Korean Hospitals, Part I: The Cycle

I went to the doctor on a Wednesday during my lunch because I wanted to go home and sleep and I had to have a doctor’s note to prove that my stomach really did hurt before the boss would let me leave. So, I wandered into the office, thinking maybe I could get some kind of pills to help me sleep (I’d been having severe insomnia) and maybe some Tums. But when the doctor started pushing The Belly, she drew her eyebrows together and made this noise that only Koreans make which is sort of a questioning little spurt of air over the tiniest quadrant of vocal chord. Then she kept asking me if I was sure it hurt when she pushed there. “Um, YEEEES. THERE. YEP. You got it. Okay. THAT’s it.” And I wondered why, with all my positive affirmation, she needed to go on pushing that spot as if it was the Staples Easy Button and she had run out of Post-Its and copy paper on the same day.
She called another doctor. They conferred in Korean. Second doctor proceeded to push The Belly and confirm that it was indeed painful, “Here?” I just groaned. I thought, “Dang, I’ve got a really bad case of gastritis. Maybe they’ll give me something for that.” And the doctor said, “It seems that you have acute appendicitis.” And, that, ladies and gentlemen is how this whole shenanigan began.
I proceeded to go back to school and wait for the boyfriend to come pick me up from work and take me to the hospital for tests and x-rays to make sure. That only took 5 hours. Then, I changed hospitals, going to the ER of one closer to his house so he and his mom could look after me.

Korean Hospital Rule #1: You must be hooked up to a drip. It doesn’t matter what you came in for. They hook you right up. They made me pee in the cup and then took a few x-rays, which allowed me to catch a quick glimpse of the amazing amount of fat I’ve managed to stack upon my rather petite bone structure. (A bit depressing for the Chubb-O.) Then they promptly hooked me up to not one, but two different drips. I was a mess of chords before they even cut me open! The coffee shop in the lobby looks like a medical forest with plastic baggy leaves hanging limply from short metal limbs. Outside the entrance, patients populate the sidewalks and breezeways, dragging their gangly baggage, a mess of blue hospital -issue fashion-wear and long, snaking tubes curving around legs, arms, and torsos.

I had surgery Wednesday night. I think I came out of the recovery room and into a regular room around 1 a.m. Thursday morning. I was tired, but I was on my back, so sleep didn’t come quickly or comfortably. I dozed a bit, bothered by the snores of the other patients in my shared room. If I didn’t move, I was okay. I waited for morning, because when morning comes, THEY FEED YOU! Woohoo. I hadn’t had anything since Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t even food, just a small coffee from the Family Mart. So, needless to say, this Chubb-O was in a serious state of Hungry. Not to mention thirsty because I hadn’t had anything to drink since that coffee either. Kenny arrived to replace his mom as my caretaker around 9 or so. (All night, I just asked his mom what time it was.) And that is when The Cycle started:

The Cycle: You Must Pass Gas ASAP. This is the only thing of any concern to your doctors. This is the only question they will ask you in English. The rest of the stuff, they blab to your boyfriend’s mother or your boyfriend in Korean. In order to Pass Gass, you must “try ambulation,” i.e. walking. In order to walk, you must get up from your hospital bed and move around without puking your guts up. In order to not puke your guts up, you should have a bit of food on your stomach before they pump your body full of antibiotics. In order to have a bit of food on your stomach, you have to eat something. But, going all Catch-22, you can’t have anything to eat until you Pass Gas.

I have never tried to fart so hard in my life. I have also never been nauseous for hours on end before. Kenny tried to get me to stand up. I did everything super slow, maybe taking 2 or more minutes at each stage before making it to my feet. 6 times we repeated this process of me finally standing up and then promptly lying back down before I doused everything in whatever it was my stomach could find to reject. I only actually threw up once, and I definitely thought I would then pass out from the pain in The Belly. Poor Belly. (Poorer Bellybutton. They did a laproscopic procedure to remove my appendix instead of just cutting me open on the side. They went through my Precious Bellybutton and in two other tiny spots under the waistband of my low-rise undies.) After trying this a few more times, without throwing up, I finally stood up and walked to the bathroom and quickly sat on the toilet. I peed. I waited. I waited some more. Nope. No gas. I returned to my bed defeated by my digestive system’s refusal to cooperate.

A few hours later, I felt something. I felt something moving in there. I felt that perhaps it was slowly shifting towards daylight, towards the outside world. So I focused, people. I willed whatever it was to GO! GO! GO! And the world’s smallest puff of air escaped. I have never rejoiced over a fart before, except maybe for the ones expertly detonated in the vicinity of my sister’s face, and or the dinner table. Kenny ran to tell the nurse. He came back with a look on his face that wasn’t good. He said, “It didn’t count.”
“WHAT! I worked so hard for that fart! Who is she to say it didn’t count? She wasn’t even here!” Oh the Rage! But it had to be more than one. Apparently gas is more plural than I thought. And it should be lengthy. A true escape. Ugh.

Korean Hospital Rule #2: Your Farts Have to Measure Up to Proper Fart Standards. It can’t be just any gas that decides to pass your way.

I eventually did “Pass” the test. But I didn’t break The Cycle until they took me off the antibiotics. I would be okay for a few hours and then I would just feel awful for a few more hours. Friday night I started to feel good. I sat up and walked around more and watched some TV. My Kiwi came to see me and I am convinced that talking and visiting with her is what propelled me toward recovery. I was discharged on Saturday morning.

The End? Of course not. This is only Part I!


  1. Weird... and I used to get yelled at for not being able to "contain" my farts when I was little. Haha - funny side note. My roommate could pass that test with flying colors. She farts more than any person I know.

  2. omg that is hilarious.

    i'm sorry to laugh cuz i'm sure it was terrible feeling nauseous for hours on end.

  3. I'm missing the part about how gas relates to appendicitis, but I'm laughing too hard to really think about it.

    I think I'd be terribly embarrassed trying to fart in front of my boyfriend (or his mom!) And him going to discuss it with the nurse? Nononononono. A lady does not pass gas, and if she does, she does it discreetly and alone. But maybe that's just me...An old-fashioned secret farter.

    Do Koreans feel the same way about their fluffs, or is it not any big deal over there? Are there cultural differences when it comes to gas?

    Good to know that you're feeling better. Can't wait for the next installment of "As the appendix turns"!

  4. hey. this is nichole, from the book club. way to pass that gas! who knew?

  5. I had a tonsillectomy here in Korea in 2004 so I can empathize with your hospital posts. The doctors wanted me to stay for three nights, post-op, but after the first night of noise and hubbub I knew there was no way I was staying a second night, much less a third.

    I don't remember a focus on flatulence, so apparently that's specific to appendectomies. Way to break that wind.

    Good work on your blog, too. Keep it up.

  6. Actually, your experience sounds pretty similar to what patients must do post-appendectomy in America, but it must've been very hard to not have been able to communicate with the hospital staff well or fully know what was going on. The reason it was so important for you to pass gas is because the sedatives, etc. used to put you "out of it" for the surgery also have a paralyzing effect on your intestines. So, in order to make sure your digestive system is working again, the nurse has to listen to your stomach for bowel sounds and needs to document that you can adequately pass gas, a good indication of digestive functioning. The longest it should take is around 8 hours, but it sometimes takes longer.
    Once you've passed gas and proven that your stomach is "fully awake" (in a sense), it is safe to finally eat and drink; otherwise, trying to ingest anything too soon before your digestive system is fully functioning can make you nauseous and may make you vomit. Not fun. :(

    Anyways, thanks for the blog posts! I've enjoyed reading through them, it's pretty cool to see Korea from the viewpoint of an American girl since I'm also planning to travel there in the future!
    Also, I'm really glad everything worked out and you're healthy now. Hang in there, FIGHTING! :]


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