I Meditated My Way Through a Raging Kidney Infection in South Korea
Imagine moving across the world. You get on a plane with a one-way ticket in hand; say goodbye to all your possessions back home, and bet on a new adventure in a foreign land.
Then two hours into your twelve-hour flight to South Korea, you develop a raging kidney infection. Welcome to my luck.
Four years ago I decided to forgo my American comforts and see what the world held for me. I read in a digital nomad’s article about the great money you could make from teaching English in Korea, and I was stoked to give it a try.
I actually knew little about Korea, save what I could manage to google and read on other people’s blogs. But the country seemed safe enough, and I really held no qualms on traveling alone.
So I went through the tedious process of obtaining a work visa for Korea.
Now, a bit of a back story to me obtaining a job, because it’ll come into play later in the story; you either go through the actual Korean government, or you work with a recruiter.
I managed to make the mistake of telling the Korean government, during my teacher interview, that I had seen a therapist in the past. That disqualified me straight away.
So I was left with using a recruiter. Now, these recruiters are all based in Korea. I’m literally trusting that Joe Kim (yes that was his name) is actually on the other side of these email correspondences and that my legal documents aren’t being sent off to a “Nigerian Prince” kind of scam.
To be completely upfront, I didn’t even know the job was legit until I landed in Korea.
But I’m getting ahead of myself while at the same time taking too long. Let me get to the part you all came here for.
With my job, as far as I knew, secured in Korea via a mysterious recruiter, I embarked with my one-way ticket to the land of K-bbq.
I flew Korean Air from Los Angeles to Seoul. I was pretty excited to finally get there, even though I was assigned to the infamous middle seat of an overnight flight.
But whatever — I was starting a new adventure.
Two hours into the flight, I was listening to Lana Del Rey and noticing a weird ache in my lower back. The pain became more and more intense. I really felt like there was a ball of fire burning in my lower back with knives occasionally being stabbed inside of it.
I wriggled in my seat, trying to find some sort of relief from the intense pain I was enduring. Tears began to stream down my eyes uncontrollably. Shit, I thought. Something is seriously wrong.
I rang that little overhead button for the flight attendant to come over. By the time she got to me, and I began to explain what was happening, I was full-on balling.
Bless the heart of the flight attendants because none of them knew English that well. They brought over the girl who had the best English, and she offered me a little bit of hope. She had me go to the back of the plane, you know, that mysterious part of the cabin that the flight attendants disappear into; the area that us mere passengers are left wondering what it really looks like.
I sat in a chair with ample leg room and was given, what I assumed were ibuprofen and a hot water bottle. Both offered a bit of a relief, and I was thankful.
But here I was, in a massive amount of pain with a ten-hour flight left to endure.
Then, I remembered a meditation technique my therapist — the one that had technically cost me getting a job through the government in Korea — had taught me.
The technique was simple but required some concentration: you imagine yourself somewhere peaceful. Whether the place is made-up or real, you go through the process of imagining what it’s like to actually be there. What do you hear? What do you see? What do you feel? Smell? Taste? Etc.
The idea is to vividly imagine being in a calming place, in hopes to calm your mind. You could maybe even think of it as escapism, given what your circumstances are (like maybe, who knows, a kidney infection?).
For me, my go-to calming place is the Silverlake Reservoir in Los Angeles.
When I was in college and lived with a verbally abusive boyfriend, the reservoir was my safe-haven. I would go for walks around the little dirt path encompassing a giant man-made hole filled with water that’s ironically placed within a kitschy, hipster neighborhood.
The reservoir was surrounded by parks here and there, an artsy pre-school, and a dog park. I’d watch families stroll by, and dogs sniff each other’s butts, all while enjoying the crisp breeze that blew across the reservoir.
So there I was, sprawled out in this isolated back-of-the-airplane chair imagining I was walking along that dirt path in Silverlake.
I’d be lying if I said this kept my mind occupied for the entire ten hours, but it relaxed my mind enough to allow me to doze off here and there.
When the plane finally arrived in Seoul, I hopped on my connecting flight to Daegu. Getting off that flight, I was greeted with the relieving sight of someone from the school I was hired at waiting to pick me up.
Flustered and still in pain, I attempted to communicate to the man picking me up that I needed to go to the hospital. He took me to meet up with another teacher, a Korean woman who could at least speak semi-decent English, and we headed to the Emergency room.
Not at all the way I pictured my first day in Korea — an IV bag of who-knows-what being pumped into my arm while getting shots of I-don’t-even-want-to-know put into my butt. Luckily, “kidney” is easily translated and I could at least rest assured that I knew what was causing all this pain.
After a messy insurance process, hours laying on a bed listening to people speak a language I didn’t even recognize one word of and imagining myself back at the Silverlake Reservoir, I was released and feeling better.
The mind really is a powerful thing — I experienced it first hand. The fact was, I was on that flight; I was moving to Korea; I had to get through this.
I could’ve let it break me. I could’ve booked a ticket home the second I landed.
But I believe that the meditation technique that my therapist taught me is what helped me endure this event.
Without it, I might not have stayed. I wouldn’t have met a group of students that would change my outlook on life. I wouldn’t have met the French man that I would spend the following summer in Paris with.
And I wouldn’t have learned true resilience. Because sometimes life throws us obstacles, but it’s up to us to figure out how to get through them.