Under normal circumstances, I might hesitate to visit a medical clinic located in an apartment building in a foreign country. But my aching left shoulder wasn’t getting any better, and the sign in the breakfast hall advertising the Korean Medicine Center looked legitimate.
I saw it on my way back to the Strib’s penthouse apartment at the Gangneung Media Village. I strained my shoulder a few days before we left the Twin Cities, and no amount of Aleve was calming the sharp pain that accompanied every move. The staff at the medicine center, located in one of the village apartment towers, knew exactly what I needed: acupuncture.
I’ve never experienced that Eastern healing art. As a healthy and hardy Midwesterner, I’ve never had the opportunity, nor was I sure I needed it. Dr. Song Ho Joon of Dongshin Korean Medicine Hospital was on call Sunday, and he was certain it would help.
After changing into a hospital gown that was much more substantial than our flimsy American versions, I lay face down on a massage table. Dr. Song tapped 11 needles into my back, focusing on the shoulder muscle, and one more into my left hand near the base of my thumb. Though he asked me to tell him if it hurt, I felt only a gentle tap as each needle pierced my skin.
Dr. Song put a heat lamp over the area and told me to rest for 20 minutes. According to the clinic brochure, Korean medicine integrates traditional and modern ideas and is part of the national health system. Treatments are non-invasive, and it relies on herbal and natural remedies rather than pharmaceuticals. Its practitioners have comprehensive training; at Dongshin, where Dr. Song is based, patients can receive regular medical treatment as well as Korean medicine.
The brochure explained that acupuncture works by stimulating qi—the life force and energy flow—and blood circulation. The clinic staff said I would probably not feel instant relief and suggested a second treatment in a few days. But the heat lamp felt good, and a few hours later, I already noticed less tightness and tenderness.
Before I left the clinic, I also sampled an herbal tea called ssanghwatang. The clinic staff told me no one drinks it for its flavor—“it tastes like medicine,’’ they said—but its benefits were intriguing. Ssanghwatang is said to “restore one’s energy for those under a lot of stress and fatigue from contemporary lifestyle.’’ In other words: it’s good medicine for covering the Olympics.
They were right; it didn’t taste great. But it wasn’t terrible, and when I stepped out of the clinic into a stiff wind, I swear I already felt more energetic—just the prescription I needed.
Here's a photo of the Korean Medicine Center at the Gangneung Media Village.
Koreans love to give gifts. I'm taking home my very own Korean doctor mascot.