I don’t need to go to the hospital

March 11, 2011

ROKetship comic, Luke Martin

I’ve been pretty sick the last two days. Fortunately, I have a very accommodating boss here in Korea. I’ve covered for him at school when he had family emergencies or needed to take a few hours to rest himself. I’ve just been fascinated by the different ways cultures approach minor illnesses (major ones too, but they’re no laughing matter).

For example, in Japan and Korea, all my employers suggested I go to the hospital whenever I called in sick (and was in fact sick). “Suggested” is actually too weak a word (from Keeping Pace in Japan):

Don’t take sick days unless you’re prepared to feel a whole lot worse at the end of the day than when you started.

Let me elaborate. You wake up, nauseated. There’s not a chance in the world you feel like standing up in front of eight students and listening to their speeches for an hour. Something must be done. You reach for your trusty cell phone and dial before the clock strikes 10:00 AM (according to policy)…

Hai, moshi moshi
I can’t come into work today, I’m just too sick.
Oohhh, I’m so sorry. Please wait, I will take you to hospital.
The hospital?? No, I just need to rest.
Please wait. I will come.
No, I’m fine, I just need to stay inside, rest, and eat healthy foods.
I think you need to go to hospital

Based on what? Your expert medical opinion? Hardly. Half the time, this is not so much out of concern for your health, but rather an attempt to prove that you are physically incapable of dragging yourself to work and to provide medical documentation for missing work.

I hate hospitals. When I’m sick, all I need to do is rest at home. Spending hours in a waiting room and a few additional hours waiting for a doctor who can look me over and then tell me I need to rest doesn’t help. And if the doctor tells you can return to work for the rest of the day, AEON sees no problem in forcing the issue. The company should be accommodating to your request to stay at home, but they will often demand that you go into a hospital, or at least be examined by a staff member to see if you’re really sick.

At the time, I honestly believed a hospital visit in Japan was a shallow attempt at shaming the person into working when he clearly wasn’t in the best of health. Now, I’m not so sure, having seen the same pattern in Korea. When I’m sick, I settle under some blankets, try to ignore my brain boiling, and drink plenty of fluids. When someone in Korea or Japan is sick, it seems like going to the hospital is his first instinct.

Then I started considering the healthcare situation. In both Japan and Korea, health insurance is required and available to everyone for reasonable rates. In the US, it’s a dodgy area if you aren’t working with a stable company; I believe over 50 million Americans live without health insurance of any kind. And even if you are insured, hospital visits are expensive. Could that be the reason I have such an animus to casually walking into a hospital with a cold? Could my parents have raised me to find cheaper alternatives to medication and consulting a doctor? Perhaps… but I don’t think so.

More likely it’s my arrogance and independence telling me I don’t need anyone’s help. I can fight off this illness without a doctor, without pills. Orange juice and vitamins, that’s all I really need.

Still, being sick did finally give me the opportunity to hear the expression you see in the ROKetship comic above. It’s no secret that the words “get”, “take” and “have” are difficult for any non-native English speaker to master. “A”, “an”, “the”, “some”, and “any” are equally confusing. So I can kind of understand how Koreans tend to say “take a rest” rather than “get some rest”. Your moment of Zen.

One Response to I don’t need to go to the hospital

  1. Eric on March 15, 2011 at 12:26 am

    In S. Korea, people go to work normally unless their on the verge of death. Its just a culture thing. Normally people will go to work sick. But also, there is no general doctor in Korea, so normally they’ll go to the hospital for a general check up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to OAT

Created by Webfish.

Need Advice on Living Abroad?

Thinking of teaching English in Japan? Volunteering in Thailand? Backpacking around New Zealand? If you're looking for some insider tips on the places to go and the people to meet, check out my consulting services. If you just have a few questions, no worries: email me.