For starters, I tested negative. No need to alert the rest of the colony. I am good… for now.
As most of you know, coronavirus is wrecking havoc upon a good portion of the world. South Korea, the country that I reside in, has the second highest number of cases. A quick Google search will let you know why.
The first reported case of the virus in Korea was on January 20th. Since then, there have been 5,621 new ones with 33 deaths (as of 8:45PM on March 4th, 2020). I have gotten that number from this website. Not long after, I discovered that masks were practically sold out everywhere. There were reports of people buying in bulk. Other reports claimed people were selling the ones they had at exorbitant prices. To try to curb these issues, the masks that are now in stock can only be purchased in small quantities. I have seen massive lines of people trying to get their hands on five to ten masks. Since I did not want to have another mask situation, I decided to get some emergency rations just in case the city that I reside in goes under lock down. Turns out I would use these supplies much sooner than anticipated.
It all started during my recent trip to Tokyo (I will write about that fun trip later). Two friends from the United States flew into Seoul on the 14th and we had a blast roaming around the city for a few days. On the 18th, we flew to Tokyo and returned on the 21st.
I was feeling fine until the night of the 26th. My throat and the inner part of my ears started to itch. They always itch when sickness is about to rain down upon me. The next day when I came down with a horrible sore throat, I went to an ENT near my house to make sure I was in the clear. The receptionists (and later the pharmacist) showed visible signs of distress when they heard that I had just come back from Tokyo. One thing I want to point out now is that I am usually sick. My last ENT knew me incredibly well and by judging by the “Ah, Jennifer…” my new doctor uttered when I walked in, he knows me well too. He thought it was probably just pharyngitis, but because of the coronavirus, he told me to self-quarantine for two days. If my symptoms worsened, I should look into getting tested. I should also mention that I never get well quickly. I spent a month and a half battling different stages of a cold from mid-November to January. I even lost my voice for several days – that was an interesting time to be a teacher. Anyway, I still had remnants of a sore throat two days after my appointment. I decided to stay inside my cozy one-room apartment, and on the 1st my throat became itchy again and I started coughing a lot. To top that off, I was not breathing as easily as usual. The problem is I also suffer from bouts of anxiety. Not ideal.
I tried to call the national hotline for the virus (1339), but because there are so many new cases, I could not get in contact with anyone – (if you are sick in Korea though, please keep trying!). At the time I was 95% sure I did not have the virus, but I kept reading article after article about how most people have mild cases. These cases make it harder to detect and put a lot of people at risk. Although I was fairly certain I just had a cold, I decided to get tested just in case. As I am a teacher at a middle school of nearly 1,000 students, the last thing I want to do is infect my precious children. I looked online for testing clinics around me and found one within walking distance (city walking distance – it was 35-40 minutes away). I thought it best to avoid taking public transport as there was still a 5% chance I had the virus. I read online that most people do swabs of their noses for the tests. I even heard that some places in Korea are doing drive-thru tests – people stay in their cars and hand over samples through their open windows. Naive me thought it would be a relatively easy process – there are not any cases that I know of in the city I live in, so I figured I could just stroll in and shove a swab up my nose. Close but no cigar.
I got to the public health center at around 11:30AM. I saw clear tents and people in full protective gear. I walked up to one tent and asked if I could get tested. I wrote out absolutely everything pertaining to myself: my name, my ARC number, my travels (even the exact times I was in each given place), my ailments, etc. in Korean on a sheet of paper the night before. I usually get by with my low level Korean, but I figured having things written out would save me trouble later. A fully geared-out man told me I had to make a reservation on the phone. I immediately started laughing.
Thus began an hour of phone calls between several people. I called the number on the phone and tried to explain that although I do not have the most severe of symptoms, I work at a middle school. I was able to follow what the poor lady (she was very nice, but I say “poor” because she had to deal with me) said until the very end when I blanked. I then told her that I would get my boss to call her because I did not want to miss out on important information. Unfortunately, my current boss was unable to answer the phone, so I got my boss from 2015-2018 to call. She lives and works in a completely different city, but still came through. Love you, K!
The next part was confusing to say the least. I called my boss. She called the call center. My boss called me back. When I was talking to her, the call center called both me and my boss. We hung up to take the calls. The lady who talked to me gave me the number of a big hospital and said I should make a reservation. The person who called my boss tried to make a reservation at a big hospital for me (since I lack the Korean skills to do so myself). My boss tried to call me back to get the proper information relayed to the call center, but I was still on the phone with the other person. I finally hung up and saw 28 messages from my boss. I sent her the information I wrote out before and had to answer questions like, “Did you eat chicken? duck? exotic animals?” There was a time in that hour that I thought I was home free. There was another time that I thought I had to do two more days of self-quarantine. In the end, I got an appointment. I was ready and willing to just quarantine myself for another week because my symptoms were not life-threatening, but somehow through all the phone calls it was decided that I should get tested. I am pretty sure I was considered a “Patient Under Investigation.” I walked home, avoiding people as much as I could, and napped until my boss called me about my reservation. My reservation was scheduled at the public health clinic for 9:20AM the next morning, meaning I would have to start walking at 8:35AM. I was told to avoid public transportation, wear my mask (of which I expected) and… wait for it… kitchen gloves.
The next morning, I zombie-powerwalked in proper coronavirus fashion to the clinic. My skin was as moist as could be under my mask and gloves. I awkwardly went up to a tent, said my name Korean-style, and waited for them to tell me what to do. I was the only person being tested at the time, so I casually strolled past a bunch of well-organized, numbered tents until I met the person responsible for me. I impressed her with my detailed list that I mentioned before. Being meticulous (almost to a fault) served me well. I was led to get an x-ray of my chest and, although everyone else was completely charmed by me, the guy did not appear as won over by my awkward cuteness. Maybe I misread him. Yes, I definitely misread him. He was super professional though and even tried to speak in English. I had to change into a fresh, single-use robe, which was hard to do with my kitchen gloves on. I had difficulty getting the perfect deep breath, but he was patient with me. My apologies. I felt so bad that I gave him a 90-degree bow when I left.
Afterward, I was guided to get a nose and throat swab done. I have a terrible gag reflex, which was proven to doctors when I had an endoscopy done in 2018 without anesthesia. As I gagged up whatever was left in my stomach, I kept trying to apologize with a tube down my throat. I even mentioned my makeup was getting ruined. Let us just say I was a sight to behold. Back to the present day, I actually held it together. I wish I could call my other doctor and let her know. The nose swab felt as if it touched my brain, but you know me – I should be on a telenovela. I even let one tear slowly roll down my sweaty cheek. The lady doing the swab complimented me for holding it together and not moving during the tests. You are welcome! Even though it is your job, I am sorry you have to expose yourself to this virus. It is the least I could do.
Once I was done, I was allowed to leave. As I passed the first tent, I had to use a phone that was placed outside to connect me with a nurse inside. Even though I understood I had to do so due to protocol, I did not want to touch anything nor be there anymore. By the time I finished my test, loads of people had shown up and I could just feel their illnesses closing in on me. Oh, maybe I forgot to mention I have been told that I am a hypochondriac by several family members and friends. Part of my charm, I suppose. After I got home, I cleaned my room and packed a bag just in case my test result was less than desired.
The next day I received word that I had tested negative. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I will still stay inside as much as possible though. Online shopping, here I come!
Even though South Korea has so many cases of this horrible virus, the medical services here are impeccable. The second I felt ill, I walked two minutes to my local ENT. I saw him within a minute or two of arriving. I paid roughly $4 for my visit. I went next door to the pharmacy and got two days of medication for $2. I was able to get a coronavirus test a day after I called to inquire about it. I was in and out of the test facility in under 30 minutes and it was completely free. Everyone I talked to (whether it be on the phone or at the clinic) tried to assist me with the utmost level of kindness. Despite the fact I do not speak Korean perfectly, they did everything they could to convey much-needed information to me. Although the emergency alerts that inform me about new cases near me sometimes wake me up from my naps (one of the things I love most), I appreciate getting them. I can only confidently speak for the three countries I have lived in – United States, Hungary, and South Korea. Even though I have met amazing healthcare workers in each country, my experience here has been the most efficient, advanced, and cost-friendly. I do want to say thank you to [almost] every doctor and nurse I have encountered in my 31 years though. [Most of] you have been amazing!
I hope all of you stay safe amidst this health crisis. Even though my testing experience turned out well, I hope no one else has to go through it. The coronavirus has caused schools here to start a few weeks later than originally planned. Who knows if I will have a summer or winter vacation. At this point it does not matter to me because the safety of the students is top priority. I never want to lose another student again.
Everyone, please wash your hands properly. Get under your nails. Use soap. Wash your hands before and after touching your masks. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Cough and sneeze into your elbows, not your hands. Stay informed. If you feel sick, stay at home and call the hotline. Think of others. Just because you are healthy does not mean that everyone you encounter has the same privilege. These are some of the only ways we can prevent it from getting worse.
Lastly, I want to say that I am not making any money off of this blog post. I do not make a dime off my blog at all. I just wanted to write it to keep my family and friends updated and to calm the fears of fellow foreigners in Korea who might have to get tested. You are in good hands. With that said, keep your own filthy hands clean. xoxo.
For more information, I recommend consulting the KCDC (Korean Center for Disease Control) webpage. You can also check out this website that was made specifically for the coronavirus issue in Korea. The English part will be available soon. Examples of helpful pictures from these sites are included below:
Stay safe, everyone! I guess I can use all this time at home to finally catch up on two years worth of blog posts…