Monday, March 31, 2014

THOUGHTS FROM THE EAST - My visit to Korea

Last week, I had the estimable pleasure of being one of the invited speakers at a symposium on Patient Care in Spinal Surgery at SoonChunHyang University Medical Center in Seoul, Korea.  The faculty, led by Dr. B-J Shin, was made up of some of the leading orthopaedic spine experts in that country.  Despite the obvious language barrier (the talks, besides mine, were exclusively in Korean), I was able to learn a tremendous amount, not only about the art of treating spine patients but also about the nature and the character of my colleagues in this delightful and mysterious country.

This was my first visit to Asia and from first to last I found my hosts charming and welcoming.  They all seemed delighted to try out their English speaking skills, which to my great fortune were uniformly excellent.  The curious nature of the medical field is that many of the words used in talks are not translated into the native tongue, so despite the balance of the talks being in Korean, many of the words and phrases were understandable.  Combined with the tone of voice, the frequent laughter and the body language, I was able to understand the gist of almost all the lectures, although there were some in which I wish I could have gleaned the details.

The symposium ran from preoperative evaluation to postoperative and chronic pain management.  There were a number of talks on blood loss and transfusion, which is one of my special areas of interest.  I presented my work on Blood Conservation In Scoliosis Surgery which fit in very well with the overall scope of the conference.  The audience asked me a number of insightful questions and the whole interchange made it clear that my message had been delivered.  In fact, the talk was well enough appreciated that I was 'hi-jacked' by Dr. K-Y Ha, another prominent spine professor, to give Grand Rounds the next morning at another University Hospital, Seoul St. Mary's for the orthopaedic residents.  Despite being Saturday morning and my talk again being in the non-native language, I only put two of the residents to sleep, which is an excellent ratio.

After a whirlwind city tour of the magnificent and exotic city - think New York skyscrapers mixed with Buddhist shrines and ancient palaces - I spent the final day in the city observing the surgery of Korea's preeminent deformity specialist, Dr. C-S Lee.  I was impressed by his flair and elegance as well as the fascinating process that had gone into the development of his technique.  As with all my other hosts, he was friendly and welcoming and genuinely interested in my thoughts on everything from his screw placement and curve reduction to the skating of Yu Na Kim (I agree with him and his whole country that she was cheated out of Olympic Gold, but that is a conversation for another time).

Dr. C-S Lee and me

I was thoroughly enchanted by my visit to Korea.  I was treated with fantastic courtesy and amazing hospitality.  But more importantly, I was impressed by the dedication and the skill of the spine community in that country.  I hope that I can continue to interchange ideas and to learn from them and I certainly hope that my future includes another visit.