If you've seen HBO's TV series "Game of Thrones," you'll recall that Theon Greyjoy's story arc goes from delusions of grandeur to abject misery: Greyjoy, a ward of the Stark family who is lodged at Winterfell as a sort of guest/hostage/adopted son to keep his father, Balon Greyjoy, in line, seizes an opportunity to take Winterfell in the multi-king chaos that follows the death of King Robert Baratheon and the beheading of patriarch Eddard "Ned" Stark. Theon captures Winterfell through trickery, using only a couple dozen men to do so. Later on, Winterfell is taken over by the treacherous Bolton clan. Roose Bolton's unhinged son Ramsay Bolton straps Theon to a giant wooden X, then begins torturing Theon using the Boltons' favorite method: flaying. Ramsay starts with one of Theon's fingertips. HBO is normally not prudish about bloody violence and gore, but for whatever reason (some director finally decided that "Let the viewers use their imaginations" was a good aesthetic strategy), we never really get a decent glimpse of what, exactly, Ramsay is doing to Theon's fingertip that is causing Theon to scream and writhe as he does.
I had a little taste of fingertip torture today. I went to the internal-med clinic in the building where I work, filled out a first-time patient form and signed a private-info waiver, then sat and waited for my name to be called. I don't think I waited more than twenty minutes before my name came up, and I was directed into a side room where a stocky old doctor sat. He told me to sit down, then asked me what the problem was. I explained that my finger had gotten infected a few days ago, but that I didn't know how it had happened. I showed him the finger, and the doc made a sound that was a cross between a surprised "Oh!" and a stern "Tut-tut." (Imagine the interjection "Oh!" being said in a mildly scolding tone.) The doc told me to go wait in a different side room, so I gathered my things and moved.
In the new room, a nurse beckoned for me to sit on the cushioned clinical table. I looked around: everything seemed old, run-down, and a bit grungy. The nurse puttered around; at one point I heard her working with a whirring centrifuge, and I knew that whatever she was doing wasn't relevant to me: I had given her no blood samples to separate.
In time, the old doctor lumbered into the room, and suddenly everything got serious. The doc took out one of those peanut-shaped metal trays that you normally use to catch major fluid spillage, and that gave me an idea of what was about to happen. He motioned for me to hold out my hand; the nurse, meanwhile, had stopped puttering and was waiting for the doctor to tell her what he needed. He asked her for scissors; she gave him a rather evil-looking pair that looked like the curve-bladed cosmetic scissors my mother used to have.
Scissors in hand, the doc asked the nurse to hand him wad after wad of soaked cotton balls. He swabbed my fingertip repeatedly with them; I noticed, from the way the scissors tweezed the cotton, that those curved blades weren't sharp. The thought, Is he gonna tear into my finger with that? was just forming in my head when the doc stopped swabbing and started tearing right into the pus-filled part of my finger with those blunt scissors.
It wasn't painful at first, maybe because of the initial shock. It could also be that the pressure of the pus buildup had thinned the fingertip skin to the point where the skin was ripe for fairly painless ripping. And that's what this was: ripping, not cutting. The scissors darted into my finger, again and again, like a dog's long, bloody muzzle lunging and digging into a freshly killed carcass. The first bite of the scissors didn't hurt, but the next one did, as did the next, and the next, and the next.
There was a spectacular amount of pus at first. "Wow...a lot came out!" I remarked, and the doc chuckled. The metal peanut-shaped tray was doing the work it had been designed for, catching all the off-white goo ejaculated by my throbbing, tumescent finger. "I should be videoing this for my friends!" I said, to which the doc responded with a disgusted "Huh?" After the pus came the blood. Given that the doc had basically ripped the side of my finger open, there was a good bit of bleeding. I suppose the wound needed to bleed clean before we went any further. Throughout all this, I kept silent, gritting my teeth in agony but realizing that things could have been a lot worse.
The doc began another interminable round of swabbing, gradually switching from drenched white cotton balls to cotton balls soaked in a dark-brown liquid that might have been iodine or tincture Merthiolate. He would sometimes press his swabs mercilessly into my fingertip, making me wince inwardly. I had to figure out how to position my tongue inside my mouth so as not to bite it. Eventually, the swabbing gave way to actual bandaging, which is when I finally began to feel some relief. He laid some iodine-soaked gauze over my finger, then set to wrapping it with regular gauze.
"Normally, I'd ask you to come back two days from now, but we can't because it'll be Sunday, so come back tomorrow," the doc said. I asked him what time to be there, and he said to come around 12:30. I also asked what I should do when I showered or needed to wash my hands. "Don't get the bandages wet," he said unhelpfully. Having worn a plaster cast when I had broken my wrist in grade school, I knew the drill regarding plastic bags, so I could figure out for myself what to do. "Have to write you a prescription," the doc sighed as he heaved his large self to his feet. With that, he left. I put on my coat and scarf, thanked the nurse, and went back to the front desk to pay for the session and receive my prescription. I took the prescription downstairs, got a single day's worth of medicine, then made my way up to my office, where I've been secretly typing up this lengthy entry like the naughty boy I am.
Is there any care in Korean health care? As I thought about what had happened, it occurred to me that, in the States, I'd have been given a local anesthetic, and the doc would have nimbly lanced the finger before squeezing out all the pus—none of this barbaric, canine-style ripping and tearing. Of course, my bill would also have been way higher: probably close to $200 instead of the mere $6 that I actually paid today. You get what you pay for, I suppose.
So I can look forward to visiting the old doc again tomorrow at lunch.
Great. I'm very excited.