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We are Mortals

Some of you might know the turning point that brought me to Korea. Some of you don’t. But now is the time to share that with you. 

I need to start off with some history. I grew up in Greenock, Scotland. I moved to Dumfries and Galloway in my early twenties and took on a part-time job as a barista. There, I met two people who had a greater influence on my life than they realise. One was my manager. She was studying an English as a Second Language course and later moved to Thailand. The other was a customer who would move to Korea to teach English. 

Back in 2010, I got a serious bout of flu. And when I finally showed signs of getting better, I returned to work. But after a week or so of working, I still didn’t feel right. I went to a doctor. She couldn’t detect anything wrong, so I continued to go to work still feeling drained. As the days went by, it became harder and harder for me to breathe. Someone suggested I drink some old remedy tonic to get my energy up. Some customers commented that I just didn’t look well. Finally, I went back to the doctor.

He thought I had fluid in my lungs. So, he asked me to go home and get ready to go to the emergency room. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I ended up there with my parents meeting a doctor who seemed highly skeptical over my symptoms and the "exaggerations" of the GP. When he came back with my test results, his skeptic expression no longer on his smug face, he rushed me up to intensive care.

They told my parents I might not make it.

The IC doctor, who turned out to be the husband of a family friend, pumped me with antibiotics and whatever else my body needed. 

I had pneumonia and empyema.

It’s hard to recall memories of that time.  I was in a single room for a while until I was stable. They transferred me to a group room I shared with a woman terminally ill with cancer. They inserted a tube attached to a kind of tank to draw out the fluid trapped between my lungs and diaphragm. My friends labelled it my “rank tank” when they came to visit. The cancer patient joked about me being tortured by the doctor every time he flushed saline through my system to remove this stubborn puss. It wouldn’t come out it was so thick.

My terminally ill friend disappeared one day. They’d transferred her to the single patient room for intensive care. She didn’t come back.

They transferred me to a hospital in central Glasgow. There, I received keyhole surgery to remove the tenacious fluid. I was discharged a few days later. During that time, I learned another friend had caught the similar flu I’d had. His blood had become septic in hospital. He didn’t make it.

My approach to life changed after that experience, as you can imagine. I realised I’d been a fraction away from being one whose eyes would never reopen. It took a life-threatening situation to wake me up from my dream lingering mind and push me toward making decisions to sprout action.

What use are dreams and ideas if we don’t actually pursue them? 

I spent my recovery time going through old writing notes on my computer and working on a story that later became The Watcher of the Night Sky. I took a course to be an English (ESL) teacher to get out into the world. I considered working in Europe, but my student debt was too high to survive comfortably (don’t get me started on the allowance of students to have countless credit cards, store cards, and ridiculously high overdrafts in the UK). I looked into Asia, intending on going to Japan. But the 2011 earthquake and tsunami scared me out of that. I contacted that old customer in Korea, a country I’d barely heard of except in connection to Kim Jong-il, and it turned out his school was hiring.

Funny how my life lined up in such a way that gave me no doubts I was not in control of my destiny.

I arrived in Korea intending to spend one year here before trying out somewhere else. Yet the moment I arrived felt like I’d returned home—as crazy as that sounds (I suspect it has some connection to being the child of parents who moved around when I was young). So yes, I am still here. It hasn’t been a cakewalk. I’ve had those expat moments of wanting to pack up and leave. But rational thought and my constant self-analysis brought about some recent realisations. My problems are mostly human, not cultural. 

I’m one of the lucky ones. I survived and got the chance to move beyond the reality I’d become accustomed to but unsatisfied with. I found the way to get out and experience something new and invigorating and life-changing. I realised how mortal I am. How easy it is for life to end. I know death is scary. I know it is the part of our humanity we want to avoid thinking about. It’s even something we forget when we get wrapped up in the stresses life throws at us. But I am reminded again and again of how human I am when those around me pass away or are diagnosed with diseases or life-threatening illnesses. It is horrible to hear, but I sometimes need a reminder of my mortality. 

Until next time

Stay Gold

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