This week has without a doubt been THE toughest week I’ve ever spent on the Korean peninsula. And technically I shouldn’t really complain, because it was actually my husband who suffered the hardest ordeals during the past seven days. Last weekend he started complaining that his stomach hurt but his appetite was normal and he didn’t seemed fatigued, so we didn’t think much of it. Then at 3am on Monday he woke me up almost screaming with pain. I got up and prepared some antacids and a painkiller, and the next morning he felt better. When I then came home in the afternoon, he had started running a fever. I immediately dragged him to the hospital, where he was rushed to the emergency room. Since I wanted to make sure that he would be able to communicate with English speaking staff, I chose to take him to the Yonsei Severance Hospital, which has an international clinic. Here they ran all kinds of tests, blood work, CT scan, X-ray, ultrasound, you name it they did it. The doctors finally reached the conclusion that his appendix was about to burst, so they rushed him to the OR, where he had surgery at 2am. I was instructed to wait outside and spent the 50 minutes while he was in surgery whining to my mother over the phone. I’ve never been more thankful for the time difference between Denmark and Korea. Who else could I call at 2am? Then the doctor came out and told me that they had just managed to remove the appendix in time, but that they had to keep draining some of the infection from his stomach through a tube. We should therefore prepare for a five-day stay at the hospital.

When my husband woke up from surgery we were taken to a private room for him to rest in, and I spent the last couple of hours before daybreak just holding his hand and assuring him that everything would be fine. The next day, I went home to shower and pack a bag of clothes and toiletries since I was to be admitted with him. The nurses didn’t speak English, so he needed me there to translate. That meant that from Tuesday until Saturday our home was room 1502 at the Severance Hospital. I was allowed to attend my classes in the morning, but otherwise I was to be there around the clock to assist the nurses when they tended to him. It was tough to see my husband in so much pain and agony, and his inability to communicate with the medical staff did not ease his frustrations. I, for my part, was super frustrated and sleep deprived and as my friends and family can attest to, not in a good place. I had to call home at least once a day just to vent my frustrations.

Luckily my husband was getting better by the hour, and we were both happy to feel his progress. On Saturday morning, the surgeon who had operated on my him told us that we could go home in the afternoon. We were over the moon with joy, and I immediately started packing. Little did I know that there was one more hurdle to overcome before we could go home… Settling the bill. Now, healthcare in Korea is expensive for foreigners who are not covered by Korean insurance. We knew that. We even prepared for that. We had anticipated the cost of the surgery and treatment, and we had the money ready in our accounts. So, when I was instructed to go to the third floor and pay the bill, after which we could go home, I hurried down to get in line at the cash register. Here, I met a guy my age who told me that there was a security limit on my Danish credit card meaning that I could only use it for a maximum of 2000 USD without consulting my bank. He told me this after swiping my card multiple times. I then calmly explained to him that I couldn’t reach my bank since it was 7am on a Saturday in Denmark. I offered him multiple cards to split it with, but he must have done something wrong when swiping, because he ended up locking all of my cards. He apologized but also told me that if we didn’t pay the bill immediately, we could not be discharged. So there we were in the hospital with a 10,000 USD bill, the money to pay for it, but no way to reach that money. We offered our passports as collateral if we could just come back on Monday after getting the cards unlocked and the limit lifted on our cards, but he refused. Not knowing what to do we went back to the room and started thinking of who to call. We tried calling one of our friends from the US, who spends a great deal of the year in Seoul. Unfortunately, he was in Ohio at that time (but still answered his phone at 2am, bless him). He immediately offered to lend us the money by letting us use his credit card details to pay the bill. We could just wire transfer the money back to him when we where home (already done). We went down to the counter again and gave our friend’s details, and this time it worked. We were so happy and relieved and the cab ride home was the best feeling ever. We’ve spent most of today sleeping, so we’re ready for the week ahead. We’re flying to Denmark on vacation on Thursday, and there are still so many things to prepare before we leave.

It has indeed been a very rough week, but we’re trying to focus on the positive things. We’re thankful that we went to the hospital before more damage was done. After all, when left untreated appendicitis can be fatal. We’re thankful that the surgery was a laparoscopy (no big incision) meaning minimal scarring. We’re thankful for the incredible nurses who all did an amazing job helping us during our stay. We’re thankful that we got a private room so I could stay with him. And… we try not to dwell on the fact that had this happened just one week later, while my husband was in Denmark, the surgery and treatment would have been free. Anyway! We’re happy its over, and my medical Korean just got a serious upgrade. They say that the words you learn from your own experiences are those that stick best to your brain. I’m sure I’m not forgetting the terms for appendectomy, catheter, bloodtest, anaethesia, blood pressure, infection, etc. anytime soon!


  1. Best wishes for his recovery! Your experiences are making me thing this should be your second job – emergency translating for foreigners.


  2. Happy to hear your husband is recovering. Hopefully the vacation helps you both get well deserved r+r time after such an ordeal. Your story brings lots of hospital memories I had in Korea. I never underwent surgery, but smaller operations and each time I felt insecure going alone due to loss of proper translation ability. Thankfully, there the larger hospitals in Seoul do have bilingual staff.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s