Sunday, November 24, 2013

Doctor's Visit: Number Three

These are my knees.
Sometimes the right one has issues.
Please feel free to comment or add your advice as I'm kind of at a loss.

Yesterday marked my third visit to a doctor in three months in Korea. I haven't had huge medical "issues" since I've been here, however, small things feel like big things when you're in a foreign country and feel a little out-of-the-loop regarding your own medical decisions.

Recently, my right knee randomly swelled to epic proportions. Like it has for the last 2-3 years. But I've looked into it. I've seen doctors. I've taken anti-inflammatories. I've iced it. I've elevated it. I've compressed it. I've pleaded with it. But it will swell for a week or so, then go back down and it's fine. No incredible pain, just discomfort from all the extra fluid.

On Tuesday my knee swelled up, so by Friday I mentioned it to my co-workers. I asked if they knew of any knee/joint doctors. Gratefully, they all had ideas to share and of one of my co-teacher's family members has a clinic just down the street.

They asked me, "When did this start?"


"Tuesday?!? Why did you wait this long?" they exclaimed.

"Because it's not a big deal. It actually doesn't hurt very much. This has been going on for 2-3 years."

I thought they were going to pass out from their shocked expressions. They could not fathom having a medical problem go unresolved for days nonetheless years. I think they are so ready and willing to go to the doctor because their health insurance is so cheap.

So, Mrs. Che drove me to the clinic. "I'm a little nervous," I told her. "What if I can't communicate with the doctor?"

"I'll talk to him for you."

I so appreciate her willingness, and when she's helping me buy noodles at the market it's a little different. But when someone is being your one and only voice in the matters of symptoms, different procedures and the taking drugs, you want the information to be crystal clear. Gratefully, this doc spoke great English and it wasn't at all a problem. He is Mrs. Che's cousin and when I asked her, "Did you know he spoke English?" She said, "No." This surprised me at first, then I suppose this is probably the equivalent of knowing exactly how many of your friends and family speak Spanish. Personally, I have no idea. But she seemed as happily surprised as I was.

I explained the problem. He examined my knee, surprised at how huge it was. He took x-rays. He looked at them and said an MRI would show more because the bones are perfectly fine. But he didn't want to let me leave until he drained the fluid out of my knee.

"Um, I really don't like needles."

"You are not unique," he told me with a smile.


I was probably an annoyance as I asked him roughly a dozen questions about exactly what was about to happen. I had a bad knee/needle experience a few years ago and the thought of going this one alone wasn't very comforting. But inevitably, I laid down, he poked the ginormous needle into the side of my knee, I flinched and held my breath as I watched yellow-green fluid flow out of my knee and into the syringe, so much, in fact, that he had to call for a back-up syringe. All-in-all, he removed 65 mL of fluid from my knee. Yuck.

It was at this point that I saw him holding this icky fluid that had just been inside my body that I started to feel a bit whoozy. I frantically began slapping myself in the face and repeating, "It's okay, it's okay..." to avoid passing out. Gratefully, I didn't. But we weren't done yet.

"Let's get a blood test while you're here. That way we can know for sure if we can rule out gout and rheumatoid arthritis."

"Okay," I said as I stood up and Mrs. Che popped her head in the room. I told her, "I need to go do a blood test. Oh...wait. Mrs. Che, I think I'm going to pass out."

"Pass out what?" she asked me.

"No, like I'm going to faint."

"Faint? What is faint?"

At this point, I am motioning that I am dizzy and reaching for the closest chair. She doesn't seem too concerned, so at this point she says, "All right, well I'm going to go now."

Before I can explain that I am in the process of losing consciousness, she's gone and I'm left alone with the non-English speaking nurse. Oy. I call Jeremy in a semi-lucid daze, "Hey honey, I'm at the doctor's office for my knee. I feel like I'm going to pass out."

Understandably concerned, he asks, "Okay, where are you?"

I have no idea. I wasn't anticipating being here by myself. We eventually figure out where I am and he heads my way, but in the mean time, after about 20 minutes, I am well enough to give blood. Inevitably, yes, I almost pass out a third time, but in the end I don't. Thank goodness.

So to any medically-minded folks out there:
#1. Any ideas about what's the deal with my knee?
#2. Any tips on how to avoid passing out?

Please share.