They really take their time, Seo-Yun thought, glancing over the place. The hospital Jiyulheon was more than just that – not only sick ones found refuge here but also those less lucky who had no other place to stay in these sad times. Money was short for all, and so was food. Within the last few weeks, more people than ever had come here, asking for free treatment or even just a bowl of hot soup. Whatever they had to offer as soup. Sighing, Seo-Yun went to fetch some ointments and fresh dressings for the wounded ones. Though she didn't think of herself as a physician as gifted as Lee Seung-Hui or his best substitute Seo-Bi, she was aware that – since none of both was at the hospital right now – she was in charge of taking care of those in need. Together with Kyung Soon, a kind hearted and caring physician, she had to run the place.
“Here now, Hwan, let's change that poultice.” She sat down next to the young man who had gotten himself a rather nasty wound on his left side. According to him, he had been fighting off an angry goat – Seo-Yun most certainly knew he had been in trouble with other men, which had ended in a knife fight. She knew that because one of her other patients was his opponent.
“Can this... can't this stay 'til tomorrow?”, he groaned as she removed the poultice. The wound didn't look good at all. It had reddened, was swollen and hot. At least there was no visible infection or pus.
“No, it can't. We don't want an infection.”
“Ughhh...” Hwan groaned again, this time louder, turning his head away. Seo-Yun forced a cheerful smile on her lips, cleaning the wound and dressing it again. This man was so sensitive.
“There we are. All done. You survived, against all odds.”
“Don't make jokes about my situation!”
“Well, Hwan, humour helps healing”, she grinned, patted his shoulder and grabbed the old poultice to put it into the basket for used clothes.
Chattering with the other patients, she took care of their bruises, coughs or wounds, encouraging them to keep an eye on possible changes in their well-being.
Still, she hoped for Seo-Bi to find more herbs, some garlic would be nice. And of course for Lee-Hui to come back.
She wasn't the best physician, working here for only a year she had just scratched on the surface of these matters.
“Thank you for taking care of the place, Seo-Yun.”
“Please, don't thank me for that. It was no trouble at all. Kyung Soon was there, too.”
The two women shared some herbal tea, enjoying the midday sun warming their faces. Their colleagues had offered to prepare some more soup and attend those in need, though most people wanted to rest after they had their wounds redressed or new poultices on.
“I know, and Kyung Soon is very skilled. But I wanted her to let you work this morning”, Seo-Bi smiled and took a sip of tea. “You learn fast.”
“I uh... I try my best.”
“Don't be so humble. I'm proud and glad to have you here. You are a great help, Seo-Yun.”
“We should really go and give our patients some soup”, the young woman sputtered, emptied her cup and hurried to the kitchen of the place.
Seo-Bi was right behind her, fetching some clothes and ointments. “Who haven't you attended to this morning?”
“Those on the left porch. Kyung Soon told me to wait for you in that case.”
The women set out to the porch where usually people with more severe wounds lay, but sometimes others would just sit there in the shadow to calm their nerves and avoid being talked to.
Carefully, Seo-Yun watched Seo-Bi take care of Jong-gu, a poor juvenile who had lost both her lower legs three weeks ago. The wounds wouldn't heal properly and so it took them all their knowledge and wisdom to help the young womans' body to regenerate.
While working, Seo-Bi noticed an elderly man putting away his soup.
“Eat a little more. You will recover faster that way”, she softly said while still working on the new wound-dressing.
“I will have it later”, the man almost grunted and to Seo-Yun it was very obvious that he had no desire to have that soup later. Of course she understood that this food wasn't close to a delicious meal, but it was food nonetheless.
“You call that food?”
Both physicians looked up. Leaning on a timber sat a man in his late twenties, definitely not anguished, rather annoyed. His dark eyes were clever and Seo-Yun could not help but notice his moderate attractiveness. But what did looks mean when the character was rotten?
“They will croak from starvation before the disease kills them”, he went on, throwing glances to the sick people who lay on the porch, covered by blankets if needed.
“The government promised to send us some rice soon, so wait until then.” Seo-Bi went on taking care of Jong-gu, smiling fondly at her, obviously trying to cheer her up, while Seo-Yun tried to count the times she had heard that lie before.
“Like they would”, the man went on, looking away. “Dozens of people die every day waiting for that rice.” Unfortunately he decided to spit onto the ground. Seo-Yun rolled her eyes at Seo-Bi, then turned to face the man.
“Would you be so kind as to not spit on the ground?”, she asked.
“Where should I spit, then?”
“How about, don't?”
The stared at each other with a lot of discontent and a tiny bit amusement, until Seo-Bi interrupted that eye-contact, stepping in front of the man. She started tying the bandage around his shoulder tighter, her expression clearly displeased.
The second knot she made was a bit too harshly done – Seo-Yun thought it only served him right for his unkind words.
Suddenly he grabbed Seo-Bi's arm, his teeth clenched. “What are you doing?”
Well, she's punishing you, Seo-Yun thought.
“Those people will become sicker if they do not eat that, so watch what you say.” With that, she shook off his hand, staring him down. “Seo-Yun, would you be so kind as to-”
“Sure.” There was no need for the physician to end the sentence. The young woman grabbed the used clothes, stood up and brought them to the basket. Still she could hear the conversation behind her – and she couldn't help but eavesdrop. Sadly she knew the common rules of how to behave, but did that hinder her in any way? Unfortunately not.
“By the way, when is that physician Lee coming?”
“I told you he went to Hanyang”, Seo-Bi said, leaving the porch and its inhabitants behind her.
“So, when is he coming back?” The young man turned so he could still look at Seo-Bi. “I came all the way here because I heard he was the best.”
“Your wound will heal quickly if you shut your trap, so be on your way.”
“Seo-Bi, you destroyed him”, Seo-Yun whispered in awe. She had to bite her tongue to not start giggling at the face of the young man. Seo-Bi just went away, leaving him staring at her unbelievingly, shaking his head and laughing at what just had happened.
While folding fresh clothing, Seo-Yun's thoughts had the opportunity to run wild again. Lee-Hui had gone to Hanyang, the capital. Nobody knew why or for how long he would be there. People were curious and she had already heard stories of a weird sickness the physician had to treat. If that was true she wondered what kind of sickness it was and if Dan-i, who was with him in Hanyang, could be persuaded to tell her more after their return.
Just before her thoughts entangled themselves in wild theories about the stay in Hanyang or dart over to that impertinent but handsome patient she could hear cheerful yelling from the gate. Something along the lines that physician Lee-Hui was back.
Quickly she put the clean sheets and clothes onto a wooden box, then hurried to the gate where now all those who could walk had gathered. They were waiting in anticipation, leading him to the hospital.
But he was alone, Seo-Yun noticed. He was alone, not accompanied by Dan-i. And that boy was absolutely not able to be left alone in the capital. Just then the young physician saw the cart which was pulled by Lee-Hui's horse. A dark gut feeling nestled into her stomach and she stopped getting closer, rather she returned to the third row, not wanting to see more. Knotted, wooden boxes on carts never meant anything good. Seo-Yun had seen enough for her taste.
As the physician reached his pupils and patients, they all bowed to greet him – all but Seo-Yun who still stared at the box, and as she turned her head, she saw the young man who had slandered about the food, standing at her left, not bowing either.
“What is that, master?”, Seo-Bi softly asked, hand-wringing. Her nervousness was almost palpable. Lee-Hui dismounted his horse, regret and distinct pain painted over his face.
“Prepare for a funeral.”
“Pardon. Whose funeral do you mean?”
But the older physician just took his bag with unnervingly slow movements and headed back to the hospital. He gave no explanation, no name, nothing.
And to Seo-Yun there was no need for all that. She watched as the men and women bowed for Lee-Hui and noticed too late she had forgotten about it, again. Hastily she bowed her head, but it was of no use – Lee-Hui hadn't noticed at all, so there was no reason to worry. That man was caught up in terrible, dark thoughts.
“Seo-Bi.” She found the courage to make her way to her colleague, just in time to arrive as some men undid the knotted cords around the wooden box. “Seo-Bi, don't go near there. It's Dan-i.”
“What are you saying?”
“Trust me, it's-”
Just then the men opened the box, revealing the corpse of a young man, covered with bite wounds, his clothes soaked in his blood. A groaning gasp went through the bystanders, echoing the terror which was clearly visible on their faces.
“Oh gosh, Dan-i!”
Seo-Yun stared at the injuries of the young man, noticed some of his fingers missing. How pale his lips were and how much blood there was. But his body had not yet started to emit that foul stench only corpses called theirs.
Voices grew louder how this could have happened while Seo-Bi ran after Lee-Hui. But for Seo-Yun there was no need to do so. She knew the man would reveal nothing. He wouldn't tell them why Dan-i had died. Or how. Asking was in vain.
If there was one thing which Seo-Yun was excelling at, it was her gut feeling. Whenever she saw things which seemed unfitting or strange to others, she managed to grasp the whole picture without really thinking about it. Most of the times, she just knew.