Back in May of this year, I tore a ligament on my ankle while attempting to climb over a wall. The wall belonged to a nightclub on the German island of Sylt. The club was overcrowded and had bouncers out front guarding the entrance to the patio area. Since my friend had decided that this was the place to be for the night, we walked around the back. There, Mark proceeded to climb over the enclosure, which was so high I couldn’t look across. I tried to follow, but, just as I was about to pull myself on top of the wall, a bouncer walked past on the inside and spotted me. Jumping back down, I tore the ligament.
Why am I telling you this? After all the hiking I had done in Russia and lugging around backpack in Beijing, my ankle decided to act up again. Chinese wonder drugs didn’t do the job, neither did the sock which was sold as “ankle brace” in a pharmacy there. So, having reached Seoul, I decided to try the national health care system. Fellow travelers had raved to me about it.
The orthopedist operates a walk-in clinic, no appointment needed. I walked in at 10am on Friday, and was told that the doctor hadn’t shown up that morning. Could I return at 2pm? I took the chance to hobble around Gyeongbokgung Palace, the former royal residence. Most of the buildings have been destroyed through fire or war at some point in time, but have now been lovingly restored. However, to me it felt a bit too clean and disney-esque.
I went back to the clinic at 2:30, and was shown into the doctor’s consultation room at 2:33. The staff didn’t speak English very well and my Korean is non-existent, so our conversation didn’t really progress beyond me pointing at my swollen ankle and saying “brace, brace”, much like the voice in any airline safety briefing. However, I think I managed to communicate my predicament and that I thought that I needed something to stabilize my ankle. The doctor apparently didn’t agree. “Physical therapy!” was his verdict. He handed me a prescription in Korean and signalled me to follow a nurse.
In a separate room, I lay down on a bed and the physical therapy began. First up were lasers - I didn’t feel much, but they were funky to watch. Second, heat treatment. I’m pretty sure the setting was “broil” - the skin on my ankle turned bright red and I was that I’d see smoke pretty soon. Fortunately, the nurse returned just in time to keep me from catching fire and changed the setup to “electric shocks” (in combination with heat). Ten tingling minutes later, I was free to go and sent straight to pharmacy next door.
Here, two charming ladies handed me three daily rations of pills. Five different pills per dose, three times a day. 45 pills in total for three days. I tried to find out what they were, but failed.
I’m not sure if the heat treatment, electro shocks, laser show or numerous pills worked their wonders, or if the ankle brace a local friend sourced for me did the trick. The swelling went down. The whole episode was a great opportunity to be impressed by the swiftness of the Korean healthcare system, intrigued by cultural differences in treating a torn ligament (15 pills? PER DAY), and blown away by Alex’ language skills in Korean. All in all, certainly more memorable than Gyeongbokgung Palace, and even the numerous amazing Korean dishes I tried during my 4 days in the country.