Living overseas is a constant adventure. Everyday tasks and situations take on a hue of novelty as languages and customs change; for those who enjoy a challenge, it’s an amazing experience. But not all situations are pleasant, and just as travel intensifies good experiences, so it intensifies the negative ones as well. A week and a half ago, on a rocky, windswept coast near my home in Pohang, I had one of those negative experiences: I broke my knee.
The day started off wonderfully. I rode my new motorcycle out to Mundeok to join up with my friends. The weather was sunny and clear, and spirits were high. Our plan for the day was to stock up with enough barbecue supplies to be tried for genocide at a barnyard tribunal, then head to a local beach. Guryongpo Beach (구룡포 해수욕장) is a popular weekend getaway for couples and families based in Pohang, but we managed to avoid the crowds by going to a POSCO (the local steel company) retreat.
Grilled meat and veggies. Games. Walking barefoot on the rocks and wading in tide pools. All in the slow, baking warmth of the spring sun. It was a perfect day. So when my friend Min started throwing out challenges that none of us could beat him in 씨름 (ssireum) — a Korean martial art similar to sumo wrestling — my competitive nature took over. “Let’s go, right now!”
Ssireum involves contestants grabbing on to each other’s belts (or pants) and using footwork, body weight, and momentum to try to throw the other person to the ground. The person whose body hits the ground first loses. I definitely had a size advantage, but my balance is crap and I’d never done something like ssireum before. I’ll let you watch the video to see how it went…
I’d messed up my knee in a skiing accident when I was 15, so I’m familiar with the pleasant sensation of blowing a joint out. That said, I’ve never experienced a broken bone before. Tearing ligaments is painful, but the pain level immediately after my leg twisted beneath me and Min and I fell to the ground was beyond anything I’d experienced. My ability to walk was also compromised, unlike before. I tried to take one step after being helped to my feet and crumpled from the pain. Something was definitely different.
That realization led me to ask my friends for a ride to the hospital. After a couple hours of waiting and examinations, we had a partial verdict: the top of my tibia had fractured and I had internal bleeding in my knee. The doctor stuck me with the biggest syringe I’ve ever seen and drained 100 milliliters of blood out of my leg. The pressure lessened and the sharp pain abated to a dull one, but they let me out with a splint and some crutches, with instructions to come back the next day and see an orthopedic specialist.
X-rays, a CAT scan, an MRI, and four days later, we had a final verdict. I’d broken my tibia near the join, had partially torn my meniscus, had strained my cruciate ligaments, and had a bone fragment floating around in my knee from 14 years ago. Somehow, all the damage wasn’t enough to require surgery, letting me wriggle out from under the knife for the second time in my life. Recovery won’t be a fun or short process (the doctor is estimating about 1 month in a cast and another wearing a knee brace, both on crutches), but at least I’ve been down that road before.
So that’s what happened. But this post isn’t about breaking my knee. It’s about living overseas and dealing with a tough situation. It’s about realizing that even though I’m ‘alone’ and across the sea from home, I am lucky enough to be surrounded and supported by friends. It’s about knowing that no matter the situation, I have people at home and overseas who will rally and help me get through it.
Friends sat with me in the emergency room for nearly three hours, talking with the doctors and staff to try and make sure communication was smooth. They had food waiting for me after I’d finished and hobbled out, then took me back to my apartment. My boss took me to the hospital the next day for a couple hours and sorted through some nasty insurance business to make sure my medical expenses were covered appropriately. Students (some) have tripped over each other trying to help me carry my books or my tea mug. A random cab driver got out in the pouring rain and helped me get my crutches out of the back seat. Friends and coworkers took me to and from work, helped me shop for groceries, came over to play games and keep me company… the list goes on.
So what did I take away from this unfortunate situation? First and foremost: leave the wrestling to others. As funny as that video is, it’s not worth a busted knee.
But most importantly, I learned just how blessed I am. It’s easy to forget that when things are going well. I take the people around me for granted. So, to everyone who’s helped me through this time, whether in word or deed, thank you so much! I couldn’t ask for better friends or family, and I couldn’t be luckier.
Looking at things that way?
Totally worth it.