Are you thinking about having surgery in Korea? Are you concerned about the impact the pandemic might have on your care? Well, wonder no more. I had surgery and spent 4 days at Yeungnam University Medical Center. Here is what I experienced before, during, and after surgery in Korea.
Yeungnam University Admission Information
Instructions Prior to Surgery
Before I arrived, I received a briefing on what to expect during my Korean hospital stay. At this time, I was able to make a few selections designed to make my stay more comfortable.
In addition, I was required to sign a waiver about falling out of bed because apparently, that’s a big problem in Korean hospitals. This is the information that I received.
Some of the more special instructions:
- I would be Covid tested on the day of admittance
- I was able to choose between western and Korean food
- There were options for anesthesia, such as local or pain block, and I could choose the one I preferred.
- It was possible to choose whether I’d like to administer my own pain medications.
- My primary caregiver would be responsible for my welfare (this is always your spouse if married, Korean or not).
- Linen and hospital gowns would be provided by the hospital.
- We were also given a description and floor plan of my hospital room.
- Additional info like visiting hours, meal times, and convenience store locations were also provided.
What They Didn’t Tell Me
- My Surgery Date
- How long I’d be in the hospital
- That my husband was expected to stay in my room overnight to care for me after hours
- A specific list of what to bring
- That I should remove the nail polish on my hands even though the surgery was on my foot (more on that later).
What I Brought From Home
- I brought a single sheet set, pillow, and comforter from home because they only provided a sketchy comforter and uncased feather pillow.
- Slippers & robe
- Coffee, juice, & snack items
- Notebook, pen, chargers for laptop, phone & kindle
- Underwear, towels, washcloths.
The Admittance Process
Streamlined from the American Perspective
I received my surgery date two weeks in advance. And my Covid-19 test was performed at 9 am the morning I was admitted, one day before the surgery on my foot was to take place. The testing site was a tent in the side parking lot of the hospital. I received a negative result a few hours later and was admitted at 2 pm the same day.
The admittance process was extremely streamlined. I showed up, and the interpreter escorted me to my suite.
My Room at Yeungnam University Hospital
Not a Typical hospital room in Korea
My hospital room was more like a suite in an extended-stay hotel. The room included a kitchen (with microwave, fridge, hot and cold filtered water), a private bath (with a Japanese toilet), a desk, and a computer.
I also had a flat-screen TV with cable. The room was spacious enough to include two sofas, one that folded down into a bed which I would later understand was by design.
I didn’t watch much TV because I also had WIFI with a dedicated router too. So I watched movies on my laptop, played games on my kindle, or listened to music on my phone. As an American, I was completely shocked. I’m not sure even VIPs get hospital rooms like this in the US.
How I Spent 4 Days in a Korean Hospital
Less than an hour later, my doctor should up with three interns in tow. He informed us that he expected me to stay for seven days. We were shocked. I had back surgery last year in America. It was a much more complicated procedure, but I left the doctor’s office right after surgery. And my doctor wanted me to stay a week? For a bone spur removal?
While shocking as an American, extended stays are not uncommon in Korea. Hospital stays for surgery in the Korean system are longer because it is also a time for rest. It was pretty comical to watch my doctor and my husband go back and forth negotiating a shorter and shorter hospital stay. Thankfully, my husband could get it down to 4 days as long as there were no complications.
Did you know that in Korea, your caregiver is also expected to be your nurse? Me either! In South Korea, there are no medical assistants (MAs). And so, you are expected to bring someone who can watch and care for you during your entire hospital stay. My husband received a parking pass and badge to give him 24hr access to the hospital. All of which would undoubtedly be a violation of America’s patient privacy laws.
We thought the extended stay and the large hospital suite resulted from our great medical insurance, but it actually wasn’t. It is all standard practice in Korea. One of my friends got her wisdom tooth removed and actually had the option to remain at a dental hospital overnight in a similar suite.
I have to be honest; the food is the thing that worries me the most. I am only semi adventurous when it comes to Korean food. There is a lot I don’t like. So when I found out I’d have a western option, I was pretty relieved.
That is until the first meal was delivered. Honestly, most of the meals were someone’s interpretation of western food using mostly Korean ingredients or executed so badly it was inedible, i.e., hockey puck patties or those “sandwiches” with hamburger buns, lettuce, and mayo– that’s it.
I enjoyed a couple of meals, but I was grateful for all the fresh fruit and the food my husband brought me every day.
Late Night Tests, Temperature Checks & Bed Pans
The first night was awful. Actually, every night was horrible. If you’ve spent any time in a hospital, you know it’s impossible to get any rest. Korean hospitals are no different.
Yeungnam is a university hospital every 15 minutes. A nurse came in to check my temperature or blood pressure.
After my husband left for the evening, another nurse woke me up to ask when he was coming back. When I said tomorrow, she seemed visibly irritated. If I wasn’t sure, I received a call around 10 pm from my interpreter, which confirmed it.
Then an hour later, she called back to let me know I would have some late-night test run. I was then escorted to an X-ray and a technician who filmed my gait (walk). Thankfully I was back in bed by 2 am.
I had to sign a waiver against falling out of bed, if you recall. The nurses didn’t want me to get out of bed at all, especially since my husband wasn’t there to assist me. They brought me a plastic bedpan that I wasn’t confident using, so I had to sneak out of bed to pee with the IV attached to my arm a few times.
And although Steven offered to stay, that sofa was so hard. He was having back issues, so I didn’t want him to make them worse. So I sent him home every night, knowing I would upset my nurses. And yes, they were upset.
Day of Surgery
Nerve Block vs General Anesthesia
I opted for nerve block over general anesthesia because Steven researched and determined that the healing process was faster.
A nerve block involves an injection of medicines that block the pain from specific nerves. Perhaps the best-known nerve block is an epidural. Nerve blocks require a needle, often along with a fluoroscope, ultrasound, or CT scan, to properly guide the needle. My doctor used a low-level electrical shock to locate the nerve. After two shots: one in the pelvic area and one behind the back of the knee, I was numb.
I wore a black eye mask because the lights in surgery were so bright. Although I was scared, I felt better after one of my male doctors held my hand. There were more than half a dozen people in the room speaking Korean. And even though I didn’t understand what was going on all around me, my doctor did his best to explain each step of the process to me beforehand.
The nerve block was painful. My leg jerked uncontrollably as he located the nerve. I began to cry. Then one of the interns came over and held my hand until the surgery was over. I will never forget that kindness.
Steven was right, and I did not experience the drowsy effects of general anesthesia. I felt fully awake shortly after the surgery. And the pain associated with the nerve block was well worth it.
After Surgery on the Korean Economy
Days 2-4 & Aftercare
The rest of my stay was pretty uneventful. My girlfriend Robyn was able to visit during visit hours, which I appreciated.
The nurses continued to check my blood pressure and temperature every 15 with manual gages.
During surgery, the intern who held my hand came by to clean and change my bandages. He also showed me how to clean and rebandage my foot when I got home. They also sent me home with plenty of iodine and bandages. My interpreter also picked up my prescription at the pharmacy. The doctor prescribed meds for inflammation, to prevent infection and pain. I am pleased to announce I didn’t have any pain.
The doctor didn’t want me to walk, so I got “da boot” for two weeks. Lol. And the doctor prescribed a wheelchair for two additional weeks. The wheelchair was delivered just before I was released.
My checkups have been two weeks and six months post-op. And I began ten sessions of physical therapy, which I’ll tell you all about in another post.
*Update– after 10 PT sessions, I regained most of the mobility in my toe. I have resumed hiking a few times per week and I am extremely happy with the overall experience.