LIFE IN KOREA: Getting A New View of the World

by Jimalee Sowell, 04/02/2009


My head-abrasion-emergency-room experience and my positive experiences with my dentist Dr. Kim had left a good taste in my mouth. I was feeling so confident about the Korean medical care system that I decided Korea was the place for LASIK surgery.

I knew someone who knew someone who was an eye surgeon, and so with relative ease, I had my doctor, my hospital, and an appointment. I went through the first battery of extensive tests, which involved a lot of picking, probing, dilation, and reading, half of which was in English and half that really put my limited knowledge of Korean to the test. Thank goodness I had just finished Level 1 (Book One) at my Korean school.

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By the time I came in contact with the last doctor, the appointment maker, I was confident, happy, and ready for surgery. “So, why are you doing this in Korea?” he said. “What? Why?” This question made me nervous. Was there something wrong with having this surgery in Korea? Was there something he knew that I didn’t? After all he, along with 80 percent of the eye doctors in the LASIK’s department, was wearing eyeglasses. “Is there something wrong with having this surgery in Korea? I mean, is there something I should know? Like… do you have outdated equipment, and does the surgeon in charge have a poor success rate? ” I asked him. “Well, it’s just that we can’t communicate,” he replied in perfect English. “Oh, I see.”

When the appointment maker called the day before my surgery to change the date and when a friend who had previously worked in optics warned me on the same day “not to do it,” I begin to wonder if I should have more reservations, if all my previous medical experiences in Korea had simply made me overly confident, that maybe I shouldn’t have eye surgery in Korea. “And these are my eyes after all,” I thought. “This is not a simple abrasion, and teeth are at least replaceable with artificial substances if something goes wrong.” So, I did my research and learned that the equipment being used for laser eye operations at this particular hospital in Korea was state-of-the-art, was in fact, the machinery was more advanced than what was being used in the United States at the time. Although America  is often talked about as being the most advanced country medically, FDA regulations sometimes slow down the release and use of the most advanced equipment, a fact that is arguably both positive and negative.

Still a little concerned, but still really wanting to have the surgery, I finally decided to just go for it. And the appointment-maker laughed when I called him on his cell phone to reschedule an appointment that had been cancelled because I had been worried about doing the surgery in Korea, not because of any language barrier, but mostly due to ideas that had been put into my head by the less informed.    
The day for the right-eye surgery came. As I was getting up on the table, I heard the surgeon say to the appointment maker, “What country person is this?’ That was less than reassuring. I remember thinking, “I hope they know more about my eyes than my nationality.”

I survived the first surgery with the only complication being a slight hemorrhage, which was a result of my having moved (in surgery—at the wrong time) not lack of skill on the part of the surgeon. My vision was initially a little blurry, which worried me a bit—I’d read about people who come out of this kind of surgery with less-than-perfect results and are still dependant on glasses, but that some of them have success through a second surgery. I remember thinking, that day, that there would be a good chance that I’d need another procedure. The next day, I woke up with perfect vision in my freshly-LAZIKED eye.
The left-eye surgery went even better than the first—absence of any bleeding—and as I walked out of the operating room with two 20-20-visioned eyes, I announced, “It’s a miracle,” and everyone in the waiting room—nurses, receptionists, and other patients—erupted in laughter.

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