from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Random #62: Self-fulfilling Prophet

with 13 comments

In the past, I’ve had a habit of declaring that I was either going to die at 35 or live forever.* I turned 35 last Tuesday and the prediction almost came true on Friday. I’m now writing this post from a hospital bed at Chung-ang University, steel pins puncturing my left leg in four spots, in an incredible amount of pain and fighting to stay awake for more than an hour at a time.


What happened?

At around 5:40 am on Friday morning, I was heading home from Nakseongdae on my motorcycle on the road behind Sarang Hospital. On the road, there is a single stoplight, which at the time, was green. I was the only vehicle going in my direction. There were a number of cars coming from the other direction, and since the stoplight was green, they had the option of either going straight or yielding to oncoming traffic before making a left turn. During the day, a left turn is usually only possible during a red light because of traffic. This left turn is very common because it puts the drivers back onto Nambu Beltway. As it is very common, people often ignore the traffic light, especially in the wee hours of the morning.

As I approached the stoplight, I realized that the cars were not yielding as they should have once they saw me. The first car instead sped up to make the turn before I arrived at the intersection, and I slowed down drastically in response. The second car also sped up to make the turn, and I slowed down even more, laying down hard on my horn. I didn’t see the third car speeding to make the turn and apparently he didn’t see me.

The next thing I know, I’m on the ground in intense pain. Normally, I try to sit up after a motorcycle accident to try to regain my bearings. I couldn’t. It felt like there was a dead weight on my left leg. I laid there, bleeding heavily into the concrete until the ambulance came.

The sand in the right circle is to sop up the blood from my left leg

The sand in the right circle is to sop up the blood from my left leg

After an excruciating five hours of tests and scans and probing and squeezing, I finally went into surgery around noon or one. Apparently, my left tibia had a complete and open fracture, ripping through the muscles in the shin of my leg and breaking through the skin, with a second fracture at my ankle. The surgeon had steel rods places in the fragments and they’re connected by a long steel rod on the outside of my leg. He attempted to re-attach as much of my muscle as possible but he’s not sure how much functionality I’ll regain even through therapy. He also re-attached my Achilles’ Heel and stitched together my chin, which had split in half. I’ve been confined to bed since then, unable to shift position or sit up or go to the bathroom without help.

The x-ray as seen by my brother

The x-ray as seen by my brother

What I’ve gained

Regardless of the pain, this experience has shown me how much I have to value in my life. My uncle was the first on the scene and has fought to get the guy who hit me to admit his fault completely so I can get better without having to worry about money. My brother was the second there and has been by my side almost constantly for the past five days, leaving only to go to work. My mom took a bus up from Jeonju to take care of me despite suffering from a sinus infection herself. And all my friends have been making sure I’ve been comfortable since. Mark left work early just to come to the hospital and had his boss tell the doctor to take care of me. Joel also left work unusually on-time to come to the hospital and was the contact point for most of the news of my accident. Fred has also visited me very often, even making the mistake of taking his bike on very hilly roads to come visit and despite having to look for a new house. Tae has come around and visited, and he was the one who posted pictures on facebook, something that I haven’t done in a very long time. GK and Tara also took time out of their busy days to come visit me when they found out.

I’ve also had to spend most of my waking and functional time to respond to messages on Kakao-Talk, e-mail, and facebook. For a guy who is terrible at social media and contacting people in general, I’ve never had to be so active. Especially after an unusually quiet birthday, it was reassuring that so many people still give a shit about me.

Of course, I have months of recovery, surgery, and rehab awaiting and will probably end up losing my job (which I actually enjoy) and the book plans will be delayed yet again, but it’s okay. Even, if by some freak accident, I am right with my prediction and knock off before my next birthday, at least I know it’ll be a good year.

* Of course, I’ve been more specific on the time periods in a different post.

** I’ve also posted about the sheer number of stitches I’ve had over the years. I’m certain that this will put me well over the 100 mark.


13 Responses

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  1. Merry freakin’ Christmas, eh?? Now how the hell am I supposed to critique your novel when you’re all smashed up like this? Every critique is just going to make me feel guilty.

    But perhaps a smash-up will get you reassessing your existence, possibly digging into yourself for some of that Korean-style “han” so you can inject more “ki” into your novel—sort of like that poor girl who’s blinded by her father in “Seopyeonjae” in order to unleash her real talent. Pain has a way of bringing you in touch with the present moment.

    Anyway, this is one hell of a way to begin the new year! May the rest of 2014 be far, far less exciting for you. Luckily, though, you’ve survived turning 35 (a belated Happy Birthday, by the way), which means you’re destined to live forever. The Reaper took a swing at you and missed.

    I was just in Seoul this past weekend. Otherwise, I’d have gladly swung by the hospital to pay you a visit. Sorry I missed the opportunity, but it’s good to know you’re surrounded by friends and family who care about you. Enjoy your “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment: you now have some idea what the world would be like if you were suddenly plucked from it.

    On a darker note: blogger Jeff Harrison once wrote a wince-inducing series of blog posts about his own motorcycle crash (it happened in Busan) and the horrible medical care he received. Like you, he had a compound fracture, among other fractures. Like you, he got the steel-rod treatment. Unfortunately, in his case, the steel rods broke inside his leg and had to be replaced. Horrifying. May that not happen to you! Just to be sure, though, keep the weight off that leg. And later on, think about visiting an American orthopede to see whether you really can regain full range of motion. I don’t trust the Korean doctors to get their assessment right.

    Does this really mean the loss of your job? Won’t SNU make some sort of allowance for your situation and bring you back on board once you’re mobile again?

    Kevin Kim

    December 25, 2013 at 12:52 am

    • It is kind of like an “It’s a Wonderful Life” experience, although I’m unsure what the lesson I was to learn to give the angel his wings.

      I didn’t give too many details of my experience at the hospital. Not that it’s been awful (I’ve had worse), but it hasn’t done anything to change my overall opinion of the Korean medical/health care system. I think I’m just bitter that they manhandled me for around five hours with open wounds (my leg and chin) before they actually started patching me up.

      I am hoping to be more productive as a result of being bed-ridden, but so far all it has meant is napping all day long. I really can’t seem to stay awake.

      As for my day job, I can’t say for sure, but it would only be logical for them to refuse to offer me a new contract. I has to do with the terms of my current contract, the number of hours I won’t be able to teach, the personality of my bosses, and the fine print on the contracts that are ambiguous in their favor. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.


      December 25, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      • Having had a chance to think further about your situation, I now pester you with more questions:

        1. Insurance! I’m sure you’re insured. How much coverage are you getting from your school insurance policy? (All praise to your uncle, by the way, for tracking the hitter down.)

        2. Security cams: is there any CCTV footage that the police can access that will help your case?

        3. Extent of injuries: you bashed up your chin, which makes me think you may have bashed up your neck. Any neck injuries to speak of, esp. of the “whiplash” variety when your chin struck the ground? And how’re your hands? When falling off bikes, people usually throw out their hands to ward off impact. Obviously, your hands are in good enough condition for you to type with, but I’m still curious.

        4. How much do you now remember about the moment of impact? Your blog entry makes it sound as if you lost that part. Has any of it come back to you?

        I think that’s about it for now. No other questions. As for your medical care… you’re the injured party, so you may not always have the strength to stick up for yourself. I hope that other people who care about you—and are reading this comment thread—will heed my advice to press the medical professionals to make sure you’re given the best possible care. When my mother was in the hospital with brain cancer, it was up to our family to keep the medical staff honest and efficient.

        Before her cancer (2009-10), my father was in a car accident in 1997. He had a grapefruit-sized hematoma on one of his biceps, and while he was in bed, the male nurse came in to take his blood pressure. Without even looking, the nurse put the pressure cuff right onto the hematoma and was about to inflate the cuff when I shouted at him to stop. The nurse went, “Whoa!” and instantly ripped the cuff off. The fact that he hadn’t even been looking is what boggled my mind. Two lessons from that incident: (1) it really is up to the family to watch out for the patient, and (2) it’s not just Korean health care that’s problematic.

        I hope your Christmas has been as pleasant as is currently possible. Stay strong. You’re young and healthy, so I trust you’ll heal quickly. And with all that alcohol in your system, you probably don’t have to worry too much about infection! Sneak a drink now and again, so long as it won’t produce any weird drug-interaction side effects. Or, if you’re not drinking… enjoy the detox!

        Kevin Kim

        December 25, 2013 at 6:47 pm

      • To answer your questions.
        1. I’m not sure how much my school insurance covers but the offender agreed to report the accident as 100% his fault so I wouldn’t have to worry.
        2. There is strangely some CCTV footage, but even stranger is that the footage doesn’t include the color of the lights. Cars from the opposite direction are also going straight, indicating a green as I have said, but it cannot be airtight evidence in a case.
        3. I don’t think whiplash is an issue. I don’t know if it’s because I wrestled when I was younger but I’ve never had a problem with neck injuries. They threw on a neck brace when I was in the ambulance but I remember thinking that I didn’t need it.
        4. I only remember up to laying down hard on my horn at the second car as it was still blocking the intersection. I don’t really know how he ended up hitting me and how fast he was going. One thing I do know is that I did not see him coming at all, so either he lane-changed right before the illegal turn or he was speeding around the corner.

        Korean health care rarely impresses me. I’ve been ignored for hours and I’ve been having problems with them keeping up pain killers. They’re also less than gentle when handling my leg and make some pretty basic mistakes when wrapping it up. Most of my pain at the moment is not because of the leg itself but the way they wrapped it up and the materials they used to wrap it up with. I’m not the happiest camper but surviving.


        December 26, 2013 at 2:59 pm

  2. dude.. hope you get better soon. and merry christmas.



    December 25, 2013 at 9:30 am

    • Hey, Hanon,

      Thanks for the message. Merry Christmas to you, too.
      I didn’t get to see you when you were in Seoul last time but hopefully we’ll have a chance to hang out next time you’re here.


      December 25, 2013 at 2:17 pm

  3. Hey, Young hyung. I was glad to read your update (in life, and regarding this accident). I hope and pray you continue to recover. What a way to spend your Christmas.. in a hospital bed… yet, with these people in your life that care about you.

    David Shin

    December 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    • Hey, David, hope you’ve been well. I’m doing fine. It’s a tough break but nothing I can’t handle. Happy New Year.


      January 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm

  4. Thanks for those answers to my questions. Hang in there.

    Kevin Kim

    December 26, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    • Damn. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine about a month ago. Except he broke his skull. He’s fine now. I hope you get better soon although with Korean healthcare, it may take longer than it should.

      Four Bars

      January 2, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      • Your friend broke his skull but he’s fine now? Damn. Was he wearing a helmet? I bought a full-face helmet after my last accident but I still somehow managed to bust up my chin and my eyebrow.

        Thanks for the message. I hope it doesn’t take much longer than it should. With the damage to the Achilles’ tendon, I hear it can normally end up taking over a year.


        January 2, 2014 at 5:33 pm

  5. 페이스북에서 사진 보고 저게 설마 영쌤 사진이겠냐 하고 안 들어 왔었는데… 안 그래도 애들이 영쌤이랑 맥주마시자고 연말에 보냐 연초에 보냐 이러고 있었는데, 이렇게나 많이 다치시다뇨…..한참 연기해야겠네요…. 빨리 쾌차하세요!!


    December 29, 2013 at 2:48 am

    • 연말에 다 같이 보고 한잔 했으면 좋겠지만 어쩔 수 없네. 모임 연기 안해도 돼. 적어도 2-3달은 병원에 있어야 할 것 같아서. 그 뒤로 물리치료 받아야 하고. 어쨌든 퇴원하면 한잔 하자.


      January 2, 2014 at 5:26 pm

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