from the Korean Army to being published

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

Random #65: Motley Crew

with 4 comments

Kevin from BigHominid’s Hairy Chasms has encouraged me to “Talk to some of the other patients and join the fraternity of suffering for which every hospital is a branch office. Minister to those around you; it’s a way to remind yourself you’re not alone.” It’s great advice but it’s also unfortunately not in my personality to do so. Instead, I’ve been keeping myself entertained doing what I always do, observing others.

The old guys in my hospital room don’t want to go home. Cheol-jung, the 80-year-old in the far corner with the only neck injury in the room, has been arguing with the doctors for a while. The doctors have been trying to appeal to him.

“You can go home now. Isn’t that great?”

But he’s happy living in the corner and getting enemas and asking for constipation meds.

“Your spot is a very coveted spot. Shouldn’t you give it up for someone who needs it more?”

He doesn’t want to. There is a shortage of beds in the 6-person rooms, which are less than 10 bucks a night and covered by insurance, much cheaper than the 3-person rooms, but why should he give up something so coveted?

“It snowed last night. If I leave and slip and fall, it’ll be the hospital’s responsibility.”

The doctors and nurses start talking and I guess he’s staying for a few more days.

Because the Old Man Cheol-jung has managed to stay, the Korean-Chinese guy is also staying. His name is Seong-il, but I kept thinking it was Il-seong*. It’s kind of discriminatory of me, as if someone assumed my name was George Washington Beck because I’m American.

He’s fine, able to walk without need of crutches or a walker. He only wants to stay because he’s lonely and here he has a group of old people to keep him company. At 53, he’s the baby of the group. He watches Chinese dramas on his cell phone without headphones and is always calling me “America.”

“America. Hey, America. Let’s go outside and take pictures of the snow.”

“You’re not allowed to go outside,” the nurse chides. “It’s dangerous and you might slip and fall.”

He’s already gotten his winter coat and pants on and heads out once the nurse has turned and left.

Our newest arrival is Jeong-nam, whose bed is sandwiched between Old Man Cheol-jung and the Kid. It was my spot when I first arrived in the room. You have to make your way up to a corner bed and finally to a window bed through room-seniority.

Taciturn, he hasn’t divulged his age, but judging by the sparseness of hair on the crown of his head and the depth of the creased bags under his eyes, I’d place him in his 60s. He’s addicted to Korean dramas and will watch them well after lights out. He has just turned down an appeal to leave the hospital tomorrow.

Between China and I is Gwang-bok, 71 years old, with all the characteristic annoying mannerisms of a 71-year-old. He makes three maddening noises with his mouth—a crunching noise, a sucking noise, and a squeaking noise—and he alternates between the three for hours on end.

“What is that noise?” a nurse asked while doing her morning checks of our room.

“It’s my secret,” he said and resumed making them after she left the room.

I think five hours was his longest streak. Five hours of weird sucking, squeaking noises on the other side of my curtain. At first, I thought it was hard candies or perhaps his dentures, but I really don’t know what to think anymore. I have to crank up the music at night so that I can sleep. He also sits up a lot during the night, which is annoying because it feels like he’s looking over me. Sometimes he is looking over me.

He hasn’t turned down an appeal to leave, at least not verbally. His body is doing all the talking. He’s in one of the best conditions in the room in terms of mobility, but he developed an allergic reaction to a medication yesterday and so has to be kept around longer. I’m sure that the nurses want him to leave because he’s always complaining about his treatment and he has a green bracelet, meaning there’s a danger of him falling out of bed, but he insists on keeping one of the safety rails down.

It’s mostly the old guys that don’t want to leave the hospital. The room is like an elderly men’s club and they don’t want to leave. The four of them are holding on, just as their comrades in New York are. Here, they have people to talk to, to share their old people’s problems and opinions with. They can get pretty excited and the volume in the room can get fairly loud.

The Kid, Jae-yun, is a college sophomore and the only person in the room who has been here longer than I have, which is why we both have window spots. He had the same steel rod supporting his leg as I did, also the result of a nasty motorcycle accident.

“Most people who have this,” he said, tapping on the rod, “are here because of motorcycle accidents.”

I envy him because he has been mobile since I got here, using crutches to make an occasional foray outside the hospital. Today I saw him chilling outside the elevators with nowhere to go. He was there every time I wheeled past in my wheelchair. I think his reason and my own were the same. He wanted some time away from the old men haunting our room. I also envy him because he only has to put up with it all until Friday.

Before our current set of elderly denizens, our room had a fairly quick turnover. The room was very different when I first arrived a month ago. The kid who had my current spot would keep his light on until two or three every morning. Once the lights went off, he’d talk and cry in his sleep. It didn’t seem like there was anything wrong with him physically. He was just a basket case. There was the middle-aged man with blonde streaks who snored like a bear in hibernation. And there were the pair of elderly men against the walls who were quiet and left without much fuss. (The one beside me freaked my brother out because he would sleep with his face against the curtain, right where my brother was asleep. I never saw the guy because he never pulled back the curtain.)

In the interim, we’ve had many come and go, all with their own idiosyncrasies. There was the other old guy who just needed someone, anyone, to talk to, or rather, to talk at. (He was unlucky and came before the old man boom we’re experiencing at the moment.) There was the soldier who would talk on the phone to his girlfriend all day and night, once completely ignoring his mother who had come to visit, and she had to sit quiet and ignored for almost an hour. He was a douche. The high schooler who was always yelling at his mother was more filial. You could tell that there was at least an unspoken appreciation between them. There was the middle-aged man who had the cute daughter. She gave me those hungry eyes but she never came back to visit. She wasn’t as cute as the cousin of the guy in his late 20s/early 30s, who looked like a big nerd and kept to himself. The record for the shortest stay was three days, held by a guy in his 30s who was admitted the first day, had surgery on his arm the second, and went home on the third.

Judging by the atmosphere in the room, everyone else in the room should be gone within a week. I’ll still be here. My third surgery is planned for either the end of this week or sometime during the next. The doctors may change their plans but the doctor who changes my wrappings told me that they’re planning on inserting an intermedullary rod into my tibia. If it sounds familiar, it’s the same procedure Anderson Silva, the former UFC Middleweight Champ who broke both his tibia and fibula during his last bout, a week after I was admitted. If so, it’s good news. He was on crutches days after his surgery. I haven’t been able to use crutches yet as my leg is still broken.

So why is Silva already out of the hospital and on crutches when he broke his leg over a week after mine? It’s something that’s common knowledge here but maybe not to the rest of us. Here’s a tweet explaining why.

Taken from the Bleacher Report

I wonder what the break of my leg would have looked like in slo-mo.

* I know that Korean-Chinese and North Koreans are different but there’s something in my brain that often draws a connection between the two. I don’t know why. Kim Il-seong is a different romanization of Kim Il-sung, first dictator of North Korea.


4 Responses

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  1. Gwang-bok gets my vote as the most interesting character in this lineup.

    “It’s my secret”—hilarious!


    January 20, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    • I was just on the receiving end of a life story/lecture from him, stories about fleeing south during the Korean War and drinking seven bottles of soju at a time. The reason he’s in the hospital now is not because of an accident but because he drinks too much. I think he’s going to last the longest out of all the rest of the room members, longer so that he can continue to pester me with his mouth-noises.


      January 21, 2014 at 4:02 pm

  2. And perhaps observing people and telling their stories is your style of ministry. You may have some journalist blood in you.


    January 21, 2014 at 5:38 am

    • I’m still working on my powers of observation. I’ve always wanted to be able to do a Sherlock Holmes/Hank Moody reading of a person based on visual cues but the few times I tried it, I was mostly wrong. One of my future novel ideas kind of depends on building this ability.


      January 21, 2014 at 4:04 pm

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