Some advice is prescription for confusionA recent series in this newspaper discussed several changes in Korea’s health-care system, most involving a new ability to use the Internet to give diagnoses and interpretations of medical tests.
That’s all very fine, but there are some more fundamental changes that would be useful as well.
Before I moved to Seoul, nearly four years ago, I was discussing the medical system here with a physician familiar with medical practices both in the United States and in Korea. He said the major difference was in the standardization of treatment regimes in the United States and the lack of such standards here.
For example, he said, if you go to a rural hospital in the United States with symptoms that suggest appendicitis, the physician treating you would perform the same battery of tests that a doctor at the Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins would order. While there might be differences in the skill level of medical professionals in Podunk and in Baltimore, he said, the treatment protocol would be the same.
In Korea, he went on, those protocols are followed by physicians in Seoul, but in the provinces, medical practitioners are more likely to strike out on their own.
I was reminded of his comments when I discovered standardization did not even seem to extend to a few miles outside the Seoul city line. Two incidents still baffle me.
The first came about 18 months ago, when I managed to stumble into a door in the dark at home and discovered that I had an ugly lump on my forehead and was beginning to develop a pair of black eyes. It was nearly midnight, so I went to a university hospital near my home for an examination.
After being processed in, but not asked for any medical history at all, I was approached by a young fellow whose lab coat asserted that he was a medical doctor. I explained what had happened; he said I would have to wait four hours for an MRI.
I asked him to check my eyes; he looked closely and said they were turning black. “No,” I said, “I meant, could you check my pupils?” He looked again, and said they looked fine to him. “Maybe look with a flashlight?” I asked.
“Don’t have one,” he replied. Evidently, protocol for checking for a concussion was something covered on a day he cut classes at medical school.
I returned to my car, where I had kept a flashlight, and found someone to shine the light in my eyes to see if the pupils were the same size and contracted in the light. Reassured, I abandoned the wait and decided to put my trust in the Lord instead of in that hospital. Icepacks and sunglasses to hide the colorful reminders of my folly for the next week or so did the trick.
But an even more bizarre incident followed. About a year ago, I was diagnosed with a blood clot in my leg ― deep vein thrombosis. Since then, I have been taking a blood thinner to help dissolve it.
Last fall, I went to the office of an internist in the same Seoul suburb as the hospital to ask about an influenza shot. I had a cold at the time, and the doctor advised me to wait, but I also asked him whether the Warfarin I was guzzling daily would interact with that shot. He was interested, asked me a few questions about the clot, and suggested laser surgery. That was the first I had heard of such a possibility, but after making some inquiries I learned that surgery was a last resort and that the surgery had nothing to do with lasers. But “laser” has a nice, high-tech ring to it.
I went back to the same doctor a few weeks later, after my cold cleared up, and before I could ask about a shot again, the doctor started explaining to me that my blood clot had been caused by an imbalance in my body’s magnetic fields, which were not aligned properly with the earth’s magnetic field.
The proper treatment, he averred, would be to move my bed at home and my desk at work so that they both faced north. No further mention of surgery. I glanced at the diploma on his wall, and no, it did not say “Mr. Kim’s School of Medicine and Auto Repair.”
I made an excuse and fled quickly, although I was a little taken aback to realize, after a bit of thought, that my desk here at the newspaper does, indeed, face south.
And if doctors say such things, what about the suggestions from well-meaning friends that I use everything from bear bladder to acupuncture to get rid of the pesky clot? The latter advice came from a person I didn’t want to offend, and I was beginning to feel a bit of heat to start the regimen.
I asked my doctor to give me reasons that a well-meaning Korean would understand for not becoming a walking pincushion; she looked at me strangely and said, “Acupuncture while you’re taking a blood thinner?”
Of course! That worked, and I still haven’t moved my desk.
by John Hoog
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