Korea: An E-mail Update

Korea: An E-mail Update

During the fall of 2009, I spent a semester abroad at a global university in South Korea. My university in Texas had an exchange program set up where engineering students could move to South Korea, attend classes in English, live in an international dorm and not fall too far behind in their course sequence! It was an amazing opportunity and I sure was not going to miss it! However, I got very sick when I first flew over to Korea. I knew less about Adrenal Insufficiency and had no concept of increasing my medicine during times of sickness or stress.

I was recently cleaning up my Gmail (Seriously, who does that?! Gmail itself told me that I shouldn’t because after all I do have 15 GB of storage space) and I found an e-mail that I had sent to my mom on August 29th, 2009. I would like to share it with y’all.


Subject: So you don’t freak out…

Remember how I had that fever? Well… Tuesday: 37.6… Wednesday: 37.1… Thursday: 37.3… no temp check on Friday, but I started developing a cough. I’ve been taking 10 mg of hydrocortisone at lunch also (up from the normal 5)


Swine Flu fear

Because of the fear of swine flu, they took our temperature every single day.
Photo from 2009.

So that friday (i.e. yesterday) my team went downtown. I kinda felt nauseous on the bus ride down, but that could have just been because we crammed way more people into the bus than we were supposed to. We got to Pohang around 3:30pm… and walked… alot… we went to the fish market, and I started feeling sick again. Like, I had absolutely no appetite… and seeing fish swimming around in a tank and then picking one out to go inside and be fed that exact fish wasn’t helping. We ate at the fish market, where Mi-Young and Jason (our other staff) picked out some fish and we sat on the floor and everything.


Korean Fish Market

I was not feeling well during this entire adventure. I am unable to stand up straight.
Photo from 2009.


Anxiety Returned

And then it was like flashback to where I just couldn’t handle new situations… the smells were just overwhelming… and a plate was set down in front of me with cooked shrimp that you had to pull the heads off and the spiral shells where you had to stab the then living slug with a toothpick and yank it out to eat it… I was not feeling my best at this point. There were just too many new things, and I just couldn’t handle them. But I found the yams and started eating those… which was ironic because out of a table of nine, I was the only one who didn’t think the yams were gross but thought every other thing on the table was disgusting. I almost started crying, but I didn’t.


Korean Food

Do you see the toothpicks for the snails? I did not eat much this meal.
Photo from 2009.


And then the plate of raw fish came… My team knows I’m not a fan of spicy food (I ate that spicy chicken one night, and started crying because it was just so darn spicy… so now they try things before me and warn me if i can handle it or not). So everyone tried the fish [but me] and loved it. A LeTourneau guy was like, “Amber, you have to try this! It’s good!!! It tastes like fish, but just a little bit chewier. You’ll like it, I promise.” And I just kept shaking my head no.


Korean Dinner

This plate of raw fish overwhelmed me so much.
Photo from 2009.


He ate another bite of fish and kept pestering me to try it. And I kept shaking my head no. And then he was like, “Amber! We’ll make fun of you for the rest of the semester if you don’t try just one bite.” I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer, and I just started crying.


Completely Overwhelmed

“Fine. Make fun of me. I will not eat that fish.” The Mongolian girl that was sitting next to him was trying to tell him to just drop it… because now I was crying hard… silently… but it was obvious that tears were coming down my face. I just could not handle the situation. He finally looked up and saw that. And then everyone at the table wanted to make sure I was ok… Mi-young, oh how I love that girl, just started handing me all the yams to eat, because I seriously was the only one at the table that did not find those gross, which was amazingly ironic.


Korean Dinner

I was not feeling well. These yams were about the only thing I could eat without vomiting them back up.
Photo from 2009.


I was able to regain composure, and they gave me more water… and yams… and then the soup came. Jason ordered a special soup for me (no spicy) so I had to try it (although I would have been perfectly happy just watching everyone eat). Oh… side note… family style eating… one bowl of spicy soup for five people… one bowl of not spicy soup for four people… I ate the broth, which was actually really good… and salty…. I couldn’t eat anything in the soup… because, um yeah… fish heads just do not appeal to me in any way shape or form.


Not Feeling Well

After we left the restaurant, I explained to the LeTourneau guy about addison’s disease and how I am not feeling well right now because a) i am not talkative at all (which surprised everyone in the group) b) i have absolutely no appetite and c) normally, a situation like that should not have overwhelmed me as much as it did.


Korean Bowling

I felt so sick. And as the night continued on, it became more and more obvious.
Photo from 2009.


I’ve had no appetite for several days now, I have a cough, my nose is bugging me, my throat is sore, I’m exhausted. So I thought to myself, “ok, if they check my temp today and I have a fever… I’m gunna tell someone…”


The Fever

My temp today was 37.6… after I had it checked, I just started crying. I then packed up all my bags (because we were supposed to move into I-House today at 2pm… and it was 11 am), found that doctor’s note, and then went and talked to Christina (our orientation coordinator)… I kinda started crying…. but was able to hold myself together. She took me to the hospital a little after 12pm. But when I say hospital, it’s really like a walk in clinic.

Now for the good part: Mom, that place was amazing. It’s privately run and I only had to wait maybe 45 minutes? The doctor translated that note from Endo 2 and then said that although I’m not at the dreaded 37.9 temperature, I have a weakened immunity so we can’t officially rule out swine flu. I showed her my injectable and she promised me that they have the exact same thing in Korea. She also recommended me getting a shot because I do have a slight throat infection (that we caught super early) and that the medicine I take at lunch is not enough for my body to fight that off. So they gave me a shot (using their meds, because she wanted to make sure that I always have mine), and then immediately I started to feel better.


The Cost

And I was like, “Christina, how much is this going to cost?” thinking insurance will only cover E.R visits and this will probably sink us at least $300. Mom, I was able to pay cash. The total bill, with the shot, was only 12,900 won.

The doctor also proscribed a mixture of antibiotics for me to take for my throat and cough… which kinda make me nervous because I’m not sure exactly what I’m taking… and I have to take them with food… three times a day for three days, but both Christina and the doctor (who scored major points with giving me the shot) said that they wont hurt me… so for now, I’ll take them. Those meds only cost me 12,000 won.


The Quarantine

Now for the icky part. I’m quarantined in a room by myself until Monday. 9am on monday Christina will take me to another hospital where they can check and see if I have swine flu (the one I went to today was too small to do it). So I go from “yay! I can finally unpack and move into my dorm room today!” to “Sad. Monday…” Which is really really discouraging as everyone else has already moved in and I’m stuck on the first floor of a korean dorm by myself…

I finally got back to campus around 2:30 and Christy called me and was like, “where are you?” So I told her… and she and Jennifer came down into my room and sat and talked to me for a little while, because they feel like if I’m highly contagious, they would have been sick long before now. It was kinda a reality check for them though when christina came in wearing a mask to give me vitamin c pills (which I’m supposed to take twice a day). They were like, “oh… dang…” Like I can go out in public… I just have to wear a mask. I would much rather prefer to hide in my room for two days…

But yeah, the two of them took two of my suitcases up to my room in I-house so that my roommates wouldn’t over take my space and they explained to my roommates my situation. And then they left to go to downtown pohang, where they’ll buy me some hangers. And they’ve promised to give me food, and keep me company, because they believe that everyone is over reacting. After I get back from the hospital on monday, and it comes out that I don’t have the swine flu, handong will allow me to move into my actual room… and go to class…


I’ll be okay.

But don’t worry mom, many people are gunna be missing class first day. anyone who’s been in korea for less than seven days (which is like the 11 Mongolian students and several professors) are not allowed to attend class until they’ve reached that one week mark due to fear of the swine flu.

Am I happy I said something early this time instead of waiting until it was unbearable? Yes. That shot does wonders. I’m actually hungry now for the first time in like several days. I mean before the shot, all I had eaten today was one apple and one snack bar and I had to force myself to eat both things because I just had no appetite.

And I do finally get some alone time… because honestly… I haven’t had alone time sense I’ve left for Korea…


sent on 08.29.2009


Korean sun

The view from my dorm room, once I finally moved in.
Photo from 2009.


My Reflection on this E-mail Five Years Later

The fact that I lost my appetite, the my social anxiety returned with a vengeance, and I was incredibly nauseated all point to too little cortisol. I had no idea at the time. Because my temperature was taken in Celsius, I didn’t realize the full extent of my fever (100.2 deg F, and my body temperature normally runs cooler). With fever and Adrenal Insufficiency, I am supposed to immediately triple my daily steroid dose. I did not do that. I was putting myself dangerously close to an Adrenal Crisis. The doctor that I saw knew this which is why she immediately gave me an emergency shot of steroids (dexamethasone) in her office.

Oh, and I did not even have the swine flu.

I have learned so much over the past few years about living with Adrenal Insufficiency. And I am continuing to learn new things every single day.

Those scary times in Korea paved the way for these awesome times in Malaysia.

I am still very much Clearly Alive!

Just goofing off in a mall in Malaysia!

Amber Nicole is Clearly Alive