Ma’am, please to pull up the pants.

So here I am, partially naked and more than a little concerned about all the weird groaning noises around me and the fact that I can no longer feel my left leg, when suddenly the curtain is swept back and I find myself looking at possibly the most attractive man in all of Korea – or rather, he finds himself looking at my bare backside. He seems a little startled.

It has been a strange afternoon, to be honest.

As my battered ankle and foot were failing to get any better, I reluctantly decided to go to the hospital for x-rays. I had been putting this off because of the following reasons:

(a) I hate hospitals. I know, I know, doesn’t everyone, but I really, really, REALLY hate hospitals. They freak me out. The weird clinic-y smell, the spaced-out people shuffling around in robes and dragging their IV bags along for the ride, the weird noises and occasionally moans of pain or cries of children, the echo-filled corridors, the general stench of sickness and fear… I hate them. HATE them.

(b) I have grown to detest and avoid pretty much everything in Korea that involves me having to communicate and explain what I need. Going to the hairdresser, buying movie tickets, visiting the dentist or doctor, buying anything at the market. Please understand that as a traveller, I once thrived upon having these sorts of experiences in new and foreign lands, and would write about them with great enjoyment and enthusiasm. Korea, however, is no longer a new and foreign land. It is a very familiar place, but one where I still cannot speak the language, and am still incapable of getting the most trivial of tasks done without a whole ridiculous pantomime, or help from a Korean friend. The total clash of cultural norms and impossibility of real communication is no longer funny or fascinating; it makes me want to tear my hair out and force feed it to the next person who asks me “Aren’t you cold?” or answers “Yes!” to questions like “Where is the bathroom?”. (In short, Hails needs to get the hell out of Dodge.)

(c) I was convinced that it was just a sprain, and I have never been one to go running to the doctor for something that will heal by itself eventually. Particularly when it’s a sprained ankle and I can barely walk, never mind go running to the doctor.

But people started to scare me with their horror at my purple foot and their urging to go to the hospital lest it fall off, so off I went, having been assured by several friends that there was most definitely an English translator person there whose entire purpose in life was to assist clueless foreigners at the hospital. Look, I swear to you, she is RIGHT THERE when you go in the door, they promised. Look to the left, and she’ll be sitting at a desk with a sign that says “foreigner”. You cannot miss her. She will even stay by your side throughout your entire visit, and go wherever you need to go, and translate for you with all the doctors and nurses. 

Thusly reassured, I limped timidly through the ER doors. I looked left and saw a wall. I looked right – just in case I had misremembered the direction – and saw another wall. I was, in fact, in more of a corridor than a big hospital reception area with desks and assistants and the like. In retrospect, I suppose it is possible that the taxi driver did not drop me off at the correct entrance, having been a little bit disgruntled since the moment I got into his cab and insisted that he take me to the capital of North Korea (Pyongyang) as opposed to the hospital (pyeongwon). These things happen. In any case, there was no friendly translator person to be seen, nor indeed any desk of any description where I might realistically ask for help. And so I limped nervously along a hospitally-smelling corridor (oh how I hate that smell!!!) until I found myself – to my great alarm – actually inside an ER ward, hobbling past beds containing horrors that I had only seen on medical TV dramas until that moment.

Finally, I saw some desks, and approached them. A surly admin man took my details, and then I was passed on to a group of giggling male med students and the Korean version of Miranda Bailey, who wanted to know everything from the details of my menstrual cycle, diet, and sex life, to the specific time (to the nearest minute) of my “accident” – all in Korean, with some mime and English words thrown in. The med students, who appeared to have an average age of about 19, asked perfunctory questions about my ankle and made me wiggle my toes. One of them experimentally poked the swollen area where the ankle bone would normally be seen. Ouchee? he asked. YeeeeeAAAAAAAAessssss! I hissed in reply, resisting the urge to kick him in the head with my good foot. All of this was while I was still sitting at a reception desk, with an old man howling “aaaaaaa eeeeeee aaaaaa eeeeeeee aaaaaaaa!” wandering around like a crazy hospital ghost and being completely ignored by all the staff.

So then they sent me to the X-ray department.

At no point did a single member of staff even pause to consider the nature of my injury in relation to my limited ability to cover great distances in short periods of time. I wanted to scream “HELLO?! Suspected broken ankle, anyone?!!!” so many times as I was led around from one department to the next by nurses who were practically running. They would pause to look back at me impatiently as I desperately hobbled along in a vain attempt to not lose sight of them. I mean, I didn’t expect to be stretchered off, but they could either have walked slowly and understandingly by my side given that I was actually there to see whether or not my fecking foot was broken, or just turfed me into a wheelchair if it was that important to go fast. The man doing the X-rays was even worse. I understand that he had to move my foot into different positions because I couldn’t understand everything he was telling me to do, but he, too, appeared completely unaware of the fact that an ankle and foot injured enough to require X-rays might actually be rather excruciatingly painful. He grabbed it on the bruises, twisted it from one side to the other, appeared not to hear the whimpers I couldn’t help emitting as he held it tightly in a position that made me think I was going to pass out, and then stood impatiently at the door as I struggled to put my shoe back on over the foot that was now infinitely more painful than it had been when I arrived.

I was taken to a ward full of patients that looked like a scene from Breaking Bad of meth addicts in a squat house. An old woman was staring blankly at the ceiling and murmuring a word over and over again under her breath. A middle-aged businessman in a suit was laughing hysterically as whatever pain medication he was on kicked in. As I was shown to my bed, a team of paramedics ran through wheeling a screaming man with (the remains of) his leg covered in huge swathes of blood-soaked material. Traumatised by this point, I meekly lay down on a bed as instructed, and the nurse pulled the curtain around me and held up a large needle. Two large needles, in fact. I just looked at her in confusion, with no idea of why she would want to stick needles into me for an injured ankle, but what can you do when you can’t speak the same language as the uniformed professional holding needles and indicating that you should pull down your pants and lay on your side? I obeyed – with some difficulty due to the fact that my ankle was now practically screaming with pain every time it touched anything – and she pulled down my underwear and cheerfully injected me with unknown drugs. Then she indicated that I was to hold the alcohol-soaked gauze on the needle puncture, and she promptly disappeared.

I lay there, on my side, feeling extremely vulnerable with my bare backside exposed to whosoever would next appear around the curtain on this delightful mystery medical conveyor belt, listening to all the groaning patients around me who now sounded more like zombies now that I couldn’t actually see them. No one told me to stop holding the gauze, so I kept holding it, even though it eventually became very uncomfortable reaching around at that angle, and then my leg went dead. Dead. It seriously occurred to me at one point that perhaps they were drugging in order to kidnap me for medical experiments, and I would never be seen again.

And that brings us to the point where I started this story, with the sexiest doctor in the history of all time (unless we count fake doctors, in which case he was the third sexiest, behind George Clooney and Patrick Dempsey) coming in to find himself face-to-arse with a confused, drugged, somewhat frightened foreign girl who was regretting the whole thing and just wanted to go home.

Ma’am, he said sweetly, your ankle is not broken bone. 

Ma’am?!!! I thought in a sort of drug-hazy horror.

There is a very bad sprain, and ligaments damaged. Possibly there is a very small fracture, too small for X-ray. But I will give you pain medication and muscle relaxants, and I advise just to rest and – he paused, looking sympathetically at me as I tried to appear even vaguely dignified in my current position.

Ma’am, he said gently, please to pull up the pants.

Never again.


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