Toe-tally Worth it: The Real Deal on Surgery in Korea

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Let me put your mind at ease if you’re contemplating surgery in South Korea and have concerns about the pandemic’s impact. I recently had foot surgery at Daegu’s Yeungnam University Medical Center and spent four days there. Everything went smoothly throughout my experience, from pre-operative preparations to the surgery and post-operative care. The hospital’s International Services Department assigned me an English-speaking aide who guided me through each step of the process. The medical staff provided attentive support, addressing my needs and ensuring my comfort. Despite the ongoing pandemic, the hospital implemented rigorous safety measures that greatly alleviated my worries.

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What I Learned from Having Surgery in South Korea

Yeungnam University Admission Information

Before you arrive, you will receive a briefing on what to expect during your Korean hospital stay. At this time, you can make a few selections designed to make your stay more comfortable. I was also required to sign a waiver about falling out of bed because that’s apparently a big problem in Korean hospitals. Luckily, it wasn’t a problem for me.

Some of the more notable instructions:

  • I would be Covid tested on the day of admittance
  • Whether you prefer Korean or Western food
  • What kind of anesthesia do you prefer, such as local or pain block
  • Whether you’d like to administer your own pain medications
  • Who will be your primary caregiver? This is always your spouse if married.
  • They provided linen and hospital gowns
  • We were also given a description and floor plan of my hospital room.
  • Additional info like visiting hours, meal times,  and convenience store locations.

What They Didn’t Tell Me

  • My Surgery Date
  • My husband was expected to stay in my room overnight to care for me after hours
  • How long I’d be in the hospital
  • A specific list of what to bring
  • I should remove the nail polish on my hands even though the surgery was on my foot (more on that later).

 Packing List

Here are the things I brought with me from home.

  • I brought a single sheet set, pillow, and comforter from home because they only provided a sketchy comforter and an uncased feather pillow.
  • Slippers & robe
  • Medications
  • Toiletries
  • Coffee, juice, & snack items
  • Notebook, pen, chargers for laptop, phone & Kindle
  • Underwear, towels, washcloths.

The Admittance Process

Streamlined for Americans

I received my surgery date two weeks in advance. My COVID-19 test was performed at 9 am the morning I was admitted, one day before the surgery on my foot was to take place. The testing site was a tent in the side parking lot of the hospital. A few hours later, I received a negative result and was admitted at 2 pm the same day.

The admittance process was extremely streamlined. I showed up, and the interpreter escorted me to my suite. I didn’t have to stop by hospital admissions or billing.

My Room at Yeungnam University Hospital

Not a Typical hospital room in Korea

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My hospital room was more like a suite in an extended-stay hotel. The room had a bed, private bath with Japanese toilet, and kitchen (with sink, fridge, microwave, and hot and cold water filter, my own router, desk with WIFI and computer, a flat-screen TV, thermostat, two sofas and plenty of storage, some with locks.

I also had a flat-screen TV with cable. The room was spacious enough to include two sofas, one that folded into a bed, which I would later find out was for my husband.

I didn’t watch much TV during my stay because I also had WIFI with a dedicated router. So, I watched movies on my laptop. When bored, I played games on my Kindle or listened to music on my phone.

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4 Days in a Korean Hospital

Less than an hour after admissions, my doctor showed up with three interns. He informed us that he expected me to stay for seven days. We were shocked. I had back surgery last year, and that was an outpatient procedure. And my doctor wanted me to stay a week to have a bone spur removed from my big toe.

I found out later that this isn’t uncommon. Hospital stays are longer at Korean hospitals because they combine rest and recuperation. It was pretty comical to watch him and my husband negotiate back and forth for a shorter and shorter hospital stay; thankfully, my husband could get it down to 4 days as long as there were no complications.

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The Extra Bed

After the doctors left, I met the nurses, noticing they were all quite young. It seemed like they might be students at the University. However, their English wasn’t good enough for us to converse. That’s when we discovered my husband was supposed to stay with me at night. The nurses don’t help me with things like going to the bathroom or adjusting the thermometer at night. It was my husband’s job to take care of those things. They gave him a parking pass and a badge to access the elevator and the ward, which are locked at night.

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I’ve asked my Korean friends if they’ve ever stayed in a room like mine, and they all said no. We think the extended stay and the large hospital suite resulted from our great medical insurance, but we’ll never know.

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Meals

Western Option

You can choose between Western or Korean-style meals. There is also a KFC, 7-Eleven, a little market and restaurant, and Twosome Coffee.

Honestly, the aspect that worried me the most during my hospital stay was the food. While I appreciate some Korean dishes, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to trying new foods, especially in Korea. So, when I learned that a western food option was available, I felt relieved.

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However, my relief quickly faded when I received my first meal. Most of the meals were either a Korean interpretation of Western food using Korean ingredients or poorly executed inedible dishes, like hockey puck-like patties or those “sandwiches” consisting only of hamburger buns, lettuce, and mayo.

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Thankfully, there were a few meals that I did enjoy. I was also grateful for the fresh fruit and the food my husband brought me daily, which helped make my hospital meals more enjoyable.

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Some Memorable Events

Late Night Tests, Temperature Checks & Bed Pans

The nights at the hospital were quite challenging, and every night felt the same. Anyone who has spent time in a hospital knows how difficult it is to get proper rest, and Korean hospitals are no exception.

At Yeungnam, a university hospital, a nurse would come in every 15 minutes to check my temperature or blood pressure. Then, like clockwork, they’d return and check my blood pressure with the manual sleeve. I’ll never know why they didn’t bring both of them each time.

After my husband left for the evening, another nurse would wake me to inquire about his return time. IT APPEARED TO ANNOY HER when I mentioned he would be back tomorrow. To confirm my uncertainty, I received a call around 10 pm from my interpreter. Then, about an hour later, she called again to inform me that there would be some late-night tests. I was escorted to the X-ray department, where a technician filmed my walk. I finally returned to bed by 1 am.

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Guardian Duties

Considering the waiver I signed to prevent falls from the bed, the nurses were cautious about me getting out of bed, especially without my husband present to assist me. They provided a plastic bedpan, but I didn’t feel comfortable using it, so I occasionally sneaked out of bed with the IV still attached to my arm. Imagine having to sneak out of the bed to pee, lol. Steven offered to stay, but the sofa was incredibly hard, and he was already experiencing back issues at the time. I didn’t want him to worsen his condition, so I sent him home each night, knowing it would upset the nurses. But a side-eye can’t kill you, so it didn’t bother me much.

Nail Polish

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Remember the nail polish? Well, I needed to remove the nail polish on my big toe. Unfortunately, it was gel. And I had the dickens of a time removing it late into the night using regular acetone Steven bought at the hospital store. I did it but wasn’t happy because I damaged my nails.

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Day of Surgery

Nerve Block vs. General Anesthesia

I chose to have a nerve block instead of general anesthesia for my surgery, as my husband had researched and found that it could speed up the healing process. A nerve block involves injecting medication to block pain signals from specific nerves. One well-known type of nerve block is an epidural. The procedure requires the use of a needle, often guided by a fluoroscope, ultrasound, or CT scan. In my case, the doctor used a low-level electrical shock to locate the nerve and administered two shots: one in the pelvic area and another behind the back of the knee.

I wore a black eye mask during the surgery to shield my eyes from the bright lights. I remember feeling scared as several people spoke primarily in Korean in the room. However, my doctor tried to explain each step of the process to me beforehand.

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The nerve block was painful, and my leg jerked uncontrollably as the doctor located it. I couldn’t help but cry. At that moment, at one point, one of the young doctors actually held my hand until the surgery was over. I will always remember his kindness.

Steven’s decision was right; I didn’t experience the drowsiness typically associated with general anesthesia. And I felt fully mobile almost immediately after the surgery. Despite the pain from the nerve block, it was well worth it in the end.

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After Surgery on the Korean Economy

Days 2-4 & Aftercare

The remainder of my hospital stay was relatively uneventful. I was grateful that my girlfriend, Robyn, could visit me during visiting hours.

The nurses monitored my blood pressure and temperature every 15 minutes using manual and automatic blood pressure sleeves.

After the surgery, I was given a walking boot, but the doctor advised me to avoid putting weight on my feet for a few weeks. The intern who had held my hand during the surgery visited me to clean and change my bandages. He also instructed me to clean and rebandage my foot once I was back home. They ensured that I had ample iodine and bandages to take home. Additionally, my interpreter kindly picked up my prescription from the pharmacy.

To assist with mobility, the doctor prescribed a wheelchair for two weeks. It was delivered to my hospital room. And moments before being released, I received instructions on properly using it.

My follow-up appointments were scheduled for two weeks and six months after the surgery. Additionally, I began a series of 10 physical therapy sessions, which I will share more about in a separate post.

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Address:

Yeungnam University
170, Hyeonchung-ro, Nam-gu, Daegu

http://kko.to/TsZKPr5f0

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