From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."


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The Surgery

For those who are wondering why I haven’t updated my blog in ages, I haven’t retired from blogging. I was away for nine months, trying to start a new life in the Philippines with my husband.

Our plan was to stay in my home country for a year and focus on expanding our small business, but sometimes life has its own course. No matter how hard you plan, you can never be certain of what the future holds. We did not push through with our second business venture, but we chose to stay a bit longer to make the most out of our long vacation.

During our stay in the Philippines, many unexpected things happened, both good and bad, but none as terrifying as that day when my brother-in-law and I rushed my husband to the emergency room because of severe stomach pain. Three days after he was admitted to the hospital, he was being prepped for surgery, while I was making a long-distance phone call to Korea to inform my husband’s twin brother of his condition, and explaining to my furious father-in-law why his son was having a major surgery in the Philippines.

His family wanted him to go back to Korea as soon as possible and have the surgery done in Korea, but he could not travel because of his condition. He could barely walk, sit or stand, because he was in agonizing pain. As days went on, he said the pain was getting worse and the painkillers didn’t seem to work. The series of tests came back normal, except for the CT scan, so when the doctor brought up surgery again, my husband and I decided that we could not waste more time. The day he had the surgery was when the real ordeal began.

1The four-hour wait outside the operating room was the longest and scariest moment of my life. I was called twice by the doctor, and each time, I felt like dying. The doctor said that there was a bigger problem. It wasn’t just appendicitis. It was more serious than that. The procedure wasn’t going to be just like any other appendectomy. With my permission, he needed to make a longer incision to get rid of the bile that spread in my husband’s abdomen. I saw my husband while he was lying on the operating table, and all I wanted to do then was to take his place. I saw the bile, the culprit that caused him so much pain, to the point that he was screaming and jumping out of bed in the emergency room. I have never seen my husband so helpless. I have never seen him at his weakest. I didn’t know what to do or how to help him, and that was the worst part of seeing him like that. I held out my hand to him, and he kept squeezing it so hard that it felt like my fingers would break. That hurt, a lot, but I didn’t let go… just like those times he didn’t let go of me when I was the one who was sick.

“Do what you need to do… just save him, please,” I remember telling the doctor before my tears began to well up. I couldn’t stop crying. I appreciate the nurse who tried to console me as she was leading me out of the OR, and one of the maintenance staff who gave me a chair to sit on when she saw me sobbing in the hallway. Soon, my sister arrived with her husband. She pulled me close in an embrace and cried with me. I was grateful for their presence, for the comfort and encouragement, but deep inside, it felt as if my husband and I were alone, nobody there but the two of us, just us… facing another uphill battle.

My husband would often joke about being “Superman”. He said nothing and no one can break him, because he is strong. I would laugh at him and even tease him, but while I was waiting for him to come out of surgery, I kept telling myself, “My husband is a ‘Superman’. He will make it through.”

The second time I was called to go to the OR, I didn’t know what to think anymore. As I was being instructed by the nurse to wear a hospital gown and a mask, I remember praying, just praying that nothing went wrong with the surgery, and that my husband will wake up in the morning, smiling, feeling better. I was trembling as I was making my way to the operating room. I must have asked the nurse a hundred times how my husband was, but now that I think about it, I can’t recall how she responded. I was relieved when the doctor said that my husband was stable, but the relief lasted only a little while. He explained that my husband was not out of danger yet, because the bile had spread into his lower back and it would be too risky to try to surgically remove them, too. The only way to remove the remaining bile would be through surgical drains. My husband had two surgical drains inserted into his body. When we went back to Korea, those surgical drains were still attached to him. We needed special permission for him to board the plane with those grenade-looking surgical drains.

When the surgery was over, family and friends came and waited with me. They filled the room with love and hope, and I thank them for that. When my husband was brought back to his room, it was as if a ton of bricks has been lifted off of my shoulders. I have never been so happy to see him.

I didn’t sleep until morning. I spent most of the night at his bedside, watching my husband’s favorite cartoons on Cable TV or reading verses from the Bible, something that I stopped doing since I came to the Philippines. I realized that I had been too busy doing less important things than opening my Bible. I read Psalms 23 to him. He opened his eyes and lifted his hand to touch my face.

Not seeing my husband smile for days was like not seeing him smile for years, so when he woke up in the morning after surgery and smiled at me, I was jubilant. After asking how he was feeling, I told him about the surgery and what the doctors said; about family and friends who visited, and the phone calls I made to Korea. He warned me not to tell his parents that he was going to have a surgery, but I felt that they needed to know. My husband listened to every word I said, and many times he held my hand or my face without saying a word. I asked him if I was talking too much. Maybe he wanted to go back to sleep. “Keep talking,” he said, “I like to hear your voice.”

For two days, my husband could not do anything by himself. That must be quite frustrating for a man who loves his independence. Helping him sit up or walk to the bathroom was never a task for me. It was done out of affection and dedication that I have vowed to give him “for better or for worse” when I walked down the aisle to be his wife. I know that if I had been in the same position, he would do the same thing for me… tirelessly, lovingly… because that is what people who deeply love each other do. They stand by each other. They cry for each other. They get through everything together, and when it’s all over, they become stronger, better.

The doctors advised my husband to stay in the hospital until he has fully recovered or wait until the surgical drains could be pulled out, but he was in a hurry to be back home. We told the doctors that the flight to Korea was going to take only four hours, and he didn’t have to stand or walk at the airport. He could stay in a wheelchair. The airlines could give him a priority seat and provide us assistance from Clark to Incheon Airport . The doctors agreed to release him as long as he could move without much pain from the surgery, sit comfortably and walk with little assistance, which he all managed to do in three days. He had such determination that I have never seen before.

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There was a joke among the female nurses. They said they realized how handsome my husband is only after the surgery, because finally they saw him smile. The doctors were moved by the love and concern they have witnessed between a Korean and his Filipino family: “You are very lucky. Many people here love you,” one of the doctors told my husband on his last day at the hospital, “Your wife cried a lot. Everyone was worried about you .” How I wish my husband’s parents had seen the love and support that was given to him during that time.

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사랑합니다, Omonim… Abonim.

This morning, I was awakened by the clinking of chopsticks and my parents-in-law’s conversation over breakfast. If it had been an ordinary day, I would have hit the hay again, but today is Parent’s Day and I had to get up to greet them. I set the alarm at 7 before going to bed last night, because that’s the time my in-laws usually wake up, but they got up pretty early. It was a few minutes past 6 when I heard them in the dining room. I woke up my husband who was snoring louder than a lawnmower, hastened to change, washed my face and brushed my teeth. By the time, I was done, my father-in-law had already put on his jacket and was heading out for work. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was tidying up the dining table. I greeted them good morning. They were probably wondering why I was up so early. I told them that I was going to the hospital which was actually true, but the real reason why I was scurrying out of the bedroom was because I wanted to be the first to pin carnation boutonnieres on their shirts. The tradition of giving carnations during Parents’ Day in Korea typifies respect and gratitude for parents.

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At school, students make paper carnations and cards to give to their parents. A day before the occasion, you can already find carnation bouquets being sold on the streets or in various shops and convenience stores. Bakeries sell cakes in the semblance of a carnation like this lovely ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins:

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Cosmetic shops and department stores display Parents’ Day gift sets. Restaurants offer promos. Parents are usually given lavish presents or money, treated to dinner or pampered in the salon. On our way to the hospital, most of the big restaurants we passed by were full. In the department store, we saw a couple of parents and their adult children shopping together. I suddenly remembered my Mom. How I miss her. On Mothers’ Day, I take her shopping, too.

May 8 was originally Mother’s Day in Korea, but after some time, it became Parents’ Day (어버이 날 ). The occasion was altered, so fathers can also be recognized and thanked.

Tonight, my in-laws are going to have dinner with the family. My husband and I won’t be there, because we have to go to work, but I’m glad that we were the first to greet them today and tell them that we appreciate everything they have done for us. I rarely tell my parents-in-law that I love them, though I really do. When I told them “사랑합니다, 어머님… 아버님” (I love you, Omonim… Abonim.) as I hugged them this morning, their face lit up. My parents-in-law and I have lived together for four years, and though our relationship is not near to perfect, I believe that we have learned to truly appreciate one another. They care about me like parents to a daughter and I am grateful for their love. I may not be an outstanding 며느리 (daughter-in-law), but I try my best to show them that I also care about them the way a daughter cares for her parents.