CONTRIBUTED BY SUMMER MARO
Went to a bulgogi restaurant with some friends on Thursday night, and I drank an entire bottle of Soju. By myself. Now don’t let looks fool you – I may be 105 pounds soaking wet, but I was in the Navy. They must put something in the ship water because, after one deployment, the most innocent of fresh recruits [read: me] can drink like a fish. Ten years later, and this sailor can still handle her alcohol. Except this one time. I’d been working all day to get us settled into our new apartment, and I’d forgotten to eat. You know how it is when you get busy. So although I had dinner with my alcohol, my blood was still pretty thin, and the Soju had me feeling pre-tee good. Even when I stumbled and stubbed my toe on the stupid gas valve for the grill on our table, it didn’t faze me a bit.
(The offending bulgogi place. Well. Maybe not. I went back a few days later to take a picture, but I’d drank quite a bit and I’m not sure if this is the right place. They all pretty much look the same, though, so whatever.)
Until 2am and the Soju wore off, that is. I laid in bed all night, half-awake with misery, thanks to the throbbing middle toe of my left foot. Normally a back sleeper, I had to sleep on my side because just the weight of the blankets on my toes was enough to send shooting pain through my foot. Yay me! I thought FOR SURE I had broken my toe. I know that nothing can really be done about a broken toe, but it hurt like an SOB and I needed (wanted) some pain meds. So I decided to see a doctor.
Because we aren’t command-sponsored here in Korea, I had to find a Korean clinic. I’d heard about other American families going to the Yonsei Family Clinic a few blocks from my apartment, so I decided to give it a try. I dragged my friend Missy along in case there were any hiccups and I needed help with Maggie. We knew the general area of the clinic, and figured we’d just walk (limp) around until we found it. We found it quickly and easily – it is on the third floor, above a Baskin Robbins, and across the street from a Starbucks.
The clinic is clean and streamlined. The moment we walked in the door, the receptionist handed me a slip of paper and said, in basic English, to fill out my name, age, gender, and phone number. Less than five minutes later, I was called into the doctor’s office. He spoke fluent English. He examined my toe and said he’d like to order some x-rays. This is when I panicked a little. I was paying out of pocket for this visit! I hesitantly asked him how much it would cost, and he said, in a confused tone, “I’m not sure, let me look.” A very long 45 seconds later, he said, “….. 18,000 won.”
That’s less than $18 USD.
Missy and I both literally let out an involuntary gasp.
“Eighteen thousand won???”
“that would cost like, five hundred dollars in the US. Five hundred thousand won”
“… maybe I should be a US doctor, then.”
Seriously, I actually had a physical reaction to this. A little sweaty. Slightly dizzy and disoriented. I mean, we are military and normally have free healthcare, but I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are, and how terrible the healthcare struggle is for civilians. To experience, first hand, how inexpensive GOOD healthcare is in other countries… it was exhilarating… and infuriating.
An assistant led me to a back room where a technician took the x-rays. No one spoke English, but really, how hard is it to sit on a table and stick out a foot. The x-rays took less than five minutes. Another three or four minutes later, I sat just outside the doctor’s office and watched while he examined the x-ray. The doctor. Not a technician, then a radiologist, then another radiologist. He then motioned for me to come back in. “It isn’t broken, there’s a contusion. Are you allergic to any medications? I will prescribe anti-inflammatory and ibuprofen and Tylenol. Stay off your foot, rest, and it should be fine within three to four days.” I told him I have two children, we just moved here a week ago, and I’m currently in the process of moving into an apartment. He replied, “well then for you, probably seven to ten days.”
The pharmacy was downstairs, next to Baskin Robbins. They gave me three days’ worth of medicine, each dosage divided into its own packet. It took less than five minutes to fill, and I paid 8,000₩. Less than $8 USD.
I’d like to point out, because, sadly, many people think otherwise, South Korea is NOT a Third World country. The medical care is not inexpensive because it is substandard with unsafe practices. There are world class hospitals here. Just because it isn’t the “American Way” doesn’t mean it is the wrong way.
In all, my first experience with the Korean healthcare system was excellent. I CAN go on base for care, and it’s free — but it’s complicated. With access to fast, efficient care for dirt cheap – I don’t plan to use the base hospital at all while we are here.
Directions from Posco Apartments: (because if you live on base, you most likely won’t be visiting this clinic): At the GS25, turn left onto the main road. Turn right at the big T-intersection. Walk approximately three blocks, and turn right when you see a Starbucks down the way. Yonsei Family Clinic is directly across the street from Starbucks. It is a ten minute walk; twenty if you are limping.
Hours: Mon-Fri 9:00-7:30, Sat 9:00-4:00
Payment: cash, Visa, Mastercard