Wednesday, February 10, 2016

医師 と 歯科医 (the doctor and the dentist)

Living in another country is not easy, especially when your grasp of the language is limited. Though my Japanese has improved, I still cannot read Kanji and even Hiragana I struggle to understand.

But one adapts and through mistakes one learns something new.  If you order the wrong thing in a restaurant, you eat it and discover a new type of cuisine.  If you misunderstand the directions, you ask someone else further along and discover a new route.  If you get on the wrong train, you transfer and discover a new station or train line.

But the medical world is another thing entirely.  The joy of discovery does not exist in this realm.  There is no joy in discovering it was your kidneys not your liver that were failing, or that it was your molar that should have been removed not your incisor, or that the medicine you needed was for a common cold, not a venereal disease.

The Japanese national health care offers annual check-ups for a nominal fee (¥500).  As I haven't been to the doctor for such in at least 5 years, I decided to go.  My friend Emiko helped me with the basic health questionnaire before the appointment, but I was on my own once I stepped into the clinic.

The small reception was filled with people 20 years or more my senior in stained track suits and wool caps making awful noises.  As one expects in a doctor's office, there was a Muzak soundtrack playing.  Only this was not just bland instrumental versions of pop songs.  It was music-box-lullaby remixes of the Beatles and songs from the Frozen soundtrack.  Was this children's music meant to calm these senior citizens as they waited to be prodded and probed?  Dreadfully insipid.

I brought along my Japanese study book.  It has a section on anatomy and other medical related vocabulary.  "I have a stomach ache." = "Onaka ga itai."  I was hoping to cram as much of this vocabulary into my head as I could before seeing the doctor.

"Wallace-san.  Dozo."

The staff of youngish women didn't speak a lick of English.  This did not surprise me.  I might very well have been the first non-native Japanese person ever to enter this clinic in Katsura.  But while I can usually caveman my way through Japanese in most situations, and often find it amusing, this was totally nerve-racking. 

I was asked to lie on a bed with Miffy rabbit sheets (again with the children's theme).  They attached some apparatuses to me and ran an EKG.  Next they measured my height (180cm) and my weight (65kg).  I'm sure there is an impossibly polite and thoroughly professional way to say "pee in this cup" in Japanese, but I'll never know.  I understood when they handed me the cup and showed me to the toilet.

When I finally saw the doctor, he thankfully spoke a little English.  He measured my blood pressure and told me the EKG results were "okay".  

Another nurse took some blood and I was told after some confusion the complete results of the examination would be available at the end of the month.

I paid my ¥500 and thanked the giggling women at the reception desk. 

Next up on my day of Japanese medical torture was the dentist.  A tooth that was long ago hollowed out and filled with silver amalgam was giving me trouble.  I'd ignored it for months fearing both my inability to communicate the problem to a Japanese DDS and the verdict he or she might give.

Again, Emiko came to my rescue scheduling an appointment with her dentist, explaining my problem and even accompanying me to the office.  Unlike my visit to the doctor earlier, this office was thoroughly and stylishly modern, not populated by the geriatric set and had a contemporary pop radio station providing ambiance.  This all put me at ease, but the dental procedure I was afraid may be necessary was confirmed shortly after I sat down in the chair.

Endodontic therapy, aka - the root canal.

Before this most dreaded treatment, the attractive dental hygienist took x-rays, cleaned my teeth and advised me on better brushing techniques.  I have always felt that hygienists took a sadistic pleasure in scraping away at plaque and generally inflicting low-key pain and discomfort before the doctor arrived.  This was not the case here.  She was remarkably gentle and extremely pleasant.  Perhaps that speaks to the Japanese character.

The doctor was a cool cat in red scrubs and stylish glasses.  He is an old friend of Emiko's husband, Genki.  He spoke a bit of English, but more importantly he worked quickly and subjected me to surprisingly little pain.

Doctors are to be avoided.  But if you must go, do it in a place like Japan where at least the pain and discomfort is only physical, not financial.


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