Sunday, February 25, 2007

Escalator Accident(*)

Before anyone comments, I know I am opening myself up to all sorts of jokes about escalators. "Did you hear about The Stumbler? He was stuck on a escalator for 4 hours when the power went out!" Please spare me. In November I went to a nearby bookstore which is located in the subway station. As I was returning, I stepped on the escalator landing on my way out of the station, and suddenly a small panel in the floor broke and I fell in! Needless to say, I was quite surprised, even more so when I realized my foot was stuck and being pulled into the escalator machinery. An old woman behind me started screaming, and together we tried to pull my foot free of the machine. All that was going through my mind at the time was that my foot was going to be shredded by the innards, like a giant mechanical jaw. Suddenly, my foot popped out of my shoe, and my leg came free! We carefully pulled back my sock, and didn't see any damage at all, just a small scratch on my ankle. I was thinking the worst was over, when I suddenly felt my other foot was wet. I looked down, and my other leg was bleeding quite freely. Turns out I cut a nasty gash in the other leg when I fell into the hole. I sat down on the nearby steps, and applied pressure with my handkerchief. With my other hand I called my Korean colleague CH, who came to my rescue within just a few minutes. In the meantime, the station master arrived and shut down the escalator and retreived my shoe from the bowels of the machine, surprisingly with only a small scratch. They all hustled to get me some bandages, and finally CH and I took off to the hospital.

This was my first experience with a Korean hospital, and I must say I was impressed. I was seen by the doctor in just a couple minutes, and within 5 minutes I was laying down on the examination table getting my leg sewn up (I needed 5 stitches, and later CH told me the doctor showed him my cut was over an inch deep). An X-ray confirmed that there was no break in my bone, and we were out of there in less than 20 minutes. Perhaps more surprising was the total cost of this visit including medicine was less than $130. Even when I consider two weeks of follow-up visits and medicines, the entire medical bill was less than $225 (and I don't have any Korean insurance, so I was paying the full fee). I can't imagine paying this little in America for getting stitches, much less being seen by the doctor so quickly.

Over the following couple of months, CH worked diligently with the train company to get my expenses and some additional compensation paid to me. It took what seemed an exceedingly long time to finally get a payment, and in the end I received around $1000 reimbursement for medical bills and other expenses. One of my American friends familiar with such matters suggested that in the USA a similar accident would have netted me $100K from the insurance companies. I guess the American litigious fever has not quite reached Korea yet.

Above you can see the hole I fell into. Since my accident, they have welded this panel onto the larger one, making it impossible to replicate my situation. I suppose the entire larger panel could fall in, but I'm hoping it is fastened more securely than that smaller panel was. By the way, my leg is nearly 100% healed, although I'll have a new small battle scar to show folks. I wish I had taken a photo of my leg during the first week or so. I had a bump the size of a tangerine for the longest time. Even today, 3 months later, I can still see and feel a small bump there.

EDIT: I forgot to mention, after this incident, I was very scared of stepping on various "covers" on the street and sidewalk. For example, I would change direction or my pace so I would not have to step on a man-hole cover. The worst one was this huge steel plate in the road, maybe 12 x 6 feet (say 4 x 2 meters for my Korean friends) - that was a hard one to avoid! It had taken about 3 months, and I am only gradually able to walk on these covers again.

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