Friday, September 25, 2009

Xtreme poking/dorky MEDICAL tourism

What with the U.S. health care debate continuing to clog news feeds everywhere, I've been talking with my friends here about sickness/hospitals/medical bills/American ineptitude in these areas a lot. What better time for me to dabble with Eastern medicine, no?

My dear partner teacher at my workplace, Jenny (or Yeojoo, if you're not a dumb white person like myself) is awesome for many reasons. Not only is she super helpful and patient with Space Cadet Captain Rogers at work, but she also is my go-to translator and general life helper here. Recently, I went to her after I was confused by the puzzled reaction of my local convenience store clerk upon purchasing what I presumed to be an energy drink in a small, brown, glass bottle. Similar to these ones.

It tasted metallic and chemical-y, as most energy drinks do...but I guess what I had was some kind of stomach medication, the Korean equivalent of Robitussin. Which might explain why my cashier rubbed his stomach and smiled at me sympathetically.

Anyways, in addition to keeping me from accidental self-medication here in Korea, Jenny is always down to go through the motions with curious foreigners like myself--despite the embarrassment it brings me and her and the people we put through my cross-cultural experimentation here, I think/hope she enjoys humoring me and my fascination with things that are a part of her everyday life. When she told me that she regularly goes to a clinic for acupuncture, I asked her if I could come with her for a session. And without a hint of incredulity and no eye-rolling whatsoever, she said yes.

Basically, I just wanted to get acupuncture because I had never tried it before. And given the many unpleasant experiences I've had at the doctor's office at home and the side effects I've felt from prescriptions Western doctors have written me, I was eager to see what the racket was all about: acupuncture is becoming pretty commonplace back at home, you see. And of course, being the daredevil that I am, I'm always feeling the need to prove how XTREME I am, getting needles stuck into my skin for relaxation and whatnot. Wink.

Getting acupuncture involved waking up early in the morning and going to meet Jenny at the subway station near her house. She walked me to her clinic, which was small and located up a flight of stairs. I was expecting something of a rathole, for some reason, and was shocked to find sleek sliding glass doors and neat Asian decor in the waiting room. There were also framed still shots from a TV appearance this acupuncturist made: I guess he's relatively well-known, according to Jenny. Jenny helped me fill out a registration form before I went in and talked to the semi-famous doctor, who spoke relatively good English. I told him about my PMS, and he advised me to "warm my body" and "eat warm foods" post-treatment. Yes, sir.

I was then led into the treatment room, which was full of curtained little hospital cubicles, and told to lie down on my stomach on a bed. A nurse came in and lifted up my shirt a little bit and told me to prepare for "physical therapy, ok?" Seeing as I was on my stomach and all, I couldn't really see what was going on behind me. On top of me. On my back. I felt some kind of suctioning action going on and I could tell there was some kind of pulsating, warm machine being place on the small of my back, which the nurse covered up with a towel. She turned on a heat lamp and left me to bake for at least twenty minutes. It felt glorious, like I had a purring cat curled up right on my aching back...the machine would occasionally pulse a little more intensely, and I definitely lapsed into sleep for at least ten minutes or so. Then the nurse came back and released the machine from my back, which felt like it was gripping onto me more firmly than before. Apparently, after a bit of net research, something like these cups were probably applied to me to encourage blood circulation to the area:

After the cups came the needles, which were unbelievably small. I had needles placed in two neat rows down my spine, each reputedly on an "energy point" along my qi, where my "vital energy" flows. The back needles didn't hurt at all...I could barely feel them. However, I did have needles stuck into my ear, my hand, my toe, and behind my knee, and those all stung a little bit. It was also incredibly difficult for me to not reflexively kick the doctor in the face as he stuck the needles behind my knee. All of this occurred on the right side of my body, by the way...I had to go back for a second session for the left. So did I feel better after my session? Yeah...but was I still premenstrual the next day, though? Yes, unfortunately...and I'm not entirely sure I instantly felt my "vital energy" being straightened up post-needle pokeage.

After the needles were taken out (they were left in for about ten minutes or so), I got up, met with the doctor again (who once again advised me to "warm my body") and paid for the procedure. Now, I was expecting this to cost 20,000, maybe 30,000 won. I was flabbergasted: with my ballin' Korean medical insurance, the grand total for my therapy was $4,500 won, or $3.97 USD.

I not sure if I'll go back again or not, but all in all the whole experience was insanely cheap and relaxing, if not a cure all...and hopefully not too uncomfortable for my insanely patient partner teacher/medical tourism guide :)

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