Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Medical Discovery Points the Way

I like Japan's national health care system. It works very well for me. Aside from the payment system, the practice of medicine in Japan seems basically the same as it is in the U.S. Both health care systems use modern pharmaceuticals and cutting-edge medical gadgetry in the treatment of diseases, etc.  There are of course differences. I once had some kind of a nasty boil or something on my pointer finger (digitus secundus manus). The doctor asked me if he could lance it and since it sounded like a sound medical move, I said, "sure."

After the doctor (assisted by a nurse) performed a brief but painful puncturing, he directed the nurse to dress the wound.

She must have used a good five yards of gauze. I couldn't believe such a small cut required all that bandaging. Pointer was wrapped in more swaddling cloth than the the baby Jesus (and I was kind of ashamed of the excess). 

Then they told me to keep it raised, which I did, but somehow I must have let it slip below the required elevation. The doctor and nurse took one look at each other and nodded. They then pinned my hand to my chest and began wrapping my upper torso like a mummy. The doctor advised me not to bathe or shower and to return the next day when he would look at how I was recovering from my surgery and change the dressing.

I returned to see the doctor daily over the course of the next week and with each changing day the size of the bandage diminished. By day four, I was down to just a band aid and on day six the doctor asked, "Do you think you can put one of these on by yourself?" I told him I thought I could handle it and with that I was released from his care (I'm still not sure if he was just overcaring or if he thought I was just a complete idiot). 

Since then I've been back to see various doctors for various ailments, including what I thought was a three-month-long heart attack which turned out to be gastritis. In fact I've been to the doctor a lot since I've been in Japan, both for myself and with my kids. I've never had to wait too long to be seen and have never been short changed on time during my visit. The doctor is usually happy to answer questions, refer to medical texts, and if all else fails (and it usually does) draw pictures whenever I have special concerns (which I always do).
The only time I've had to wait an eternity in the waiting room is whenever I've accompanied one of my children to either a hospital, clinic or small doctor's office (private practice) in the neighborhood. Monday morning at the pediatrics department is usually the worst but if your kid isn't too sick, it's not too bad. There is always something to do, like take the little one's temperature, read a book, change a diaper maybe, etcetera, etcetera.

I recently found my way to Temple Valley's Peace Hospital, where no appointment is needed and walk-in patients are seen on a first-come-first-serve basis (it's really groovy there, everybody is like equal). I was there seeking treatment for some semi-tropical infection that was besieging my left forearm. I like the Peace Hospital, everything and everyone is very placid there. If it were situated near a river I'm sure you could take the Love Boat there, but it's not so I usually walk or ride my bike. Yesterday while there for follow-up care, I made a startling discovery.

If the office hours for the day end at 4:30 and you show up at 4:29 you can breeze in to see the doctor with absolutely zero waiting time. Now if you have to have a minor surgical procedure (say in which fluid was aspirated from your elbow via a very long needle attached to a quart-size syringe which the doctor insisted on showing you afterwards while describing its color, volume and more in the kind of vivid detail that would make you feel queasy enough to push you to the precipice of passing out) and medication via an intravenous drip that takes a half an hour, like I did, it's still basically no problem. Sure five or six people will have to stay late to perform the necessary procedures, hold your hand, entertain you, wrap you with  a warm blanket if your cold. Yes, maybe it's an inconvenience to them, but don't worry. As the doctor periodically checks on how your surviving the dripping ordeal, he will apologize to the staff waiting behind the curtain for having to stay so late but nobody will mind (profusely).

"I humbly thank you all for bearing this hardship for me."
"No, no,no it's nothing at all. Please, we are all honored to do this thing for you."

It's a big imposition but everyone is very cordial and friendly about it! At least that was the vibe I got at the Peace Hospital from the expressions on everyone's smiling faces and patient caring attitude. When it was all over, I was guided down the dimly lit halls by hospital minions scurrying about their final chores to a light at the end of a long dark passageway. It was upon my arrival in that illuminated space that the greatest of all medical miracles was revealed to me. It was there that the clerk behind the window asked me to be seated in one of the comfy chartreuse imitation leather sofas as he tabulated the co-payment. Minutes later he sheepishly exited from behind the glass, knelt before me and bearing a stamped notice in two outstretched arms uttered:

"I am so utterly sorry to have to inform you that we are unable to perform the deed of calculating the monetary balance which would have been our honor to receive from you. Due to the lateness of the hour, we have been forced to end the operation of all calculations. I am deeply sorry and humbly regret any inconvenience this may have caused a highly valued patient such as yourself."

"Okay," I said and after thanking me for my kind understanding he said "please look after your health." I then realized I had just received perhaps one of the greatest gifts Medicine has given to man and just in case it tried to take it back, I took a cue from Pointer and ran away.

Love and Peace*

*Peace is a fairly common moniker for many Japanese businesses. There are Peace taxi cabs, Peace hotels, Peace cigarettes and much more.

1 comment:

  1. TVT Man, I had an experience several years ago when I underwent vein surgery on my right leg. After the procedure, I went back each week - following his orders - to the vascular surgeon in order to have him examine / redress my wound. About the fifth week, I noticed he was getting a little irritable with me. His nurse smiled at me perpetually, yet, as the months went by, both of them not only stopped talking to me, they reacted quite mechanically when I arrived. The nurse would light a cigarette and say: "Sparkwell's here for his 3:15." The doctor would sigh, remove his feet from his desk, put down his magazine, and say: " Have a seat, right leg out." As he was unwrapping the bandage and dressing I'd take a stab at conversation. "Nice out there today, huh, Doc ?" Without looking at me, he'd say flatly, "Depends on your frame of reference." When he finished he'd stand and yell to his nurse, "Done with the 3: 15. Who's my 3:30?" The nurse would say, "Missus Cadwallader, but she cancelled." The Doc would light a cigarette and say, "That's good. I'm beat." I'd be leaving and say to the both of them, "Well, have a good day." They would reply in unison: "Depends on your frame of reference." I miss them both.