Sunday, March 16, 2014

hip pain

Perhaps it's finally time to talk about something that seems to have happened around two weeks ago, and has been with me ever since: my left hip's ball-and-socket joint has me in agony. I have no idea why. One night, I went to sleep problem-free; the next morning I woke up, and my hip was killing me. It felt (and still feels) almost as if the femur were somehow dislocated, as if it had popped loose during the night. Range of motion has become limited, and approaching those limits (by trying to flex my leg as far as possible) is now very painful. Sitting or lying down in any position has also become painful; the downward tug of gravity ensures that the femur seems never quite fully inserted into the hip joint. Walking has turned into limping, and I've begun having flashbacks to 2008, when I was using one of my adjustable walking sticks as a cane to get around. I also have fantasies about lying on my back with my feet together, sole to sole and drawn up close to my crotch, and having someone stand on my knees, thereby popping my left femur's head back into place or ruining it entirely.

Several days ago, while I was shopping at a local grocery, the hip pain became unbearable, so bad that I even had trouble breathing, and it suddenly occurred to me that I could just take some aspirin. I went home and downed six. Within about half an hour, the pain went mostly away, leaving only a faint ache. I've been self-medicating ever since, which gives rise to two fears: (1) aspirin can cause stomach ulcers as well as bleeding from various orifices (I had my first bloody nose the other day), and (2) too much aspirin might lead to a tolerance for aspirin, meaning I'll eventually need to take more of it—and more frequently—to blunt the pain.*

So I've resolved that this coming week will be my final week of coping with this alone. As much as I hate to put myself at the mercy of Korean health care, I'm going to hit a clinic this coming Friday and see what can be done. I saw my supervisor and asked him whether we profs needed some sort of insurance card (as I did when I worked at Sookmyung); he said no—it's all done via one's alien-registration number now. He also mentioned two or three halfway decent clinics that I could hit, so I'll be choosing one at random and hitting it.

More than anything, I find this situation angering and frustrating. We all take walking for granted, but now, for me, every step forward involves labor. I can no longer walk to campus as fast as I used to; 15-minute walks are now closer to 20 minutes in length. I must constantly watch the time, and my pain levels, so that I know when to take my next dose of aspirin. Because the aspirins' effect lasts only four hours or so, I wake up in pain and have to fight through it just to shower and dress and prep for the day. Hiding my limp from my colleagues has met with varying levels of success; two coworkers noticed me limping and asked what was wrong. Being the confessional guy that I am, I told them.

I'm not looking forward to visiting a clinic. I've read too many nightmare stories from fellow expat bloggers about what it's like to be "treated" at a Korean hospital. The local hospital in Hayang is a fairly dirty, run-down, unsanitary-looking place with outdated equipment and antiquated procedures. I didn't see any infection-control protocols in place, although I imagine that some hospitals are better than others in this regard. My supervisor assures me that the international clinics he recommended are decent by comparison. We'll see. This coming Friday, I'll limp into a clinic and, I hope, get an X-ray to find out what the hell is going on with my hip joint. I'd rule out arthritis right away: the pain came way too suddenly and intensely, and arthritis normally builds up slowly over time. That doesn't leave me with many pleasant options.

Cross those fingers and tentacles.

*During my 600-mile walk, I began taking loads of ibuprofen to keep down the excruciating pain of my ruined knee. Like aspirin, ibuprofen is an NSAID, i.e., a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. NSAIDs can be effective, but they can also make the patient bleed. During my walk, I began bleeding from both my nose and my ass, which was, as you can imagine, a less-than-ideal situation. By the time the bleeding was getting bad, I had decided that simple rest might be a better solution to the pain problem. Here in Hayang, however, I can't simply rest: I have to walk 15 minutes to class every day, then 15 minutes back home again. There's always pressure on my hip joint.



John McCrarey said...

Geez. I can't believe you let it go this long. Good luck at the clinic. Don't be surprised if they want to hospitalize you. That seems to be the default medical action in Korea.

Hope you are better soon!

Charles said...

I know you've posted about the health care system before, and I've probably commented, but every time I see something like this I feel it necessary to provide a different perspective, that of someone who has had positive experiences with the health care system here.

I don't know what sort of hospitals all these expat bloggers go to, but their experience has not been mine at all. If I could give any sort of advice, it would be to not go to a small hospital (larger university hospitals seem to be the best), and maybe be wary of clinics. (Actually, I'm not really sure what a clinic is--are you talking about a 정형외과 or something like that?)

Kevin Kim said...




Sperwer recommended a great dentist to me some years back, so I too have had positive experiences with certain aspects of medical care in Korea. But I've heard the horror stories of one or two colleagues at Sookmyung; I've read about Jeff Harrison's travails after his motorcycle accident (in which the leg brace bolted against his femur actually snapped while inside his leg), and I've read about Holden Beck's current hospital woes (he still has no clue when he'll be leaving the hospital). I've also experienced my own dubious "health care" from Sookmyung's on-campus clinic, and on the whole, none of this has been reassuring.

To be fair, and as I've mentioned before, it's not as though US health care is perfect. Mom, for example, got a raw deal on some occasions, and it's only because we, her family members, were around to see the fuck-ups as they happened that she was saved from injury or worse. Her major MRSA infection—the one that landed her in surgery again when the bug spread to her brain—was definitely the result of poor infection control by American medical professionals.

So I'm willing to acknowledge that health care in Korea might not always be so nightmarish, and health care in America might not always be perfect, but given the data I've passively gathered, I'm not encouraged about my options on the peninsula. Big Western guys, in particular, have a hard time in Korean hospitals. Imagine the problem we have finding proper shoes at a Korean bowling alley, then multiply that times a hundred—gurneys, hospital gowns, needles and tubes and straps and pressure cuffs and all the rest.

Anonymous said...

Addofio here.

May you get the right doctor, and an accurate diagnosis. It sounds a bit like sciatica to me, but could equally be a bone thing--and treatments would vary widely for those two types of issues. So if you have any qualms at all about the diagnosis--go for a second opinion. In any case--good luck. I'm impressed that you are maintaining the level of thought and performance in your teaching that you exhibit in your blog in the presence of chronic acute pain--me, I'd be curled up in a corner biting the hands of anyone who came near.

Charles said...

Hmm. Good point about being a big Western guy--hadn't considered that one. As you know, I kind of blend in here in terms of body type.

I've had fairly benign experiences with school clinics, but then again I've never gone to them for anything serious. I think in the end the choice of institutions is very important. Some of it is luck of the draw, of course, but somehow I've managed to avoid the less savory options. I've never been in a hospital, for example, where cleanliness was a readily apparent issue. I don't doubt that there are hospitals out there where this is not the case, though.

Still, what I think this boils down to is an equation that has your fear of poor Korean health care on the one hand and your current pain and discomfort on the other. One is a possibility, but the other is a certainty. Yes, I know that we guys are taught to tough it out, but the older I get the less inclined I am to just see how things go.

How helpful is the Korean staff at your school? Maybe you could do an informal poll regarding the medical options at your disposal.

Kevin Kim said...


To belatedly answer your two questions:

"(Actually, I'm not really sure what a clinic is--are you talking about a 정형외과 or something like that?)"

My supervisor simply called it an "international clinic" in English; he was referring to the international clinic that's apparently at Daegu Catholic U. Hospital. I assume such a clinic has, at the very least, an X-ray machine.

How helpful is the Korean staff at your school? Maybe you could do an informal poll regarding the medical options at your disposal.

Always helpful, but not always reliable. I could ask around, just for shits and giggles.

Charles said...

Shits and giggles are probably the two most underrated aspects of maintaining good health.

On clinics: Ah, so it's a place where furriners go to get their boils lanced?

Good luck, at any rate. Here's hoping you end up on the positive side of the equation.