote Jeremy a note and wished him well, and fled the building. I took a jouncing, sickening cab ride back to the apartment, where I changed back into my (proper) PJs and collapsed.

I didn’t feel up to working on Thursday, so I sent out a mass e-mail asking my coworkers to cover for me. The response was overwhelming and heartwarming. I was able to take Thursday to recover, and went back to work on Friday.

It’s Sunday now, and I feel right as rain. I still have staples in my stomach. My Friday appointment was intended merely to change my bandages again. I get the staples out tomorrow, and not soon enough. The dietary restrictions shall lift on Wednesday, and I shall celebrate by having one of those hazelnut-vanilla ales that the boys and I brewed a few weeks back, which matured on Monday but which I was in no shape to drink.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my Korean appendectomy.

by guest blogger Andrew T. Post

Be sure to check out part 1 of this story