Monday, June 14, 2010

Hospital Visits and Drunks in the Streets

So, I think I shall report the much happier news first. As of about 50 minutes ago, Japan won their first soccer match in the world cup (against Camroon) 1-0, and there are still choruses of victory yells echoing up to my window. Finally succumbing to curiosity, I went out and perched on my balcony, overlooking the street below. There are three drinking establishments within one block of my apartment, but it wasn't difficult to see which one the happy drunks were pouring out of (or rather, standing deliriously in front of). From my viewpoint it's hard to see much amid trees and buildings of what's directly below, but even so I could make out a rapturously happy young man (drunk I've no doubt) who was running in and out of the closest lane of traffic, dancing and high-fiving passengers driving by with their arms stretched out. As the light turned to red, he went out and stepped in front of a truck toting a Big Cat, which (whether planned or accidental I'm not sure), tapped him on the behind. The happy drunk then proceeded to go to the passenger side, open the door and hurl himself in with the driver, purloining the man's construction had and yelling 'We won! We won!' as the man agreed cheerily. As the light turned, the hat was returned and the drunk took off running down the sidewalk towards the uproarious voices of his friends farther down the street, pausing only briefly to do a handstand. As you might have guessed, Soccer is big here in Japan.

In other news, I've been to the hospital/clinic. Technically the place is a hospital (the 2nd floor has long term patients), though I shudder to truly call it that. The place is old. Picture, if you will, a small village of people on a remote island of Japan. In this small town, everyone knows everyone's name, most of the citizens are farmers and there's only one grocery store and one gas stand. The people are so far removed from the mainland that over the centuries, they've even taken to speaking in a way unrecognizable to the modern Tokyoite. There are no movie theaters and the young people born here resign themselves early on to follow in the footsteps of their forbears. They were born here and they will die here. There is but one hospital and you would have to dig a few feet down to find the plaque that says just when it was built. It's old and in disrepair, duct tape stuck helter skelter in the most necessary places, the ceiling slats sagging more from the years than any weight on them. On file cabinets and drawers, all the labels are peeling off or gone already. The tiles on the floors which once were white have now yellowed and lost their shine. The walls too are a yellowish cream color, though whether painted that way or weathered to be that way, no one can remember. The second floor is a mystery, the abstract place you can only get to by a staff stairway or a shifty, rattling elevator. The first floor has no patient rooms, only two long hallways which meet like an L, and at this meeting is the waiting room wherein sit an overgrown fishtank harboring a turtle, an analog TV and a young lady receptionist sitting behind one of the few computers in the entire building.

Got a good idea of it in your head? Not exactly what you'd expect to find in a techno savvy city like Tokyo, but that's just exactly where I went (more than anything because it is literally next door to the shrine here). Now, I must preface the rest of this by saying that I have been to visit other hospitals, university hospitals here in Tokyo and they are the epitome of luxury, technology and advancement, just exactly what you'd expect and very like the best hospitals in America. This particular place, however, was at the other end of things, and that's why I hesitate to call it a hospital, favoring the term clinic instead. The following account is not at all or in any way meant to be taken as what one should expect if they have to go to the doctor here in Japan. This is an exception.

Because there are no patient rooms, when your voice is called out over an intercom, you walk ahead down the hallway before you (not a long hallway, mind you) to a table the size of your average dining table which stands in the very center of the widest portion of the hallway. In the middle of the table are a collection of highlighters, pens, pads of paper, stamps and seals and two cups with metal instruments in them. A doctor and/or a nurse sit on stools around the table, ordering you to sit as you come in. In this place, there is no such thing as patient privacy. Everyone, you and whoever else is being seen at the time all sit with the medical people around a table and you tell them what's wrong. If you say your throat is sore (as was one of my symptoms) they pull a metal instrument out of one of the two cups on the table and use it as a tongue depresser, peering into your mouth with a mini flashlight before depositing the used untensil into the second cup. If they deem a further inspection of you necessary (more than just your word on the matter), there is a patient table at the end of the hallway (about 10 steps away) with a curtain that pulls around it. As I was having pain in my kidneys, the doctor poked around on my stomach (though didn't bother looking into the pain in my back despite me saying that's what hurt most), and then I was put down for blood tests, a urine test and a CT. How that little, old ramshackle hospital got the money for a CT machine, I've not the slightest clue. So, I got my blood drawn, peed into a dixie cup and then did the CT, the machine telling me in Japanese when I could and couldn't breath. I sat with my host mom in the waiting area, watching the turtle and TV sporadically for about 20 min. and then my name rang out over the speaker again.

I went back and recieved my diagnosis for everything but the liver test (had to go back in 2 days for that) and got a few prescriptions. Then came time to pay. This is legitimate advice for those traveling here. Many places will not take your insurance. No doubt you were made to buy international insurance of some sort from your school before departing abroad, but usually the way this works out is: you pay out of pocket at the time of the visit, keep your reciept, and when you get back home you are reimbursed. Same goes for the meds. The scary thing is, visits can be very expensive, and pills even more so. Even Japanese people with good insurance (like my host parents) complain about the price of medicine. I was lucky, only shelling out a few hundred for the visit and being perscribed cheap (if weak and ineffective) medicine which came out to be basically Tylenol, throat lozenges and Chinese Herbal medicine which tastes like swallowing incense. Luckily, when I went back two days later, having been sick for 10 days without let up, I saw a different doctor who gave me free samples of an antibiotic which seems to have kicked most of the problems. So anyways, that's been my latest adventure, if you can call it that. Let's hope I can hold myself together for the last leg of the race!

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