Latest Check-up: November 4th 2019

Just this Saturday, the hospital’s automated messaging system texted me to let me know that it was time to see Prof. Kim again, and perhaps also render blood samples!

It’s hard to believe that it is now twenty-two months since part of my colon was excised and the two ends stitched together again; hard to believe that in that time I have actually had three jobs (although two of them are the same one) and gone from here to Jinju and back. As it happens, when asked by manager Jamie recently whether I wanted to stay, I gave her a “maybe” answer – until I remembered that too many students really want to teach kids, and this is something that no longer interests me. So later, the answer was “no”… probably because yes, it has been stressful. No kidding!

Another thing that hit me kinda hard – ouch! – was when I wondered if I could find my old domicile, back in the north of Miryang, on Google Street View (yes, unfortunately I still have uses for Google). That was back in March 2009 – ten years ago! – when I finally left Changwon, where I had been for my first six years in Korea, to take on my first public school job, and looking back, I now think that was a major error, especially considering that after I left the KDLI in 2014, I ended up working at the same place in Changwon again, although not for long, as Mr. Lee’s customer base was already shrinking.

Lo! and Behold! – it was still there, and although there had clearly been some more building in the area since I was living there; remarkably the unoccupied plot in front of the entrance was still rough ground with someone’s veggies growing on it. Some things never change!

Anyway, it’s been a long time, and I have been working in so many places around the country, but I still think that Changwon was the best place for actually living, largely I suspect because it has a more “human” scale than bigger places like Busan and Daegu, and actually walking to where you want to go physically rather than taking public transport, for example, is often not unrealistic, not to mention healthier. Miryang was also not actually bad – in fact, getting out of bed early and walking from my place across the island to the school, and walking back again afterwards, was by no means a drawback. Likewise, Changwon is a place where routine exercise (in the sense of getting plenty of walking in) is both easy and pleasurable.

Other changes to my Lost Geography have taken place within the last ten years – relatives, including, alas, my own mother – have passed on in that time and even returning to my own country appears extremely unpalatable; it’s unclear at the moment what the best option might be.

Now we return to today, and my latest conflab with Professor Kim. Since I last saw him, one interesting change has taken place: recently, I came off the generic Lopmin (Imodium) capsules that were prescribed for me as an antidiarrhoeal because I was finding that they were perhaps somewhat too effective (i.e. a bit too powerful for my own sensitive and residual gut); it was at times difficult to pass stools because they were so dry and stiff, so I experimented several times until I felt that I could be confident not to shit my pants at an inopportune moment, such as, for example, when shopping or in the middle of a lesson.

At first it was a bit dodgy, but I think it may have been helped by a couple of things: firstly, the fact that I tend not to drink a lot of water on work days, and secondly that when I do drink on work days, it tends to be quite strong coffee, especially for “breakfast”, which otherwise I normally leave out. On one hand, therefore, there is reduced water intake coupled with a strong diuretic (high-strength, “shoot-me-to-the-Moon” coffee), and on the other, there is the prevention of the gastrocolic reaction by, er, not eating. I think that this combination is assisting my truncated gut to perform its natural dehydration function more normally, as less digested food is passing through it, and secondly my body is running lean on water anyway. The result is mainly stools with normal colour and consistency, although exactly when they demand to be released still tends to be rather random like, say, two or three a.m. Generally, however, it is no longer so bad; I think the main thing is avoiding a large meal to prevent the gastrocolic reaction taking place at an unhelpful moment… I need hardly repeat Professor Kim’s admonition to lose weight.

He and I discussed this and the main problem is getting enough sunlight exposure for my skin to manufacture sufficient Vitamin D naturally. I take a number of supplements for this regularly but obviously, natural is better and my little “issue” here is that normally I have little exposure to sunlight due to the desk-bound work that I often perform (and also spending much of a working day indoors in any case), so getting enough daylight input is rather difficult.

Clearly, this means that the job itself (and the associated work) is therefore something of an “issue”. Another is the preponderance of mainly female prospective students who want to teach kids, something I lost interest in a long time ago. So the adverts are out and I am looking for something new (which I also mentioned to Professor Kim, as this would make routine checks more difficult). Some might complain that perhaps I protest too much and should just suck it up, but the fact remains that after all this time in Korea, some disillusionment has long since set in and the general teaching environment is demotivating for someone like myself. I need something more relevant and appropriate to find my mojo again. I used to teach kids for the purpose of survival, and not because I enjoyed it.

Shortly after my contract ends, I will have to go to the Gu Hospital again to have my colon inspected with a large and fearsome tool, and as I have elected not to re-sign before that time, I don’t know quite where I will be at that exact moment, but as always, I remain optimistic. Time and again a job has come along (sometimes almost too late) and I have been here for another year. I had hoped to have transitioned to something else a long time ago, but unfortunately circumstances have prevented this. Perhaps that is where I should be focusing for the remainder of my time in Korea.

Colonoscopy… Finally…

At long last, I finally arranged my colonoscopy, which was way overdue and should have been done about five months ago… you’re probably not surprised by now…

What follows is an expanded (slightly) version of a recent FB update, a couple of days later.

So… having surfaced on time with the cell phone alarm too early on a Friday morning (“Fishing Junks at Sunset” by Jean Michel Jarre at literally 4:00am local time), and my sore a-hole having recovered somewhat from yesterday’s probing, I made my way to work and I’m sitting at the front desk now on the last Saturday morning of the current session, with the weekend class sweating away at their Final Exam.

Previously, back in Professor Kim’s consultation room, I had explained that it was not possible to do the colonoscopy that day because of that disgusting “CoolPrep” purgative which had returned whence it came poste-haste, not just because it was retch-inducing in its own right, but also because it was lemon flavoured. I’m allergic to lemon and although on prior occasions I had managed to scarf it all down pretty much as required, this final time my stomach’s reaction couldn’t be prevented.

When the Prof. pointed out that I had apparently taken it with no problems before, I went into “That was then, this is now” mode. Repeated exposure had sensitised me to it, and the result was on the living room floor… he should be grateful; he didn’t have to clean it up afterwards…

I remember waking up Friday morning after the colonoscopy, on the hospital gurney, lying on my back and thinking: “That was over very quickly!”, and indeed it was… beforehand, Dr. Song had told me that it would only take about ten minutes, and it certainly seemed that way; one injection and I was out like a light.

After I came around, a couple of nurses walked me (somewhat unsteadily) back to Doctor Song’s consulting room and he gave me the low-down: they had gone all the way through the remaining colon as far as my appendix, and there were no signs of polyps, no signs of any return of the cancer, really the only visible thing was the healed scar of the anastomosis (the point where Professor Kim had re-joined the severed ends of my colon after the tumour had been removed) could be seen. He showed me the photos taken during the procedure and I have to admit, it did look good. If you can call the appearance of your gut lining “good”, that is…

With that, he told me that I could go, and after changing back into my usual duds, I walked out of the consulting room. As I passed the lobby desk, they handed me a small bottle of Pocari Sweat to help restore lost electrolytes. They had given me a new type of purgative which is taken as discrete pills rather than being drunk as a liquid, the two main disadvantages of which seemed to be – firstly – that you had to (try to) take fourteen (!!!) of them with copious liquid within about fifteen minutes, once the night before and once again very early the next morning before going to the hospital, and – secondly – that these pills were new and not actually covered by the national health insurance, although at KRW35,000 I didn’t feel too put out by the unexpected cost. Thankfully, they were not needed… and I didn’t sleep much… got back home about noon and went to sleep PDQ…

Again, previous experience when I was still learning how to moderate the function of my dysfunctional colon with the Lopmin (an antidiarrhoeal preparation available in discrete capsules) made me take the precaution of packing some diapers (large size of course) in my bag before setting out, with some added inner pads (in case a double diaper was necessary). As it happened, the hot summer weather and the dehydration that accompanies it together have a habit of mimicking the effects of the Lopmin to some extent, so I was able to go to the hospital and back again, by public transport, without any, er, embarrassment… Thankfully, then, they were not needed… and I didn’t sleep much… got back home about noon and went to sleep PDQ…

I have to say that the hospital department seemed to be run as a tight ship and all the patients seemed to be processed quickly and efficiently; the only little “problem” we seemed to have was that the young nurse couldn’t find a suitable arm vein for the Ringer’s solution drip and had to ask for assistance from another nurse after three botched attempts (ouch!), but we got there in the end… ( and two days later, as I sit here editing this, I can still see the bruises).

So now I am sitting in on a quiet Final Exam for the current weekend class. Tonight I will be busy marking their papers, and tomorrow they will graduate… and do you know something? I am looking forward to sleeping on Sunday night…

Great Stuff!

Had to add this once I saw it. A whole load of stuff at Ill Will Press.

Handle your shit:

Alas! Poor Vic!

Alas! Poor Vic! 🙁

Final Quarterly Check and the Future

Regular readers of this pointless screed – all two of you – may have noticed that the due date of the fourth and final quarterly check has come and gone with little from myself by way of the usual commentary, and indeed, you would be quite correct. That, however, is down to my erstwhile employer deciding to let me go when I had expected to re-sign (and even had a two-year apartment contract to prove it). This turned out to be another minor disaster, but we are now close to some kind of resolution, so, blogging time again…

Long-term readers will also recall that when I first set foot on Korean soil, I had signed up for a hagwon job and proceeded to stay in that job for almost six years; it was, in fact, only some shenanigans on the part of my then-boss relating to national pension payments that finally caused me to throw up my arms in despair and transition to my first public school job.

Looking back, that was something of a mistake, and the adventure of transitioning from one employer to another virtually every year since then has been both unwelcome and expensive; before hitting Jinju, I had had the luxury of being able to remain in Daegu for two years, but only because I was fortunate enough to have two successive employers. Hopefully I can put all of that behind me now, but it is curious to observe firstly that Oneself is still somehow considered a desirable foreign employee even when knocking on the doors of 57 (and having had medical treatment for bowel cancer, no less), and secondly that I can return to a previous position with something approaching nonchalance.

As it happened, the last employer had someone else in mind (male, British and younger) who had worked there previously and they therefore had no intention of re-signing me, but had (I heard, don’t ask me how) been given instructions to “go through the motions”. They also had a student feedback system but for some bizarre reason, my co-teacher (who was also the officer in charge) decided not to pass any of it on to me, which would have been quite helpful; in fact, he hardly ever told me anything at all for his remaining time there, leading to a situation (as my Canadian co-worker would probably confirm) in which I was basically flying blind, and spending a lot of my time sitting there with apparently nothing to do. Important information often came to me from his Korean co-worker, something which I gather she also found irritating, to say the least. The final straw for me was when I was handed my annual teacher evaluation (which both of us foreigners actually failed) and one of the students’ comments was: “Please teacher, no more homework!” – which was insane because the speaking classes had no homework. Can you spell “lying, lazy little toerags”?

Thankfully, I received that evaluation the week I left, promptly replaced it in its envelope and forgot about it; after all, my Canadian co-worker, who is a professionally qualified teacher with mucho experience of all kinds of teaching, but ended up sitting next to me having become disenchanted with the outcome of ten years spent teaching at the local university, himself complained about how we were faced with the impossibility of changing our style to be more suitable on account of the fact that at no time had we actually been briefed on the criteria for evaluation. One’s working life in Korea is littered with these scintillating samples of silliness, but looking back, I can vouch for the fact that my experience of similar work in Taiwan was little better.

So… the time came when the final quarterly check was due, and this meant a blood sample (ouch), CT scans and a final poke of the endoscope up one’s nether hole, but alas, it was not all to be: the purgative, this time, was extremely difficult to get down and I ended up with a load of it coming back up from my stomach all over the living room floor of the new apartment, as I made a dizzy dash to the bathroom, early on a Monday morning. That meant that the final endoscopic examination would eventually have to be performed at another hospital where they didn’t use lemon-flavoured (aaarrrghhh) CoolPrep polyethylene glycol plus minerals to push it all out in a matter of hours (it really leaves you drained, in more ways than one, believe me). The following Monday I went to get the results from Professor Kim and he told me that there were no visible signs of the spread of cancer, and I wouldn’t have to go there again for a couple of years, apart from the endoscopy, which would eventually be arranged at another hospital locally. Sounds positive to me!

When we come to the transition back to Daegu from Jinju, alas, it was not so straightforward, although by returning to my usual removal guy, Mr. Cho, I was able to save about ₩500,000 over the previous year’s removal company and, indeed, ₩200,000 from his own quote the previous year! Alas, confusion about where he was supposed to go to and from where meant that I got stung for another ₩100,000 to cover the cost of driving back to Jinju from Daegu before we could finally set off. Then the usual temporary chaos of everything dumped in any open space in the new place (I’m still slowly shoehorning everything into place even now) and the inevitable need to clean up a second time due to the mess this process generates.

Alas again, having already had a prolonged and awkward transition to Jinju from Daegu, I then had the same from Jinju transitioning back to Daegu, but worse – I was not able to get my expensive deposit back immediately because of the particular position of the property – in the north of the town, in a downtown barzydown area full of coffee shops, eateries and noraebangs, away from the “action” which would have been some distance away, around the university – and lost much of my final salary and severance paying the deposit on the new place. Thankfully there has been some minimal cash flow in the interim and at the time of writing, the Jinju landlord has found a new occupant, but I had to take a trip back to the apartment last Monday, as the latter person seemed to think it wasn’t clean enough! I travelled there, spent five or six hours scrubbing the place, then came back to Daegu… to wake up the next morning as stiff as a board, thanks to all that muscular exertion. The good news is that it seems that I may get my deposit (minus costs) back this coming Saturday. So that’s positive, too.

The downside has been that of the two normal sessions which we would have in a week (three weekdays for one course and the weekend days for the other) will not be fully operative until next month (May) as student recruitment is somewhat down again (and hence so is the salary), but the reduced workload has a benefit in the sense that there is an appreciable extent of lesson planning and material preparation and this needs some time to complete. Now, if I can just get enough sleep (yawwwnnn…), I can get it all done.

The other little issue I have been finding is that the combination of downtime and excess effort, on top of being notionally still a cancer patient, has all been very demotivating; everything has seemed to be a drag and this is not “me” at all. When confronted with impending mortality in the shape of a gut tumour, then the operation and sharing a very small cancer ward with others clearly in rather worse shape than myself, and then heartlessly being told that I was being released from my job and everything else that followed on it… you have no idea the levels of stress I have had to cope with at the same time as having to handle all these other things; the FDD had literally only just been removed and I had returned to my old Daegu home on a January afternoon when the phone call came, telling me that I would need to find something new! You have no idea what strength I have had to pull together, and from how deep within myself this has had to come; unbelievable. My mind has been greatly changed by this experience; I have no patience any more – none at all. If anyone gives me any hassle of any description, I will be triggered because I just cannot stand being messed around or held up any more. As Beethoven discovered before he wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, Fate has knocked at the door, and one emerges from the experience transformed, although not in a way that many people would consider positive because one now takes a very negative view of a lot of one’s environment, society, politics etc. Zero tolerance from now on. No more bullshit. Everything I see is stupid, and disgusts me.

To conclude, when we ask the question of what happens next, I will be remaining in this position for some time to come, unless something dire happens. The new apartment is great-ish, being of very stable temperature when the weather is cold (and it was surprisingly cold until the middle of April) and having a small blessing in the form of an actual wardrobe next to the bedroom, something I have not been fortunate to have before. It is easy to keep clean (although I am still trying to rid the place of the odour of the previous occupant’s dog food) and there are marts and convenience stores a-plenty here, although there is not much in the way of entertainments, but I dare say I will find something eventually (as I don’t have a good cash flow right now, maybe staying home and getting the paperwork done is preferable).

Hopefully, as the financial situation improves, I will be able to get about a bit more, especially as one advantage of working weekends is that your own “weekend” is a couple of weekdays, so you can actually get shit done. Likewise, things which have broken down/worn out/disappeared in the last year or so should be replaced fairly swiftly (and I have been rather put out by how things have been suddenly becoming non-functional). The bottom line in my experience, however, remains true: that when the going gets rough, you have to make a decision. When faced with possible premature mortality in the form of cancer, and having never needed major surgery before, I decided that the reward was worth the risk. When ousted from my still-new job because of the need for treatment, I found a new job and relocated; and so it goes on. Life remains a series of decisions, and one surely discovers oneself, in the most literal understanding of the expression, when the decisions you are faced with relate directly to your survival.

The Majority Drools

Good stuff. I listen to TFM a lot, too, and he says basically the same. I think people are so addicted to their tiny smidgen of power in the voting booth that they suffer serious cognitive dissonance when the idea of democracy as a failure is floated, yet they complain about everything every day and it was their own dumb voting decisions that put them into that situation. It is the lack of criticism which makes “democracy” so inherently self-destructive.

Well said, Styx!

I absolutely had to post this LOL 😀

It Pays to Be Solitary

This article from Disclose.tv was so close to the mark, I had to link it here:

Interesting article and I agree wholeheartedly with the comment by Spaghetti_Monster_02 below… shame about the TEDx vid (someone feels a suicidal need to associate themselves with arbitrary authority), but hey, there y’go…


https://www.disclose.tv/people-who-prefer-to-be-alone-are-total-badasses-new-study-shows-333939

Swings and Roundabouts

So here’s the thing… the Air Force had their interview session at the end of last month, and decided not to re-sign me, and to some extent, I am actually sympathetic to their POV. However, that meant that I had to start looking for something new (which has evolved into a continuous process over the years; it merely becomes more intense at certain points).

As part of this, I approached my previous employer on the off-chance that they might reconsider and take me on (bearing in mind that they always seem to have some kind of retention problem). My old manager seems to want me back also, and she said that she would try to find some arrangement with the senior management…

Fast-forward to today, and I had already set up a couple of online conflabs with recruiters (one in the morning, one in the afternoon). The first was a pre-interview discussion with the recruiter before going to see a place in Daegu tomorrow afternoon (and I am going to do that, so off to bed early-ish tonight), and wouldn’t you believe it, Skype settings were out and we had to use the cell phone instead… the second was with another recruiter discussing what I was looking for, optimally, by which time I had sorted the sound out on Skype, but he didn’t have a camera…

Anyway, as this meant another brief jaunt to Daegu, I let my previous manager know about it. She in turn took this as a cue to contact Head Office in Gangnam re the “Andrew Situation” and apparently, the latter think that I should go to Seomyeon (literally around the corner from my old employer, YBM) in Busan for training at the end of the month before resuming duties in March.

Ahhh, but there will be a fly in the ointment: there was much bad feeling between myself and the upper echelons last time, firstly because I already had accommodation, was happy with it and did not like the size or state of what they were offering me, refused to move out and expected them to pay for it; and they did… because, of course, it was actually part of their contract. Secondly, however, they surveyed me regarding the perceived efficacy of their “training”, and I gave them rather low scores; I gather that they were not pleased… whatever.

This time, of course, the situation is very different. The accommodation offered by the Air Force last year was basically a single high-schooler’s room with a (very small and rather shitty) ensuite bathroom; I arrived with little less than a house full of furniture and a pile of books and other stuff to follow, and there was no way that it would all fit in, even though it might otherwise have been possible. Why? Essentially because each room was allocated fixed furniture (i.e. was intended to be permanently resident there until replaced) and this had to stay in the room. However, I had – only a short time before – purchased both a new (large) desk and a very new bed; and I was not prepared to part with any of my stuff, so I had to find a place in town. Luckily the Air Force has its own coaches, and one of these does regular rounds each day ferrying people to and from the town with a set route. That part wasn’t too bad, but it did cost me ₩400,000/month plus utilities. Hint: the AF doesn’t offer any financial assistance for external accommodation…

Now if I go back to Daegu, I will have the same problem again if I go back to my old employer; Chris, the Canadian who came up from Seomyeon to take my place, finishes his contract soon and you can bet he doesn’t have any of his own furniture. At the same time, another possible job in the centre of town would require me to find a new (unfurnished ) place thereabouts, which is unlikely to be as cheap (!) as its predecessor there. This situation arose because (in the course of my travels around the country) accommodation would alternately be unfurnished (and therefore a right pain) and then furnished, then unfurnished, etc., until I decided that I had to be obstinate and insist upon places being unfurnished to avoid forever having to buy stuff and then get rid of it, again and again, despite the fact that it was new because the next place did not have sufficient space.

This all got real old, real fast

I hate to refuse an offered job which is actually what I want, but because of everything that has gone before, I am likely to blow a gasket tomorrow. It was because of all of this shit that I learned to say “no” in Korea; and so there is also a Plan D in the back of my mind which involves a D-10 visa and staying put in Jinju for a couple of extra months. Just sayin’…

The final point of attrition is this: this same company released me early last year (they said that I had agreed to it, but I hadn’t), so I lost my final month’s salary payment, my severance pay, had to pay another month’s rent and utilities on the old apartment because I couldn’t move out immediately, had to lay down five million deposit on the new place plus the first month’s rent on the new place, and of course, all of this went down at the most expensive time of year for moving, which cost me another 1.3 million… oh, and I also had to pay for my operation in the University Hospital… do the math (as they say). In addition, as they have proven quite incapable of recruiting sufficient students for a quorum for both their weekday and weekend courses, for five of the ten months I was actually working there, I only received half salary (as payments depend on lessons, right).

What kind of mood would you be in at this point?

There is a whole set of issues relating to the employment of foreigners to teach English here. Long-term readers (all two of you) will recall my previous remarks, long, long ago, of my co-worker whose (American) friend decided to leave because every employer here seemed to expect new employers to be twenty-something graduates with two suitcases and a drink problem, yada yada yada, and that is certainly demonstrated as fact by experience, but another is that many outfits consider bean-counting to be good business practice rather than efficient operation and profitability, resulting in the kind of race to the bottom more characteristic of the average App Store. That means that very often, the foreign teacher is accommodated in something rather reminiscent of an English shoe box, and if you are the kind of person who likes to study, learn by tinkering with shit and collect books and things, it’s not conducive to comfortable life. That’s the issue.

So tomorrow may be fraught. Frankly, I am not in the mood to do anything remotely involving “negotiation” and you can bet your last <insert financial units of choice here> that the management of the company have decided what they want, and that’s not what I want.

Watch this space…

The Next Day…

What a surprise! It seems that the company is now solvent and confident enough to offer the full assistance to the employee to help pay for their independent accommodation; the only snag being that the previous incumbent will still be there until he leaves, and therefore my manager will have to help me find a new place (and it will have to be unfurnished, of course…). This is because… he has to familiarise me with the materials, which have been simplified (and one probably altered completely). I will then have to go to the company’s offices in Busan, where he used to work (and come to think of it, so did I, but… different company) for some pertinent training.

Before all of that transpired, there was the appointment at the adult hagwon that had been arranged by a recruiter the previous day. I had located the place in a side road close to the Banwoldang subway station and went in but, oh dear… clearly a good place, but wanting me to do things that I don’t have either experience or interest in. Debate, IELTS, movies, no thank you, and I said so. Apparently they were expecting me to just walk in and sign up; but I didn’t, not least because I had to go to the other place possibly also to discuss signing up. Embarrassing; but this has been a regular occurrence with recruiter-mediated interviews over the last few years.

Something odd has happened in the recruitment process in Korea… I’ve been having more joy sometimes doing the whole thing myself. I kid you not. Increasingly I am being told about possible positions but being oversold in some way… I had already been thinking that despite efforts on my part to avoid it, people looking at my resume were seeing things that weren’t there, as if reading between the lines and filling in the white space with what they were looking for. This will never work, because it means they are making assumptions without discussing things properly with me beforehand, possibly also misrepresenting me to the customer, and wasting everyone’s time. Might I also suggest that the recruiter should have been asking about whether I had anything else under consideration (which I did).

So now I have to pack everything up again and get ready to go back to where I have been before… but hey, look on the bright side: you get the full salary and they give you a monthly wedge for your digs, and with that kind of remuneration, you can afford somewhere decent, even in Daegu.

Edited February 9th, 2019

Cancer Update: Third Quarterly Check

Things seem to be proceeding in a satisfactory fashion… but once I sat down and started writing, this blog suddenly became unexpectedly long!

After visiting Daegu again last Tuesday, I made sure to text Professor Kim on the Friday morning reminding him about letting me know the results as soon as possible – and reminded him again by text the following Monday morning (just in case, you understand). He very kindly obliged a short while later with his usual reassuring “nothing to worry about” response.

However, as if a mere text message (from the Male Professor Kim) were not enough, his locum last Tuesday, (the female) Professor Kim actually called me yesterday (Tuesday) lunch time to pass on the news. Which surprised me, firstly because I tend to receive very few calls on my cell phone at any time, and secondly precisely because of that exact time, as it would otherwise (probably) be one of those annoying advertorial-type robotised calls from the phone service provider (in this case, LG), which has been a regular irritation ever since I first signed up with them. Unfortunately I have (after fifteen long years here) still not learned enough Korean to understand what their automated calls are actually about, so they remain a noisy, jangling and rather pointless mystery. I realise that this is Korea (where English is not the native language), but surely, by now, there is a sufficient quorum of native English speakers to justify at least a minimal English language service?

We might now ask the question: where to from here on? As this is the third of four quarterly blood tests, the last will be in February and will include a (hopefully final) CT scan to give a visualisation of any otherwise undetected neoplasms. Not sure right now how frequently after that it will be necessary to keep checking, but rest assured that despite a constant feeling of tiredness (due to having to hit the bathroom several times each night), I am feeling well, with only the odd twinge of still-unsettled fatty tissues resulting from the operation itself to remind me that it ever happened… and starting to think about what I will be doing next year.

Looking back over the previous twelve or thirteen months, the remarkable thing has been how painless the detection, treatment, removal and convalescence have been in the course of all this. Using the robot for a laparoscopic procedure avoided a lot of the tissue damage that would have resulted from a more conventional (i.e. open) abdominal technique, and hence faster recovery and much less post-operative pain. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that I would have been much happier remaining in my previous job than having to find and secure a new one. This would have made the immediate post-operative period much less stressful – not to mention less expensive.

Something does need to be said, however, about the reactions of other people to the process, as my rapid recovery may have made them think that everything was normal. I assure you that this is not the case; although I may appear to be walking around in my typical manner, it is simply not possible to lose a foot of irreplaceable large intestine and not experience adverse effects. That part of the body is largely responsible for the removal of water from your solid wastes (as digestion is largely focused in the stomach and small intestine), and removing it compromises this function. This means that you need some kind of pharmaceutical intervention – the Lopmin capsules – to slow down the natural process of peristalsis and increase the residence time of food in the gut, thereby allowing it to remove water to a more normal consistency of stools. Alas, perhaps, my gut seems to be quite sensitive to Lopmin and the result of this is that I have made a habit of coming off the treatment temporarily at weekends to allow it all to pass out, as even the most minimal daily quantity still seems to be slightly too much, resulting in a regular ‘plug’ of drier material which is difficult to void at first. Having said that, the feeling afterwards is wonderful, but you do start to feel somewhat bloated by the mid-week…

Part of the reason for this is that the differing lumen diameters at the two joined ends make voiding (and retention) more difficult than they were originally. The part of the gut removed was that which (under normal circumstances) is perhaps less involved with desiccation and more with storage prior to voiding. This meant that semi-liquid digested food would otherwise be difficult to contain until at least some of the storage function could be restored – but to achieve that, the narrow lumen in the upper part of the anastomosis (the point where the upper and lower ends were joined) has to expand sufficiently, and the simplest way to achieve that, it seems, is to relax the smooth muscle in the gut wall so that the wall itself can expand to accomodate what needs to be, er, retained. It is no exaggeration to say that without Lopmin, retention would be impossible and I would always have to be a short dash from the nearest rest room; I kid you not. So that bloated feeling does at least give some reassurance that you are not going to shed a stinky load in a public place at five seconds’ notice, which was much how it was immediately after the operation. For this reason, I am also hanging on to my small supply of adult diapers…

All of which has meant that another regime of health management has had to be incorporated into my lifestyle. It is not hugely taxing, as in reality it amounts to little more than acquiring a few additional minor habits, but one’s social life is affected by all of this, and diet also. For example, I would not wish to be out every Friday or Saturday night because nowadays I am using this time to allow the release of several days’ stools, meaning that I have to stay at home for convenience; likewise, it is not a good idea to eat too much because what goes down must, eventually, come out, and one may become rather bloated by midweek without some attention to what one is eating. Finally, it is worth remembering that there is something of a moratorium on alcohol consumption with a view to avoiding the retardation of the healing process, at least for the first post-operative year.

The impression has come upon me that my apparent wellness has demonstrably been misleading to onlookers, who think that I am fully recovered and able to resume everything one hundred per cent. right now, but this is far from the truth. For example, I have been told that it would be helpful to lose weight, and I cannot do this if people constantly insist on offering me food. Sugar in particular is known as the primary fuel of cancer, and it has been proving difficult to transition to a more suitably ketogenic diet; the environment here does not seem to support it – indeed, from a sugar-avoidance point of view, Korea is getting worse due to a rise in the presence of franchised, Westernised-style restaurants, coffee shops and other places like the Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours-style bakeries. Professor Kim’s original admonition to avoid carbohydrate and err towards more animal protein has one unfortunate aspect, in that it requires spending more on food at a time when my salary is being squeezed by things like paying for my own accommodation, and repayment of the operation (and other associated) costs. Whic I think is also slowly tapping this job on the head!

At work, the offerings at the restaurants are essentially for younger people who need a lot of energy for their daily exercise, and hence there is a lot of carbohydrate available in the form mainly of rice. I am not saying that there is anything bad about the rice, as it makes the other food easier to eat, but it is a kind of food to avoid most of the time if a recurrence of the cancer is to be avoided, for reasons which have been discussed here previously. Anything alcoholic (other than, say, wine) necessarily tends to have associated sugar components if only to make the alcohol more palatable, so this should really be avoided, too. Even the beverages we have in our office are essentially laced with sugar and sweet creamers, as they come in sticks and the ones without sugar are virtually undrinkable. It is for this reason that I recently purchased a new coffee maker (as the old one was truly dying the death), as strong black coffee is actually a good thing – especially when you stagger out of bed of a weekday morning. Maintaining a low-carbohydrate diet is proving unexpectedly difficult, however.

All of which is making me think that a situation like last year would be much better – same style of employment, housing and diet – but that would mean losing this job and (probably) relocating to a new city, too. The bottom line, however, is that the expense of changing my diet (and other elements of lifestyle) would be far easier if I did not have to lose so much each month on renting my apartment, something which is almost unheard of among foreign English teachers in Korea. So we come to the run-up to Christmas this year with something of a quandary – stay in the current job and lose money on rent which would otherwise be helpful for my diet, or give it up and find something more suitable.

Decisions, decisions…

Third Quarterly Check: November

Here we go again…

A brief(ish) mention of my overnight trip back to Daegu for the third quarterly blood sampling to check that I am still non-cancerous… and how time flies! After some confusion about exactly when my (ahem) employer was going to permit me to take a day off, I got permission for Tuesday (today) and so went to work yesterday morning with a sports bag (black, of course) packed with bed wear and a second set of everything, made my way by taxi to the local train station, and… had to wait two hours because I was too late for the 6:15 train to East Daegu Station. What a surprise. Not.

Some time later (over two hours later, in fact) I was finally able to board the waiting Mugunghwa [1] train and make my leisurely way to my destination. Alas! The arrival time was 10:40 p.m. and I had been out of bed at 6:00 a.m., so the evening was to pass by slowly with me trying not to drop off, as I first had to make my way to my now-customary doss close to the University Dental School (and I knew about this because I stayed there the first time I wentto Daegu, because the new apartment, just across the road, was standing vacant), then went to see if my favourite small watering-hole-cum-eaterie was still closed, as it had been the last time I was there…

Imagine my surprise to discover that it had actually changed ownership, and the new incumbent had installed a huge, stainless steel booze dispenser with taps for not only Guinness and Indica, but also Lindemann’s Kriek (cherry ale)! A customer could simply refill their glass at a rate of 340 won for each liquid ounce. But I stuck resolutely to a small amount of vodka and tonic, which cost a mere 4,000 won and did not appear to be the cheapest (because the cheapest vodkas available in Korea resemble battery acid all too closely…). This was used to wash down a small plate of cheesy potato fries with a hot chili sauce, after which I went back to my room, thinking that 12:30 a.m. was still a bit late considering that an early awakening was necessary (even on a day off work) due to having a 9:30 a.m. appointment.

Back to the room, picked up two cans of Somersby and drank part of one after a shower… and woke up in agony later that morning, having absent-mindedly allowed myself to have a quick stretch, and forgetting that this usually results in a painful Achilles tendon… I lay on the bed cursing in agony until the pain subsided, but thereafter was hobbling around (I can still feel it now that I am back home). Morning ablutions and packing completed, I handed the room key back and wandered out into the morning sunlight.

I made my way to the hospital via the subway and didn’t have long to wait before seeing “another” Professor Kim (female this time) and she asked me how things have been, and I responded that there seemed to be no problems other than occasional twinges from the robot’s entry wounds, and she said that this was normal. They also said that some time before the end of the first post-operative year, they would like me to a second CT scan, and of course, this immediately creates issues, as I have a job that I am expected to do and have to travel between towns each time there is a check-up, and the cost of this also adds up. So I will have to get back to my original Prof. Kim about that to arrange a time.

Interview concluded, I paid for my tests, got the receipt and went to the open phlebotomy parlour, waited my turn and put out my left arm for the attentions of Dracula (actually a young female phlebotomist). I had to strip off a number of items of clothing beforehand, as the November weather had been getting to me and I was now wearing an extra layer or two, then put them back on again a few minutes later. There must be a more efficient way of doing this!

Then I paid another visit to Jamie, my former manager, who was in attendance in her office down the road even though there were no lessons on a Tuesday, and gave her an update about how things were going in Jinju over a small cup of warm tangerine tea. The university buildings were very quiet, as usual, and our conversation was punctuated only by the brief presence of a maintenance technician (I would never refer to such a person as an ‘engineer’ like they do here) to reload the photocopier with a new toner cartridge, plus a small number of phone calls. Then I said goodbye, and returned to the subway to get back to East Daegu Station.

As luck would have it, there was a KTX going south and due to arrive in only a few minutes. The problem? The girl behind the ticket counter had quite a strong accent and I had difficulty hearing her over the counter, but we eventually understood each other and I grabbed my ticket and quickly made my way down to platform 7, and was soon on my way. Without even time to grab anything to eat or drink. But I got back to Jinju, grabbed a taxi home, picked up some more allergy pills on the way and made my way back to the apartment.

Anyway, I arrived back feeling rather tired – not a lot of sleep the last couple of days – but lessons are basically finished for the duration and much of what remains is merely paperwork, which will occupy the rest of my time this week. The second CT scan will have to wait until next month. Perhaps. Possibly. Maybe. We’ll see what happens – the results of the blood tests should be available soon.

1: “Mugunghwa” meaning, we are told, “Rose of Sharon”. Sounds a strange name for a flower for a country in East Asia, but who am I to comment?