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    Having Surgery In Korea

    Having a surgery is a scary thing. Having one abroad as an expat can be even more intimidating. If you’re considering a procedure in Korea, I hope my experience can help ease some fears. Some of the protocol felt overkill (extended stay in the hospital) and a bit backwards (no physical therapy after the procedure). But despite the differences, everything went smoothly and I was glad I had it done.

    I broke my first bone in January 2015 in Turkey and had a metal plate put in my arm. Due to some discomfort, I decided to have the hardware removed last month in Korea. I went to Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital at the recommendation of some friends.

     

    Having surgery as an expat in Korea

     

    Consultation and Pre-Op

    I called the international clinic to schedule an appointment. I was overwhelmed my first time at the hospital. St. Mary’s is large, one of the top hospitals in Seoul, and is consequently booked and busy.

    The ladies in the office spoke English and were so helpful. There were a slew of forms, but St. Mary’s accepted my insurance and filed all of my paperwork. After I checked in, they sent me off with a map to get x-rays and meet with the surgeon. My meeting lasted just a few minutes, and by the end, I had booked the surgery. I was at the hospital for two hours.

    A month before the surgery, I took a series of tests: chest x-ray, breathing, blood (vein and artery), urine, and EKG.

    I met with the anesthesiologist two weeks before the surgery. A translator sat in and this meeting took only a few minutes. For some reason, I was never asked about allergies before that point, so I was sure they added that information to my file.

     

    Surgery Stay

    I went into the hospital the day before (about 24 hours before) the procedure. They said they’d take me back between 12–2 the next day, but they couldn’t fit me in until 4:30.

    The Room: My insurance covered a double room, but they were all occupied. Instead, I got a private room. We felt so spoiled. It was on the twelfth floor and had an great view of Gangnam. The room included a desk with computer (which we didn’t use), a TV, a storage closet with a keypad locking system, a small fridge, a private bathroom with shower, and a small couch.

     

    Gangnam hospital room view

     

    David sleeping

     

    The Food: I received an evening meal. I chose the Western menu over the Korean (just in case to avoid anything upsetting my stomach). The food was good, but a little bland. They served a cream soup, spaghetti, salad, bread, drink, and a pastry dessert. I was given a form to select my future meals.

    They started fluids that night. I heard somewhere that Koreans have small veins, so they typically put IVs in your hand. It felt kind of offensive. It pinched and hurt so I couldn’t really use my right hand. And I was about to have surgery on my left hand. (After surgery, there was a problem with the IV and I had them move it to my arm, which felt much better.)

     

    IV in hand

     

    We met with a doctor (not the surgeon but someone in their residency) later in the evening. He spoke English and was very kind. He answered our questions and kept asking until we had exhausted everything we hadn’t covered in the initial consultation.

    Nurses came to take my vitals throughout the night and next day. The waiting was the hardest part. By the time they wheeled me back, some of the nerves had worn off and I was ready for it to happen. David walked with me up to the operating room doors.

    My previous scar had keloiding:

     

    Keloid scarring

     

    Post Surgery

    I was glad the surgery was in the evening. After I woke up from the anesthesia, they wheeled me to an x-ray room on the second floor. This area is usually packed, but because it was around 7:00pm, there weren’t people staring at me on my bed.

    Back in the room, I had to stay awake until 11:00pm. I was able to drink water around 2:00am. They had no food for me, and I didn’t eat until the next morning. They brought a full breakfast (eggs, fruit, cereal, pastry, juice), though the nurse told me to only have soup until lunch. They didn’t provide soup and I didn’t think convenience store ramen would be good for my stomach. Instead, I had some crackers and yogurt David had bought. That sat fine, so I ate the breakfast a little later.

    Another thing we felt spoiled by: they let me go home early. I was supposed to stay another night (for a total of 3 nights), but they let me go home around 4:00pm the day after surgery.

     

    Standing in Seoul St. Mary's hospital room

     

    They also let me keep the hardware! The bracket is about 4″ long. After I saw the metal, I felt good about having it removed. It had done its job and there was no need to keep the foreign material in my body.

     

    Hardware from radius bone surgery

     

    Now I have holes where the screws were:

     

    X-ray of radius bone showing holes

     

    I was amazed at my recovery time. I gained strength and mobility much faster than I had anticipated. The surgeon did a fantastic job. He cut out some of the scar tissue and the keloid. They didn’t use stitches, but glued me together. Someone told me if you’re going to have surgery and are concerned about scarring, Korea is the place to get it done. They are very conscious about how they look. I have a silicone scar reduction gel and cream, and I hope to avoid keloiding this time.

    I returned to the hospital every three days to have the bandaging replaced. Here is my scar two weeks after surgery:

     

    Arm scar two weeks post surgery

     

    Suggestions of Things to Bring:

    • Refillable water bottle (there are refilling stations for hot and cold water)
    • Snacks (because I got back from the surgery past dinner time, there was no food service)
    • Towels
    • Toiletries (body soap, shampoo, toothpaste)
    • Shower shoes (open shower room) and/or slippers
    • Electronic chargers

    Other Notes:

    • Upon arrival, a translator took me to the room and explained the basics of what to expect.
    • Shave the area where you’re going to have surgery or bring a razor to do it there. David had to buy some from a convenience store. The nurse offered a hair removing cream, but I have sensitive skin and didn’t know if I’d react to it or not.
    • Take off all nail polish if you’ll be under anesthesia.
    • Physical therapy is not emphasized in Korea. My doctor said they didn’t have hand specialists at St. Mary’s, but I got him to write a referral letter. There is a physical therapist at my chiropractic clinic in Itaewon.
    • Visiting hours were from 2:00pm – 8:00pm.
    • The international clinic closes at 5:00pm on weekdays and noon on Saturdays. The nurses I interacted with knew enough English to help. Google Translate is always helpful, too.

    I am thankful for a successful surgery and for the friends that came around us!

     

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    Surgery Ahead

    I broke my left arm last January in a sledding accident. It was a clean break to my radius bone. I received fantastic care in Turkey and had surgery the same day. Now that it’s been just over a year, I’ve decided to have the metal plate and screws removed. I’ll check into the hospital in a few hours and will have the surgery sometime tomorrow (Monday evening for those of you in the States).

    I covet your prayers for peace, a successful surgery, and a quick recovery!

     

    Titanium plate, radius bone

     

    I could have left the hardware in, but I do have slight discomfort from time to time (though the doc said that may be because of the scar tissue?). I figure that I’m young, not working full-time, and don’t have a kid, so now is a good time to have it removed.

    I felt that my first appointment at the hospital last month was the greatest culture shock I’ve had since we moved to Korea in July. The initial consultation was overwhelming. It’s an interesting process navigating the medical system of countries outside the US. I don’t have much experience in hospitals in the first place, and the hospital here is VERY different from the one in Ankara. It seemed just as busy and as crowded as the streets of Seoul. After the initial shock of it all, I felt much better about having the surgery… though I am in no way excited or looking forward to it.

    Because I’ll be one-handed for a while, it was nice to be able to plan ahead this time. We cleaned the house, did laundry, and I made a few freezer meals. I hope the recovery would be just as fast, if not faster than last time.

    Thank you for your prayers!

     

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    X-Ray Show & Tell

    I had no desire to look at the x-rays (or even my arm) the day I broke it. I have trouble watching violent movies or tv shows; if a person gets injured, it makes my stomach turn and my insides hurt. I figured looking at any of it would only make it psychologically more painful.

    After two and a half weeks, I was curious to see the x-rays. I’ve been gaining more mobility and strength every day. I had a follow-up appointment today and asked to get copies of the images for my records.

    Time for show and tell!

    I broke the radius bone in my left arm:

     

    Broken radius bone, left arm

     

    After they confirmed the break, the doc set the bone:

     

    Radius bone after being set

     

    Radius Bone, set

     

    I had surgery the same day. The doctor put in a titanium plate and 6 screws:

     

    Titanium plate, radius bone

     

    Titanium plate, radius bone

     

    At my appointment today, my doctor told me, “Look at this! Where is your fracture? Your bone is healing.”

     

    Xray 17 days after surger

     

    The doc also said in 6 to 12 months I can decide if I want to remove the plate. I asked him how often people have it removed. He said out of 10, maybe 6 people leave it in. It mostly depended upon if there was any muscle pain or irritation around the plate. He also said that it would not set off metal detectors when I go through airport security. Hurrah! So, we’ll see.

    I got the stitches out today. I can take the bandage off in 2 days and start applying scar cream.

    I still can’t believe the speed of this whole process. I am thankful for great doctors and the way God designed our bodies to heal!

     

    Ending Break With a Break

    We traveled to Michigan for two weeks over Christmas and had a blast with family and friends. We flew back to Turkey last week and then I broke my arm.

    We gave ourselves a couple of days in Ankara before school resumed on Wednesday. We were a little bummed there was no snow while we were home in Michigan. Even though there was nothing on the ground when we landed in Turkey, snow started pouring down soon after!

    On Tuesday morning, I asked David if he was up for a snowventure. I hadn’t been to the forest in our neighborhood in a long time, and it’s a magical Narnian place when there’s snow. We wanted to hike up the tallest hill to see the view of the city. So we bundled up, put on our snow boots, and headed out.

     

    Forest

     

    On our way through the snow, we came across several of our coworkers, students, and their parents sledding. Some parents had purchased large, thick inner tubes, which are great for sliding. David and I went down together once. I was surprised how fast we slid! We hung around for a while, caught up with our friends, and watched the kids go down the hill. Soon, people started talking about lunch and we wanted to continue our hike. “One last time for the Benedicts?” they asked. “Oh, sure!”

    David was to my left and I had my left arm wrapped around his back. As we descended, the tube spun around so we were going backwards. We picked up a lot of momentum and since we couldn’t see, ran directly into a tree. As you can tell from the photo above, the trees weren’t very big. My arm made contact first, followed by David’s back. The pain was immediate.

    We were fortunate there were so many people there to help. One of my friends is going into med school soon, and once they realized it was broken, they fashioned a sling from a stick and some scarves. We had maybe half a mile or so to walk to get to the exit and main road. Meanwhile, other friends called for help and a car met us at the forest entrance.

    One of our friends had a major accident about a year ago and knows an amazing orthopedic doctor. They called ahead and soon we were at the emergency room. I think this was around 2:00. An x-ray confirmed the break (my first broken bone ever!), the doctor set the bone (terrifying and painful), and I got a shot of something wonderful for the pain.

    I broke the radius bone in my left arm. It was a clean break. I had no interest in looking at my arm or seeing the x-rays, but David said the break looked about half an inch apart. They were able to get me in for surgery that night at 7:00 and mended me up with a titanium plate and 6 screws.

     

    Hospital bed

     

    We stayed overnight and they discharged me the next morning. I wasn’t even in the hospital for 24 hours! That amazes me. They sent me home with a soft cast, an ice pack, and pain meds. We had snow days on Wednesday and Friday, so I’ve only missed one day of school.

     

    Broken arm

     

    It’s hard to believe that was 5 days ago.

    This whole experience has left me overwhelmed, humbled, and blessed. I am so very thankful for our community both here and far away. We have friends who dropped everything to come to our rescue and stayed with us at the hospital to help navigate, translate, pray, and support us. I am so thankful for the prayers, messages, visits, and meals. The body of Christ is a beautiful thing, guys.

    David has been especially wonderful through it all. I have felt so loved. I couldn’t ask for a more patient caregiver.

    Every day I can move my fingers a little more and kind of hold things a little more. (It’s been helpful that I am right-handed!) We went in yesterday for a follow up appointment. The doctor changed my dressing and I took a look at the stitches. They are long and ugly! But there is no infection and everything is healing well. I get the cast off on Thursday and will start physical therapy. That’s 9 days after surgery! Isn’t that crazy?!

    Thank you for your prayers as I continue to mend!

     

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    Sick

    One of the special perks of being a teacher is being exposed to the germs of 250 kids. Many kids were out sick this week, as were a few teachers – including me.

     

    Lots of tissues and liquids!

     

    I started to not feel well on Saturday. Things only got worse from there. I did a half day of work on Monday, went in Tuesday (when I probably shouldn’t have), tried some Sudafed which didn’t work, stayed awake all night coughing, stayed home Wednesday, and finally caved and went to the doctor in the afternoon.

    We had a great first experience with the Turkish health system. We went to TOBB ETÜ Hastanesi (I don’t think Turkey has doctor’s offices – just hospitals) and had a translator escort our entire visit. The doctor also spoke English. In about an hour, I saw the doctor, got bloodwork, took a chest x-ray, and saw the doctor again. The hospital was impressively efficient. It was definitely better than the waiting lines at health clinics in the States!

    Turns out I have a viral infection. I got a Z-Pack, nose spray, and 2 other medicines for symptoms. I went back work today and feel so much better.

    There’s a lot of medicine you can purchase here without a perscription that you can’t back home. However, I’m glad I went to the doctor – I feel nervous about self prescribing!

    Being sick is always a humbling experience. I always have the thought of: “Oh, I’ll just rest a while, fight through it and be fine.” But sometimes, your body commands you to STOP and rest, which is never an easy thing for me. I’m very thankful for an understanding employer, Turkish friends who will make appointments, and a husband and brother who took care of me and the house.

     

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