Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Making and then fixing foot problems

Taking a kimbap break on our danpoong
Not exactly sure why, but last week my foot started aching. Specifically, the arch of my foot, possibly from wearing cheap ballet flats with no support and even though I have awesome sneakers, running at the gym probably didn't help. I was then dumb enough to go ahead with hiking in freezing weather a week ago last Saturday to Mt Kangcheong in Sunchang, Cheollabuk-do (which was beautiful and great fun) to see the autumn leaves. BTW, on a cultural note, just to show that I do do cultural stuff too, Koreans call this kind of outing danpoong (단풍) and because you only get the most brilliant leaves for a few weeks, weekends tend to be extremely busy and every mountain is usually swarming with busloads of Korean ajummas (a ferocious breed of middle-aged or at least middle-aged looking ladies) and ajosshis (middle-aged to elderly men) in a variety of very impressive hiking gear, various stages of boisterousness and usually for the men, some degree of drunkeness.  There are also the usual family groups with their kids, tourists and school excursion groups, so it's not a good idea to go if you aren't prepared to occasionally have to push your way through a crowd and be elbowed in return, but everyone usually has a good time looking at the pretty colours and if you get a bottle of makkolli (a kind of cloudy grain alcohol that tastes like a mix of beer and yakult) like we did you don't tend to feel the cold as much :) And also, if you make everyone on your bus sing karaoke for 3 hours on the way back to Cheongju like we did, it's a lot of fun even if you aren't very sporty!

So consequently, even though I had a great time admiring the colours of the leaves with my friends, I spent the rest of the weekend, and the first couple of work days limping around like a lame duck. As my English lab is on the fourth floor in a different wing of my school, this means a lot of stairs. Up until Tuesday, I put off going to see a doctor because I didn't think it was that bad ... and I didn't want to be sent to an acupuncturist (I hate needles) or made to take some awful tasting and horribly expensive Oriental medicine which would be the normal Korean course of action for a sore foot. I think my co-teachers got a bit worried about me hobbling around though, since my school is like an Arctic wind tunnel, and the heating hasn't been turned on for any of the classrooms yet, so on Tuesday they ganged up and organised getting me to an orthopaedic doctor (orthopaediatrist???).

And it actually turned out to be pretty interesting! True to form in any country, the consultation with the doctor was predictably short (less the 5 minutes face time). After looking at an x-ray of my foot, the good doc agreed that it was probably just a strained muscle, gave me a prescription and said goodbye. All pretty routine, right? Well that's where it got interesting - as well as some pills, my prescription included something that the teacher who'd brought me (Mr Lee) translated as "massage". Ok. Sounded good. So upstairs we headed... where there was what I guess was the physiotherapy centre. Mr Lee had to head back to school for class, and sadly I had to miss out on my class with the ... shall we say, most rascally and lowest level 2nd year girls' class with the worst attitudes? (Normally that phrase would be replaced by one word, beginning with a 'b', and well justified for a class where a student used the 'f' word to my face twice the week before.)  So somehow I didn't feel too upset about missing a class with them. :D
Heat pad sandwich with my foot

Anyway, I settled in for my "massage". (Here you'll have to excuse my complete lack of knowledge about both medicine and machinery.) This began with thirty minutes of lying down in a quiet room with a hot compress on my foot. Napping optional ^_^ Then a lovely nurse who didn't laugh too much at my knee-high stripey yellow witch socks or at my Korean name (which is very old-fashioned and for some reason was decided to be my real name for my health insurance here) came in, took off the compress and squirted some sort of anti-inflammatory blue ultrasonic gel over my foot, and massaged it in with this weird kind of ultrasonic machine (I seriously have no idea what it was!). Once that was done and the excess gel wiped off, she then attached some gel pads to my foot and hooked me up to a kind of neuro-stimulator gadget thing which sent series of gentle electronic pulses through my foot while a heat lamp thingy kept it warm.
My neighbour with some sort of butt problem.

As you can see in the picture to the left, for deeper intramuscular injuries, there was also the option to get some sort of sucker things attached, presumably the electronic version of the Asian practice of cupping. And yes, that's a sneaky photo of the lady who was in the other bed in my stall getting her butt cupped, just because I thought it was a funny picture. The nurse was very professional when she had to massage in the gel and the lady pulled her pants down further and told her that the pain was 'further in the middle' but I think I saw her sigh silently ㅋㅋ

Mr Lee then came back to collect me and took me to the pharmacist to get my medicine.

Just a quick note for those of my dear readers not in Korea, when you collect a prescription in Korea, they give you each dose of your medicine individually packaged in little, well, packets, usually only for a few days at a time to encourage you to come back for a check-up. This is great because it's really convenient and also keeps prices cheap because you don't have to buy a whole box.
Foot-twitching machine

Heat lamp
The teachers at my school were very relieved that I was getting treatment, and after a good night's sleep, I was very impressed at how much better my foot felt! Two more days of treatment and the pain was virtually gone! So much so that I elected to choose partying over prudence and wore heels for two nights straight. Feeling slightly less spruce today so I may have to go back later in the week. But nevertheless, the detrimental effect of my own determination and the seductive lure of a pair of very beautiful boots aside, I was thoroughly impressed with Korean orthopaedics! Oh and the best bit - cost! Extremely low (by Australian standards).  Even without health insurance, Korean consultation fees and prescriptions are extremely cheap.
pulse machine generator whatsit

Prepare to be amazed:
X-ray: 70 000 won (about $60)
Doctor's consultation fee per visit including 'massage': 2300 won (about $2) each time -> 3 days, 7200 won (about $6.80)
Prescription (6 days of medicine): 4600 won (about $4)

Yes. All in all, I paid less than $80 for a week of specialist treatment, most of which was the x-ray. Korea - you rock.

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