My Korean Hospital Experience
This is the story of the time I found myself waking up to a nurse telling me that I was having an allergic reaction in the middle of a procedure I was supposed to have slept through. In Korea.
At the time it was just as horrifying as it sounds but looking back on it now, and having written and re-written this post roughly 1 million times, I think I’m at the point where I can laugh about it. Or at least I’m getting there. This story actually happened in the first week of October but I’ve been processing it and trying to figure out how to write about it since then.
There’s a lot of background for how I ended up in this situation in the first place, and I’ve been trying to figure out how much detail to go in here, but I think I will just leave it at this. For a lot of my life I’ve had “gastrointestinal problems” and since living in Korea they’ve gotten worse. And last summer it was getting to a point where I’d had a “problem” every single morning and along with that my anxiety was at a level it’d never been. At one point during English summer camp I could hardly stand up straight because I was cramping so badly.
After a lot of trial and error and going gluten free for while with positive results, I decided that I wanted to have an endoscopy to see if there was anything abnormal and also to test for Celiac disease.
The doctor who I saw in Seoul for the consultation appointment was perfectly nice and actually spent a lot of time with me and listened well which I appreciated. Especially after being completely blown off by a local doctor at a clinic in Daejeon.
They told me I’d need a guardian for the procedure, as you have to be put under, and so my lovely friend who is also very appropriately a nursing student came with me on the day of. And looking back on it BOY am I glad she was there.
We decided to make a weekend of it since I had to be at the hospital early Friday morning. So Thursday night we headed up to Seoul and checked into our Air B&B and the next morning we were out the door by 8:30 headed for the hospital.
The way it was all set up was extremely confusing and required lots of running around to different parts of the hospital for different things. But finally, when we’d done all the paper work and changed into the hospital clothes they provided we sat down to wait.
I was nervous. Like incredibly nervous. I already don’t like hospitals as it is, but in a foreign country it was even scarier. Plus, just personally, I don’t like medicine. I don’t think I’ve taken any medication even just an ibuprofen in like the last 2 years. My body is incredibly sensitive to everything so taking anything makes me nervous. The fact that medicine works as well as it does is a miracle for people living with otherwise incapacitating conditions but personally it scares me how something as tiny as a pill can completely change and control how your body functions.
Anyway in the very busy waiting room we watched countless people go in and come back on the arm of a particular male nurse who always walked them out and literally handed them off to their guardian.
The doctor performing my endoscopy had to do two emergency procedures that morning so everything got delayed. We ended up having to wait an extra two and a half hours, with the IV port already in my hand and the hospital dressing gown on, until it was finally my turn.
That I can forgive. Things happen, that was out of their control.
But I really don’t think I can forgive how it all went down next.
So around 12:50, my appointment was originally for 10:20, I was called back. I guess I was expecting that they’d lay me down in a rolling bed, I’d fall sleep, they’d do everything they needed to do, and I’d wake back up in the same bed to recover for a little while.
But instead they called me into the actual procedure room and had me lay down on the table there. The nurse immediately sprayed the back of my throat with a numbing spray, made me lay down in the correct position, and strapped something around my head with a plastic piece in my mouth for them to guide the camera down with.
She then prepared to inject the anesthesia into my hand and said to me, “This will probably hurt.” But the second before she injected it someone came into the room and said, “Wait the doctor isn’t ready yet.”
So then I was left laying there, in the freezing cold procedure room, with this thing strapped to my head, my throat so numb I couldn’t swallow properly and no information. The nurse didn’t say anything to me at all and so for about 15 minutes I just stared at all the instruments in font of me. I saw my name written on the white board and a word in Korean that I didn’t know next to it.
I remember thinking like, “I have to remember this word so I can look it up after” but feeling like I was going to forget it because of the anesthesia.
Eventually the nurse said they were ready and prepared the injection. She did the first one and it hurt. It felt like something incredibly hot going through my veins. I started to go dizzy and then she did the second one. And after that I fell asleep.
I don’t know exactly how long they had been doing the procedure but after an unknown amount of time I started to wake up.
But not gently in the bed outside in a recovery area like I had been expecting.
At first I thought I was throwing up.
I didn’t know what was happening but my stomach muscles kept on contracting like I was choking. I know now it was because the camera was still down my throat.
I was too delirious to panic, thank goodness, but as I start to gain consciousness I heard the nurse saying to me, “You’re having an allergic reaction to the anesthesia. It’s starting from the injection site and goes up to your chest. So we can’t give you any more.”
The order in which all of this happened is fuzzy because I was still in that half drugged twilight zone.
But what I do remember is this.
I kept on choking and trying to tell myself, if you just relax it will be easier. Just let it happen. But no matter what I couldn’t force stomach muscles to relax.
I remember moving my arm as if to pull down the top of my shirt to see where the allergic reaction was happening, even though my eyes were closed and I couldn’t see anything, but the nurse told me to stop.
I remember that the room was freezing cold and I could feel someones hand next to mine. I kept trying to touch it because it was really warm but because I was still kinda of paralyzed from the anesthesia I couldn’t quite get my hands to move.
And I remember thinking to myself, “I really need to tell them about this one time I had a similar allergic reaction on my chest.”
Eventually they pulled the camera out and a man’s voice said, “okay we’re finished.”
At that point I tried, tried being the operative word here, to tell them about my previous similar reaction. I have no idea what I actually said because all of this was being done in Korean but then someone said something like, “Oh your Korean is really good.”
And I thought to myself, I should laugh or something so they know I can understand them. I think I said, “Thank you.”
The next chunk of time I don’t remember but after a little while I opened my eyes and I was in the recovery hallway. Crying.
And as I started to realize what was going on I started to cry even more. But for the first like 10 minutes or so that I was laying there I didn’t see a single person. No one came to check on me or tell me what had happened.
Then I started to wonder if I had just been dreaming.
I was so confused and my head was hurting and I just wanted someone to come over and check on me. I tried sitting up to get someones attention but one of the nurses just came over, looked at my chart, and said, “10 minutes.”
At one point I saw the nurse from the procedure room walk by and I asked her if I had just had an allergic reaction during the endoscopy. Her response was, “Yea I already told you didn’t I?”
What I wanted to say that point was, “I WAS ASLEEP! I had a camera down my throat and you were speaking to me in a foreign language, it could have been a dream for all I know, do me a favor and EXPLAIN IT AGAIN!”
What I actually said was, “I don’t remember, can you tell me again?”
So she explained that I’d had a reaction to something in the anesthesia mixture and so they couldn’t give me any more and that’s why I woke up. But the reaction, “went away quickly and you’re fine now.”
Eventually the other nurse came back and said I could go. So I got off the bed, had to put on my shoes, which annoyed me for some reason, and started to walk out to the waiting room. I remembered how he had led out each patient before me, holding their arm or hand, and thinking to myself, “no no, nope I don’t want anyone to touch me right now.”
I think I said something like, “I’m fine” and followed behind him as we went out.
The first thing I did was search for my friend in the waiting room and immediately she could see on my face that something wasn’t right. I explained to her as best I could what had happened and then went back to change into my clothes.
When I came back out my friend was talking to the woman at the desk. What learned later was that she had been trying to find out the exact drugs they had used in the anesthesia and the woman had been like, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask the pharmacy?”
And thankfully my friend, who I love and am forever indebted to for all her help, was like, “No, the person who performed the procedure is right there, behind that door. If you could just go ask them that’d be great.”
She did and so now I have the names of three different sedatives written in blue marker on the back of my discharge slip.
And then we left. That was it.
No one said anything to me like, you might have a sore throat the next few days or a headache from the anesthesia or next time you have to go under for a procedure maybe mention this reaction to your doctor. We just made the follow-up appointment and walked out.
We went straight back to the Air B&B and rested for a while and the longer I lay there the worse and worse my anxiety about the whole thing got and by dinner time I couldn’t think of anything else. What if they had kept giving me the anesthesia, was it because they made a mistake, what if there are long-term effects, what if they couldn’t do the procedure properly and I can’t get the results, why were they so rude, why didn’t anyone explain anything to me, my mind was so overwhelmed with these thoughts that we decided that I needed to go outside and try to distract myself or else I was going to have a full-blown panic attack.
Again I’m very thankful to have had my friend with me because we were able to actually have a pretty decent evening and I forgot about the trauma of the morning for a little while.
Even now when I think back on this I can’t really believe that it happened. Thankfully it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been and honestly some people have this procedure done with out sedation so my experience wasn’t like something that no one has ever been through before.
But given the situation, being in a different country, the relatively poor treatment from the hospital staff, and the fact that I hate hospitals and medicine to begin with, the whole thing was a lot.
Thankfully it’s all over now. I don’t have Celiac disease which is great, but I’m still working on what foods make me sick and what don’t. Things are getting better though. I don’t get sick as often and even my anxiety has been better than it’s been in a long time.
Things have actually just been going really well for me in general recently. School has been good, winter is upon us so I can break out all of my favorite cozy sweaters again, and having to cook most of my meals for myself has actually been a really cool experience and given me a new perspective on food.
So I guess that’s it. Please don’t feel bad for me whatever you do, if nothing else it will be a great party story in about 5 years. It was a wild experience and just another thing to my list of memories in Korea!
Thanks as always for reading and I hope you have a good weekend!! ^^