Thursday, 25 April 2013


There are a few “stock Japan blog posts,” that is, subjects you can't really away without at least touching on, like Christmas or hanami. Today I will carve another Japan blog notch in my belt, as I have finally had my first encounter with the Japanese health care system. Most people who arrive here have at least a halfway interesting story to go with it, like “horseback riding accident” or “got into a knife fight,” but sadly I can report nothing more dramatic than a persistent cough.

Japanese culture would have me head straight for the hospital anytime I sneezed too hard, or sneezed too many times in a row, or went too long without sneezing. Of course, outpatient care works a little differently here, but personally I go to the doctor maybe once every three years, not counting visa procedures. For one thing, I've got a nigh invincible immune system, and furthermore, I loathe the idea of filling my body with anymore chemicals than necessary. I get enough in my food, thank you very much. You don't need to start popping pills just because your eye twitched and now you're worried you've got TB in your toes.

But when everyone around you says you should see a doctor, because it's been going on nine days, and it's costing you sleep, I think that constitutes having held out long enough to call it a draw. I made plans to visit the on-campus clinic – so there's my unique and personal spin on this common blog topic – but didn't get around to it until lunching with a few English Clubbers and gazing deeply into their warbling eyes, ensemicircled by brows knit with worry. Shiga insisted on going with me, which I was grateful for, because I knew I would be lacking on some of the technical terminology, and would likely have problems filling out the attendant paperwork, as well.

While we waited for the clinic's lunch break to end, Shiga suggested that we buy a little food, even though I had no appetite and hadn't even eaten anything at lunch, because he (correctly) anticipated that any medicine they might give me would need to be taken with a meal. He also forced me to buy a mask, and it was with great reluctance that I attached it to my face. As “Japanese” as I attempt to live, this is one aspect of Japanese culture that I don't think I'll be adopting. They're utterly useless for one thing; if air can get in, germs can certainly get out. Even so, I'd be willing to acquiesce on grounds of fitting in, but wearing it made be feel incredibly awkward and out of place. There's no reason it should, given that 10% of the people around you at any given time are likely to be wearing one, but come on, I think we can all agree that this is just generally a terrible look for absolutely everybody. In addition to being unhelpful and ugly, I would not be surprised if they actually exacerbated their users' conditions, as within minutes I found that the surface of my face could have mistaken for the surface of Betelgeuse. On the other hand, should you ever find yourself hyperventilating, a mask will certainly cure you of your ills.

Also, masks sometimes cover girls' faces, and I am not ok with that.

How interesting can it be to work at a university clinic? Surely it has its moments, but I doubt that's the job people are dreaming of when they're going through medical school. My nurse was a jukujo who asked me some straightforward questions, confirmed that I did not have a fever, and made me think extremely inappropriate thoughts. Then she passed me onto a grandmotherly sort of doctor who examined my throat before sending me to wait once more. It turned out to be a great surprise Japanese lesson, as I quickly picked up words like 症状 shoujou symptom, 眠気 nemuke drowsiness, and べんぴ benpi constipation, which I'd heard before but never committed to memory for some reason. They left me with both instructions to get lots of rest and a mild regimen of pills to take twice a day with my meals. Which was good luck, since I can't swallow pills, and always end up having to crunch them up anyway, trying to force the shards down my gullet as quickly as possible and then swilling food around my palette, all in the vain hope that I will somehow be able to avoid sampling their horrific bitterness.

As a Canadian, it was totally bizarre to receive some drugs and then realise that I would now be expected to pay for them. A six-day course cost me 1000 yen. I'm told that this is quite inexpensive, but I have no basis for comparison, because I've never paid money for medicine before. I would love to say that my health insurance ended up being a great purchase after all, except that my 16,000 yen investment has so far reaped 2000 in dividends.

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