CC: Pink Eye and the Korean Medical System
Seven students at my school have Pink Eye. You might not think this is a huge cause for concern, but apparently “The Disease” is not taken lightly in the Korean school system. All 7 of these students happen to be in my main co-teacher’s homeroom, and this has been causing her much distress over the past few weeks because apparently she is held accountable and is somehow at fault for her students illness and is responsible for dealing with it.
These 7 students have been “quarantined” in a small room in the nurse’s office for what seems like 2 weeks to protect the other students at school from The Disease. They also cannot eat lunch with the rest of the students, so can only come out of hiding once a day to eat lunch with the teachers instead. Why it is somehow better for them to infect teachers instead of students is unknown to me. Today at lunch when we were all eating together, my co-teacher said she was embarrassed to have to eat with them because people look down on her because her students are sick. Let me add that my co-teacher is new and when she arrived at school many of the students already had pink eye…
I’m not sure where this fear of disease stems from in Korean culture, but it brings me to the other experiences I’ve had with the Korean medical system since I’ve been here.
I’ve had less than stellar experiences at many doctors back home, so my initial interactions with Korean doctors came as a breath of fresh air. I have yet to be required to make a doctors appointment, both at a regular doctor, specialist, and acupuncturist, the premiums and cost for prescriptions are extremely low and all I have to do is show them my ARC card and they know that I am insured. There is no extensive paperwork and hardly ever a wait at the doctors I’ve been to.
After the initial joy in this system, I ran into a few problems that seem to be a common obstacle of the Korean medical system. The first was that I would go in to see the doctor, and within minutes of describing my symptoms the doctor would determine my illness and get ready to prescribe me medication. No tests were administered, barely any questions were asked, and no blood pressure or heart rate was taken…This set off a few red flags, especially when I was trying to describe my symptoms of heat exhaustion to the doctor, including vomiting, dehydration and dizziness, and she tried to convince me I had an intestinal infection. The second issue is the high dependence on prescription drugs and after a few such appointments like the one above, and being prescribed heavy medication and antibiotics that in turn made me feel worse than I had originally I decided to get a second opinion.
The next doctor I tried spoke much better English and was recommended for foreigners and was a much better experience. She took more time and examination to determine what was wrong, and prescribed medication more appropriate to the illness.
In addition to traditional doctors, oriental medicine is very popular as well, and I’ve had great experiences at acupuncturists. Even though Koreans have a generally strong focus on health and well-being in their country, they still have many contradictory habits that never cease to baffle me, like their chain smoking and soju addiction, but that’s a post for another day.
All in all, I’ve had an overall positive experience with the medical system in Korean and I think the US could learn something from it’s organization. For more details on how it works check out this post from Ask a Korean.