Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rear cures

Suppositories are my new crack.

I was lying in bed, gazing at the waxy bullet shaped tablet that was bathed in morning light on the counter top. Magic.

It hadn't been the best of nights, can you tell? I had to admit, exploration of the Japanese health system would have been rather more fun if it hadn't required certain sacrifices on my part. Like being horribly sick.

The headache had started in the early evening. Since I'm prone to such nasties, I took the opportunity to blame my communication class, swallowed an analgesic and didn't think much of it until I headed home about 8 pm. By the time I was half way across campus and had accosted two lampposts, I was forced to acknowledge I had a problem. At 9 pm, I started an indepth conversation with my toilet. At 11 pm, I called my parents because I firmly believed in their power to do something magic from 5500 miles away. They had the rather more practical suggestion of asking a friend to sit with me for the next few hours. I phoned one of my work friends who appeared and took one look at my face before calling for reinforcements in the form of a second friend. So began an extremely long night.

The problem was I knew this was just a migraine. An incredibly bad migraine that made me fantasize about drilling a hole in my skull, but not one that was going to cause my sudden exit from this mortal coil. By the time we reached midnight, this last fact was nothing but disappointing.

I had previously had three headaches on this scale, two of which landed me in hospital, once in the UK and once in the USA. The first time had sent everyone into a whirl of excitement involving cat scans and suggested spinal taps before I persuaded my parents to organise a break out. The second time, I'd been left in a room to die, optimistically because it was deemed unlikely since I had been sick before. The third time, I'd been in Tokyo with no mobile phone and so had just spent the night rolling around on the floor and trying not to wake the neighbours with my muffled screams.

All of this had led me to the conclusion that hospitals either did nothing or they locked you up for days and threatened terrible tortures. Then there was the fact that I didn't understand how the Japanese health system worked.

Japan has social health care, but unlike Canada or the UK, the Government only pays 70% of your bill. Judging from some of the prices I'd seen in the USA, the remaining 30% had the potential to still be a hefty sum. Add to that the fact my health card was in my office and I had no credit card to put down for a bill, I was anxious about going to a hospital when I was pretty confident I would live to deal with the financial consequences.

So I opted for the cycle of drawn out discussions with my lavatory followed by fifteen minute intervals frozen in my bed. My bed, incidentally, is the only furniture in my apartment. This meant my poor, faithful, uncomplaining friends were on the floor. They tried to get water into me, rubbed my back as I vomited and tucked me up when I was done.

Rinse, repeat.

At 2 am, I was no worse but no better. I agreed we should call for a taxi.

The hospital my friends were familiar with was in the southern part of the city. I was cuddled in the back while I sobbed and the taxi driver attempted the smoothest journey possible, undoubtedly fearing for his upholstery. We reached a brightly lit building and were bowed inside by the waiting doorman.

It looked nothing like the emergency rooms I had seen in the UK or America. For one, it was quiet and only a few people were about. The room looked more like an airport lounge than a medical waiting area. At one end, there was a wooden reception desk and at the other, a door through to the consultation rooms.

I was seen almost immediately by a nurse who took my details, my friend translating as we went along. Either side of me were two small boys, both crying quietly. One had a bandage on his forehead, the other was complaining of a headache. It was clearly a bad night for heads in Sapporo. Shortly afterwards I was seen by a doctor who took another set of notes and prescribed a suppository for the pain and a IV drip for the nausea and dehydration.

The great thing about a suppository is that it's fast acting and you can't bring it up. The worst thing is ... well, I think that's obvious. I'd been led off to a quiet ward and the nurse drew the curtains around my bed, indicating that I should turn on my side and...

... let's just say she was an expert and all I managed was a surprised squeak much to my friend's amusement.

"No 1... 2... 3...?" she asked when the curtains were pulled back.

The IV drip was less successful. Try as she might, the nurse couldn't get the needle to sit in my vein. I am not a fan of needles and a certain level of mental reserve is needed for me to deal well with them. Currently, we had no mental reserves. None. This was somewhat balanced by me being too weak to conduct a good getaway, but my veins had disappeared into hiding. The nurse put this down to dehydration and I was able to weakly agree that this was certainly the reason and not my fault at all. My punishment was to be a wicked bruise on my arm the next morning.

The suppository though was doing its job. Within about 20 minutes I was feeling a lot better. The pain was easing and with it the sickness. I started drinking water like a champ. An hour later I was discharged. Wobbly and sore, but considerably better.

"You look pink," one of my friends told me. "When I first saw you, you were blue!"

Anxiously, I approached the reception desk to be told that I had to pay the full amount now, since I didn't have my health card, but I could claim it back later. They put the bill in front of me: 9,500 yen, or about $100. I handed over the cash. Best $100 I spent this month. I even got medicine for the next few days, should I need it.

"If there is a next time," I told my friends. "Don't take any crap from me. We're going to the hospital earlier."

"I learnt two new English words today," one of my friends remarked cheerfully as we got into a taxi. "Drip and suppository."

Apparently, everyone got something out of this visit.

The next morning I took my second suppository. It's not really the sort of thing you want lying around on the kitchen counter.

No comments:

Post a Comment