Sunday, 23 August 2009

Meds for Jess

Jess was still sick when we returned back to campus from Hanok Village. I don’t want to bad-mouth the nurse on campus, but I was getting tired of her “go back to bed” and “keep taking your temperature” answers every time Jess managed to walk down to her office. She was an extremely kind woman, but she was obviously over-worked, stressed, and not qualified to administer the proper healthcare needed.

The final straw was when she gave Jess a hot water pouch and advised her to lay down with it on her abdomen. It sounded like a cozy solution, but I’m fairly certain that a nice warm environment was NOT a very good substitute for an antibiotic… Rather, it sounded more like a tropical paradise for the little buggers. Well, we gave it a try anyway. She laid back down in bed with the warm pouch on her abdomen, and two minutes later, lo and behold! She was in excruciating pain and curled up in the fetal position.

That was it. The final straw. It was my turn…

I probably should’ve looked into learning a few simple Korean words before venturing off by myself in search of some meds, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.

My first stop was at the convenience store on campus. It’s not uncommon to find some symptom relief meds in Canada at a convenience store or a grocery store, so I tried my luck there first.

I approached the woman behind the counter, and did what I can do best in this country. I played charades. Now if you can just picture the “Pepto-Bismol” commercials, you’ll have a pretty clear image of what my dance looked liked…

Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach… well… you know the rest…

Aside from being hugely entertaining, it actually worked.

Her husband (who was originally stocking shelves when I walked in and quickly claimed first row seats when my show began) took off his work vest and beckoned me to follow him. I thought he was going to bring me back up to the campus nurse, but instead, he walked outside towards his car and opened the passenger door.

Now let me make this perfectly clear. Mom, if you’re reading this, I wouldn’t usually get into a stranger’s car. But I was desperate, Jess was sick, and he was smaller than me.

We drove off campus together and headed for downtown Jeonju.

Wow, what a place! The amount of blinking neon lights, strobes, and coloured spotlights on the sides of the buildings were more than impressive. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to admire the view for very long as we arrived at our first destination. It was closed. He took off again in a different direction.

With his frequent stops at closed stores, and frustrated mumbles, I quickly pieced together that most (if not all) of the pharmacies were closed at this time on a Sunday night.

Finally, he slowed down at a small shop, peered inside, smiled, and pulled over to the side of the road. He had found one that was open.

We went inside together, and he described the situation to the pharmacist (I will call him a pharmacist, but to be honest, he could’ve just been an old man working at a drug store. I will never know).

He pulled two small boxes off the shelves, and sounded out the drug names to me. The first one was “eh-pu-pro-peh” which, with a little imagination, sounded like “ibuprofen” (Advil), and the other one had the medication names written in English on the back (all of which I recognized). Both boxes set me back a grand total of 4 bucks. Not bad at all. I thanked the “Pharmacist”, and we headed back to the University.

He pulled up to the front door of the dorm, pointed inside, and tried to rush me out of the car to bring Jess the meds. I thanked him over and over again as I walked backwards towards the elevators, and he yelled out, “Visit tomorrow, yes?”

“Yes, yes I will,” I responded.

I arrived back at our room and gave her the meds.

The downward spiral was over.

The next night I kept my promise and visited the store. Both the husband and wife were working again, and their eyes lit up as I walked in with Jess at my side. We exchanged words of thanks, relief, more thanks, and I gave them a bottle of Mulberry wine that I had picked up as a souvenir from Hanok village on Saturday. Several bows later, we left the store, and headed back to the dorm.

Imagine yourself at a convenience store near your house. You ask one of the workers for a light bulb, but he doesn’t have any in stock. Instead of shrugging you off, he removes his work vest, drives you to Home Depot, speaks to the employees for you, walks through the aisles with you, finds the one you need, drives you back home, and in return, simply asks that you pay him a visit the next day to let him know if it worked or not. How many times has this happened to you?

This was my first.

- Ken


  1. Wow! And they say Canadians are polite... we're nothing compared to the Koreans. That warms the heart and gives hope for humanity.

  2. Its amazing how this small world has different traditions. As for myself reading on Indonesia and Thailand, before my trip, there are so many manners to know before leaving.

    They would get you a cow if you want one but be grateful and respectful. (Offer a tip or a bottle of liquor like Ken did).

    Not knowing the different traditions can put you in very embarrassing situations, for example;

    If you put your hand over a child's head it is a sin for them and love for us - finishing your plate would mean you just want more and as for us would mean the food was delicious - rising your voice would make you loose your face and for us take a pill or two and you will be alright. - Don't be surprised if, when invited to a home, you're the only one eating. This is your host's way of showing you are very special but don't eat huge amounts as these dishes would feed the rest of the family.

    Indonesian and Thailand are mostly buddhism as I would guess have more or less the some of the same ways of living like Korean.

    I really enjoy learning of life in Korea, thanks Jess & Ken sharing this with me.

  3. Christine(Jess's mom)7 October 2009 at 11:38

    Thanks million!! Ken
    (my heart was breaking while reading this through..)