Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tonsilitis: Canada '06 vs Korea '09

Spoiler Alert: Korea wipes the floor with Canada's thoroughly beaten behind.

Here's the story of two very different health care systems. And why I'm glad I was in South Korea for Round 2.

Round 1 - I was meandering through the 3rd year of my BA at the University of Waterloo as a part-time student while I worked full time (Shout out: Parkway Ford!). I came down with one hell of a sore throat in mid-September so I stopped into the student clinic and the lady-Doctor there looked at my throat, took a swab and perscribed me some anti-biotics to kill the infection she assumed to be strep throat (wait time: 45 minutes, consultation time: 10 minutes). It was very painful, and please understand I really hate going to see a doctor unless I'm really ill. If you're from Canada, you know what a waste of time it is. The anti-biotics worked. It went away but came back 6 weeks later with a vengence. I returned to the clinic (wait time: 1 hour) and was checked out by a less friendly and less thorough lady-Doctor. She checked my history, informed me that the swab test for strep came back negative so she wasn't going to perscribe me anything. She told me to rest over the weekend (this was a friday) and come back on Monday *if* I still felt sick for bloodwork. Methinks she suspected me off trying to get out of midterms or get more T3's? Anyways, my throat hurt so badly that I couldn't sleep, at all. Not Friday night, not Saturday night. And by Sunday I couldn't swallow ANYTHING, not even my own saliva. Some said I should just go to the hospital but I felt sure the clinic would help me out. I waited until Sunday night turned into Monday morning. At 9:00am sharp, I walked into the clinic (Wait time: 30 minutes even though the clinic JUST opened) and another Doctor checked me out. He asked why I was there. I told him I wanted the bloodwork done. After a few vials were pulled from me, he asked me with an edge in his voice: "What else do you want me to do for you?" I replied "Can you please prescribe me something to open my throat so I can eat and sleep again?" He prescribed a special mouthwash. Fabulous. The bloodtests were to be done in 24 hours. I knew it meant a 4th night without sleep, but surely the wheels were in motion, I could tough it out for one more day. I waited until 12 noon on Tuesday to call and was informed by peeved nurse that they would call me when the results were ready *if* they showed anything. I was determined to wait and be vindicated by science, even though at this point I was dangerously dehydrated and exhausted. That night, while getting out of the tub, I nearly fainted and since I have never fainted in my entire life, gave in and went to emergency at 11:30 pm. At this point, nearing full Zombification, I was running a fever of 101 and unable to swallow any of the medications in pill or syrup form the nurses tried to give me. I was spitting my saliva into a cup that I carried with me. I was put in an isolation room to avoid a zombi-pocalypse. Around 2am on wednesday I was taken for x-rays, hooked up to an IV and blood work was done. Within AN HOUR the results came back, mononucleosis and tonsilitis. The doctor said I may have to go in for emergency surgery to remove them if I didn't respond to medicine. He wanted to wait for the throat specialist to come in at 8am, until then I would get some morphine injected through my IV so I could sleep. Which sounded awesome, but unfortunately the morphine had no effect on me and thus I waited out my 5th night without sleep until the Throat Specialist lady showed, examined and ordered a miracle concoction of drugs which opened my throat/killed the pain. I feel asleep so quickly and so soundly they had to wheel me up to my room in the bed from the isolation room and I didn't wake up until about 10 hours later. Thankfully, I responded well to the antibiotics and after another 24 hours in the hospital under observation I was sent home on Thursday afternoon. Thanks to my student insurance and Canada's much lauded free universal health care, I walked out of the hospital only having to pay for 40% of my medication. Cost: $60 CDN.

Round 2 - Sore threat/headache/fever symptoms begin a few days ago. I could feel the swelling and hoped it would just pass. But by last night around 2am, I knew what that "shards of glass in your throat everytime you try to swallow" feeling meant. And I was nervous. Everytime I've had a sore throat since 2006 I feel little shreds of panic that I will go back to the land of being really sick and exhausted but none of the medical professionals around me believe that I am. I called in to work. My friend Jodie called a Korean friend who recommended a Throat Specialist clinic conveniently located right beside my apartment complex. Walk: 5 minutes. Wait in reception: 5 minutes. Consultation & Diagnosis with Specialist: 5 minutes. Cost: 3500 Won ($3 CDN). Go to pharmacy with my fresh off the printer prescription: 5 minutes. Prescription pills: 3 200 won (less than $3 CDN). DONE. OVER. (My insurance only covers 50% of doctors visits and doesn't cover medication, so even if I had forgotten my insurance card, my total cost would've been about $10)

(Well I hope, if I'm not ship-shape by Monday, I go back again, but really, it's not hard to THAT over again)

I really don't understand enough about the Korean Healthcare System to understand why is it so cheap and effecient. And I don't care. As far as I'm concerned it was designed by Gandalf and Dumbledore and Santa Claus.


  1. Yep, I don't look forward to leaving Korea's health care behind. The US sounds just as bad. Not only do you get to pay 10 times as much (or more), you get to be treated like a burden by everyone from receptionists to nurses to doctors. My "favorite" is how you have to make an appointment to see the doctor when you're sick in the US. Then you get there at the appointed time and you're still waiting for two hours.

    My goal is to never, ever visit the doctor's office in the US. Unless the goal is to punch people there.

  2. Seriously, if anything every goes seriously wrong with me, I'm hopping on a plane!
    * I put in a request to "Ask a Korean" to explain how exactly the Korean Medical System works, because it is so fantastic. He told me he was going to bump the question to the top of the list, so hopefully we'll see a post from him soon that will unwrap this mysterious utopian medical system...

  3. Success! The Korean answered my query about the healthcare system in ROK - check it out here: