Hello family, friends, and random visitors.
It has been over a month since my last post, so this will be a long one. I hope you have enough time to read through the entire post, as well as check out my latest pictures (of which there are many!). I will actually post twice, the first about surgery and the second about what I’ve been up to since recovering from the surgery. Let’s get started!
I went to Severance Hospital at Yonsei University in Seoul on Tuesday, May 28th. To get there from Paju, you have to take the 2200 bus to Hapjeong Station, then take line 2 (green) to Sinchon station. From there, go out exit 1 and take the free shuttle to the hospital. I chose to walk there from the subway instead, because it was a nice day out and at that time, I wasn’t suffering from a flare-up from the tonsillitis and wanted to soak up some city life before going out of commission for a few weeks. The Sinchon area feels a bit like a college town, because Yonsei University and Ehwa Women’s University are both nearby. Sinchon also has one of the 3 Taco Bells in all of Korea.
I had to check in on Tuesday the 28th and stay overnight because my surgery was first thing Wednesday morning, at 8:00am. Before going to my room, I had to go through a series of consultations and tests, such as blood pressure, urine, and a consultation with the anesthesiologist. After about 2 hours of going from one place to the next, I was finally able to check in to my room. The room was on the 8th floor of the children’s hospital wing. That means that my roommate was a whining, crying 4-year old and her loud, obnoxious mom, aunt, grandma, and 57832750382 siblings/cousins going in and out of the room. Boy, was I not pleased. I had borrowed a bunch of books from co-workers and brought those with me in case I got bored. The minute I sat on the bed, I opened my first book. The TV was completely controlled by my roommate and her entourage, and the channels were all in Korean, anyway. I wasn’t allowed to leave the building, so I felt it was probably useless to try and walk around. Luckily, I had picked a good book to start, and ended up reading it until dinner was brought to me. I had signed up for Korean-style meals (instead of Western-style), and it was actually quite delicious! There was rice, kimchi, a beef+veggie medley of some sort, and a kind of brownie type thing for dessert. After eating, I continued reading until the doctors made their rounds at about 7:30pm. My doctor spoke pretty good English, and just reminded me that I shouldn’t eat anything for the rest of the night or in the morning; I couldn’t even drink water. Also, I couldn’t get the surgery without a friend coming to take care of me. That meant that I had to call Glenn and tell him to take a sick day so that he could come help me out after I was operated on. It turned out to be a really good decision.
I had a hard time sleeping that night because the stupid 4-year old was up all night, crying, whining, and her mom constantly talking to her – not even trying to speak softly. I was kind of looking forward to the anesthesia so that I could get some rest.
In the morning, I was already awake (having not slept at all) when the nurse came to wake me at 6:30am. At 7:00am, a couple of nurses came and hooked me up to an IV and had me get onto a gurney. They brought me down to the surgical waiting room, where I was lined up next to several other people on gurneys who were waiting for their turn. The longer I had to wait, the more nervous I was feeling. I knew that I was in capable hands and that Severance Hospital is considered the best in Korea, but when you’re anticipating something and the suspense keeps getting dragged out, one has a tendency to let nerves take over. I waited there for probably 45 minutes before I was moved into an individual operating room. There, I just lay there waiting while I could see the doctor and 2 or 3 nurses moving around, checking equipment and getting ready to cut me up. Finally, the doctor put the mask over my nose and mouth. I don’t know if he said anything to me, or if he asked me to count (like we see in the movies and on TV), because I don’t remember anything at all; I must have passed out right away. What seemed like 5 minutes later, I was awakened by a nurse who told me to try to stay awake now. My mouth felt really dry and I tried to swallow, but felt an incredibly sharp pain in my throat and physically, my muscles wouldn’t work to allow me to swallow. I remembered that I had just gotten my tonsils removed, and I suddenly felt very depressed because I knew that the pain I was feeling would last up to a month. I started to cry (which was extremely painful) and so they called Glenn and let him talk to me on the phone until I was taken out of the operating room and he was able to walk next to me as the nurses brought me on the gurney back to my room.
Once I was back in my bed, I took several different pills right away. By “taking pills,” I mean I put the pills in my mouth, poured water down my throat, and hoped they would go down on their own. I could not swallow. I kept coughing up water because I didn’t have any muscle control in my throat to help me swallow and to block it out from going into my lungs. Moreover, it hurt more than I can explain in words. This is how the day went on, me trying to drink as much water as I could, trying to get down some liquid kimchi and pea soup for lunch, then some vanilla ice cream, and of course, my medication. I also couldn’t talk at all because it just hurt way too much. My jaw also hurt from having been stretched out and held open for an hour, so even trying to open my mouth was really painful. Luckily, Glenn was there to talk to me and I lent him one of the books I brought so that we could do some reading. Although I was really uncomfortable, once the pain medication kicked in, the pain was actually quite tolerable. It was just uncomfortable not being able to swallow, and I was also having to get up to use the bathroom a lot since I was “drinking” so much water. I was relieved when my 4-year old roommate check out, because I figured that I would be able to get some rest that night.
An hour after my roommate checked out, an even younger, whinier child checked in, with an even louder and more obnoxious entourage. I somehow managed to communicate to Glenn that I refused to stay another night there, so he went and found the doctor, who approved my release. Not only did that mean I could go home and sleep peacefully that night, it also meant that I wouldn’t have to pay for multiple nights at the hospital. The operation didn’t cost me a thing since I have Korean national health insurance, but I did have to pay for all the tests, consultations, meals, and the one night in the room. The 24 hours that I was there cost me about $800 (USD), for which I was able to cover a lot using my 2012 US federal tax return. It’s amazing how things work out sometimes.
After I paid and checked out, we started walking towards the street to catch a taxi, and I suddenly felt incredibly dizzy and nauseous. I ran back inside and threw up in the bathroom. I figured that it was a residual effect from the anesthesia, because I remember throwing up all day after I had my wisdom teeth out 2 and 1/2 years ago. I had brought a plastic bag with me, and I ended up using it as a barf bag in the taxi, on the subway, and on the 2200 when we made our way home. I was so dizzy that we had to walk very slowly, and any time I had to turn – or if we turned on the bus or went over a bump – I got sick in the bag. It was probably one of the most miserable times of my life. Glenn kept saying that we should turn around and go back to the hospital, but I was stubborn and made us keep going. I just wanted to get home, where I could rest peacefully and throw up in my own bathroom instead of one I had to share with a toddler.
The 3-4 days that followed were tolerable. I couldn’t eat, swallow, or talk, but the pain medication helped a ton. I was only able to consume a bit of ice cream for each meal, and nothing else, so around the 5th day, I was really feeling the effects of all the pills I was taking. I had an episode of violent vomiting, followed by extreme weakness and Glenn had to carry me back to bed. I think I blacked out or was just delirious, because when I came to, I was confused about what had happened, and my arms and legs were spasming and twitching involuntarily. I calmed down after about 10 minutes, but I was really spooked by what had happened. Glenn and I decided that I probably shouldn’t take so many pills (18 per day) on a basically empty stomach. I stopped taking everything except the antibiotic for the next 2-3 days. Those were the worst days of my entire life. I cannot explain in words the intensity of pain that I felt. Glenn worked and went out with friends at night, so taking care of myself was near-impossible. I barely managed to get down some ice cream and take my antibiotic, and I constantly had to use the bathroom but couldn’t (another effect of anesthesia), so on top of feeling very uncomfortable, my throat hurt so badly that it felt like they had stuck razor blades in there. There were 2 or 3 nights that I prayed that I could just die in my sleep so that I wouldn’t have to wake up and feel that pain again. Of course, I’m grateful now that I was able to make it through, but at the time, I really just wanted to die. (I chatted briefly online with a former supervisor of mine, who told me that her adult tonsillectomy was more painful than natural childbirth.)
The next week, I had a follow-up appointment with the ENT at the hospital. I was in rough shape. I was in so much pain and couldn’t talk, but I was lucky that Glenn took the day off to come with me and was able to communicate to the doctor that I had stopped taking all that medication. He prescribed me some new ones that were a lot milder, and although I still felt pain and nausea, it was a lot better than before. I physically felt slightly better, but it was at that point in time that my scabs were going to be falling off and bleeding was a risk. I made sure to really take it easy and to not try to talk at all. My throat felt more raw, as I could tell the scabs had fallen off and the next stage of healing was in progress. After a few days, I was feeling better (which was very relative at that point), but mentally was feeling worse. The depression of being so sick, plus not being around any people and Glenn not being at home very much, I was just lonely. That lasted another couple of weeks, until I was able to return to work.
My last doctor’s appointment at the hospital was 2 weeks after surgery. He said that I was healing well and I could start eating more solid foods if it didn’t hurt too much. I began eating scrambled eggs and blending fruit into smoothies, which helped with the stomach pain and nausea. A week later, my prescriptions ran out and it was just a matter of letting my throat finish healing on its own. I went back to work on June 17th, and my wonderful supervisor let me have devo all week so that I wouldn’t have to teach at all. By the end of the week, I was no longer in pain (just a little discomfort), and I was able to talk at an almost-normal decibel level. I had my life back!
Please read my next post to find out what I’ve been up to since then. 🙂