Monday, September 12, 2011

August Rush: Voice in the Wilderness

I eventually had to stop applying for English teaching jobs – at least temporarily. After several days of problems mid-August I’d ended up with a sore throat so bad that it somehow managed to spread as far as my shoulders. That was a new experience. After two hospital visits where I’d been unsuccessfully treated for some kind of chest infection, I went to a specialist ENT hospital to be quickly diagnosed with tonsillitis, and it wasn’t long before I had a second opinion from another specialist confirming this.

I lost my voice almost completely just three days after my web development job interview, and I really don’t know how I managed to get through that in the first place. I was really under the weather around that time, but I don’t think it particularly impacted my unsuccessful interview, which I think I largely failed on my own merits.

Still, it’s no fun being in an interview thinking that you’d talk more if you felt you were physically able to. I’d gone to the local pharmacist with the notion of buying something to get me through it but the best she could offer were some kind of cough sweets that I’d had before and lack the edge necessary to actually do anything. This seems to be a bit of an underlying theme with me in Korea – the kind of powerful over-the-counter medications we get in England either aren’t available here or actually seem to be illegal (like ‘Vicks’ for example, which I’ve gathered is banned in Korea as well as Japan). Maybe the medical profession just wants you to go to the hospital instead, but it's a pity.

My voice came back and then went again the next week, so I had to accept that not only was I not getting better, but also that it was clearly absurd to be trying to get interviews for teaching jobs when there seemed no prospect of being able to speak at them, unless I could pioneer an entirely new category of occupation here – that of the English-teaching mime. And just to put the icing on the cake, the many medications I was put on caused such intense drowsiness I was even unable to stay awake at my desk. Not that they warned me I’d be practically losing consciousness when I took them – it needed a visit to another pharmacist armed with the pills for them to confirm that yes, in fact that might happen.

But I was not a good patient, and not just because of the language barrier. I heard the same phrase from each doctor - “the most important thing you can do is rest”. In Korea. Right. Seriously. It isn’t that kind of culture here and I’m not sure Koreans even know how to. And in that respect, I’m just like them – perhaps I’ve found my spiritual home.

A further complication arose when my ENT doctor went away for a conference. I don’t know what it is about Korean doctors, but they often seem to be away from their jobs, on holiday, stuck in traffic, or on strike. Maybe I’m just unlucky but I seem to be forever hospital-hopping these days, although at least Korea is a country which actively supports that. Perhaps it has to.

So I finished up in a rather dingy little clinic with a singular aged doctor - but my wife assured me that he was ‘famous’ locally, which is presumably why he didn’t feel the need to trouble himself with details like décor and the customary young women on reception, instead apparently opting to employ their mother, who also transpired to double up as the ass-injection nurse. But by this time I didn’t really care about the image of the place because I was beginning to think my tonsils and I were not destined to be ending the year together.

The old doctor did give me some new pills - and they seemed to work more effectively than anything I'd had before. A few days later, my sore throat returned and voice went again, but this time, as it's the Chuseok holiday period, I'm just going to have to live with it. Hospitals everywhere, but no cure in sight.

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