One evening a few months ago when I was taking a shower I noticed a small, hard lump – which I have since decided to name Hector – in my right breast. After a
full-blown mini-panic attack, I decided I should actually go see a doctor before prematurely picking out a totally dope ’80’s playlist for my funeral.
I felt strangely embarrassed to go to the nearby English-speaking doctor for a small boob lump – maybe I was just being a hypochondriac, and this was no big deal – so when I went to the clinic, I first only told her about the cold symptoms I’d had for the past couple of days. The doctor cheerfully described some medicine, and asked if there was anything else, at which point I told her with a feigned nonchalance that there was a lump in my breast that I was pretty sure hadn’t always been there.
If you’ve ever wanted someone to joylessly touch your boob and don’t want to hire a hooker, this is the way to go. After feeling up Hector with an expression of extreme concentration, the doctor immediately got on the phone and called the much larger hospital a couple of miles away, and told them she was sending me over that very afternoon. To be honest, this was not great for my nerves.
The routine at a Korean hospital is essentially the same as any other hospital. You go in, show your ID and insurance card (if you’re a teacher like me, you’ll be given one by your workplace), and are then forced to change into some sort of embarrassing gown. As I’m a foreigner and my level of Korean is not nearly good enough to navigate my way around a hospital, some poor nurse was assigned to lead me around to the different offices and testing centers.
At the hospital, I was examined by another, more specialized doctor, who ordered an ultrasound. I laid flat on a table, arms above my head, while two technicians gelled my chest and ran a wand over it. (Which I’m pretty sure is a scene in the latest 50 Shades of Gray movie as well, right?) I could see the dark image of Hector as they scanned over it – it stood out pretty well from the rest of the softer tissue.
This killed the last of my hopes I was somehow hallucinating the entire thing.
The doctor did a good job quelling my rising panic. He told me that the shape of the lump was pretty smooth, and as it wasn’t hurting and there wasn’t any nipple discharge, it was very most likely benign and therefore, not a problem. I was instructed to come back in a few months to see if it had grown any, and in the meantime, to keep my cool.
The cost of this first visit was about 125,000 won (about $115 USD).
Several months later – probably longer than I should have waited, to be honest, but I was busy procrastinating – I returned to a different hospital (as I had moved from Namwon to Suwon) to have my follow-up visit.
After yet another passionless boob-touching session and ultrasound where the doctor pointed out that I had a mass in my breast, he told me that he would be performing a fine needle biopsy to check Hector out.
The technician helping, possibly noticing my worried expression or else just really excited to practice her English, choose that moment to semi-yell “WE WARMED THE GEL.”
I had noticed and was grateful. Cold ultrasound gel has to be the worst.
If you’re unfamiliar with needle biopsies, the doctor inserts a
big-ass large needle and takes a sample of the mass, to perform tests and thus learn more about its makeup. The whole thing took roughly thirty unpleasant seconds before I was allowed to clean myself off the best I could with a towel and awkwardly get re-dressed.
The check-up, ultrasound, and biopsy cost me 213,000 won, which is pretty expensive for Korea. I was comforted by the fact that I would have to take out a mortgage to afford the same in the US.
The day I spent waiting for the biopsy results was probably one of the most stressful days of my life, especially since I couldn’t resist Googling. (PSA, Googling while waiting for a biopsy result is essentially self-fear mongering. Don’t do it. Watch baby animal videos instead.) The clinic ended up calling me around noon, and told me that while not actually cancerous, Hector was growing and they recommended removal.
As it stands now, I have an appointment to have Hector removed a couple of Saturdays from now, when I can have a Korean friend accompany me to the clinic. I’ll update with Part II once I have the very un-sexily named lumpectomy performed.
Have you ever had any surgery done while abroad? What was it like?