Where I’m from, they discourage this…

…going to the doctor for every little cough and sneeze, that is. Not in Korea! Oh no – in fact, here, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

So there I am in the doctor’s chair, much like a dentist’s chair only in a doctor’s office and with no little sink thing to spit into.

The doctor at the ENT clinic speaks no English, which is somewhat surprising since I thought they all had to know at least some English for their medical studies, but anyway. I go in, he says “Anja!”, and I obediently sit. My boss describes my symptoms in a couple of sentences. The doctor says something, and my boss asks me “How is the stomach ache?”.

“Fine. Good. No. None. Isn’t. I have no stomach ache.” I reply perfectly naturally – I’ve got these super-clear responses down to a fine art now, eliminating potential confusion wherever I can. She translates for the doctor, and he shoves something up my nose, sprays something (why?!), peers up, and then thrusts a metal paddle thing into my mouth, pressing down my tongue and looking at my throat. He moves the metal paddle around a bit, somewhat roughly, until it reaches the specific part of the back of my mouth where it hits my gag reflex, and I, well, gag. He steps back hurriedly, and he, the nurse, and my boss all look appalled.

You shoved the bloody thing down my throat, you jackass!! I want to yell. I probably could, since only one of them would come close to understanding me.Instead, I just choke a little more and glare resentfully at him as he says something to Jennifer. Next thing I know, I’m being bundled back out to reception to pay the (thankfully small) fee for the whole 30 second experience. Next, to the pharmacy, where they take another insignificant sum off me in exchange for three days’ worth of tablets.

It is infuriating. They have no concept of over-the-counter medication here. You have to go to the doctor every time you want medicine, and each time you will receive only enough for three days. I mean, what use is that? What do people with heart conditions, diabetes, and other long-term medicine-controlled conditions do? How can I go to the doctor every three days for the entire length of time I’m here? I ask Jennifer on the way home, close to tears, trying yet again to explain the concept of over-the-counter drugs and repeat prescriptions to her. After work, she says blankly, as if failing to see the issue. As if it is a perfectly normal part of life to go to the doctor twice a week in order to control a simple allergy condition that most likely needs daily medication.

But we will see if the pills work, she says in response to my frustrated gaze. If you are still sick on Monday, we go back, and maybe he change the medication.


Am I being totally unreasonable, here? Is it unrealistic of me to not expect these pills to cure me forever of my allergies? Surely it’s more likely that they will clear my symptoms up, and then they’ll just recur again as usual in a week or so? How am I any better off if I have to wait until I’m suffering again, go to the doctor, get more medication, wait for it to take effect, get better, then get sick again and have to repeat the whole ridiculous process? It’s no different from what I’m doing now with copious amounts of orange juice and a nasal spray and painkillers and a lot of tissues. I just want tablets that I can take on a regular basis – a prevention as much as a cure – so that I don’t have to get ill every other week. I don’t want to have to be ill and hurting before I can get something to help me. I want to stop it happening in the first place, or at least have the medication to hand for when I feel the first signs.

In Korea, this is apparently impossible. Every single Korean I know has told me solemnly that yes, you can get some sort of medication over the counter, but they won’t work. You must go to doctor. See how often they make you come back – they must know what they’re doing!

Making money, you eejits!!!! I want to scream. Again, I do not. I just need one Korean who will hear me. One Korean who will tell me which box of pills in the pharmacy is the box of decongestants. I don’t care if they believe them to be useless, I don’t care if I’m violating some kind of cultural code by not visiting the doctor before buying a box of Sudafed equivalent. I want the drugs; I need the drugs; JUST GIVE ME THE DRUGS!!!!

[If you speak Korean, please, please take pity on me and tell me the name of a decongestant I can ask for at the pharmacy. Please, please.]


6 thoughts on “Where I’m from, they discourage this…

  1. It all sounds horribly frustrating. And to think I complain because I have to go back to the Doctor once a month. There are no repeat prescriptions in Japan but at least they give me a months supply of medication.

    In Japan I am also told that it’s better to go to the doctors instead of buying over-the-counter medication. But my doctor told me it was because it was cheaper to get medication from him for colds and allergies than buying the over-the-counter alternatives.

    I can get the Japanese over-the-counter decongestant and antihistamine and send them to you.

  2. This is probably a ridiculously naive question – but can’t you phone the Irish Consul or Embassy (is there one in S. Korea?) and ask them for advice on how to acquire over the counter medicines? Maybe there is an international chemist somewhere in the city/country…? Good luck – and bless you!!

  3. Thanks all. I have no idea what the rules are about what you can and can’t send through the post, and what sort of things would upset the Korean customs people! As for the Embassy, Geri, yes there is one. I hadn’t considered that! I have just been informed of an international clinic in Seoul where they have American doctors, so I suppose if I continue to fail in my mission to be understood here, I could always take a trip to Seoul and at least put my request to someone who understands the concept of over-the-counter medication!

    Next time you go into the chemist’s and pick up something for your cold, or a decongestant, or a cough medicine, or indigestion tablets, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you can do so! ;)

  4. You can go to a pharmacy and get a decongestant but it won’t work very well…that’s why everyone goes to the doctor for just minor symptoms, if you want good decongestants you gotta get them prescribed. The good news is it’s cheap as chips (which is why they want you to come back so many times).

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