Sunday, January 1, 2012

Preparing for a Child’s Hospital Stay in South Korea

The South Korean Health System:
The system is private meaning it is not free.  Korean National Health Insurance makes hospital stays reasonable – for example a 3 day stay due to pneumonia (including food + room + medicine + check-ups) costs around 180,000 KRW ($160.00 USD), and a 7 day stay for children’s heart surgery will cost around 3,000,000 KRW ($2,600.00 USD). 
If you have children and are staying in Korea for a number of years you should consider getting private insurance as well. We pay 130,000 KRW ($110.00 USD) a month for an all-in-one private health and life insurance and get 100% coverage.  We use무배당 하이라이프 퍼팩트패 키지 .
Check out this Seoul Global Help Center Link for a detailed explanation of Korean National Health Care Insurance. 
Medi-givers NOT Caregivers:
In South Korean hospitals nurses’only roles are to pass out meds and give needles. They do not help patients go to the bathroom, eat, clean up, get dressed, take meds, or anything like that.  That means you’ve got to be with your child 24-7 and if you are going in by yourself, then you’d best ask someone to come by and help you out. 
My Hospital Story: Last time we were at the ‘Pil my son coughed so hard he puked all over the place and myself.  I buzzed the nurse, she came and said OK but never came back.  So I cleaned everything up while trying to take care of my sick young son.  30 minutes later the cleaning lady came and washed the floor, 45 minutes later a lady came to change my bedding.  The same thing happened to my MIL the next day. 
What is it like?
For me going to the hospital with my child is no longer a big deal (done it 4 times, plus 1 for MIL, plus 2 for myself@@).  There’s always lots to entertain my son with and I don’t have to cook meals or clean the house^^. All the kids in the ward run around, play games, eat snacks, and watch TV.  It’s really fun for them.

There's always lots for kids to do on the children's ward.
 It can be very tiring for the caregiver though and it’s a good idea to get someone to watch your child while you go out and get some exercise or fresh air. It’s also best to have someone come by everyday and collect your dirty laundry and bring fresh towels, snacks, ect.

Collectivist vs. Individualistic
I was reflecting on how different Korean culture is from Canadian.  In Canada, kids stay in the hospital by themselves and the parents drop by during visiting hours.  This situation would be absolutely unacceptable in Korea where co-sleeping goes on for years and years.
 Koreans have a particular dislike for loneliness, aloneness.  They are a very ‘together’ (collectivist) people.  So when you go to the hospital expect to see fathers sleeping on cots, mothers, children, grandparents all surrounding/ sitting on/ a child’s bed with snacks and food containers everywhere.  There are no visitor’s hours and family and friends can come and go as they please. 
The Deal with Rooms:
Once you get to the hospital you will have a choice of a 1,2,4, or 6 person room(s). Most people want to stay in the 6 person room since it is the cheapest option so sometimes there will be none available.  If that happens you have to stay in the 4 person room until a 6 person is available.  Once when we went in for our son’s heart surgery they told us there were no 4 or 6 person rooms available!  Luckily that got worked out.
Cost per day in KRW (approximately)

*6 Bedroom Rules:
The prime spot is next to the window, as it’s the farthest from all the noise and has lots of extra space due to the window sills, the next best spot is next to the bathrooms, and the worst is in the middle.  Newcomers are always placed in the middle, and when a spot opens up on either side, they go there.  After you are placed in the #2 or #1 spot you can get comfy as you won’t be moved anymore.  Of course if you want to stay in the middle that’s OK too.

The prime spot - a window position in a 6 person room.
What It’s Like To Be the Only Foreigner:
It’s not a big deal really, the basic questions are: 1. Where are you from? 2. Is your husband Korean? 3. Does your child speak both English and Korean? 4. How old is your child? 5. What is wrong with your child?  6. How long have you been in Korea?
The most surprising thing is that everyone remembers me but I don’t remember them at all.  On our last stay a woman called out my son’s name and said hello but I had no idea who she was.  Then she went on to explain that she remembered me from a year and a half ago. …..I have absolutely no recollection of her.  The same thing happened at the local doctor’s office.  A woman approached me and told me she and her daughter were in the bed next to us the last time we stayed at the hospital.  This embarrassed me a little because I wonder if she was the one who I asked to turn her music down…..  A lot of the nurses mentioned to me how last time I was here my Korean wasn’t so great but now a couple of months later it’s so much better. 
The moral of the story is that as a foreigner you stand out like a sore thumb so try to be on your best behavior. 
What the Hospital Provides:
The children’s ward usually has the following: TV room, play room, library, showers, Internet kiosks, and drink machines.  There is a kitchen area to wash dishes, get drinking water, microwave food, and throw away garbage.  Dish soap and rags are not provided.  Wheel chairs and strollers with special attachments for IVs are also provided but can be scarce.  If you have a light and portable stroller you may want to bring it if you child will not be needing an IV.
****It will make your life so much better if you bring a WiBro connector so you can connect to the Internet on your own devices – we use the Olleh Egg Here.

Each room will have showers, fridges, a TV, and a bathroom or two. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and hand soap will be provided.
Your space will have a bed, cabinet with a lock, and a few coat hangers (see picture above).  Cots are found under every hospital bed so parents or friends can sleep in your allotted space.  Sheets, pillow cases, and one blanket are provided.   
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided by the hospital if you ask for it.  Be sure to ask the nurse responsible for you to order meals as soon as you arrive.  If you have to cancel lunch or the meals all together you also do this by telling the nurse in charge of you.

The cost of one meal is 4,000 to 6,000 ($3-5 USD) and if you are with a child you can just share one meal rather than ordering two.  There are usually 2 options given and you must write down which one you prefer.  If you can’t do it on your own, ask a neighbor not a nurse.  There are usually restaurants in the basements of hospitals.

A typical hospital meal.  One is usually enough for both child and parent.
Hospital gowns will be provided for your children but they are usually in rough shape.  I always bring pants for my son as the hospital ones are too light and big.
What To Bring for Yourself and Child:
Absolutely Necessary
Need but can live without
Do not bring
·         Carrier
·         Coffee, yogurts, snacks (You can buy this in the basement where there will be marts and 7-11s but it may be impossible to buy something, better safe than sorry).
·         Anything clunky, large and unweilding such as suitcases.  We always  bring all of our stuff in a Bumbo bag because it's big but can be folded up easily and doesn't take up much space.
·         Ipad, Computer, or Iphone with children’s games and movies
·         WiFi/ WiBro connector
·         Books and toys (There are children’s libraries and toys in the big hospitals).
·        Expensive/nice clothing
·         Water bottle, plastic cups.  (Drinking water is provided).
·         Tissue and soaps (Toilet paper and hand soap are provided by the hospital).
·         Smelly foods (^^)
·         Diapers, underwear, wipes, socks, pants, and  comfy shoes for your child.  Plastic bib.
·         Stuffed toys, extra blankets and pillows for your child.

·         Towels, face cloths, shampoo, conditioner, bags for dirty clothes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, moisturizer, ect.
·         Stroller – parents prop the front part up on the IV stand and push them around – not sure if this is safe or not.  The hospital will provide special IV strollers.

·         Comfy clothes for yourself and a few pair of very comfy sandals/Crocs.  Hospitals are usually hot so bring lighter clothing. 

·         Blankets and pillows for hubby or whomever is staying with you.

No worries, every room has a fridge so you can store your breast milk easily, bed areas have electrical outlets, kitchens provide areas to clean pumps, and have sanitization machines.  I was told that I could not breastfeed my son after his heart surgery but I did anyway.  The nurses did not say anything to me about it.
Korea and Safety
I'll never understand why Koreans are so blasé about safety, especially the safety of children.  This is a picture of a open window on the 7th floor of the children's ward.  A small child could easy fall through  it.  I think I remember something on the news about a child falling from a hospital window a few months back.  Unfortunately my Korean is not good enough to fully understand what happened.  Shocking though, very shocking!

View from the 7th floor of the children's ward@@ 


  1. Great information! (though I hope never to need it^^) Thanks Fauna :)

  2. Wow! Thanks for detailed explanation! I don't suppose you wrote a similar one for a women's hospital birth stay?

  3. Hepark76 - no I haven't. You can find information for that on the Expat Parents Korea forum.

  4. Really good info.! I hope I don't need it either : /....

    @ hepark76... I gave birth here at Kangnam Cha Hospital, 3months ago. It's pretty much the same as it says here, room prices & all. For the Meals they asked me if I wanted American food or Korean food... yeah, I couldn't do the seaweed soup. The nurses also kinda leave you on your own. I was a C-section and at times I called and 30-40 minutes would go by, before they came. But all & all it wasn't that bad. The only thing I didn't like was that they make you stay for a long, long time, I was going nuts. In PR a C-section stay is 3 days. Here it was 7. This complicated thing with us being alone here and having another child home. You really need to find help before going in.