Korea, Random Rambles
Comments 26

An Uncommon Cold

On Tuesday last week I felt something in my throat “snap” as I was trying to control one of my most despised boys’ classes. The little twerps got me good. My sore throat went feral and I haven’t been back at work since, laid low by what I hope is just a virus or bad cold. I’m slowly getting better, but there’s no way I’m going back into the abyss till I feel something close to normal.

Actually, apart from the obvious discomfort I’ve been enjoying my time off. I’m paid for a certain number of sick days — which never happened in any Japanese job I had — and sadly, I’d rather be sick and at home than healthy and at school. I’ve been catching up on photo editing, doing a lot of daytime sleeping between coughing fits, watching endless action movies on the Action Movie Channel to keep my English skills up, and venturing out to a local coffee shop when cabin fever sets in, eating cheesecake and spreading out my maps like General Ulysses S. Grant, tracing out imagined routes with a pencil.

“Take one packet three times a day.”

Unfortunately my fellow teachers, the female ones anyway, seem convinced I’m at death’s door, and I’m constantly fending off phone calls and text messages enquiring about my health, telling me to rest (I didn’t mention the two small mountains I’d climbed, slowly and in some discomfort, on the weekend — possibly a bad idea), warning me that “bad weather makes our health worse” and that “good food is important for our health”, asking what I’m eating and telling me how worried they all are. It’s touching, but a little annoying. I’m way too old and selfish for such a fuss.

Last night I was wrenched from coffee shop detail with a text from a well-meaning but rather matronly teacher who lives nearby. “Ian, are you at home? I am outside your apartment. I brought you food.” I lied, said I was buying groceries, and drained my coffee in a fury. Can’t a man just get sick in his own fashion? It was a half-hour walk home to collect about 2kg of some undoubtedly healthful but utterly tasteless gruel she’d left with my landlady next door.

(I know what you’re thinking: Ungrateful bastard.)

On Monday a co-teacher took me to the local hospital. It was an eye-opener. Before long I was saying “Ah” and told by my interpreter that I was suffering from “a sore throat”, hardly a revelation, and one that didn’t account for the persistent chest cough and raging sinuses. Then I was led into a back room.

“You have to get your medicine now,” said “Sophie”.

“Cool,” said I, between coughs.

“Yes. Let’s go to the injection room.”

Injection room?”

She laughed. “Yes, but don’t worry. It’s just in the bum.”

Sophie spent a year living in Australia, where, presumably, she picked up the word “bum”. Soon a curtain was being drawn around a bed and a nurse was pointing with cruel purposefulness at my posterior. “Don’t stress, okay? The bum injection is the fastest way,” Sophie advised helpfully through the curtain. I actually laughed as the nurse attacked. Ah well, all part of the adventure, I thought.

Then I was led to another bed. “That was a painkiller,” Sophie said. “Now you’re going to have some Linger.”

“Some what?”

“Don’t you know Linger?”


She looked it up on her phone dictionary and showed it to me. Ringer’s Solution, it said, which still meant nothing to me. I lay down and presented my left hand to the nurse. “It’s vitamins and moisturiser,” Sophie explained — meaning rehydration. “You can rest here for a couple of hours.”

They hooked me up to an I.V. drip, another novel experience for the collection, and Sophie told me to make myself comfortable while she went out to buy my prescription drugs. She came back with a few days’ worth of pills, a fruit salad of drugs I was to take three times a day, despite having no idea what any of them were or what they did. There were also several sachets of some mysterious syrup called Synatura with a frankly alarming illustration on the packet:

I’ll say this, though: that medicinal cornucopia was bloody cheap at $5.

Sophie left, telling me to get a cab home. I was actually enjoying myself now. I saw myself sinking into a deep, medicated slumber while the mysterious Dr Ringer fed his liquid beneficence into my veins. But unfortunately I was not alone in there. Other patients were constantly being led in, mainlined with their own Ringer’s Special, moisturised and vitaminised, then released into the wild. And I was subsumed by violent coughing fits that excluded deep sleep for me and probably most of them as well.

Two hours later I was roused from a tenuous nap. The Ringer’s bag was empty. I felt exactly the same. What a ripoff. The nurses pointed at a door and I headed across the street to a coffee and some recuperative cheesecake. Must keep my strength up.

I’ll conclude my Lugano story next post, survival permitting. 

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Poor you! Would it be insensitive to say that this post made me laugh? It’s the way you write ’em. When I was working in Brussels, I caught flu (the only time I have ever had flu). Boy was I sick! The only good thing was the office left me alone. They didn’t care about me at all except that one time they called just to check that I really was sick and not malingering and to remind me how much work was piling up back at the office. At least your colleagues are genuinely solicitous. But I do empathise. When we are sick we just want to be left alone! Don’t people realise? And why not!? Annoying. Grrr. Ah, that’s better.

    • Thanks, Rachael. I’ve never had this much time off work due to illness, so I’m making the most of it, within limits, and I’m probably lucky that in my case my absence will have virtually no effect on the running of my place of employment. But yes: leave me alone! Just as I was reading your comment I got the following text from “the matron”: “How was today? Have you been the school?” GRRR.

  2. Ungrateful bastard!

    Like Rachael, this post did make me laugh. It also occurred to me you might consider making a professional artistic career out of being ill, like Robert Burton.

    Onwards and, hopefully, upwards, my friend! And a word of advice: stick to the coffee!

    See you later … I’m off trekking for a few weeks …

    Very best wishes, SW

    • Thanks, SW, glad I appeased your sense of schadenfreude yet again!

      Enjoy your walk. I suspect I have guessed your destination, though you do have the capacity to surprise. In any case, I’m very envious and look forward to your reports.

  3. rivron says

    If it weren’t for the sinuses, etc, I’d have said you probably have a bad attack of “teacher’s throat”. It knocked me down ofr a week not so long ago. My voice went – and I couldn’t make a sound for days. It was quite frightening. Get well soon.

    You’ve got me craving cheesecake…

    • Yes, that’s what I thought. It’s quite alarming when your voice cracks like a teenager’s in front of a class of sniggering brats. With me a cold always starts with the throat, then does a tour of nose and chest. This time it’s worse and more tenacious. Going back to the hospital for another dose of…who knows what…today.

      Cheesecake: when my friend Chris & I were walking through Japan, we agreed that this miraculous foodstuff was at the top of our list of most-missed treats.

  4. Your ailment is giving you some good blogging material, so I wouldn’t get well too quick. I saw that photo you took of that Dr Pepper stuff in the bag and it looks a little dodgy. I can sympathise though because if a Doctor gives me a handful of pills or an IV drip, I just trust them and gulp the lot! I’m a prime candidate one day as victim of medical malpractice.

    I do like that that you got your pills in a little bag with pouches. I’m feeling a little jealous…

    • No danger of getting well just yet. I won’t even talk about the symptoms that came into play today! And the pouches are almost spent…

  5. Oh, I’m also taking that Synatura syrup these days. And I must admit I actually like that illustration, it’s somehow cute in its grossness.

  6. hahah! love your sick story Goat. i actually came across your blog because i was looking up Synatura. My husband was prescribed Synatura too today from the doctor because he has a nasty cough. Since we have no idea what it is I was looking it up online and came across this post. something else to add about korean doctors and hospitals: they don’t ask you if you have any allergies or are taking any medication currently before writing you a prescription. that’s a little scary. AND, no gloves when drawing blood. it was definitely a bit of a culture shock to be in a country that’s so developed, yet, come across practices like these that’s very primitive.

    • fyi: after posting on your blog finished looking up synatura. looks like it’s a coptis rhizome plant extract that works well on coughing and anything else related to coughing. you can look up coptis rhizome for all the pretty details. thought i’d post it on here in case anyone else looking for synatura comes across your post.

    • Hey, thanks for that! Yep, I’ve had some weird experiences at hospitals in Korea, but I will say this for them: they’re fast.

  7. I just got back from the doctor, and I have the exact same symptoms and prescription as you did. No idea what the Synatura stuff is, but it is vial, and I didn’t have any rehydration time. He also suggested I drink hot water… Sure 🙂 Whatever you say, doc. Now to start the cocktail of drugs… Did it cure you?

    • Katherine, I really doubt all that stuff did anything. At that point I’d been sick so long I think nature just decided enough was enough. I did find the drip episodes oddly relaxing and wish they’d let me just surrender control and lie there for the whole day. I still see people walking down the street around here carrying their drips full of yellow fluid while they do their shopping. Weird.

      It’s my sad duty to inform you that I’m just in the closing stages (I hope) of a similar ailment that’s laid me low for over a week now. This time I stayed well away from local quacks and folk medicines in plastic bags, and dosed myself with drugs I stocked up on in America. Don’t know if the efficacy was any better but the NyQuil at least put me to sleep and I knew what the other pills were…

      Good luck with your health adventure!

  8. I live in Korea and I get a bad bad flu. What you wrote happens with me too, execpet that I don’t get any injection. After a week with fever, body pain, bur and pain throat, coughing, raging sinus that I decide go to the Hospital. I get my prescription from the doctor and I came back home. Same to you I got it for five days and the same medication. I begin to feel beter….soon it will be over.
    It is very suportive to have people that really care about us.

    • Yes, the Koreans are great believers in treating any signs of illness in an appropriate (if sometimes over-the-top) manner. I was bemused by the whole experience, but kinda enjoyed the attention. I did get some weird ailments in Korea, I must say…

  9. Wow, I can across this post looking up what Synatura was and I found my answer. I actually experienced that same sickness when I first came from the US which was like 2 weeks ago. For the first three days I was fine, I didn’t even have the horrible jet lag people talked about. I was quite active and explored a lot specifically hangang park. Suddenly I started to feel unwell and experienced the same symptoms and it just got worse throughout the day. In the end, I got better but still have a persistent cough and a random congested nose. I guess rest and relaxation is the best answer to all sickness. I recommend tons of water, like loads of it. Room temperature water to be exact. Also if you can purchase/rent an air purifier. My relatives all have one and I think they help!

    • Thanks for your comment, I got a few weird ailments when I lived in Korea — all part of the adventure, especially the treatment!

  10. Each time my Korean wife gets sick, she gets a shoot in the “bum” at the hospital. That’s their way to get you back to work faster! That’s also why I never mention any tiredness to my step family ;). I do agree with you with a tendency to overdose treatments. I’m rather adept to natural ones but here, I rarely get off the 약 with less than 5 pills (and a pocket of Synatura 😉 ) 3 times a day…

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Ha, I was thinking about my time in Korea recently as I recovered from a cold. That couple of times I found myself on a hospital bed over there with a vitamin B drip (I think) in my arm, dozing off in a quiet ward full of similarly indulged patients — it was very relaxing, and got me out of teaching for a bit.

      Every medical experience I had in Korea was weird and perplexing but sometimes almost funny. Donating a urine sample, for example (so they could drug-test me when I started!) while my female Korean co-teacher/minder hung close… Yikes.

      We had a hospital in my suburb, and you’d always see these patients walking down the street sucking on a ciggie while they wheeled their drip apparatus down the road beside them!

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