Saturday, November 24, 2012

Medical Treatments in Korea


Korea has perhaps an unexpectedly good and efficient healthcare system, with doctors surgeries and hospitals aplenty in the average city.  If you get sick in Korea and you have medical insurance you will receive some of the best quality care going, but there are some strange little oddities that go on from time to time.

Over-treatment

I don't know if Korean people are just overly paranoid about their health or they simply want to fully utilise their health cover to the best of their ability, but they do seem to have some seriously over the top treatments at times. 

If you are sick with a cold or a stomach bug and go to the doctors in Korea for some medicine they are likely to put you on a saline drip or at least offer to.  I had never been on one before I came here but I was sort of bullied into it the other day when I had a stomach complaint.  It did cost me a little extra money, although I have to admit I felt about a hundred times better after having it.  I don't know that it was wholly necessary though (maybe the Koreans are on to something though, as I said it did make me feel much better).  My wife does it all the time and because she is a nurse she even does it herself or does it for friends and family for ordinary cold symptoms.  It is all quite normal.

When I sprained my ankle a couple of years ago in Korea, I knew what I had done because it had happened to me before.  Although painful, I refused to go to the doctors because I knew what would happen.  Any, even very minor injury, is often treated by placing unnecessary strapping or casts to the affected area.  At the all-boys high school where I work there are always students hobbling around on casts, wearing neck braces, or have bandages over arms.  At the time of writing I have just taught a class where a student came in looking like he had been in a car crash with a big neck brace.  It turned out that when I asked him what he did, he had just slept strangely and woken up with a sore neck in the morning.

Korean Alternative Therapies

The popular traditional therapies in Korea appear to be some different forms of acupuncture and Chinese medicine.  As a proponent of the scientific method, I have always been sceptical of alternative therapies because, essentially, by being called 'alternative' it means that they are unproven.  This especially relevant to Chinese medicine and acupuncture because they have both been extensively tested and found to be no better than placebo time and time again.  Some ingredients in Chinese medicine have been shown effective but these don't come around very often.

Everybody knows what acupuncture entails but there is an interesting type of acupuncture in Korea called moxibustion.  This involves applying heat to the body with a stick or a burning cone of mugwort.  This is then placed over injuries or pressure points to stimulate and strengthen the blood - although what exactly 'strengthening' the blood does is a bit of a mystery to me.  This technique is often used alongside the more conventional form of acupuncture and the use of round glass jars with the burning mugwort inside is common.  This results in dark circles forming temporarily on the backs of the patients, which many foreigners may have seen in the showers (resembling an attack from a giant octopus) if they use the public baths or go to the gym.

Eating Korean Porridge (죽)

If you are sick, Korean doctors, bosses, and everyone will recommend that you eat porridge.  When I was first in Korea I was a little confused as I thought that meant good old-fashioned oat porridge with a bit of jam and sugar.  In Korea, though, porridge is rice based and is sort of a gloopy, soupy mixture of rice, vegetables, mushrooms, and sometimes meat or fish.  This description doesn't make it sound all that appetising but it is really good, healthy, and easy to digest, and for this reason it makes perfect sense to prescribe it.

Drips in the Streets

One of the iconic sights of Korea, I reckon.  Hospital patients can regularly be seen outside hospitals or even down the local supermarket with a saline drip attached to them, walking around with it.  People even sit outside on a drip and smoke cigarettes.  In my view, if they are sick enough to need a drip they should not be out and about.  The reason that they are walking around with them is that they don't really need them, harping back to the first point I made in this blog post.

The Injection in the Butt

I am sure that anyone living in Korea for an extended period of time or anyone who has been a little sick here would have had the needle in the backside treatment.  I had it done a couple of times when I was very new to Korea and suffering with acute irritable bowel syndrome brought on by eating their bread, which is made with milk (I am lactose intolerant).  Bent over in painful stomach cramps I went to my employer for help in going to a doctor before I started my day's work.  I said it was unlikely that I would be able to work that day.  My boss simply took me to a doctor's surgery where they gave me the injection.  I was then told to have an hours rest and come to work as normal.  It did not make any difference whatsoever.

Korean Pills

Go to a pharmacy in Korea and you will be likely to receive an array of brightly coloured pills for even mild complaints.  It all seems a bit worrying but apparently it is only this way because in Korea they do not combine all the ingredients into one pill and prefer to leave them separate.  In all likelyhood 3 or 4 brightly coloured pills have exactly the same effect as just the normal one or two in our countries. 

The Koreans may well be on to something, however, as numerous studies on the placebo effect have shown that sugar pills with brighter colours tend to make people feel better than a simple colourless pill.  Also, expensive brand pills in supermarkets often have the same result in making people feel better than cheaper brands do, despite there being exactly the same quantities of active ingredient in them.  Maybe they are trying to boost the psychological effects of taking the medicine.

No comments:

Post a Comment