I consider myself to be quite calm in most chaotic/emergency situations. This comes from several years experience working in chaotic environments. I didn’t imagine I would have to experience MY OWN emergency situation while in Korea. Here’s what went down:
Christmas weekend, I decided to go to Ulsan (my Korean hometown) to spend the holiday with two close friends. I arrived at the bus station in the early afternoon, around 1pm. Due to the holidays (and not being able to reserve tickets online) I was stuck with a seat in the very back row and had 45 minutes to kill until the bus left. I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, but there was a long line at the fast food chain in the bus station. I noticed a blood bank and thought I would inquire about the requirements. Now, I had donated blood a few times in the States, and was on the emergency donor list when I lived in Haiti. When I returned to the States in 2000, I tried to donate again, but the Red Cross denied my donation because of the malaria area/risk. I assumed I couldn’t donate anymore, but a former student of mine told me several months ago that I might be able to donate in Korea. Worth a shot… long explanation short, I had passed the quarantine period and am able to donate in Korea. So, I gave blood. It was my Christmas gift to Korea. When I finished, I had to get going in order to make my bus. —-No Lunch—- but thought to myself, “I’ll pick something up at the midway point. No big deal.”
I make the normal small talk with the people beside me and we’re off and running on the bus. About 30 minutes into the ride, I feel a bit thirsty, which then almost immediately turns into nausea, which then shortly turns into my vomiting into a black plastic bag. The only thing in my stomach was the four (dixie) cups of grape juice I consumed at the blood bank. I’m now sitting on a bus, with a bag of puke, with no water and no rest stop for another 2 hours or so. [There IS water at the front of the bus, but I was unaware of it at that time.] I clean myself up with the wet wipes I carry in my purse, and try to get some rest. —Very strange, because I have NEVER been car sick in my life. I wrote it off as being in the back, elevated seats of the bus, on a very jerky ride through Seoul holiday traffic. —
Another 20 minutes or so, and I woke up out of my light sleep needing to vomit again. I had already tied the previous bag and couldn’t get the knot undone fast enough. I vomited in the open part. Unfortunately, before I could get that portion squared away, I suddenly felt the world spinning around me and now recognized the feeling of impending blackout. Now, having previously held an EMT (Emergency Medical Training) license, I was conscious of what I needed to prepare for the EMTs I would surely soon be meeting. I tried communicating with the man (whom I had small talk with earlier) beside me. I gestured that my head was spinning and I was going to pass out. I spoke to him in Korean, telling him that I couldn’t see and I needed help. I rambled through my purse, trying furiously to race against the clock of consciousness, to find my emergency card, my health insurance card and my id. All I could think to myself was, “DON’T PASS OUT! You have to find these cards!” A bright, white light was ever creeping in and I noticed the glow of the red seats in the bus. I tried to focus, squinting and fighting a bit in order to fight the light trying to win the battle against me. I then got my phone and sent a message “SOs….blackout.” The message was broadcast in a class/group chat I had set up with my students. We use it for quick communication to all class members. Unfortunately, they were in class and not able to do my next command “call.”
It felt like an eternity passed. You know, that slow-motion-yet-mind-racing-a-mile-a-minute feeling you get just before a car accident? That was the feeling. In truth, only about 90 seconds had passed. I couldn’t wait for the call any longer. I was thinking, “I’ve got to get someone on the phone. I can’t die on this bus today.” I called the person at the top of my call log (who speaks both English and Korean). It happened to be my student. The phone rings twice, he picks up and whispers, “I’m in class. Wait” and hangs up the phone. –I pass out–
I doubt I was “under” for long, as I came-to “fighting” again. I feel the paleness in my face. The perspiration on my upper lip. I text again “i have an emergency.” (I have no idea how there were no typos in this text.) It’s now break time for my students and Leo calls to investigate the matter. I can’t really make full, intelligible sentences, but I manage to convey that I am in trouble. He instructs me to put someone on the phone. The only candidate is this guy –who has gone from a small talk / stranger, to a man who I’m relying on to “take care of me” in my time of need.
Things go white again and I am really struggling to stay conscious. I keep chastising myself about not speaking better Korean and not to lose control of myself. It was a very scary feeling, especially for someone who doesn’t get drunk because I don’t like the feeling of being out of control of my own body. My body settles down, I go to sleep. At the rest stop, I get something to eat, more juice, another plastic bag– just in case– and some crackers. The man asks someone up front to switch seats with me. Although not feeling 100%, I was much better for the remaining 2-hour ride to Ulsan.
Here are some “lessons learned” from this experience:
1-LEARN MORE KOREAN
2-KEEP THE EMERGENCY CARD HANDY
3- HAVE A FRIEND (who speaks Korean and English) ON SPEED DIAL
Medical emergencies are not easy for an untrained eye to spot. I was fully aware of what was happening, but those around me had NO CLUE what to do. I am not convinced they even realized I had an emergency.
In Korea, people often “ignore” situations because they don’t want to cause someone to lose face. I think this is further exaggerated by the fact that I am a foreigner and the language barrier intimates the best of us. So, what would YOU do if you were in my situation? I hope that you at least have an emergency card (2:05) to present should you find yourself in the unfortunate event of an emergency situation here in Korea. I don’t know if I handled it “perfectly,” but I am confident that I handled it the best I could have, given the circumstances.
Hopefully none of you reading this will ever need this info, but in case you do, I hope that you have learned from my experience. Let’s continue enjoying this great country in health and prosperity. ^^
SIDE NOTE: This is my theory on what happened (medically). Since I didn’t eat, and I lost a fair amount of blood, I was automatically weaker than normal. Sitting in the extreme back caused me to become car sick and when I vomited the contents of my stomach, I subsequently also vomited the only nutrients keeping my blood sugar in line. Thus, my body had a bit of an issue regulating things, and caused me to pass out. SO, NO MATTER HOW BUSY YOU ARE, TAKE TIME TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.