Sunday, November 9, 2008

I Survived A Japanese Rural Hospital

I heard there's a new US tv show called I Survived a Japanese Game Show. Maybe I could start a new series based on my adventures with the Japanese medical system!

For those of you who didn't get my email, here's a recap of the week's events and all the gory details. On my Thursday, your Wednesday night, I wake up with maybe some of the worst pain I've ever felt. It's right up there with back-labor pains except radiates from under my sternum. The dreaded can't-stand-up-can't-lay-down kind of pain that makes you just want to end it all. Though we've chuckled about Japan's emergency number being 119 not 911, it isn't so funny when we actually have to dial it. An ambulance whisks us away to Nayoro, normally a 40 minute drive from Nishiokoppe. Our driver makes it in half the time. Along the way I practice yogic breathing and go to my "special place", Shawn has crazy Thailand mini-van driver flashbacks and prays we don't perish en route, Nova enjoys the sirens and is generally thrilled with being inside an ambulance, wiieeeeee!

Speeding past dairy farms and rice paddies I am apprehensive about the state of Nayoro's emergency room. But this is Japan after all, an extremely civilized, clean and well educated society and I am relieved to find very good conditions and care while there. Also a relief, our "assigned" Board of Education member, Oohara-san and the kyoto-sensei from the Jr. High school who speaks a little English were on hand to help. An ultrasound and CT scan show a gallstone attack is underway but the doctor is perplexed as to why so much pain. (Really? I always heard it hurt like a mother-*#@#*!.) Once I am sufficiently doped up, they send me home with an appointment to go back to Nayoro in the morning to see a specialist.

The next morning in Nayoro, I'm feeling better. We, with Oohara-san, proceed to wait for my "appointment" for 4 long and boring hours. We are told nonchalantly by a non-English speaking doctor that my liver enzymes are "dangerously high" and I need to be admitted to a major hospital immediately. What?! What does that mean? Why is this happening? We have so many questions. As Oohara-san, the doctor and a nurse contemplate in the slowest of slow motion how to proceed, I feverishly flip through my Japanese/English dictionary. I find the word and thrust the dictionary under the doctor's nose, jabb at it and look at him imploringly. "Death?" The doctor gives me the Japanese "maybe no" head tilt and hmmmm-ing sound which I, until now, had come to be ok with. Without details, maybe no was still maybe yes in my book. So we race back to Nishiokoppe and gathered our things for a hospital stay.

Oohara-san, ever by our sides throughout this ordeal, and Kurata-sensei who speaks excellent English lead us to Engaru, not Asahikawa where we initially thought we were headed. Why we are going to a town so small it isn't even listed on road signs, instead of to a major metropolis can not be explained. We spend a grim 2 hour drive lost in our thoughts. Shawn, looking grave in the driver's seat, is wondering if he's made the right decision on a recent Fantasy Football play. I, am saying mental goodbyes and imagining the anguish of death by staph infection so far from home. Nova, when told she will be spending a few days with Shawn while I am in hospital answers wistfully, "So dad and I will have a good time while mom struggles for survival. I think they should give her a numbing solution." She is so my daughter!

Engaru proves to be a very small town with an amazingly well appointed and skillfully staffed hospital. They admit me quickly. Kurata-sensei effortlessly helps translate all the intake paperwork and now knows how often I go to the bathroom and how regular my periods are. My Engaru doctor speaks good English and is very thorough. I spend two and a half days there, with nothing but a bag of goo on the end of an IV pole to eat. They test and re-test me. I watch Knight Rider and the OC dubbed over in Japanese and rest comfortably in my futon style hospital bed. I am released as an outpatient with lower enzyme levels and pain free.
Why did all this happen? The culprit may be a long and over- fed trip to the states and one McDonald's double cheeseburger meal during a shopping excursion on Thursday that tipped my gallbladder over the edge. The attack may have stressed out my liver and spiked the enzymes. We'll know more in a week and half when I go back to Engaru. Until then the entire Village of Nishiokoppe will have a good laugh at my expense over how I hurt myself eating fatty American food.... Oohara-san says I should stick with Japanese soba noodles. I have to agree.
PS: The photos; me and my best friend for 2 and 1/2 days, the view of Engaru from my room, me and Mr. Kamaya, the superintendent of schools. He and two teachers from Nishio popped in for a visit. Very kind. And a waffle I ate in Seattle. Yes, I know I have a butter problem.