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Seoul Shock: Adventures in health

Whenever I watched a Korean show or movie I thought it was weird how if one of the characters got a paper-cut or sprained an ankle it was the end of the world. But now I’ve encountered a few people and a few situations explaining the obsession with being healthy in the best and quickest way possible.

I got a cold about a week ago and a friend of mine asked me if I’d gone to see the doctor, and I looked at him with confusion. I wasn’t dying or in any pain, so why would I see the doctor? My response was that if it got really bad or didn’t go away then I would see a doctor. He didn’t like my answer, and ended up buying me medication, because I refused to go to the hospital to get looked at. I found out later that it’s common for Koreans to see the doctor and get a shot for something even as minor as a cold. Slowly, all the movie scenes of paper-cuts being treated like giant lacerations were starting to make sense.

Another friend got a sty in one of her eyes and it didn’t look significantly large, but after going in to see the doctor to get eye-drops, he told her she should have surgery to get it taken care of as soon as possible, so it could heal faster. When she told me she was going to have surgery on her eye, I was concerned, because I thought something was seriously wrong, but it turned out the doctor recommended getting surgery so it would go away faster. He also gave her a shot, oral medication and an eye patch to wear around. She said she didn’t want to do the surgery, but the faster it went away, the better. I asked her why Koreans were so drastic when it came to their health, and she told me it’s because they have to be in tiptop shape to perform well at their jobs. The job market in Korea is really competitive, so being healthy means being able to work harder. So, good health and fast healing equals hard work and money. All those scenes in TV shows involving sprained ankles weren’t just an excuse for piggyback rides and skinship (‘skinship’ is Konglish) after all!