Thursday, March 15, 2007

Experiencing the Japanese Medical System!

Well, that was certainly a unique experience. I've tried to keep this blog from being overly personal but I think this will prove most grueso... educational!

For a few years now, I've suffered from a physical complaint we usually associate with old people. I was able to maintain some normalcy for quite some time, but starting last fall things began to take a turn for the worst until I finally was reduced to the point of barely being able to function like a normal human being.

No appetite, constant pain and discomfort. Cancelling social events. The last month was really atrocious despite my somehow managing to latch onto a girlfriend... or a semi-girlfriend...

Over the weekend, the condition became so bad I had to call my boss to get my ass (literally) to a hospital. I also had to inform him that I was probably going to miss at least a day of work, maybe more

What ended up happening is, a friend drove me to a gastrointestinal clinic not too far from my apartment Monday morning. Japan probably has big mega-hospitals like those in the US, but I haven't seen any. What they definitely have are smaller hospitals and even neighborhood clinics. The girl I'm seeing works at a pediatric clinic that serves a small municipal area.

And the gastro place I went to is along those lines. We filled out some forms and I got a plastic patient's card, and then we were sent to wait in a crowded lobby. Every so often, a nurse would come out with patients' files and announce, "Suzuki-sama!" and tell Suzuki-sama to follow her.

A nurse brought a comfort doughnut for the old woman sitting next to my friend. My friend made polite small talk with the oldster, who soon proved perfectly capable of carrying on a lively conversation with no other participants beyond herself.

The truly amazing thing is, after experiencing the beauracratic nightmares of gaining internet access and satellite tv... this small clinic was a model of efficiency and timeliness. The gears turned in complete transparency. Patients came by hooked up to IVs from time to time, and the staff worked briskly and dilligently with little or no fuss. Even my status as a foreigner with little or no Japanese language skills caused no difficulties... and I've seen clerks at computer stores go pale as soon as I made eye contact with them from fear of having to do go through most dreaded, most feared ordeal of all- using Japanese high school English with a gaijin.

After about an hour and a half, my name was called. We had to approach a glassed-in desk where my friend translated and I answered some simple questions about the nature of my complaint. We waited a little longer, and then they called my name again: "Buriyan-sama!" and took us to a corridor.

We sat opposite these small examination rooms with sliding plastic doors with metal handles. They looked like cramped medical cubicles more than the comfy yet terrifying beyond all belief doctor's offices I remembered from my extreme youth... the last time I willingly made myself available for humiliating probings.

From the one directly across from us came the distinct sounds of a young woman sobbing. After a while, she staggered out, smiling and wiping tears from her eyes, a pretty girl walking sort of bow-legged and gingerly like an old, old woman. Her slender, stylish boyfriend joined her. took her gently by the arm and they took approximately forever to leave the hallway.

Then it was my turn. I entered the medical box and a nurse talked to me in soft, comforting Japanese and patiently put up with my stupid look and mumbled "Wakara nai..."

She pointed to an illustrated poster over the examination table. Oh. Dudes do it this way, chicks do it this way. Great. I had my pants down before she was prepared, and I had to pull them back up. She draped a large (flatteringly large, I have to tell ya) modesty towel over me and I waited with my head on a square, vinyl-covered pillow.

Beyond my feet was a central hub where behind a sliding curtain, doctors and nurses performed the arcana of their discipline, beyond the understanding of mere mortals.

All too soon my doctor entered and the nurse helped me position myself over another vinyl pillow that went below my lower back to give me the proper pelvic tilt and...

After a very uncomfortable exam that took place with my knees on my chest and my pants and boxers around those same knees, I was told I had a relatively mild case of whatever it was I was complaining about. Which makes me sick at heart for those with worse cases, because there were times when I'd be sitting on the bus heading to work and seriously contemplating throwing myself out the window, if only we'd get up enough speed to guarantee my successful departure from this vale of tears.

The total cost was payment for two lessons at my school and about $150, but I've got meds and I'm on the mend. My appetite has returned, as have my generally good spirits. I feel like I've de-aged 20 years overnight.

No comments: