I’ve come down with some sort of cold-like ailment. My nose is filled to capacity with unpleasant gunk while my throat seems to be accommodating the extra like overflow parking. I’m tired and listless – which, for me, is incredibly rare and unpleasant. I’ve skipped the gym all week which makes me feel lazy, terrible and fat.
I’m generally pretty healthy and ‘genki’ so when stuff like this happens, it feels like it hits me a lot harder than it should.
I’m sure that I could expedite this recovery process but…I don’t currently have insurance. I tried to wade through the Affordable Care Act website but eventually it led me to a dead end. ‘Your state has chosen NOT to expand Medicare’, it told me in cheerful font.
In Japan, I was covered under the national healthcare plan. As such, I was granted access to doctors when I was feeling under the weather. There was a place in my city called the ‘Mizuno’ clinic that all of the ALTs were ‘suggested’ to go when they were sick. Going to the doctor in Japan was definitely an…interesting experience.
One cold winter morning, I awoke to a throat that felt like snakeskin. My head was throbbing and my extremities were like icicles. I slowly made my way down my dangerously steep staircase, wrapping my blanket tighter around myself. Descending into my main living room during the winter was always a mental struggle. The lack of central heating combined with the paper-thin walls of my apartment meant that it was not uncommon for my first floor to range from 30 to 40 degrees (-1 to 4 Celsius) in the mornings.
Within minutes, I was holding a steaming cup of coffee in my hands – extracting the warmth through my fingertips. I crinkled my nose a bit at the kerosene fumes that my heater had belched out when it turned on. After a few sips, my throat burned in angry protest and I decided that I would not be able to go to work today.
In Japan, or at least in Kumamoto, the concept of a 病休 (Sick Day) did not seem to be something that is really understood. I’m not even sure if Japanese teachers have a set amount of sick leave that they can use like ALTs do. Instead, they will normally just use their 年休 (paid vacation) but only if the situation is so dire that are near death. If it’s not, they are expected to gaman (suck it up), slip on a mask and teach anyway.
Without getting too off-topic, let me just say that Flu Season in Japan is often simultaneously amusing and horrifying to experience. Individual cases of the flu are listed by city on the news as if it were the Bubonic Plague. Teachers keep a running tally of how many students are out with influenza, but do nothing to encourage those who exhibit signs of it to stay home. Between classes, the windows and doors are open to ‘air out’ the classrooms from the lingering germs. Somehow the logic of letting freezing cold air circulate through the school does not seem super effective to me. Unsurprisingly, every year there are multiple classes, classes, of students who are infected with the flu and made to stay home for days.
After calling the Board of Education and confirming that it was not the dreaded influenza virus, I was told to go to the hospital and see a doctor. A short and miserable bike ride later, I walked through the doors of the Mizuno Clinic and was greeted to a pop-up slipper dispenser. Let me say, you have not lived until you’ve plucked a pair of hospital slippers from an automated machine.
The nervous receptionist gave me some papers to fill out and then marveled at how I was able to write my name and address in Japanese. I joined a gaggle of coughing, sneezing, sniffling old people in the lobby and awaited my turn to be called.
Every time I swallowed, it felt like my saliva was made of glass. I determined that I had Tonsilitis. I fiddled with my Japanese-English dictionary and learned that it’s called ‘Hentousen’ (扁桃腺) in Japanese. I committed this to memory and was eventually called back by another nervous-looking nurse who called my name with hesitation.
I was led to a small room that seemed to be a middleway between the actual clinic and the waiting room. The doctor was sitting at a desk in front of a computer and stood up to greet me. I bowed politely and sat in the chair while the nurse began to check my diagnostics.
“What seems to be the problem?” he asked me in slow, but difficult medical jargon.
“My throat hurts,” I responded back in broken, child-Japanese. “and it’s swollen and red.”
“Yes,” I said. “I think I have ‘Hentousen’.”
“Hmmm sou desu neeee,” he murmured as he examined my throat with his light. His nurse kept watch the entire time, eyeing me warily.
He sat back in his chair, turned around and consulted a large, official-looking book. After a few minutes, of poring over it, he closed it and turned back to me. He took out a paper and a pen and drew a rudimentary picture of a mouth and throat.
“Here,” he said as he clicked his multicolored pen. “Your throat is red and it is swollen.” He began shading in my tonsils with red lines.
“…I know,” I said. “I just told you that.”
“Sou desu neeeee,” he repeated, making certain that he had finished his coloring. “I am going to put you on a drip.” he added.
“I’m sorry…a drip?”
“But how will that help my throat?”
He chuckled condescendingly at my lack of knowledge and motioned to his nurse.
I was led out of the room and in to another that was stocked with comfortable armchairs. The nurse sat me down, complimented my Japanese and then stuck a needle in my arm. It was connected to a bag of, what appeared to be, C.C. Lemon soda.
After about an hour of sitting in an armchair, my throat felt no better than it did at the beginning of my appointment. I was led to the reception area again and paid my copay. I was then given a prescription and told to go next door to the pharmacy.
A short time later, I exited the pharmacy with about a dozen small baggies filled halfway with various powders. I was to take two every day (morning and night) for about five days and then go back to the pharmacy in order to get another dose of them. They tasted like dehydrated goblin piss.
Experiencing the doctor in Japan was a less-than-stellar experience for me. The next time I felt under the weather, rather than try to find another clinic and stumble my way through it, I opted to just stay home and drink massive amounts of green tea. This combined with not doing anything for the entire day seemed all that my body needed to recover from whatever was ailing it.
And so, as I continue to live here in the US without insurance (for the time being), I am still content with sitting in my bed and drinking copious amounts of tea and other warm beverages. Here, I take pleasure in knowing that I won’t be staring at my breath billowing out from my mouth while doing so.