With the days still a bit on the warm side and the nights increasingly getting cooler it’s time for one of my annual colds.
I usually get my first one come October when there’s a noticeable difference in the temperature from the time I go to school in the morning when it’s a little on the chilly side and the time I come home from school or the gym in the late afternoon when it’s warmed up a bit or in the evening when it starts getting cooler again.
And when I have come down with a cold, I usually have taken care of it with medicine I have brought with me from the States: Theraflu or Tylenol Cold (Daytime and Nighttime). Also Korean food like a steaming, spicy bowl of kimchi chigae (a thick, kimchi stew heavy on the garlic and red pepper paste)—a Korean equivalent of chicken noodle soup—is a good remedy to fight a cold.
Well, this year I came down with a cold back in April and used up all the medicine I brought with me. So, when I started feeling this cold coming on a few days ago I didn’t know what I was going to do. Now, if I were living back in Seoul, all I would have to do is go to one of the black market stalls in a shopping center like Sarugha (not far from where I used to live in Yonhui-dong) and stock up on more Theraflu or Tylenol bought from one of the military base exchange stores and then marked up 50-75%. I never minded paying that extra money knowing that in a few days I would be feeling better.
Most people that I know usually go to the doctor when they get a cold, but for as long as I have been in Korea I have only been to the doctor once and that was back in 1991. I have always been able to take care of myself when I have had a cold or flu (courtesy of all the medicine I bought either in the States or on the black market) until now.
When I first came to Korea and you had a cold, cough or some other minor ailment all you had to do was go to your local pharmacy, describe your symptoms to the pharmacist and he or she would fix you right up. (You cannot buy over-the-counter drugs in Korea per se—you have to tell the pharmacist what is ailing you and they will give you what you need). Back before there were was Contac and other over-the-counter cold medicines, the pharmacists would prepare a strange looking assortment of pills, which came with a chalky white powder (supposedly to help you digest the pills better but I always seemed to spill it all over me when I tried to take all the pills) and send you on your way (they never bothered to ask if you were allergic to anything—then again, other then a few words of Korean and English and a lot of gesturing to describe what was ailing you, there was not much language exchanged).
Well, this changed a few years back making it illegal for pharmacists to act as doctors prescribing drugs on their own (although they could still dispense the over the counter ones). I tried this a couple of times before I started relying on my friendly black marketers who kept me supplied with all the cold medicine I needed (and if they didn’t have any on hand, they told me they could get it in a day or two).
Faced without having my favorite and trusted cold remedies to help me get over my cold, I went to a local pharmacy and bought some over-the-counter cold medicine. I still figured I could take care of myself without having to see a doctor. Unfortunately, all the medicine did was make me sleepy and it didn’t look like the pharmacist was going to sell me anything stronger. (I did buy some more and the cold would still not go away.) Well, there was only one thing left to do now: go and see a doctor.
Now going to the doctor in Korea is a lot different than it is in the States, which is pretty much a no-brainer considering how messed up health care is back home. Here it is pretty straightforward and why perhaps people go to the doctor for even minor ailments whereas back in the States we would be hitting the drug aisles at Wal Mart or Osco. I went to this doctor, whose office is located in the same building as my gym, yesterday afternoon and I was in and out in less than fifteen minutes. I didn’t even have to make an appointment—I just walked in and all I had to do was show my national health insurance card and my alien registration card before I could see the doctor.
And when I saw the doctor (who spoke pretty passable English), I described my symptoms to him and he gave me a very brief exam: checked my throat and nose (he blew air into my nose with three small hoses to check my nasal passage ways) and then listened to me breathe with a stethoscope. He then turned to his computer, typed his diagnosis and treatment and told me to wait outside.
The cost? 3,400 Won. About $3.50.
I waited for a minute or two before one of the three nurses working reception gave me my prescription, which I took downstairs to have filled in the same pharmacy that I had bought my over-the-counter drugs the other day.
The cost? 2,700 Won. About $3.00.
I got the same small packets of pills (including the halves of two pills) minus the white, chalky powder and told to take them three times a day for the next three days. We’ll just have to see if they work now.