For most foreigners coming to Jeju to teach English, their first visit to a hospital is for the mandatory health check. Fresh off the plane, the jet-lagged “patient” is led through a series of tests at Cheju Halla Hospital, from peeing in a cup and a stripsearch chest X-ray to a blood test for HIV, and for women, a bust measurement. No cue what that last one is for.
I recently had the chance to visit both Cheju Halla Hospital in Shinjeju and the newly opened Cheju National University Hospital. It was not a courtesy call, but I was treated courteously.
Both hospitals feature designated foreigner clinics, with English speaking nurses and doctors. The foreigner’s clinic at Cheju Halla Hospital is located on the third floor. I recommend taking the stairs, unless you don’t mind the possibility of sharing a tiny elevator with a post-op patient on a gurney, complete with a nurse, IV drip and several family members.
It was a severe back pain that brought me to the hospital this time, and even though I had no appointment, I was quickly shown through the frosted glass doors and into the clinic. After a brief paperwork session I was shown in to Dr. Kim Woo-jin’s office.
While westerners are used to being taken to an examination room where they are told to disrobe, put on a paper gown and wait for the doctor, here, you go to the doctor’s office and he is waiting for you. That’s kind of nice.
Unlike western clinics, doctors here are less likely to give a hands-on examination. Dr. Kim asked me a series of questions about my symptoms and made a diagnosis without touching me or even looking at my back.
A polite gentleman in a suit then ushered me downstairs to the payment desk, where I paid 14,000 won for the exam, then to another desk where I was issued a prescription. He then showed me the way to the pharmacy, which is located behind the hospital.
Medications here are dispensed in a candy-like string of individual dose packets. Very convenient, but be sure to ask the doctor in advance to write out the names in English, as there is no English labeling or instructions on the packets. It’s up to you to decide if you are comfortable taking these medications. Be an informed consumer.
The next evening I was still in intense pain, so a friend escorted me to the brand new Cheju National University Hospital, located on the main road to the university, past the Ara Primary School intersection. This friend had visited the CNU hospital before, and left in tears when she couldn’t find anyone who spoke English to help her. A desk for “foreigners/handicapped” was left unmanned. Not a good sign for the multi-million won, “foreigner friendly” hospital.
My experience was better, as I went directly the emergency room (helpfully located near the funeral home). My friend noted that there was no soap on the waiting room restroom.
The emergency room was one big open room, with a variety of patients lying on gurneys waiting for assistance. I stared at a spot of blood on the floor while I sat stiffly and waited for the doctor.
The nurses and doctor were very kind, although they spoke little English. After an X-ray and shot in the hip for the pain, I was given another packet of pills and sent on my way. Cost: 82,000 won, without insurance. It would have been half that with insurance.
While navigating the Jeju medical system without an interpreter is possible, I highly recommend taking a Korean friend along. This is one time when you don’t want your message to be lost in translation.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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