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Adventures in Korean Health Care: Mike’s Story

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The lids of my right eye had been forcefully pulled apart by a circular metal device. While a voice near my ear whispered “relax, relax”, a microkeratome blade made its incision. I was able to see everything that was happening (“just relax”), and watched as a flap of my eye skin was peeled back like the filmy skin of a hard-boiled egg. Everything went completely out-of-focus. And then the lazers started. Relax, you say? Sure!


I’ve had terrible vision since I can remember. Glasses, contacts, waking up every morning blind… severe myopia has played a major role in my life and always been a part of who I am. When I first heard of LASIK technology, probably twenty years ago, it sounded like a dream from some futuristic fantasy world, too good to be true. “But one day”, I thought. “I am totally doing that.”

The day finally arrived. Bolstered by Jürgen’s entirely positive experience at the Good-Gang-An Hospital, I decided to get my eyes zapped. South Korea is a country with supremely advanced medical techonology, and the procedure is far cheaper than it would be back home. Plus, it was my 35th birthday — a better present than perfect sight could hardly be possible.

We chose the Sojunghan Nun Ophthalmology Clinic, largely because of their advertisement in Busan Haps, the city’s English-speaking magazine. After my initial visit, any concerns I’d been harboring had vanished. This was a super-modern, obviously affluent clinic with a ton of equipment and a large staff of friendly people. My eyes were measured, and the doctor explained the Wavefront-guided LASIK technique which would be used. “Keep your contacts out, and come back in a week”.

Eye Test

A week later, I was back. They gave me another round of tests, then sat me down in a cozy massage chair so that I might relax before the surgery. When it was time, three nurses came to fetch me, leading me through an air shower into the operation room where the doctor was waiting. I laid down on the bed and, ten minutes later, it was done. Besides the mental anguish of watching my eye skin be peeled back, there was no pain.

The doctor asked if I could see him, and I almost let out a sob of joy upon answering “Yes”. It was hazy, but I could see things far away, sharply. After another rest in the massage chair, this time with tea and cake, the clinic provided a private driver to take me home. The next morning, I returned to have the protective contact lenses removed, and confirmed that my new vision was 20/20. The doctor said it would probably improve even more over the next couple weeks.

The incredible service, cutting-edge technology and perfectly executed procedure cost a grand total of ₩1,300,000 ($1170) for both eyes. About a fourth of the price I’d have paid in the states. The cost also includes all of my follow-up visits.

To say we’re head over heels with Korean healthcare is a huge understatement. Even more than the price, it’s the service and the attention to comfort that astound us. In hospitals in the US, Germany and Spain, we’re accustomed to being treated like nuisances, sometimes with an attitude that approaches contempt. None of that in South Korea; it’s as though they recognize how important comfort and ease of mind is to the recovery process. And that’s something we completely appreciate.

Link: Sojunghan Nun Ophthalmology Clinic | Location
Complete Pair of Eyeglasses for $39!

No More Glasses
Air Shower
Eye Laser Operation
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July 5, 2012 at 8:46 am Comments (12)

Adventures in Korean Health Care: Jürgen’s Story

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South Korea has made a serious effort to brand itself as a Health Care Tourism destination. “Medical tourism” is a phrase normally synonymous with “cheap plastic surgery” but, as we’ve discovered during our own adventures in Korean hospitals and clinics, that’s not all it means. “Would Mr. Horn please enter the doctor’s office?”


On one of our hikes around Busan, Jürgen had twisted his ankle pretty severely. I asked if he shouldn’t get it checked out, but he insisted that he’d be fine. The next day, I noticed him hobbling and suggested more forcefully that he go to the doctor. Still, he refused. Then I saw how swollen it was, and snapped. “This is exactly why we have travel insurance. What kind of idiot hobbles around on a swollen ankle?! GO!”

Of course, I can understand his reluctance. Going to the hospital in a foreign country is a nerve-wracking experience and, until now, one we’ve been able to avoid. You have no idea what to expect, whether the doctors will even speak English, or how much it’s going to cost. We have travel insurance, but have to pay the bills up front, and later get reimbursed. Jürgen was visibly nervous, so I gave him an encouraging pat on the butt, then watched him hobble into the Good Gang An Hospital.

I waited at a nearby cafe. When he showed up about 90 minutes later, he was beaming. “Korea is wonderful!”

“When I stepped into the reception area, it was like they were waiting for me! Oh hello, how are you, what’s the problem, please sit here, the doctor will be right with you, oh here he is already, please step this way. It was amazing, how quick and smooth everything was. There’s a special reception desk just for foreigners, and the hospital was so clean and high-tech. They took six x-rays of my ankle (it’s just twisted, nothing too serious) and set me up with a physical therapist for the next week to work on it”.

“So what’s the cost?” (Always my first question when I find Jürgen in such an enthusiastic state.) I needn’t have worried, though. It was less than $200. That’s the total cost. With a week of physical therapy, two hours a day. With six x-rays. With top-notch, instantaneous attention from an English-speaking doctor. It’s almost not worth filing a reimbursement form with our insurance company!

Bolstered by his experience, we decided to go ahead with a dream I’d been harboring of for most of my life — having my awful vision corrected with LASIK. My adventure in the wild world of Korean Health Care, coming soon.

Location of the hospital on our Busan Map
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July 2, 2012 at 10:22 pm Comments (7)
Adventures in Korean Health Care: Mike's Story I've had terrible vision since I can remember. Glasses, contacts, waking up every morning blind... severe myopia has played a major role in my life and always been a part of who I am. When I first heard of LASIK technology, probably twenty years ago, it sounded like a dream from some futuristic fantasy world, too good to be true. "But one day", I thought. "I am totally doing that."
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