The North Korean soldier that was shot five times as he defected across the demilitarized zone into South Korea last week has woken up, and is now able to breathe under his own power.

According to reports in South Korean newspapers, the soldier woke up and immediately asked the medical staff treating him if he was in South Korea.  Upon receiving confirmation that he had indeed made it, he promptly asked if he could listen to some “South Korean songs.”

North Korea does not permit popular music from beyond its borders to be distributed within the reclusive state, however, South Korean troops are known to blast contemporary pop songs through the loudspeakers they maintain at the border.  Television and movies are also not permitted to cross the border into North Korea, and according to reports, the soldier has been watching South Korean television to help pass the time as he recovers, though his ordeal is still far from over.

Hospital officials have reported that the defector has been suffering from psychological trauma stemming first from the act of defecting and worsened by the severity of his wounds.  The soldier was shot five times as he fled across the border, and treatment for the wounds was complicated by the presence of significant parasitic infections in his intestines, as well as pneumonia, sepsis and hepatitis B.  The pneumonia and sepsis may arguably both be related to complications in his medical care, but the parasitic worms, some measuring as large as 11 inches in length, as well as the hepatitis were clearly pre-existing conditions, born of the difficult living conditions in North Korea.

Because of the severity of the soldier’s wounds upon arriving at the hospital, doctors did not have time to establish the soldier’s blood type before beginning an immediate transfusion of about 3.5 gallons of universal donor O-Type blood.

In order to address the psychological strain associated with the transition and treatment the soldier has been experiencing, hospital staff hung a South Korean flag in his room, to reassure him that he made it across the border each time he wakes up or grows confused.

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The soldier’s identity has not yet been released, though local newspapers report that he was a Staff Sergeant and is in his mid-twenties.  According to doctors, the immediate threat to the soldier’s life has now passed, but he remains too weak to be thoroughly interrogated regarding the situation that led to his defection, or any valuable intelligence he may be able to provide South Korean officials tasked with maintaining security on the border with the aggressive state to their North.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press