Everybody gets sick. It doesn’t matter if you are American, Russian, or Korean. Everyone does. And of course, each culture handles this phenomenon differently.
Koreans go to the doctor and “get an injection” even for the slightest cold. Muscovites avoid the doctor at all costs because it means waiting in a long line or paying too much money, and drugs can often be gotten from the pharmacist without a prescription. As an American, I’m used to going to the doctor if I know I have strep throat, influenza or some other serious ailment and need antibiotics, but if it’s a bad cold, bed rest, cough drops, chicken soup, and plenty of fluids are fine.
Tuesday morning I woke up with a bad cold. As the only foreign teacher at my school, I wasn’t sure what would happen if I called in sick, but I had heard that it earns you a reputation as lazy and irresponsible. So, when I should have stayed in bed with a slight fever and a cough, I forced myself to get out of bed, get ready and go into work. I thought, surely my coworkers will notice that I am not up to par, and they will send me home to get some rest.
Oh no. That was hoping too much.
The only coworker that noticed, early in the day, commented on how much prettier I look when I’m sick. It was a backhanded compliment because I just wanted to sleep. I didn’t care if I looked pretty. In fact, I wished I looked horrible so my coworkers would notice how sick I really was.
Finally, at the end of the day, after I had worked myself nearly to death and was freezing with my coat on, my coworkers realized how sick I was. If my lips hadn’t turned purple, I’m not sure they would ever have noticed, but my lip color freaked them out. They wouldn’t stop commenting on it, and the next day I was promptly sent to the hospital for an injection even though, by then, the worst of my cold had passed.
Regardless, at the insistence of five Korean women, I went to the doctor across the street with one of them accompanying me and an extra coat draped on top of mine.
At the doctor’s office, there was no wait. Before I could even remove my coat, two women and my coworker hastily pushed me into a room with an older man, sitting behind a desk, wearing a face mask.
He had me sit down and immediately put his hands on my forehead and neck, to check my temperature. No thermometer. He declared I didn’t have a fever. Then he used a metal tongue depressor, looked at my throat without proper lighting, and made no comment about my huge tonsils which doctors almost always comment on. He checked my lungs with his stethoscope, but only on inhale. I was confused. This was by no means a thorough checkup. He didn’t check my blood pressure or look in my ears. He didn’t ask me what was wrong. I felt a million times better than the day before and did not think I needed to be at the doctor, so his lack of attention didn’t concern me much at the time.
Because my coworkers had sent me over “to get an injection” the coworker accompanying me told the doctor I needed an injection. Rather than agreeing, he jabbered on for a couple minutes about the same thing I had told her earlier, only with “American’s think” in front of it. It’s strange to get an injection for a simple cold. He felt my forehead and neck again. Said I didn’t have a fever. Confirmed my diagnosis of a bad cold, and sent me out of the room to go to the pharmacy to get three packets of pills.
I was then rushed out the door to the pharmacy where I was given a strange assortment of pills to take, with no questions, no warnings, and no risks of side effects.
I had to insist on a copy of the list of medicines I was taking. What do most Koreans walk away with? An injection or just three, unlabeled packets of pills. One each day for three days. What the doctor, who wouldn’t give me an injection, didn’t realize is that this was also strange for me. I would have been a bit more convinced that these pills might actually help and not harm me, if he had used a simple instrument such as a thermometer.
When I commented to my coworker that I was surprised the doctor didn’t use a thermometer. She simply replied, “We use thermometers in science class.”
After the quick checkup which hadn’t taken 20 minutes and cost less than 20 dollars, even without insurance, we walked back to the school so I could get back to work.