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After a bout of crazy intermittent gastro-intestinal distress I stiffened my upper lip. I decided it was time to go to an international clinic in Seoul. My goal was to acquire a referral to an allergist, as most of my symptoms have resembled some form of food allergy.

Before I explain the conversation that occurred between me the attending physician, I must confess that my experience at the clinic in Seoul was the best experience I have had in a hospital in Korea. The staff in the international ward all spoke great English, and the doctor took more than 30 minutes to speak with me, and he offered me a whole range of referrals and great advice. They even had a shuttle that took me from the hospital to a pharmacy and then to the subway station. This experience, however, like all the others, was not without notable details.

(My past experiences flashed in my memory. There was the time I had a problem with my foot and the front desk attendant asked me to follow him as he RAN through 3 corridors to the doctor. Then there was the time I peed in a cup and was directed to walk through the waiting room holding an uncovered vile of my own urine. Still yet, just before making fun of a nurse, another doctor, with bare hands, squeezed the puss out of an infection I had my foot, and without washing his hands began typing a report on his computer keyboard.)

In this instance, the doctor was more than willing to prescribe helpful medication and connect me with an allergist. However, he suggested that, in order to cover all necessary bases, I pursue a more invasive procedure in order to rule out the possibility of any serious health issues.

At this point in my ‘consultation’, I balked. I was quiet for a minute after I heard the words “barium enema” and “colonoscopy”. “I am 26”, I thought, “Is it really time for that kind of thing?”

I searched for the right words. I didn’t want to discredit his advice, but such procedures, I reasoned, would be more agreeable at home. Or so I thought. I am sure in Korea it would not be much different from home, but my experience with medical facilities here has never been without surprise. I guess in this instance I used the same logic as I would for other scenarios: I prefer to use my own towel, wear my own clothes, use my own toothbrush, and have colonoscopies in my own country. Wouldn’t you? If it doesn’t feel like home, sometimes its better to wait.

I explained to the physician, in the most sensitive way possible, that the psychological hump was something I might take some time to overcome, and at the moment, I would like to discuss my symptoms in more depth. I explained that I was really there for a referral for an allergist.

He looked at me for a minute with an amused yet sympathetic stare. “I understand,” he said, “But you must understand that getting a colonoscopy here makes a lot of sense. It only costs 200 dollars, and in America it can cost 2,000.”

I still wasn’t convinced, but I nodded in understanding.

“Some people come to Korea just to get the procedure,” He remarked. And then came the clincher.

“You know, in America, people have very big hands. But Asian people, we have very small hands. We can operate the instruments very carefully. It’s really better here. We are very good at it.”

“Great.” I thought to myself. “Ahh, I see. Well I’ll have to think about it.” I said, trying to look thoughtful and enlightened.

I am not even sure if what he said is true. (I have made an effort since to look at the hands of passers by). But in the future, I will reflect on how the size of my countrymen’s extremities effects the quality of my health.

We discussed my symptoms further and he decided that I likely had some residual ick from food poisoning. He did schedule me for “a procedure”, just in case I changed my mind.

Small hands. So reassuring, but they don’t quite feel like home.