Getting Sick

One common thing I saw on packing lists on Korea was cough syrup. Usually next to that I would see (you WILL get sick) written. Sometimes with capslock on. Granted, this were lists that also contained “fluffy towels” and “toothpaste” as other rarities that needed to be brought from home, both items I have no trouble getting my hands on.

I had two thoughts. One, it was highly unlikely that I would get sick, given my robust immune system and incredibly long history of not getting sick when other people would. Two, Korean’s are human and thus occasionally fall ill. Surely they have some method of surviving it, and there is no reason that I can’t just do what they do.

My first thought was completely false. I did become sick. It feels similar to a cold or sinus infection, but I don’t really know what it is. I’ve heard three distinct reasons why I may have fallen ill: 

1. Chinese Yellow Dust: A toxic death cloud that occasionally passes though China, South Korea and Japan. It’s full of all kinds of exciting things that are good for lungs, including silicon and sulfur. 

2. Air Pollution: I’m not accustom to the dirty air in Incheon or Seoul. I personally feel this is the least likely explanation.

3. A simple lack of immunity: My steely immune system is well adapted to the viral and bacterial infections in America, but I simply don’t have the immunities for Korean bugs yet. 

All three possibilities are fairly sound, and talking to other foreigners I’ve discovered that illness in the first few months is almost inevitable. 

Logically, I’ve been standing on a bit of a fence. I want to do things with my friends and see awesome stuff, but I also really need to stay home and rest. Yesterday was a national holiday, 삼일 운동, which celebrates the earliest public resistance to Japanese Occupation. Some of my Korean co-workers said “oh, you’ll be able to stay home and rest,” and I kind of agreed with them. But the teacher I’m replacing only has a few days left and since it was a day off, we all went to Nanta in Seoul. And we went to see the N Seoul Tower, which I’m sure slowed down my recovery a bit.

So that brings me to my second thought: I can simply do whatever Korean’s do to recover from a sore throat. Well, those packing lists were partially correct. It is impossible to walk into a connivence store or department store and walk out with cough syrup. Hell, you can’t even get aspirin. This seemed daunting at first, but it actually worked in my favor. I simply went to a pharmacy, pointed to my throat and said “Sore throat” with my raspy voice. The Korean man then pointed to his nose and made a gesture like something was coming out of it. I nodded. He returned with five small blue pouches, a box of 10 capsules, and two hot pouches filled with liquid. He pointed at the pills and held up two fingers. Take two of these. Then he pointed at one of the blue pouches. One of these. And then he held up three fingers: three times a day. He then cut open a blue pouch and showed me what was inside. It looked like fish food or something. I immediately assumed it was to be mixed with water. He then dropped to capsules in it and then made a gesture like taking a shot out of a shot glass. 

I kind of furrowed my brow. How can you take a shot of powder? Essentially, I popped it back like he said and it immediately coated every surface of my mouth, immediately absorbing all saliva. I couldn’t swallow the capsules because it was all dry. He then handed me one of the warm pouches with a small hole cut in it and a straw inside. I quickly drank the warm liquid, washing down the powder and the capsules all at once. He then pointed to the other pouch. That one was for before bed. 

In the end, I received enough drugs to get me through the rest of the day, and enough to cover me for the next day. If I needed more, I’d need to come back. Immediately after downing the warm liquid packet, I felt much better. I was able to enjoy the trip to Seoul, although I started sinking hard towards the end of the night, but I was really pushing myself. That night I drank the second pack and had those usual fever dreams a sick person suffers from, but this morning I felt a bit better. This morning I took down the powder and capsules with water. I’m already much better than I was yesterday, but I’m definitely not 100%. I’m planning to get a good nights sleep tonight. and if I’m not feeling much better, I’ll be able to go to the pharmacy again in the morning. 

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~ by James on March 2, 2012.

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