I looked at the blood gushing from my index finger. “That was stupid. I know you’re supposed to pay attention when washing kitchen knives, but you know.”
I wrapped my wound in a paper towel and with one hand started Googling how to do stitches with Krazy Glue and duct tape (I’d seen this in movies). Every website said neither work.
“Maybe it’ll just heal up,” I told myself, even though my paper towel supply started running low.
The giant red wrap around my finger horrified my students. I taught in Korea, not the USA, so my children weren’t trying to shiv me or sell me narcotics. They were legitimately interested in my safety.
“Go to the hospital! You need help!” With a few taps on smartphones, they found a clinic.
I’m an American, which means if a rattlesnake bites me, I’ll only go to a doctor if the king cobra’s insurance pays. Korea provided me with insurance, but what good is anything the government does? I moaned and groaned. I told the kids class was cancelled. I wouldn’t be a valuable teacher if I died of blood loss or an infection.
“There goes my paycheck,” I sobbed. “I really wanted to go on that vacation, too. All this because I wanted to finish washing dishes quickly.”
I dragged my sad feet up two flights of stairs to the doctor’s office. The door was open, but there weren’t any people waiting. “Maybe they’re closed but forgot to lock up.” A nurse jumped out and greeted me. “Maybe my students made an appointment. That was nice.”
Once I sat down, the nurse told me to get up. I did my best to explain what happened. She laughed and showed me to a different hallway. “Ah. Now I’m going to the waiting room.”
Nope, a doctor sat me down in his office. He examined my wound, smiled, injected my finger with something and stitched me up. I’ve had more than my fair share of sutures, and this guy knew his stuff. Then he told me I needed to pay.
“Now I get to kiss my savings goodbye,” I whined. “I wonder what the copay is. Shit. This sucks.”
You know the face somebody gives you before they tell that you something is going to be really expensive? “Ooooh, a last-minute plane ticket to New York on Thanksgiving Day? Geez, that’ll be, yeesh, $1,600.” “Sorry bro. You need $9,235 worth of work on your car.” “Dang, you want Pamela Anderson’s swimsuit from ‘Baywatch’? Gonna cost ’bout a jillion dollars. Ouch.”
When she looked at the bill, the nurse winced almost as much as I did. She chimed, “Sorry. We have to charge you something. It will be 3,400 won.” (Won is the currency in Korea).
“Shit,” I sighed. “Wait. What? 3,400 won?”
“Sorry. We know it’s very expensive, but health care can’t be free in our country.”
“That’s, like, three bucks.” I smiled. “Do you want a tip?”
“Thank you for not being mad. But you still have to pay for medicine at the pharmacy downstairs.”
“Ah. This is how they get you,” I frowned.
The medicine man gave me some pills and the same face the nurse did. “The antibiotics are quite expensive. It will be …” He sighed, and we both shrank. “4,310 won.”
“Four dollars?” I couldn’t believe it.
“Please don’t be mad,” he cried.
He didn’t speak enough English to explain how the system works, and I didn’t really know enough about insurance practices to understand. All I cared about was that I spent about $7 on an emergency room visit.
A week later, I got my stitches pulled. “Now here’s when they get you,” I sighed.
Getting unstitched was free.