Korea,  Travel

Culture Shock 101: Korean Witch Doctor

A few months ago, I sprained my ankle. It was bad. I was on bed-rest being treated by Doctor Whack Job with an M.D. in Mega Dumbassery (i.e. Morgan).

So there I was

  • a Korean floor table on the bed
  • 5 pillows on top of that
  • my ankle resting happily in a tourniquet made out of rags
  • An frozen sausage balancing on top of that. I’m young and have no ice packs of course.

This kept going for almost three long, painful weeks since doing anything made my leg feel like it was being barbecued alive. I literally had to wheel myself around class on a rolly chair trying to teach and get students to take me seriously.

Obviously, I can’t go to the doctor. I’m a millennial! We have spend it on student loans, traveling and trying to enjoy our best life amidst our canyon of debt.  I’d rather amputate my own foot with a rusty spork rather than go to a doctor.

Then, my smartass decided it was a brilliant idea to go party-it-up with a sprained ankle. And by party-it-up, I don’t mean a casual night sitting at a bar having deep, riveting, intellectual chats about saving bees and women’s rights.

Oh no. I’m MUCH smarter than that. I promise.

I went gallivanting across Gwangju dancing the night away – on stages, on speakers, on microphones, on the ceiling, in the rafters, you name it.

Don’t worry though. I was really safe about it. I wore a good ankle brace. Top notch quality. Basically just a tight sock really.

관련 이미지
helpful tight sock

Until I woke up the next day and I realized I was gonna have to make a trip to the doctor because dancing had made my foot the size of a beach ball.

I told my Korean coworker because I don’t dare go alone. Going to the doctor is already a nightmare but going to the doctor in a foreign country where I speak less Korean than a Korean fetus?! I probably would have ended up getting brain surgery for a tumour I didn’t have because of the language barrier and lack of communication.

I thought

It’s just a sprain. The doctor will probably just give me a cast and some pain meds. It’s not like it’s gangrene or botulism and athletes food all rolled up into one big disease burrito. I’ll get out of here real quick.

We got to the hospital…I didn’t know the journey that awaited me in the very near, very alarming future. I swear I had the dumb-boy look on my face the entire time.


We sat with the doctor and he moved my foot around asking me if it hurts. Um… yeah it hurts! You’re moving my sprained ankle around like a Rubix cube! AND THIS DUDE said:

“You need acupuncture”

I thought

*blank blank blank dogs blank blank* OK.

Because at this point my brain still hadn’t comprehended that I was about to have A BAZILLION NEEDLES STICKING OUT OF MY FOOT. 

They took me to a weirdly curtained off “room” that was surrounded by other “weirdly curtained off rooms”. It looked like a WW2 tent hospital with rows upon rows of cots lined up next to one another. I could hear all the other patients moans, groans, belches and all other bodily sound effects. Um excuse me? I don’t want to hear that like, ever.

Also, the smells!? The smell was of some mysterious ouija voodoo seance. I actually thought the witch from The Conjuring was about to pop out from some obscure corner. I felt like I was being inducted into some voodoo cult.

After a few minutes the “doctor” told me

“Before acupuncture, we have to do bloodletting and cupping.”




weird ape GIF-downsized.gif

Huh!? Excuse me?! Have I been dropped into some alternate 15th-century universe?!

Then it hits me… something my co-teacher had mentioned briefly that I hadn’t really paid attention to…

“Oh okay I’ll take you tothehospitalit’sanherbalhospital after school”

Catch that? I didn’t!

I was at an HERBAL HOSPITAL. Excuse me, I didn’t sign up for some voodoo exorcist witch doctor cauldron ceremony!

Before I could do anything, the doctor came back and started stabbing HOLES in my foot with some weird, clicky needle thing! I had absolutely no idea what to do! It’s not like I could up and leave when there was blood pouring out of my body! The best though, is when the doctor took some cups and get this…






Oh and then came the actual procedure I was there for.

The Acupuncture (a.k.a. Needletopia)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many needles at once, ever. It was not okay. At all. With no qualms or warning, Dr. Doolittle just stuck ’em right into my foot!  There were also weird electric impulses going through the needles that made my foot twitch every two seconds! My foot not only looked demented, it also felt like it was being fried!

NEXT, they stuck some incense-candle-smoky things around the needles. They might as well have put some magical Dragon Tales gemstones around me to cure my sprain while they were at it.


After all was said and done, the doctor told me you have to come back three times a week for two weeks! Absolutely not! This experience was enough to last me a lifetime of befuddlement! I was NOT about to be inducted into some cult that gypsy smudges my sprain away with sage sticks and incense!

Safe to say, I never went back to that hospital. I just continued the RICE technique at home and lo’ and behold, my sprain went away. And for you underground dwellers, RICE is Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Jump on that bandwagon please. It’s the best thing I’ve discovered since spraining my ankle.

I don’t want to get too sentimental here but it just goes to show how different our Western medicine is from “alternative” medicine.  One isn’t better than the other, they’re just different. Of course I know they have regular hospitals that use modern medicine but this was an experience for the books.

This whole experience definitely tops my “culture shock list” here in Korea. Right behind the immense shoving in public and the creepy matchy-matchy couple culture.


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What’s the craziest injury or hospital experience you’ve had abroad (or home)!? Let me know in the comments so I can read them while munching on some buttery popcorn!

Peace out. Prachi out.


  • travelandtash

    I found your storytelling very entertaining (and dramatic) in a good way. I’ve had acupuncture done before. I was just thinking, it is quite possible that your ankle got better in part because of that one treatment, even though you didn’t follow up. I know there are different thicknesses of needle and these are applied based on, to my understanding, your pain tolerance, and how ‘fleshy’ the area is where the needles are being applied. Anyway, nice story!

    • Prachi Mohile

      It’s possible that it contributed to helping – I won’t deny that. In this situation though, where I walked into it unknowingly, I was just plain shocked! I didn’t know there were different thicknesses to the needle! I’m glad I didn’t know that before lol!

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • iartseoul

    I came here actually expecting a tale about voodoo in Korea and was glad to hear that was not really the case but was still amusingly entertained by you poking fun at your own misery. I read that laughter is the best medicine so maybe that’s what fixed you up in the end.

    • Prachi Mohile

      Hahaha I hope the title wasn’t too click-baity! I was worried the title would be super misleading! I’m glad you enjoyed reading our blog post! Laughter definitely solves most, if not all, problems.

  • Tasha

    I would’ve walked (or hobbled) out at the acupuncture part. My mum was a nurse and used to do acupuncture, so it’d do jack all for a sprain. Mind blood-letting?? For a sprain? Well it is a different culture…

  • Alla

    I dont know, when the pain is bad, I feel like I’ll do anything to make it go away – cupping, blood vetting, kimchi soak or soju infusion… I bet your Korean friend had a riot going there with you, if she goes regularly to Herbal Doctors herself. The alternate medicine here is just as common as Western and I wouldn’t shy away from them if I were you. At least you’ll have a belly full of strange herbs over some over the counter antibiotics or meds. Chinese Medicine is thousands of years old, I doubt it’d still be around if it didn’t work wonders.

    • Prachi Mohile

      Hahaha it was weird because it was my coteacher that came with me and she’s a cute middle-aged Korean lady that’s always worried about me. I swear she thinks I’m some lost puppy that can’t navigate myself around my own house. Which mind you is the typical small one bedroom expat studio apartment lol.

  • Wendyflor

    Your reaction to all of this is very funny, lol! I haven’t done acupuncture because I’m a scaredy cat! But i do believe in it and my friends can attest to it. But good thing to know you’re well now:-)

    • Prachi Mohile

      Haha thanks! I’m sure it could’ve contributed to making my ankle heal faster but I was just so shocked the entire time I was there! I was planning escape routes in my head.

  • Ethan Brooke

    Haha, I loved reading this post! The humour was on point and made it very enjoyable to read. Do you think that the acupuncture helped your foot at all? I have heard it can work fantastically on some injuries, but I can’t say I’ve ever tried it myself (or want to…)

    • Prachi Mohile

      I think the acupuncture could have helped a little bit but I can’t be sure since I didn’t go back for follow-up treatments. Just stuck to the good ol’ RICE technique after that. Safe to say my ankle isn’t sprained anymore lol

  • louise2812

    Haha, this really made me laugh – I felt like I was living through your injury with you! I once pulled a muscle in the middle of my back in such an unusual way that it kept spasming and making me make a strange noise every 5 minutes or so…..this lasted for 3 days!

  • foodopium

    Was picturing Jim Carey acting these scenes, i know it was real but just on a lighter side. I think every country has it own twist and tales have seen doctor injecting plain distilled water telling the patient it was medicine, as patient will give money only if they are given injection..well that’s the belief that part of indie cant blame the doctor 🙂

  • Liv ToFulfill

    Terrible experience! Medicine as we know it (western medicine) is something very “modern”. A lot of cultures still rely on herbal remedies/ acupuncture/ cupping etc… as you witnessed!

    • alieneating

      Needles don’t usually bother me but oh my god…. I think anyone would be horrified if they saw 50 needles being stuck into their body! Worst was when they pulled them all out!

  • Sheleen Johnson

    OMG, I couldn’t stop laughing! I know it isn’t funny.. but it kinds is! I had an experience like that in Bali when I went to a healer. I was the weirdest 40 mins of my life! I was prodded and poke and vigorously massaged like never before and at the end he told me that was an operation! Believe me i was in pain after and felt very drained. I was not prepared for it at all, I thought it would be a ‘Eat, Pray love’ experience. It was far from it! lol . Glad good ole natural remedies still work. 🙂

    • alieneating

      Hahaha this made me feel so much better knowing I’m not the only one this has happened to!! Lol the entire time you’re just sitting there thinking “ummm… how do I get of this predicament I’ve gotten myself into…?”

    • alieneating

      It definitely was! I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined something like that to happen. For sure. I find it very fascinating to see the type of medical help people reach for in different countries.

    • alieneating

      Haha glad you enjoyed it! It’s not that I have anything against Asian medicine. It was more that I walked into it blindly not know what was happening. I think if I had been fully aware of everything that would happen, my experience would have been completely different!

  • R. Roy

    Didn’t know witch doctors existed Korea. Always heard they lived in the African regions. Maybe, they are part of our cultural heritage and will never vanish. Found it interesting to know.

  • Amber

    How interesting! I have heard about cupping before, but have never tried it. I wouldn’t be opposed to it though! You never know!

  • PotatoBlogger

    I lost it at the BLOODLETTING AND CUPPING part like wtf? I would have had the same reaction if the doctor told me that over a sprained ankle 😀 Anyways, you made a horrendous event into something funny and informative. Thank you for the laughs and sharing your experience.

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