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TL;DR – Health Care in Korea

August 15, 2013


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Martina’s sick today. And I’m writing this and I’m starting to feel sick. Marriage: you can share everything, including your viruses! Ah my eyes burn. Anyhow, I’m feeling woozy so this might be a bit of a silly post. First, let me direct you to one of our really old videos, before we felt comfortable on camera at all and were super awkward. Here’s our Korean cold medicine video:

You can see jjuk in that video. The stuff we made today did not look like that because Martina slow cooked two chickens with onions and celery and used the broth to make her jjuk. She even sautéed some onions, ginger, garlic, tossed in some Korean dried dates and it was SOOOOOOOOOO GOOD! And normally I hate jjuk. Anyhow, we’re gonna tell you some stories about health care and more about how to get medicine from pharmacists in Korea.

Magic Needle to the Ass

One of the things we didn’t talk about was magic-needle-to-the-ass. People who have been in Korea might know what we’re talking about. Needle to the ass. Feeling sick? Doctor’s got a needle to put in your ass for that! I thought they just did that in movies. I never got needled to the ass in Canada. I usually just get them in the shoulders. In Korea, though, the preferred method is in the ass. We have friends who went to the hospital, didn’t speak Korean, got needle to the ass, and miraculous recovery. WHAT IS IN THIS CONCOCTION!!

Point is: I’m not sure what’s in these needles, but they work. Have a cold that feels more severe than a real cold? Needle to the ass! God inexplicable groin pain that first made doctors think you’re about to die? Needle to the ass! Maybe one day you will experience this glory.

OH WAIT! Martina once got the Korean needle to the ass, but she wasn’t sick. She was trying to rescue a scared kitten crying in the park at 1AM during a thunder storm. When she tried to grab it, it mauled her hand and took a big kitten chunk out of her finger. She shamefully walked over to the hospital with her drippy bloody finger and because she’s allergic to cats and her finger was all gross and swollen and pink. She was getting all puffy and itchy and trying to explain the story to the nurses was HIIII-larious. They were like, “why would you touch a wild cat?” we’re like, “IT WAS A LOST KITTEN DON’T YOU SEE???!!!” Anyways, after we got super judged by the nurses for poor behaviour, they gave Martina some anti-infection/rabies shot to the ass. Poor Martina. She still brought that ungrateful kitten a can of tuna after that.

Korean Pharmacy Life Hack

Now, we’re not doctors in any way, shape or form, except when we act like certifieded doctors for Music Monday. These are just some of the things we’ve learned to ask for when we’re looking for medicine in Korea. A lot of this stuff is over the counter in Canada, but some of it isn’t so in Korea, but I’ve found that pharmacies aren’t necessarily uniform in their regulations. Some follow it, some don’t. Point is, we’re not doctors, so don’t take our word on this here. Do the research yourself. I’m refusing all liability if you do something and explode from death.

Also, some of the medicine you might be used to are combinations of some of these things, so, if there’s some medicine you’re used to, just get a list of the medical ingredients and a better understanding of what works for you, so you can ask for the ingredients rather than the brand when you’re in Korea. It’s also useful for when you’re in other countries. Martina got a cold when we were in Japan last, and so we just asked for the ingredients, which are universally named. Booya!

List of Common Medicines

Tylenol = Acetaminophen
Advil = Ibuprofen
Robaxacet = Methocarbamol
Getting Rid of Dry Cough/Cough Suppressant = Antitussant
Getting rid of a Mucousy Cough = Expectorant
Allegra = Fexofenadine
Sudafed (or anything else for stuffy noses) = Pseudoephedrine

Now, an interesting note. This last one (Pseudoephedrine) might not be given to you in a high dose by an over the counter pharmacist, they’ll say you need a prescription. This didn’t happen to us the first 4 years we were in Korea but recently it seems Korea is trying to crack down on illegal drug creation, more specifically meth. Any Breaking Bad fans out there? Yeah, so we were really baffled when it happened, but that’s what our local pharmacist told us. It super sucks because our sinus infections are wicked bad and require extra strength but it seems now we require a prescription to get that and AIN’T NO ONE GOT TIME FOR THAT! Australia, when we visit we will make a trip to the pharmacist.

Terms For Being Sick

So for those of you currently in Korea or planning on moving here, here is a little list of terms we put together that I hope you find helpful when you’re sick in Korea.

Stuffy Nose/ A Cold 감기 kam–gee
A Cough 기침 gee-chim
Runny Nose aka Snotty McSnotterson 코물 koh-mool (which literally means nose water! Hahahahh I LOVE IT)
Sore Throat 목아프다 or 목쓰림 mohk ah-poo-dah/mohk sseu-reem
The Flu 독감 Dok-gam
Barfing 구토 Gu-toe (FYI the “sound” of barfing in Korean is “UUUUUEEEHHKKK” but I liked to use “TOOOOEEEEEEE” which always made my students laugh)
DIHHARREEEHHAA 설사 seol-sa (or as I say, “SALSA PARTY!” and then I dance the salsa before running away sadly)
Constipation 변비 byeong-bee
Fever 고열 goyeol

Onto those things involving PAIN which always end with = 통 THAT TONG TONGTONGTONGTOOOooOOOONGG! Get it? Guise? Ahem…

A Headache 두통 Du-tong
A Toothache 치통 Chee-tong
Tummyache 복통 bok-tong
Girly cramps for that time of the month 생리통 saeng-retong (or secret term between girlfriends “ma-jik” aka MAGIC *Martina breaks in singing MAAAAAAGIC MAAAAAGIC MAAAAAGIC, OHMO OH MO OH MO…)

Korean Health Care Locations

This may not seem that important, but a couple notes on this. First of all, everything in Korea is stacked vertically so you might not expect to find your local Dentist on the 15th floor but that’s actually a normal thing, so learning the Korean words for health clinics can help you find one where you least expect it. Pharmacies are normally on ground level and dentists usually have teeth or other obvious things, but the E.N.T and Oriental Clinics are much craftier to find. Also, if you’re ever in an emergency and hop in a taxi, you can just tell them BYUNGWON. Here are some of the other names you might need:

– Pharmacy 약국 yahk-gook (medicine is just 약, so we always joke about being sick by saying we need to find a YAAAAAKKK)
Hospital 병원 Byeong-won
Dentist 치과 Chee-gwah
Oriental Medicine Clinic 한의원 Haneewon
E.N.T 이비인후과 ee-bee-en-hoo-gwaah BUT just “ee-en-tee” can be enough for people to understand you if you charade enough.

The E.N.T, aka Ears, Nose, and Throat specialists, are very common near universities and have all types of funky things for when you’re suffering from a severe cold, like hot air breathing machines with masks and warm cup things that look like big headphones to comfort your ears during infections. A visit to one of these without health care and no appointment (all you have to do is sign up and wait) cost me under $20.00.

I Can See Your Insides

Another story: Martina had some wicked painful heartburn a while ago, when she was still teaching. Turns out she was drinking green tea like water + coffee + eating spicy food and the combo was burning her esophagus from all the acidity. When we went to the hospital to check it out, we had to make an appointment to see the specialist and they put a camera down her throat. I was in the waiting room, and the nurse told me to look for screen number 7. Turns out there’s a big TV in the room with a bunch of squares. Square number 7 was going to be Martina’s innards. They broadcast that on TV in the hospitals! All the other peeps waiting for their loved ones are just sitting around me watching the screen. Woohoo! It kinda took our relationship to a new level. I saw the inside of Martina’s throat and stomach. Love, right there, boys and girls. That’s love. We opted for that version because that was the cheapest version. Turns out they also had pill cams. PILL CAMS! You swallow a pill and it’s a gortdamned camera that records what’s inside you and you just poop it out and doctors can watch that movie or put it on YouTube or something, I don’t know. I bet you there’s a secret YouTube channel known only to Koreans and it only shows people’s innards and its got a million subscribers. I’d subscribe to that.

Speaking of subscribing, if you like these TL;DRs, you should subscribe to us on YouTube! We’ll do more of them and talk about other experiences we’ve had in Korea.



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TL;DR – Health Care in Korea


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  1. hi guys

    i’ve got a question is it true that most americans can’t take korean medicine because its different

    8 months ago
  2. Amusingly, you can’t be admitted into a hospital unless you are going to be receiving help from them ie. getting an op done there, etc.. Otherwise, you’ll literally be abandoned aside by the nurses. And they expect you to pretty much do everything on your own, be it going to the bathroom.

    1 year ago
  3. Amusingly, you can’t be admitted into a hospital unless you are going to be receiving help from them ie. getting an op done there, etc.. Otherwise, you’ll literally be abandoned aside by the nurses. And they expect you to pretty much do everything on your own, be in going to the bathroom.

    1 year ago
  4. Meg

    I don’t have insurance right now and I am so so SO sick. For about the past 4 days. My mom wanted to take me to Urgent Care but I told her the only time I see a doctor now is if I literally have a limb falling off or I passed out an am otherwise unable to actually stop anyone from taking me. The minute I wake up though I will be outtie! I will give them a fake name and everything, I will not let those evil money grubbers get to me!

    But I actually do need to get insurance soon cause I will be fined now for not having it :(

    I’m just gonna move to Korea. I’ll pretend to be a Russian and maybe get a Ajushhi Sugar Daddy?

    …this meds are seriously ruining me right now.

    1 year ago
  5. If I get really deadly sick, it will literally be cheaper to fly to Korea, pay the expenses, and then fly back than get treated in the US. -_- How sad.

    1 year ago
  6. I’m living in Korean right now! This nasty weather however has made me have a bad cold going on for 3 weeks. I went to see a doctor in Buncheon, but he was not very helpful and there hasn’t been improvement on my cold. :( Can you recommend any good places for foreigners to go that are good?

    2 years ago
  7. good to hear that korea has a good health care system. i live in the US and recently went thru two major surgeries for a burst appendix. you know how much i got charged in total? roughly $102,000. ONE HUNDRED AND TWO THOUSAND FREAKING DOLLARS. luckily i had medicaid and it happened 2 months before my 19th bday so it paid for all of that shit but still, absolutely ridiculous how it is here.

    2 years ago
  8. I really get the impression that in Korea (and Asia in general) there’s much less of a sense of personal space and privacy; not that it’s bad but just a really interesting cultural difference. In Australia people would freak out completely if their private innards were broadcast to an entire waiting room!

    2 years ago
  9. Also ask your pharmacist to help you when to take the drugs(6-6h, 8-8h, …) and if before, during or after meal.
    If you get worse you might need antibiotics.
    Oh, and I feel for you guys! I’m on my holidays on the beach but I’m sick too!!! So no outings for me!! Shucks!! I’ll just watch your videos and GOT!=)

    Here you have a picture of a lota ( you put warm water with a teaspoon of salt)

    2 years ago
  10. Regarding the multiple screens, my dad was brought to the hospital for what turned out to be an atrial flutter. They fixed it, and he’s fine now. But they didn’t want him to leave until they fixed it, so we had our Christmas Eve/Day celebrations that year in the hospital (and my dad had his surgery on the 27th. He came home after that, and I delayed my return to Canada and to work so I could spend more time with him, you know, out of the hospital).

    One day, while I was visiting him, he brought me out to the nurses’ station in his section and showed me a monitor. That monitor has split screens, and each screen had a number that corresponded with a patient’s room. My dad showed me his. Then he jumped around a little bit, trying to make the heart monitor jump.

    When i was recovering from my spinal fusion, I was hooked up to a heart monitor. Every time I had to get up to go to the washroom, I had to be unhooked and every time I got back into bed, I had to be hooked back up again. It got to the point where I got so tired of those fiddly little wires that I didn’t want them hooked back up. So my dad didn’t.

    That alarmed some people: “my” screen at the nurses’ station suddenly going blank? No wonder people came running into my room. They understood once we explained the situation. It was my spine that was recovering, not my heart.

    2 years ago
  11. Get well soon Martina! I would send you a care package of wonderful North American comfort food but I’m pretty sure you’ll be 100% again by the time it would get there…You too Simon, feel better guys!

    2 years ago
  12. In Brazil we have a Needle-in-the-ass too, it’s called benzetacil. I think that the real name is benzilpeniciline, or something like that. Is super awesome, it works for almost everything. The downside is, it hurts really bad. People cry taking it. I actually have never had it for my mom has never let me. She says it’s better to spend a week on antibiotics, even if you feel like crap.

    2 years ago
  13. Hey, guys. I noticed something that looks like it might be a typo in your description of Korean sick terms. For “Constipation,” you wrote 변비 (byeon-bee), and then romanized it as byeong-bee? I know it’s minor, but I just wanted to make sure you knew.

    2 years ago
  14. I know of the needle-to-the-ass well, only with me it’s two & I’m sure its a completely different concoction then what you have. I suffer from ice pick migraines and the only thing that cures them are two needles in my butt (the doctor told me once that its better to have them in the most fleshy part of my body because it will get into my system quicker) they knock me out for twelve hours & I wake up feeling good as new. Get well soon Martina & Simon, we need you healthy for your Australia trip.
    Do you have the flu shot in Korea ?

    2 years ago
  15. It’s a good thing you named the medicine in the blogpost so people traveling to Korea, might know what to look for in case of sickness…

    Korea isn’t the only one where you need a recipe for pretty much everything.(except for cold purpose drinks : Fervex it’s perfect! but don’t know if other countries have it….and except for throat candy) and I can understand their policies. Many people don’t have the time or money to go to the doctor or hospital (not to mention ginormous lines to wait and you come back home even more sickened than you were initially…from all the sick people around you) so they buy medicine that THEY think it’s good for them. Some of the times the disease goes away but if the disease doesn’t go away and in the end … they still have to go to the doctor. Moral of the story is… if you take those medicine that you thought first to be helpful, but aren’t …those damage your stomach… even prescribed medicine by the book…damage your stomach but in a smaller amount.

    I’ve had some pretty scary experiences with “doctors” and I’m terrified of going to one in the future but I haven’t been to the doctor (physical) doctor for the past two years. I’ve been consuming aloe vera gel and eating a small piece of garlic every morning and that just solved it. I just can’t imagine how someone in Korea can catch a cold with all those spicy foods around… or is it that once you consume too much of it… the body gets too used to it and it doesn’t have any effect?

    About “I can see your insides” story…. *sigh* Martina, this is the first time I feel like scolding you!! “green tea like water + coffee” …coffee has already the property of fast digestion… if you drink green tea on top of it … that’s like doubling the effect + spicy food… I don’t even want to think about it > . < "Turns out" Simon…*sigh* please keep an eye on Martina from now and then will you? (it wouldn't hurt if you checked online with healthy eating tips either…or better ask a nutritionist…. now and then :P)

    Take care of yourselves guise! Martina is far more sick then I imagined….take this chance to get some more rest… ( I feel like I'd be a total nagger in your presence… for good reason of course! :P)


    2 years ago
  16. That’s exactly why healthcare in the US will never be cheap. Very few people in the US will agree to be taxed the amount it would cost to provide national health care coverage to provide everyone with affordable health care. Did you see the intense fight against Obama care, we ended up with a fragmented plan that ultimately doesn’t solve the cost issue at all. I’m sure Canada’s taxes and Korea’s taxes are substantial compared to the US. Plus the diversity of the US I think plays a large role in preventing progress, because some groups of people don’t want to “have to pay for other people or immigrants or ‘lazy people on Medicaid’-no offence to anybody, just showing some people’s views-“. Whereas in Korea, with more homogeneity, people feel more obligated to help their fellow countrymen out, even though it means they recieve a smaller paycheck in the end. I think for Canada, the culture of the country is just nicer than the US, which is why it works there (but not everyone likes it). Also, the US allows companies to hold their patents on medications and medical equipment and devices for longer and thus companies charge insane amounts in the US to cover for the loss of money outside of the US where they cannot charge outrageous prices. Thus medications that are not generic (brand name drugs) are so much more expensive in the US, where as outside the US, most of them are generic versions and much much cheaper. Also, in the US, protection against litigation is prohibitively expensive, and in a culture that readily sues for anything, medical practices, from individual doctors to hospitals have to cover their butts and order a bunch of redundant and possibly unnecessary tests to make sure nothing can come back to bite them later. Believe me, as a resident doctor, it kills me how expensive everything is in health care. More and more of the newer generation doctors are pushing for some kind of universal affordable healthcare system. On the other hand, most graduating doctors only start earning money in their late 20s to 30s, working less than minimum wage per # hours working in our resident years, while having at least 200,000-300,000 if not more dollars in debt from loans going through college and med school (as well as give up most of our social life through our 20s). Then after that we get burned out from the piles of paperwork and fighting with insurance companies (seeing patients is the best part of the day, but they don’t see all the work surrounding that, 15 minutes with a patient = 30 minutes at least of additional documentation, follow up, dealing with crappy insurance companies). So that leads to doctors with far less drive to fight the cost battle. Ultimately there are a lot of reasons why the US healthcare system costs so much and sucks so much, but it is so darn difficult to change.
    My 2 cents, sorry it got a lot longer than I expected it to be. Sorry for the essay.

    2 years ago
  17. How did you get memmers if Martina’s allergic to cats?

    2 years ago
  18. Even though you guys are sick, (get well soon!!) I really like the new “setting” for this video :D

    2 years ago
  19. I heard evening primrose pills were good for those. check on the internet for more info

    2 years ago
  20. Good luck getting any medication with Pseudoephedrine in while you’re here (Australia). More often than not the pharmacy refuse to sell it to you “without a script”.

    2 years ago
  21. Can you guys talk about your honeymoon? I wanna see the last part of your relationship TL;DR thingy!

    2 years ago
  22. Hah. You just reminded me of the last time my family and I were in Japan, I got really sick and while we were at Tokyo Disneyland I spent most of the day ass-up in the medical clinic there getting shots in the bumcheek :( So I don’t think it’s just Korea that they do this.

    2 years ago
  23. Sorry just bein’ nit picky but

    Robaxin = Methocarbamol
    Robaxacet = Methocarbamol with Acetaminophen
    Robaxasal = Methocarbamol with ASA (acetylsalicylic acid aka Aspirin)
    Robax Platinum = Methocarbamol with Ibuprofen

    2 years ago
  24. health care in Philippines, Kind of sucked… Medicines are expensive, every thing they do to you has payment… government hospitals are waaayyy cheaper but ugh… don’t want to talk about it anymore…. *sobs*

    2 years ago
  25. I recently got a “magic shot” in my butt when I went to the hospital in the US. It was Toroidal, which is the same family of medicine as Ibuprofen. I felt amazing within 15 minutes after being absolutely miserable.

    2 years ago
  26. I think they’d done a TL;DR on this. Also for further information go onto Talk To Me In Korean’s website… they had some sort of interview with two(?) people about that topic, I believe.

    2 years ago
  27. You can find out what the active (medicinal) ingredients are in your favourite over-the-counter medicines by either checking the manufacturer’s website or Wikipedia. It’s amazing how many familiar products have different formulations in different countries depending on the rules in each area (sounds like Canada is one of the rare countries where pseudophedrine is still available, wow!)

    2 years ago
  28. I had a cold/fever for a week before my co-teachers convinced me to go the the “hospital” with them. The side of effects of the medicine were falling asleep five minutes after taking the medicine – no matter what I was doing (made teaching really difficult) and I couldn’t hold my hands still, they were shaking as though I had parkinsons. So that was bad, but on the other hand, I cut my little finger open while washing up (glass exploded!) and took a taxi to the university hospital in Seoul at 1 am. I got 3 x-rays and a urine sample test thing before they stitched me up. It cost a little over $100 for that and my subsequent bandage changes I went to a little clinic where they charge $2 every 2 days including the day they removed my stitches. Pretty good, but then again, I’m from the UK so all of that would have been free.

    2 years ago
  29. Aww that’s too bad that Martina is sick :( i hope you feel better! It was nice to see you film at home again though! There’s something comforting and (pardon the pun) homey and warm when you film at home again versus at the EYK studio. Don’t get me wrong, i really appreciate the work you’ve been able to do with the studio but it just feel nice to be “welcome into your home” again i guess ^_^”

    2 years ago
  30. Ooh. Fun fact: “Jjuk” (what is the hangul for that btw?) sounds really similar to 粥 which is “zuk1” in Cantonese (“zhōu” in Mandarin) and it’s English translation is simply rice “porridge”.. it’s also refereed to as “congee” or “gruel”.

    2 years ago
    • Yum, congee. :D

      2 years ago
    • That always drives me crazy when I see it translated as “gruel”. Porridge is what Goldilocks ate. Porridge evokes images of sitting in a rocking chair by a warm fire on a winter day. Gruel is what prisoners and poor street waifs from a Dickens story eat, or possibly Galley slaves who sweat and toil while pulling on a giant oar in unison. In other words, marketing wise, it’s always best to call it porridge.

      2 years ago
      • Ditto that!! Hahaha. I totally agree… and just call it “rice porridge” when explaining it to anybody who doesn’t know what it is because most people who don’t know what it is would not know what “congee” is either. I don’t even know how to pronounce “congee” in English D: supposedly it’s “kan-ji” or something close?

        2 years ago
      • Gruel is a thinner version of porridge.

        2 years ago
  31. My only comeback when people say something bad about Canada, or try do the typical Canadian “eh” accent:

    “I can’t hear you over my free healthcare”

    2 years ago
  32. Martina, i hope you feel better soon. It’s horrible being sick…….. On another note thanks for all the helpful terms in the blog.

    2 years ago
  33. Holy crap, Meemers has learned to teleport!

    2 years ago
  34. My dad used to do the same thing to our horses here in America when I was a kid. Same reason.

    2 years ago
  35. Evidently, there is no HIPPA law in Korea. Everybody watching procedures?! Crazy talk! XD
    Yeah, the camara pills have been around for a while. Though, in America, they don’t like using them often, unless you are REALLY sick and they can’t figure out what is wrong with you.

    2 years ago
  36. I hurt my tail bone like 8 months ago and have been doing PT forever! I’ll ask him for the magic ass needle! Thanks for the advice. Also, dental stuff isn’t that bad! I find it to be about half the price of US dentists! I’m getting the best dental implant available for 2,300,000 W, which included the bone graft. This procedure in the states would have cost me over 5,000 $. Also, most dentists are willing to give discounts to foreigners!

    2 years ago
  37. If you are planning on buying pseudoephedrine in Australia they will ask for ID a will not sell you more then one packet. They also enter your details into a nation wide database to track who is buying it so even if you buy a packet in Sydney then try to buy a packet in Melbourne they will know.

    2 years ago
  38. Another important drug type: Antihistamines! For those like me with more traditional seasonal allergies.

    And as far as I’m hearing, Korea is pretty darn cheap in the hospital and healthcare department. I pay roughly $80 a month in just Insurance premiums for an HMO, and that’s only because I took the higher copay option! It costs just to visit a doctor, nevermind getting a prescription filled or seeing a specialist; all only applicable within the HMO’s ‘network’. Ambulances are just bankruptcies on wheels.

    2 years ago
  39. i think it could be interesting for the TL;DR the theme of how are the bank in Korea? it is the same how in dramas show it or is deppending of the bank.
    and for foreing it is necessary to change of bank? are bank paperwork in Korea complicared?

    2 years ago
  40. Thu

    Pseudoephedrine’s tightly regulated in Australia as well but you can still get it over the counter, you’ll need your ID though! And if you’re looking for acetaminophen in Australia, ask for paracetamol, same thing different names here! (Loved this post btw, I’m studying pharmacy so I got excited over you guys mentioning medicines, I’m a nerd/weird I know haha) See you guys in Melbourne! My sisters and I can’t wait to meet you guys!

    2 years ago