Friday, November 6, 2009

Will You Still Be My Friend If I Have Swine Flu?

Cause we may soon find out! More on that later.

I swear that all of a sudden on Monday winter came to South Korea. When we woke up on Sunday morning it was around 65F. By the time I left work on Monday afternoon it was around 36F. That is INSANITY. All of a sudden it was crazy cold and windy. It came out of no where. Thankfully I had received a box from my Mom containing my new winter coat and gloves on Friday so I was prepared. I would have frozen without it. The worst part of the weather change as just getting a little insight into how much it is going to suck to commute here in the winter. You literally go from freezing outside walks, to warm platforms, to straight hot trains. And I'm talking hot enough to induce sweat while not wearing your coat at all. It is a pain and a half to have to strip down to your inside clothes each time you get on a train. I know Koreans don't sweat as much as I do, but Jesus, I don't know they are standing on these trains still in their winter coats! I would suffocate.

Work was fairly uneventful, except for the fact that my sixth graders are talking about illnesses and I got the extremely awkward job of explaining exactly what diarrhea and constipation and some other lovely medical issues were to a group of 13 year olds. Awesome. PSYCH. I love Monday afternoons though, because that's when I get to hang out with my fifth an sixth grade returners who are often a highlight of my week. This week they asked the dreaded question: Do you have Facebook? (So far only one has friended me...) When I said yes, they asked if I played Farmville or Mafia Wars or a bunch of other things. I said no, and that I didn't really play any Facebook apps. This was met with a blank look and one of the student saying "Then...what DO you do on Facebook?" Yes, children, I'm old enough to remember when Facebook wasn't available to everyone and was only used for good old fashioned Internet stalking. I'm ancient!

Monday night I decided to be really daring and go get my haircut solo. After soliciting some suggestions from people (namely Renee) about what to do with my hair, I printed out a picture and walked into Hair Goddess, a salon literally right across the street from my apartment. Now I was feeling rather Korean and adventurous, so I decided to get it shorter and get some bangs. I was (I think justifiably) nervous about trusting my first legitimate bangs in a very long time to someone who spoke no English, but everything worked out. I did a lot of pantomiming and pointing at the picture and she did a wonderful job. And the total cost? 10,000won (or about $8). And you don't tip here. Doesn't get much better than that.



After my haircut I headed over to the store to buy a hairdryer so my bangs wouldn't look craaaazy in the morning and came home to do a little relaxing.  A little later, Andie knocked on my door to ask if I had figured out how to turn on the heat in our apartments yet.  While we were talking, our new neighbor Sang (the guy who moved into South African Laura's empty apartment this weekend) walked by so we got to meet him.  Three of us pushed all of the buttons on my hot water heater and still could not figure it out.  Thankfully I had a ton of blankets and prefer to sleep in the cold anyway.  Upon talking to Angie I found out that she couldn't figure out the heater either! (Note: Since then, Liz has showed us how it works and everything is under control.)

Crazy Korean hot water heater that four college graduates can't figure out.

On Tuesday it was fun to see/hear everyone's reactions to my haircut. They ranged from my lower kids pointing and saying "" To my higher kids and some teachers at afterschool saying "You got a hair cut! It looks much better." Someone once told these people that when someone changes something, you should say it looks better. Here that does not carry the same unspoken "It looked like shit before" that it would in the US. Oh non-native English speakers.

I also got to g-chat with my brother for the first time on Tuesday, which was nice even if it was only for a few minutes. We discussed some possible places to visit when he comes to visit in January. For some reason I couldn't convince my brother (who is no big fan of cold weather) that we should go to Mongolia. Something about not wanting to stay in a yurt in 10 feet of snow. ::shrugs::

I also had a miiiiini (maybe not so mini?) breakdown at school. As stated on our school calendar, I currently have off for winter break from December 23 - January 31. I was originally under the impression that I would work at camps from December 28-January 15, thus fulfilling my three weeks of camp requirement and leaving me the last two weeks of January off to do as I pleased. I was also informed that I would most likely be able to take a week of vacation during the 2 week school break in February (between February 13 and 28).

Tuesday morning I was informed that we could not have camp the week of December 28- January 1 would not work because it was not a full week (even though, obviously, that is why I picked that week from my choices). So then my coteacher said camp would be the last week in January- the 25th through 29th. Operating under this impression that I sent my brother a frustrated e-mail saying he'd have to come the week of January 16th-26th and I'd find stuff for him to do in the mornings when I had to work from 9am-12pm.

THEN my coteacher went to talk to the principal who said that we couldn't have camp that last week because we might be coming back from winter break early. After extensive questioning, I learned that because of all this swine flu shit, there is a chance (no one can give me even a guess on the percentage of possibility) that we will get out on winter break a week early and have to come back from break a week early. This would mean that I would get out on winter break on December 16, and return to school on January 25. Because there is a chance of this happening, my principal refuses to schedule camp during that week in January. Therefore I have to work three weeks of camp from January 4-22, and then possibly have to go back to school on January 25. I could not, in good conscience, tell my brother to get a plane ticket to come out here that last week in January. If we get out early for swine flu (which who the hell knows if that is happening or when we'd know for sure) I'd be back at work full time that week and unable to do anything. Him being here a few days of half-day camp I can deal with, but not all day school.

I asked my coteachers how they plan anything, like going to visit family, booking plane tickets, etc when plans seem so unstable. So Young told me that one of the "duties" you agree to as a teacher here is the duty of "obedience." Basically whatever your principal says, goes. You change your plans. You cancel your reservations. You get principal approval to travel during your vacation. She said another teacher in my office had plans to go to Europe last summer, and the principal said she thought it would be fine. Like a month later the principal came back and told her she couldn't go. She'd already put down a deposit with a travel agent, etc, and she just lost it all. She was really upset, but here its something you just accept and do what they say. Which is bat shit crazy and totally foreign to me.

I was BAWLING in the office. It had just been a long day and I really wasn't feeling so well. And in a matter of a few hours I had gone from having two consecutive weeks off in January and my brother coming to visit for 10 days to possibly not having ANY vacation in January and not knowing if my brother would be able to come at all. It was just the end of my rope for the day.

Since then, we have worked out that my brother will join me for some of the Southeast Asian tour I am planning for my February break (Thailand? Cambodia? Laos? Malaysia? Indonesia? Asia is my oyster.) and then come back to hang out for a bit and see some sights in Korea. It is still just crazy to me how much control the principal has over all the teachers! Can you imagine a principal in the US telling someone they had to change the plans they had for a school break? Insanity.  Perhaps equally insane is that no one ever mentioned this power to us.  Not our recruiters, and certainly not SMOE at that WEEK LONG ORIENTATION THEY HAD US AT.  Which is some major bullshit.

Not a whole lot went on Wednesday, except that I was feeling progressively sicker. I mean I've not really been able to breathe at all since I moved to Korea, but I was starting to get achey, had a headache with severe congestion and a runny nose and I was absolutely exhausted. All week I've gone to bed around 9pm and all the sleep in the world wasn't making me feel any more with it. On Wednesday night I took my temperature and I was running a slight fever (around 100F) so I went to bed figuring that if I felt worse in morning I would go to the hospital.

I woke up yesterday definitely feeling worse. I called the international clinic and made an appointment for the early afternoon. I arrived early (as per usual) and noticed that they must be seeing a lot more patients because they've added a couch to the waiting area in the clinic. I talked to the doctor and she said that I had the flu. I was still running a low grade fever, I had aches, a headache, cough, and congestion/stuffy nose. And just the general feeling of crappiness. We talked about the articles I'd read last week and I was mentioning how crazy it was that the Korean SAT is only offered once a year. If you are sick and don't make the test, you have to wait an entire other year. She said that all major tests are like that. When she took the Korean medical exam the girl next to her was hooked up to an IV but she was still taking the test! Crazy! She also said that though swine flu usually presented with worse, whole body aches and a higher fever, she wanted me to get the H1N1 test. She told me that in the past week or so they've seen a huge explosion in number of people with H1N1 at the hospital. And she said that they're starting to see more atypical cases, with almost no fever or missing symptoms.

They gave me a mask and sent me off to the H1N1 testing area where they gave us numbers and told us to have a seat. My English speaking volunteer left me there to fend for myself and headed back to the clinic

Can you tell how thrilled I was to be sitting there?

After a while I saw people with numbers who I had seen close to mine were heading upstairs, so I went and talked to the guy with the clipboard. Apparently my number had been called so he sent me upstairs. When got up there, people were filling out paperwork...all in Korean. I had no idea which line said name versus which line said address. So I gave the girl at the desk my alien registration card (kind of a get out of jail free card? hahah) and looked confused (not difficult). She told me to take a seat and listen for my name. First I was called to a nurse with decent English who took my blood pressure and temperature, and asked some questions. One of which was "Have you had any exposure to people with H1N1?" I responded that I work with over 600 kids a week and that I knew we had some confirmed cases at my school but there were probably even more unconfirmed that I had been in contact with. Then I went back to the waiting area before being called over by a girl with only a little English. She asked if I spoke Korean, and when I said know, she actually groaned and said "OH NO!" While it is easy to be like many foreigners and say "It shouldn't be a surprise that I don't speak Korean, and you should have someone able to speak English to me," I can't help but think that if you were a Spanish speaker in the US and went into a hospital assuming everyone would speak Spanish to you, they'd look at you like you were crazy! It worked fine. The last stop was a girl who spoke no English at all who did my nasal swab. Now, I am not positive, but I am PRETTY SURE she touched my brain with that long ass Q-tip. Waaaay worse than any strep culture. They told me that I will get a text message within the next two days telling me whether the test was positive or negative.

I went back down to the clinic where they wrote down the words "positive" and "negative" for me in hangul (since the text message will be in those pesky Korean characters) and had my prescriptions delivered- 7 days of Tylenol Extended Release, 7 days of Sudafed, a bottle of suspicious looking cough syrup that I think might actually just be diluted least that is what it tastes like, and a course of Tamiflu. Now I've always had a soft spot in my heat for the Zpack, a medicine that I swear you can start to feel working immediately. I remember in college when I had a horrible upper respiratory infection that they sent me to the hospital for, thinking it was pneumonia. It wasn't, and they put me on the Zpack and I honestly went from feeling like I was dying to being able to breathe in a day. I think that Tamiflu gets put in the same honored group as the Zpack. Being completely honest, I feel better today than I have almost my whole time in Korea. I can breathe completely through my nose, which is something I never take for granted anymore.

Now my mom doesn't believe I have the flu. She thinks I just have the same unresolved sinus infection I was give medicine for last month. And this medicine just happens to be working. Yet at the same time she is freaking out and telling me I can't go to the temple stay this weekend that we've been planning for over a month. (You can't have it both ways, mom!) Since I am feeling better and I'm 4/10 of the way through the Tamiflu, I am going. I am wearing a mask whenever I am with a group of people for an extended time (on the train, etc). I went and bought two masks today and have been introduced to the challenges of wearing a mask and glasses at the same time. Each time I exhale my glasses get all steamed up. Which is obnoxious as hell.

Outlook: foggy.

Anyway, the train leaves at 7:10p tonight and I am really looking foward to a relaxing weekend to regroup at the temple.  Updates forthcoming!

Much love.

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