My Knee Operation in Korea
|I was walking up the hill to my class 11 days ago and twisted my knee. It was fine up until Sunday, when it started to swell. It dawned on me that it wasn't getting better.
Armed with this knowledge, I limped down to the local hospital emergency room. At the front desk, I was informed that I was in the wrong place. With a somewhat dismissive hand gesture I was told to go to the building to the right. Off I went, with a smile on my face and a spring in one step. To my chagrin, I had to either chose the ramp or go under it to enter the building. I, of course, chose the ramp, which was wrong.
After a couple minutes of aimless wandering, I found the English nurse. Man, I was happier than a fag with two assholes! I gave her my insurance card and proceeded to give her my information. I was only interrupted by the six phone calls she had to answer. I informed her that my knee was giving me some problems. When she finished taking my information, I got to stand in front of the desk (there were no chairs around) and read my book.
Next, I was given my own personal translator. Off she scurried to the doctor with me limping behind her. Then she stopped and asked me if she was going too fast. The gentleman (fuckin bastard!) in me shone forth and replied of course not. We made it to the waiting area, where the seats were too low and caused my knee to become more swollen. After 15 minutes, my translator conversed with a nurse and told me to wait there. No sweat, my knee hurts, I don't know where I am, and most of the other Koreans are kicking that leg when they walk by. Nothing could have made me happier. A half an hour later, my precious little translator returns. She apologizes because the doctor I was supposed to see had an emergency surgery to perform about 40 minutes ago.
We saunter back to the English nurse, who also apologizes profusely, and tells me I can see the specialist tomorrow. Hot dog! I make an appointment for 1:30pm the next day and I get my very own cool hospital card.
Today I got to the hospital a little early because it's my day off and I have nothing better to do. After the English nurse takes my card, I'm sent off with my darling translator to the same area. I wait about 20 minutes and am sent in to the doctor. He is talking to me in Korean, while my sweetheart watches and smiles. He has me take off my right shoe and sock and checks the movement on my ankle. I didn't scream or cry out in pain once, before he declared my ankle was healing nicely.
I didn't want to appear ungrateful, so I informed him meekly that my right knee hurt. In order for him to get a good look at my knee, I had to drop my drawers. It's a good thing I'm not shy because there were six people in the room, three of them were women. Also, the door was open, so random nurses and doctors poked their heads in to admire my fishbelly white legs. The doctor then informed me that his specialty was ankles and wrists, but he would look at my knee. He pushed, prodded, and pulled, so that I was able to become one with the pain. I think he felt I was a little too complacent, so to finish off he straightened my leg quickly and pulled. Talk about life affirming! I'm not exactly sure about the therapeutic value of that maneuver, but he's the doctor. In addition, he told me that I should see the knee specialist.
I go back to English desk, where they inform me that I need some X-rays. There doesn't seem to be any maliciousness in this suggestion, unless they using X-rays for eugenics. I'm given a new translator, whose English is abysmal. As soon as we reach the room for X-rays, the two women technicians start busting a gut. This isn't boding too well. First, one of the women opens the changing room and stands in the doorway. Since I can't get by and she is looking at me expectantly, I start taking off my pants in the hallway. She starts freaking out, but she does move out of the doorway. I put on one of the those puke green gowns and I'm good to go. At this point in time, my translator tells me in Korean that he will hold the bag with my pants. I don't know what the technician was worried about because she really didn't speak to me, she just arranged my body in the best positions.
Finally, I make it back to the English desk where the nurse queries me about why I told her that my ankle hurt. I gave her my best puppy dog eyes and told her that yesterday when I had come in I informed her my knee hurt. I'm sure answering the phone six times while she was speaking to me had nothing to do with her confusion. Then to assuage my fears, she said I needed sticks, an MRI, and probably an operation. Now I get to come back tomorrow. Hopefully, I will get to see the right doctor, and if they do have to operate, they will cut open the correct appendage.
I was tingling with anticipation the whole morning because I was going to meet the knee specialist. Riding in the taxi, I started to wonder what else could go wrong. (It's at times like these, I'm very happy that I'm a Hindu.)
At the hospital, I hobbled to the counter, praying they didn't lose my hospital card. Though they made it for me two days ago, they've yet to let me hold it my grubby little mitts. I think they're afraid to get scabies. The pretty translator grabbed my card and took me to the same area where I met the ankle guy and left again.
After a short while, I was admitted to an examining room with the English nurse. The doctor spoke English fairly well, so there were no communication problems. Because he didn't torture me or yank my leg in an unnatural fashion, I was hesitant to believe he was really a specialist. Finally, I decided to give him the benefit of a doubt. He said the problem was with my meniscus and he suggested I get an MRI. When I found out the MRI was $600 and that he would most likely operate after I got it, I told him to just go ahead and do the surgery without it.
At this point in time, the English nurse freaked. She was adamant about me getting an MRI because there was a slight chance my knee was just sprained. The doctor said the MRI wasn't necessary in order to do the surgery and he explained to me how older Koreans are afraid of surgery. The nurse finally thought she had me. She told me if I had the surgery and there wasn't a problem, I still had to pay. (Duh!) I told her I was willing to take a gamble, which confused the hell out of her.
Now we had to go to the cahier and pay for all the tests I need to be taken. My wallet $120 lighter, I was ready to rock. The English nurse was going to take me around. She asked me if I wanted a wheelchair. What a silly question! (Tough guys who like pink prefer sticks!) When I replied in the negative, off she raced to the blood and urine tests. I didn't think it was fair that she started the race without telling me. I got off to a good start and got within 7 feet of her, but then she started to slow down and weave in front of me. It's one thing to cheat, but she had to try and trip me to win. That was uncool.
Outside the room for the blood test, she asked me when I ate last. When I answered that it was about an hour ago, she looked at me with disapproval. Like I knew I was going to blood test. I think she was still pissy about the MRI. I was able to piss in a cup though.
Next the nurse raced me to the X-ray room. She got me by ten steps. The technician from yesterday demanded to know why I was back, so I told her it was because I missed her. She blushed and told me to take off my shirt. She had her revenge. While I was waiting to get the X-ray, she made jokes about how fat and white I was with the other technicians.
The EKG test went without a hitch. Now I was down to two more tests the breathing and blood. I was paired with Mr. No English for the last two tests. Although he doesn't translate, I did find him somewhat useful. I think he would excel as a bellboy or a caddy. During the breathing test we had some communication problems, but my boy was doing a good job holding my crutches. In this test they clip your nose shut and you have to breathe into this tube connected to the computer. First, you breathe normally once. Then you inhale as much as you can and then exhale quickly. The object of this game is to make the green bar goes up to the top and to make a pretty picture on the triangle. After exhaling quickly, I started to cough and wheeze. This nurse thought that I might have asthma. There was no fooling her!
The last thing I had to was the blood test. Waiting at the elevator, some geezer kicked my crutch because he was too busy talking to his crony rather than pay attention to his surroundings. I didn't take a spill, but I was a little irritated, so I told my fearless translator that if this was America, I would've hit the old man with my stick. The translator becomes agitated and tells me that I can't do that here and besides the nice old man apologized. He didn't, but it was fun to screw with someone at the hospital.
Finally, I got to the blood room and was drained. When she was finished, the nurse taped a piece of cotton on my arm and told me to press on it for five minutes. I thought that was a little too long, but I did it because I was afraid the blood vessel would burst and my blood would hit the ceiling.
All in all, this day went smoothly. The English nurse reminded me to come back next Wednesday, so that I may get my leg sliced open.
Checking in was painless, except for another elevator incident. I was going up to my room in a crowded elevator, when a woman decided to run about 15 feet to get into it. Her knee connected with my injured knee. If there hadn't been so many people, I would've fallen. My knee was screaming in pain, while I could only fantasize about bludgeoning her with my sticks. Alas, she didn't get off on my floor, so I couldn't even trip her.
When I got to my room, I was given some pajamas and told to put them on. Although they were some fine threads, I decided to be defiant. Besides, it was only 3:00pm, I still had four hours until bedtime. Every time a nurse wandered in, I would have a new excuse why I wasn't flying my hospital colors. Finally, I was brought some rank smelling cream that was for eating away the hair on my leg. (I wasn't too happy about this because shaving my legs was the reason I never joined a swimming team). I asked the nurse for a washcloth so I could remove the hair and cream easier, but there wasn't one to be found because items like that are not necessary at hospitals. Being the enterprising young man that I am, I used a piece of a cloth Brillo pad to scrape my leg. It took most of my hair off and a little skin. The nurse came in to check my leg. It wasn't quite as smooth as a baby's bottom, so I was given a razor to finish up.
As I was admiring my leg, there was a knock at my door. I had guests. A couple of my colleagues stopped by with a brownie cake from Dunkin' Donuts. Thankfully, I was given my dinner tray at the same time. My female colleague had promised to bring the cake and not let me eat any. While I was checking out my dinner, I was able to ignore the presentation, which she had prepared, and irritated her at the same time. After dinner I was shocked to find there was still a piece left. The thanks would have to go to my two other colleagues, who didn't have hearts of stone.
After they left, I read for about an hour and started to fall asleep around 9:00pm. As soon as I started to drift off, a parade of doctors and nurses came in at erratic intervals for the next 3 hours. The first one was for my IV, which was quick and relatively painless. The drip wasn't hooked up yet and she taped the tubing to my arm. It kind of reminded me of one of those glow bracelets people use at concerts. When you first break the ampule in the tube, and the fluorescent color starts spreading through the tube. Only mine was a pretty red color, rather than a sickly green color. Of course I spent about five minutes twisting and turning my arm to see if I could make the whole tube red. No such luck!
Then came the nurse to see if I was allergic to the antibiotic. She drew a circle around the injection, so if I were allergic, I would be able to watch the process of death in myself. My blood pressure was taken once an hour for four hours by another nurse. I would have to say she was my favorite because she was friendly and tried to speak with me. Next was the anesthesiologist, I think I was supposed to ask her questions about my procedure. Since I wasn't up to date on anesthesiology, and she spoke English, we talked about California. A few minutes after she left, the antibiotic nurse blew back in and informed me that I wasn't allergic to it. It's a good thing I wasn't because I had forgotten to watch that arm.
My all time favorite was the second to last, at about 11:20pm. She wasn't a nurse, so I'm not exactly sure what she does other than spreading pain. The first thing that came out of her mouth after greeting me was that what she had to do was very painful. The only thing I love more from a woman than being fed, is being hurt. Had she given me a donut while torturing me, I would have gladly given up my bachelor status.
I was informed that the oxygen content of my arterial blood was the next order of business. The lady was a delicate, young thing, which would cause some minor problems. She bent my left hand over a roll of toilet paper, so that the inside of my wrist was facing up, and held it. After poking and prodding, she jabbed me. The pain was similar to the feeling one gets when the body first realizes it is being burned by a cigarette. She wasn't able to hold my arm still, which I found out later, so she had to withdraw the needle. The next time, the needle was withdrawn because I moved my arm slightly. While we are taking a rest, I'm mapping out all the nerve pathways of my left wrist in my head. Before she spikes me for the third time, she puts my hand under her thigh. Thank God, this time was a take and she was able to tap me for the required amount of blood.
Now I had to apply pressure to the cotton on my wrist for 15 minutes. The logic of that eluded me also, but I was able to play the IV tube blood game again for the entire 15 minutes, so it wasn't a total waste of my time. At a little after midnight, the surgeon came and asked me if I had any questions. Due to it still being early and my extremely inquisitive nature, I asked if he would be the last person to bother me. His reply was affirmative and off he went. He lied. The last person was my blood pressure honey. She also relayed to me that she would be coming back in about 5:00am to check my blood pressure again. After flashing my beautiful hazel eyes she agreed to come back at 6:00am so I could get a good night's sleep. As I finally fall asleep around 2:00am, I'm thankful I'm living in a country where they realize getting enough sleep is overrated. I hate those countries full of wimps who piss and moan when they get 4 hours of sleep because they don't think that is sufficient.
At 6:00am on the big day, I wake up and wait for my first nurse, but she thought she would do me a favor and come in at 7:00am. After she took my blood pressure, another nurse came in to hook up my drip. I was a little sad because she cleared the blood out of the tube before I got my bag. I was the second person to go under the knife, so I figured to get sliced about 10:00am. This was not to be. As I lay on my bed trying to ignore the horrendous sounds emitted by my stomach, bemoaning the fact I hadn't eaten for 14 hours and that unless I was extremely lucky, I wouldn't be eating again until Friday. I was also pretty stoked because I could feel the onset of a migraine I get when I don't eat.
After watching mind numbing movies and reading my book for the entire morning, they came to fetch me at noon. I was somewhat nervous and excited because this was the first time I had ever paid someone to scar me. They brought me to a waiting chamber and put me into a line. It was like any line in Korea. I was second in line, but I wasn't able to leave this room until 5 others had gone first. Three of them had been brought much later than I had. Now it was my turn. Pushing me through the narrow hallways, all I could see was the ceiling. Outside the operating room, they parked me for a few. I think they picked that spot for the large brown stain on the ceiling tiles. Patients are able to find pictures in the design, rather than ruminating about why had a water pipe burst there, why hadn't they replaced the tiles, and whether the operating room would be sterile. I don't know about the other pieces of meat, but I was able to see many things in the stain, such as a brown cloud, a brown rock, an old bloodstain, and brown cotton candy.
The moment had finally arrived. I was in the operating theater. The table I was set upon was extremely comfortable. Little did I know I wouldn't care for the next 90 minutes. The next thing I noticed was the spot of blood on one of the lights. At first, I wondered how it had gotten there, then I started to ponder whether there would be another drop or two after I was finished.
For this operation, I was to receive a spinal. I wasn't sure what that entailed, but I had pictures of foot-long needles shoved deep into my spine because friends had warned me about the possibilities of migraines and paralysis. First they spread a local on my back, then they told me to assume a fetal position. They wanted me to get my head as close to my knees as possible and hold that position for about 10 minutes. I would have loved to comply, but there were two factors inhibiting me. One factor was that I'm not as limber as I used to be and the other factor was that I have a belly that Buddha would be proud of. As a result, one of the lucky surgical assistants got to hold me in the fetal position while another pierced my back with needles. The first few needles I felt twinges from my back to my feet, but the last few I just felt in my back.
When they were finished, I only had feeling from my nipples up to my head. Taking a breath was an unusual experience, so I immersed myself in the unique feeling. A blanket was placed above my head, so I drifted off while they performed the operation. After sewing me up, they wrapped my leg from my ankle to groin.
My next destination was the recovery room. One of the nurses started to fiddle with my covers and was a little shocked to see that I wasn't wearing any pants (I found this to be a common reaction among the nurses, which amused me to no end). Apparently not one Korean nurse has ever seen a penis, a flaccid one no less, before. (I wonder how they have sex?) What was she thinking? Did she think I was going to make a detour between the operating room and the recovery room, so that I could attire myself in order not to offend her sensibilities?
I'm thinking the catheter lady is outsourced because she had no problem inserting the tube and pushing on my abdomen to make me pee. She congratulated me on the half liter of urine. She seemed so happy, I thought she was going to pat me on the head. I really didn't want to take all the credit, but I didn't want to burst her bubble and I wasn't really sure how to phrase my reply in Korean properly.
After doing the dirty, an old woman was rolled in next to me. I have nothing against old women in general, but I really wanted to kill this one. She kept repeating, about every 15 seconds for the next 40 minutes, that she hurt. I guess she didn't get a spinal. She was so bad, that even the nurses told her to be quiet.
For those of you who are not familiar with an irritating habit of generally younger females, let me enlighten you. This habit entails that the female repeat the obvious (i.e. I'm cold. I'm hot. I'm tired) over and over and over until one thinks that strangulation would be an acceptable form of euthanasia. Throughout this time, nurses would come over and put a cold, small gauze pad on my chest and stomach and asked me to determine how cold it was on a scale of 1-10. I couldn't decide how cold it was, so I gave them some random numbers which seemed to make them happy. When they played with my toes, I wasn't able to answer fast enough in Korean to describe how much I could feel, so then I'd just answer "yes" to every question they asked.
Since I didn't experience a myocardial infarction, they allowed me to go back to my room. I was then placed in a most uncomfortable position on the bed because they were afraid I would get a terrible headache if I raised my head. In the room, I realized I had missed one of my colleagues, who had been nice enough to bring me a book and a box of doughnut holes. Up until this point, I hadn't been encouraging my migraine, but when I saw the doughnuts and started salivating, my head started pounding. I inquired about getting some aspirin from the next nurse that wandered into my room. The denial was a little painful. While I was laying in an unnatural position on the bed, my lower back joined the symphony of pain.
About two hours later, a few more of my colleagues dropped by to chat. While they were still there, my surgeon came by and asked me how I was doing. I immediately informed him that I was starving and my head hurt. To my surprise the doctor said that I could eat dinner around 9:00pm, but on the subject of aspirin I was grilled on when and how the pain in my head started. After explaining my situation to him in a soft voice, he promised to have the nurse bring me some Tylenol.
After he left, one of my colleagues observed my situation was somewhat unnatural in a country that believes in overmedicating. About 40 minutes later, there was no sign of the fabled Tylenol, so I asked my buddy to pass on the doctor's message to the nurses in order for me to partake of this rare, magical substance. Apparently the doctor had forgotten to tell the nurses. A nurse rushed in to give me one normal strength tablet. Yippee!!! Now I was sulking and trying to climb out of my head, but I soon fell in love. Generally, I fall in love with women who bring me food. Although I neither knew the name of this nurse nor do I remember what she looks like, this was true love. She brought me a bottle of dope that was hooked up to my IV. My little goddess of love and happiness also brought me my dinner. I knew that we were made for each other and we would live happily ever after, if I could recall how she looked. After partaking of my cold meal, I read until I fell asleep.
Friday was fairly uneventful. At dinnertime, I was sitting at the table in my room, when the doctor came in. He was a little stunned that I was out of bed and bending my knee. I guess he wasn't used to people not milking their infirmities for all they are worth.
The next morning my doctor came in and suggested I should stay another night. Since I was having so much fun, I wholeheartedly agreed. Later that day, one of the interns was sent in to pull out my drain. The drain looked like a transparent canteen, so that I was able to gaze upon the dried blood inside whenever I was sitting up eating and drinking. To reassure me, before pulling the plastic tubing out of my knee, he told me that it would hurt. It actually didn't hurt that much, but I was surprised how much tubing was in my knee.
Finally, Sunday morning came. I was ready to rock and roll. I was informed that I had to pay on the second floor and that I could use my bank card. The only problem was that I could only take out 700,000 won from the machine, and I had to pay 1,000,000 won. Of course, it being Sunday, the English nurse wasn't there. I tried to explain to the people that if I could go home first, I could get the rest of the money. This wasn't acceptable, so they had to call the English nurse at home to come down. She even had problems helping me pay from the one special machine I had to use (I was never informed of this). Finally one of the bank employees helped us. I was free!
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