I’ve only seen the school nurse (who students call “Health Teacher”) one time.
Most who know me know my penchant for eating. As Scrabbles wrote in a personal introduction, “and he also eats a lot.”
Most of the time, habitual exercise, and intermittent fasting help prevent my appallingly large meals from biting me in the stomach. That is, except for one day.
I spent the week administering speaking tests in the hallway outside my classroom.
“What is your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“What would you do today if the world ended tomorrow?”
Halfway through class, a biting stomach pain slithered into my awareness.
I had a sinking flashback to Wednesday evening at orientation. That night, I ate octopus for the first time and searing indigestion left me writhing on my bed. However, as sudden as its onset, the pains abated.
I plumbed my dietary memory. I ate octopus for dinner last night. Damn.
I fought through grimaces as I tested student after student, doubling over in pain when each student departed and picking myself up when the next student entered. I slowly fell apart.
After one student, I placed a trash can beside my feet. Things might get ugly and I wanted to show the cleaning ladies my finest courtesy. Soon I stopped faking it.
“I’m sorry. I’m not feeling well. Are you ready?”
Two tests later, I reached my limit. I clutched my stomach and laid down on the bench in a fetal ball. This provided slight relief. The next student appeared.
“No, no, no. Not yet. Go back inside, please.”
The student shrugged their shoulders and closed the door, My co-teacher appeared seconds later.
“Are you okay?”
“My stomach. It hurts so bad.”
He descended the stairs for what I hoped was some antacid or an ambulance. Once he returned, I struggled to my feet and slumped into class. An eerie silence descended upon me as I sidled up to the classroom podium.
“Ian doesn’t feel well today. We will finish the tests next week. Just wait for the bell and I will see you next time.”
“Oh no,” one student said, “so sad.”
My students reference sadness often. I struggle to parse jokes from sincere statements. This one felt sincere (I think).
Finally, the bell set us free. I hobbled down the stairs and into the Health Teacher’s office. My co-teacher arrived to interpret.
“My stomach hurts.”
Co-Teacher and Health Teacher continued to converse in Korean.
“Did you eat breakfast?”
“Just coffee.” I reached for my phone to translate the word antacid. I handed the results to my co-teacher. “Ee-soy-yo?” (Do you have this?)
Apprised of the situation, my Handler showed up as well. Now there were two co-teachers invested in my tummy ache tragedy. I felt like a weakling. Handler turned to me.
“Did you eat anything spicy yesterday?”
“Just the school lunch and dinner. Kimchi and octopus.”
After another minute of conversing, the Health Teacher handed me a gel packet. I tore the wrapper and sucked it down. I didn’t read a word of it. It could have easily been poison and I would have no idea.
Fortunately, Handler said it was an antacid. She then handed me a bottle of liquid that I couldn’t read.
“It’s either indigestion or heartburn. If you don’t feel better after lunch, drink this.”
“Jin-ja-chack-hae-yo.” (You’re really kind.)
“Make sure you eat a very small lunch today.”
I walked out of the Health Teacher’s office with my ego hurting more than my stomach. I pride myself on pain tolerance. Yet a belly ache reduced me to a puddle in the middle of class. I thought about this as I curled up into a ball on a bench in front of my office.
After about 20 minutes (I may have even napped), my pain was gone. I left the unknown bottle on my desk (where it remains to this day), and headed for the cafeteria for lunch.
I went through the line, only grabbing a small amount of the lower-carb options. However, when I sat down, Handler gave me a sharp look and short admonishment.
“Ian! You need to eat rice.”
I turned to another English teacher.
“Well, I guess I should get some rice.” I could tell she was serious. It’s the least I could do after all of her help. I grabbed a bowl and returned to the lunch line.
I learned some important lessons that day:
-I never went back for seconds in the school lunch line again. I keep my meals modest (at least at school).
-I try to chew my food more thoroughly. 32 bites keep the belly tight (and not screaming in self-inflicted pain).
-I am not nearly as pain-resistant as I thought I was. It is time to toughen up.
I now sit across from the new Native Chinese Teacher. Our name tags are the only ones not written in Hangeul.
I only sip the best dihydrogen monoxide that Korea has to offer.
I found more alcoholic bears passed out in cafés. It’s slowly becoming an epidemic.
I appreciate the sound advice. However, I would appreciate an amendment to include drowning women as well.
This seems like a lot of Korean to say “this is a tree stump.”
“Do not jump head-first off of this mountain. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Sugar took a journey down the Silk Road. She had a far more interesting winter vacation than I.
Well, at least they tried.