Finding out that a student is absent because he/she is in the hospital should be terribly alarming. Actually, it’s like someone telling me they’d like a glass of soju with their bibimbap. It’s just typically, quintessentially, Korean.
(I’m going to speak in sweeping stereotypes now so if this offends you: kindly look away!)
Koreans go to the hospital for everything. They go for a sniffle. A cough. When they vomit. For dry eyes. For itchy skin. For soreness in their muscles. For canker sores. They go for ev.er.y.thing. On any given day students all over campus are on crutches, or have a finger, ankle, knee, wrist or elbow wrapped up tight. My first question is always did you break it? And more often than not, the answer is well, no… but…almost. Natalie had a friend this year in first grade who was in a wheelchair for a week when she broke her toe. They doted on that vibrant, adorable little girl like she had a glass heart.
There just is no such thing as “Let’s wait a couple days and see how you feel.” There is no “Put some ice on it,” or “Take some ibuprofen.” Instead, there is an immediate IV for fluids, extensive testing, definite prescribed medication, and an almost certain overnight stay.
But I kind of like it. Because I kind of get it.
First of all, we sometimes know there’s nothing inexorably wrong with us, we just want someone to say, I’m sorry you feel like shit. Here, have a cookie.
Second, and I think I actually read this somewhere, the average person is, more often that not, marginally dehydrated — for which, therefore, an IV makes complete sense. You’ve come all this way, why don’t you enjoy yourself some delicious electrolytes while we get a phlebotomist, down here, STAT!
Third, and I’m guessing people from all over the globe would agree, sometimes you just need a damn break. Somewhere quiet – away from the norm. From schedules. From routine. From work. From kids. From working with kids. Wait. Who’re we talking about here?
Yet. It’s also weird. I mean, a hospital stay and a prescription for oxycontin for ear pain that tested negative for infection, is unaccompanied by fever and has no underlying explanation? I’m no doctor, but really?
Korean youth do follow the trend with seeking medical attention for every tiny burp and mishap. The following are actual exchanges I have had with students this year. Really.
“Mrs Hamlin can I go to the nurse?”
…my finger feels pained and I’m worried I might have slept on it funny.
…I think I might feel sick soon.
…I think my knees are feeling a little bit squished together.
…my stomach is hurting. Your class makes me hungry.
…the inside of my mouth is pink.
…my fingernail has a soldier inside it.
…I have a paper cut. I can’t see it but I can feel it.
…my eye is so red the world has turned purple.
…I twisted my ankle last week. To my blank stare, he continued it just starting hurting.
…my lungs feel too full.
And This — Me: I’m tired. Student: You should see a doctor. Me: For being tired? Student, shrugging: It’s Korean.
See, they know. They understand it’s over the top, but it’s the Korean way. It is wonderfully, delightfully and consummately Korean. Who’s it really hurting anyway? Doctors are happy to have the business. Patients are happy to have the attention. Students are happy to miss school. Professionals are happy to miss work. Moms are happy to ….. Wait. Who’re we talking about here?