Friday, April 16, 2010


Now, I am sorry to not conclude the situation from my last post, but the situation is still being resolved. Basically, I do not want to make the situation much messier than it already is. I still do not want to say for certain what I want to happen, as it greatly influences how I will describe this event afterwards - either as an interesting moment in my Waseda career, or else as the end of it. I cannot stop rumors from spreading, but I will state that, if I am to leave early, I would prefer to tell people myself, in person, so as to offend as little as possible. I certainly am not so idealistic as to think I can tell everyone, but I would like to try. It is less important to me to tell people myself if I end up staying, but it would be nicer if I could. I am at my readers' mercy.

So, instead I would like to talk about my various encounters with hospitals and health centers in Japan. I don't know how much everyone knows about this, but I have been in and out, and have plans to be in and out, of more Japanese health centers than any Gaijin ever should. In a sort of sick way (pun intended), it is already becoming one of the major focuses of my Japan experience, rather unique to me. So I would love to share, at least a little bit, of what that has been like.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have not really been back to the hospital I went to in this post. Instead I have been going to both the Waseda Health Center and the "KokuritsuKokusaiIryou Senta-," or "National International Medical Care Center," both totally different ordeals. Let's start with some general hospital/health care information.

Like everything else in Japan there is a procedure to Hospital adventures. Like every other building or office in Japan, this means going from one counter, to another, to another, until, at the end, you are back at the beginning. Every hospital requires various information forms to be filled out before you can do anything else, but afterwards you receive a card specialized to that particular center. Once you have this card, entering the hospital is a matter of handing in this card and proceeding to your appointment, or answering questions about why you are there (often in the form of a survey -- having my dictionary was very useful so I knew what symptoms I was checking). For general sick appointments, my experience has been pretty consistent. They ask my symptoms, feel my chest, and check my mouth....and that's about it. Regardless of what my symptoms are, my first visit to each hospital has been identical. Afterwards they will either proscribe pills, set up a later meeting, or kind of just tell you to come back if you get worse. From here you go to a counter and pay, and from there either get your pills or go home (sometimes you can get them right there). The doctors seem pretty one-track on what they think you have, and once they decide this they are hard to budge -- to the point of more or less ignoring symptoms if it does not fit what they want of you. I am pretty positive this is why I am having the EKG this week instead of last week, it is rather nerve wracking. The other noteworthy aspect pertains only during the day -- all of the staff will constantly say in a sweet voice "Odaijini" (take care of yourself). It is like how shop owners say like "Irashaimase!!!!" only rather than obnoxious, comforting and sweet.

Moving on, I guess Emergency (night) hospitals should be next. It is an experience I have had twice, at two different locations. Both times were scary. I still feel I owe everyone for help the first time, and last time I feel I really need to thank Negishi-san -- he walked me down again, which took until 4 or 4:30am (the first time we were back by like, 2, which is bad but not quite as bad as birds chirping). This experience of being sick actually makes me long for a roommate, I never realized how hard it is to be sick and have nearly no interaction before -- it is much more disquieting than an a roommate is aggravating, I feel (this is a total 180 as to how I felt even 6 months ago, which I find really funny). Anyway, the only real difference between the emergency hospital and the first visit to a clinic is that the options in terms of tests and medication are much more limited -- not that tests seem very common for the first visit, anyway. This first time this was alright since the medicine worked, the second time it was not alright at all and I went to the health center the very next day. However, these centers are significant in that regular hospitals are closed so frequently - nights, weekends, holidays. Real hospitals also seem to have limited outpatient hours, at Kokuritsu just 8-11am. Pretty crazy.

Next I will talk about real hospitals during the day, to which I have had only one experience with Kokuritsu. Basically, the first floor was very open with different sections. You would check in, than go to the sector to service you -- in my case it was Internal Medicine or something. There are swarms of people just sitting around, waiting to get to different parts (most at the check-out/pay area, though). I guess the coolest part of the place is that there are these aluminum medical cases attached to some belt on the ceiling, that go everywhere in the hospital. I'm not sure what is in them, but they seemed pretty neat. The most disturbing aspect was that all of the rooms where doctors meet patients is really just one room, separated by curtains. It is really odd and awkward. Also, I think I would recommend going to a hospital that advertises speaking in your native tongue, if possible. Using a dictionary to point out symptoms is just not fun. Anyway, the health center is much more interesting so let us move on.

Much like at AU, the building is rather hidden away. Unlike AU, the building is BIG as in TALL! It has many floors, though each floor is kind of small in and of itself. The set-up is much more simple and straight forward than the hospitals -- each floor has a clerk, you start on the second floor to check-in, go the floor you're told to and wait. Do your stuff, go to the next floor you're told to, etc until you're back at the second. Normally it is just a visit to third then back down to second. The real interest here is my EKG story from yesterday, which may well be beat by the story of taking it off tomorrow.

Basically, I was told in advanced that the EKG technician spoke really good English, so I was looking forward to having a doctor I could talk to. Instead, I end up following my doctor whose only word of English is "excuse me." She had me sit down, and then immediately grabbed my shirt and said "Sumimasen" (also excuse me) and lifted it. Without saying anything else she just swabbed my chest, took a sticky EKG node and tried to shove it on. Now, for those unfamiliar, I have a rather hairy chest. Stickers do not stick well to hair. I had expected the clinic to need to shave it, or the woman to try to avoid the hair parts, but no -- she stuck to her guns. Essentially, I went in feeling fine, and found myself under going 30 minutes of a crazy doctor pressing hard against my chest, putting on and tearing off (along with my chest hair) the nodes, swabbing manically my chest with fluid to help the nodes stick, eventually taking a pair of scissors and trying to cut some areas clean (she cut very few hairs, and not all the way, in effect not helping at all), and eventually putting both the bigger back stickers on as well as some sort of medical tape to keep them in place. The scene was frantic, and right out of a medical comedy/horror movie. It was ridiculous. This was immediately followed by an explanation for how to use the device (ie: press the button when your chest hurts). I was afraid to ask if I should press it then, as all of her prodding indeed hurt my chest (I was in pain for at least an hour in a way I feel comfortable believing was from her prodding). After the explanation she went through this paper-diary thing with which I need to record how I am feeling throughout the day -- which resulted in a dictionary search for basically every character on the page. Another doctor even came in to help the search, and collectively they tried to act out different symptoms. Most notable was "Memai," which resulted in a sort of coughing and hammering action by the male doctor in a manner I can only describe as surreal (it means dizziness, if you could not tell).  "Ikigire," shortness of breath, resulted in similar antics from both doctors, and a rather long search on a computer's dictionary. I tried afterwards to ask what to do if the nodes, which I could feel tugging as soon as I stood up, and which also never consistently were connected well enough to give a reading before I put my shirt on, undoubtedly fell off. I could not ask in Japanese, so I tried in English and did my own acting (it looked a lot like pulling them off, unfortunately). This question was repeated three or four times, sometimes by request, before they got it. Basically they kept saying like "We'll take it off." then "We'll take it off tomorrow morning." and so on, before I finally got them to understand. The response? They handed me a roll of tape and I walked out, thanking them, as fast as I could. Needless to say, I dread going back later to have these removed, as from the short preview I was granted from the doctor removing and reapplying the nodes over and over again, the experience promises to be excruciating.

Well, there really is not much to say about hospitals. Like anywhere else, you should strive not to need them. At the very least, if you have a hairy chest and require an EKG do yourself a favor and shave beforehand. What I would not have given if she had me go home and do so rather than try her own way!

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