18 September 2011

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 4

Hour 49: 9:00a - "You're paroled? Congrats! Time to find yourself a woman and get into trouble." - Text message from Chris, hours after I was discharged.

I eventually fell asleep but spent most of the night tossing and turning. Hospital beds are not comfortable. For places that are supposed to aid in convalescence, hospitals sure are uncomfortable, drab, boring, tasteless places. I would have felt a lot better with some sun, some decent food, and a colour scheme other than "neutral."

My wound hurt less than it had the day before. Where before I could walk but only slowly, today I was able to walk at full stride. When I took my breakfast tray down the hall to drop it off, I bumped into the nurse who was with me the first night and she was shocked to see me up and mobile only two days after being unable to even sleep. I smiled and thanked her for the other night and then waltzed off down the hall, leaving another confused nurse in my wake.

The doctor was quite pleased with the speed of my recovery and after poking me some more, asked me when I'd like to go home. I smiled and said, "Now." She laughed and said that if my blood test tomorrow morning was good then I could go home tomorrow morning. I was ecstatic. If she had told me I'd have to stay a few more days I would have tried to bribe her. I'm sitting here on a Saturday writing this and according to the original estimation I'd still be in the hospital right now -- possibly till Sunday. I would have gone insane.

Aimee came for lunch and I told her the good news. Neither of us wanted to get our hopes up, but it was difficult since I was no longer in pain and didn't appear to have developed an infection. We lounged around talking about how nice it would be once I was home, Aimee gagging down some unappetizing sushi from the grocery store, me gagging down rice gruel. Not exactly a good note for Aimee to go to work on, but someone had to earn the money while I was infirm.

I spent most of the day reading and working on a little Japanese. A couple of the nurses were pretty impressed that I was studying while recovering from surgery. Not impressed enough to slip me a little extra (or decent) food, but oh well. Aimee had brought me some pears, bananas, watermelon, and cashew nuts, so I was well stocked.

Our friend Chris came to visit me after he finished work and he brought me a sandwich -- a true friend. I stashed it in my refrigerator for breakfast and I walked him through the whole ordeal. I was no longer hooked up to various machinery (even my IV had been removed) so it was a little less dramatic. I also didn't have any pictures -- another regret from this experience. Neither Aimee nor I were thinking about posterity, apparently.

Chris left around 8:00 and I went to bed to read, hoping to outlast my laughing neighbour. No such luck though -- his movies were more entertaining than my book. I didn't have as much trouble falling asleep as I thought I would though. I guess my rage toward him was dissipated slightly by the likelihood that I'd be leaving the next day, so I slept a little better. No dreams though, which was surprising. I remember that I was having a dream while I was being operated on, but since that one I can't remember anything else. I would have thought that being doped up would produce some good ones, but alas...

I was woken up by a nurse roughly shaking me, which I took as a good sign: If I can be roused roughly then I must be good to go home, I thought. She took my blood and then what I hoped would be my last breakfast arrived.

Aimee snuck in 30 minutes before visiting hours started and we laid in bed relaxing. She had only been back in Japan for 10 days before I got sick, so we hadn't spent all that much time together between work and socializing. Laying in a hospital bed together wasn't exactly romantic, but it was nice.

My doctor, another doctor, and three nurses all showed up shortly after Aimee arrived and we weren't sure at first what to make of them. Either the news was dire, or they just wanted one last look at the foreigner. Luckily it was the latter. I was given my biopsy results (negative) and my doctor said my blood work was okay, so I was free to go. I thanked them for everything, we packed my bags, and I damn near skipped out of that hospital just after 10:00a Wednesday morning -- 73 hours after my operation started.

The sandwich Chris gave me was the first thing I ate when I got home and it was delicious. Does the penal system have a program in place where you can request a first meal after you're paroled, like you can request a last meal before you're executed? Because that meal would taste really, really good. Probably better than a last meal; I think if you knew that you were eating your last meal it would taste like ashes.

It's Sunday morning now and I've been out of the hospital since Wednesday. I'm totally mobile, I feel fine, and there's only the slightest bit of pain under my incision -- and only if I push hard. My vacation ends on Tuesday, when I start work again.

Somehow I forgot to mention that my doctor said I had the smallest appendix she'd ever seen -- about the size of my pinky finger. So if I've learned nothing else from this experience, at least I've learned this: Size does matter, but not how I originally imagined it, and possibly only to cute Japanese surgeons.

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 1
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 2
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 3

17 September 2011

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 3

Hour 25: 9:00a - "Boredom is rage spread thin." - Paul Tillich

I woke up in a tangle of IV tubes, heart monitor wires, blood pressure gauge hoses, and thrombosis prevention compression socks/boots. But I woke up in very little pain. Aimee came around 9:00 o'clock and I told her my harrowing tale. She wasn't impressed that more wasn't done to help me, but she was pleased to see me feeling much better. "You're my little invalid now," she cooed, clearly pleased with her attempt at humor.

The nurse from the night before was gone, so a different one came by and was shocked to see me not writhing in pain. I guess the report from the night before was pretty damning. I was sitting upright on the bed talking to Aimee, the only evidence of my ordeal the sweaty, disheveled sheets beneath me. The nurse took my blood, temperature, and blood pressure, and then left, no doubt confused that my smile wasn't a grimace.

My cute doctor came in next and she too was surprised by my rapid convalescence. She poked my stomach expecting me to pass out in pain, but I didn't feel much more than some slight discomfort. The only place that hurt was below the incision where my abdominal muscles were stitching themselves up. The doctor shrugged and said I could eat solids for lunch and drink tea and water, but no juice.

Meals in Japanese hospitals are as bland as their counterparts in Canada -- and likely the world over. However, they do serve a lot of vegetables. They're steamed and flavorless, but they're vegetables nevertheless. Where Japanese meals really differ is that they give you no utensils.

I thought they forgot to bring them so I rang the nurse and she asked me, quizzically, "You didn't bring your own?" Um, no, I didn't bring my own utensils when I came to the hospital in pain the other night. She left and brought me a spoon and then told me that I could buy one downstairs after my meal. When I finished my lunch I scratched the number off the back indicating what wing it was from and put it in my drawer. Buy my own spoon indeed.

Aimee left shortly after I gagged down lunch and boredom promptly set in. I had my Kindle with me (I anticipated having to provide my own entertainment, not my own utensils) with a bunch of books I wanted to read, but I was still bored. I think setting or environment must have a lot to do with boredom. Reading at home in a relaxing chair, or lounging outside next to a lake or river with a book -- reading in places like these is not boring. But reading on an uncomfortable hospital bed? Boredom defined, somehow. Maybe it was because that was the only option I had.

Dinner came around and I gagged down some more rice gruel and bland vegetables. Even the food was boring, as unstimulating to the palate as the environment was to the senses. Boredom inside my body and out. Surely sleep would entertain me; painless, deep sleep.

Meet my first neighbour. To my right, with his mouth aimed right at the thin partition dividing my "room" and his: the snorer. Light out, head hits the pillow, snoring begins. For 30 minutes. Straight. And then... silence? Strangely enough, yes. His snoring could be heard down the hall; it rattled the walls; it surely threw off the timing of pace makers. And it blew itself out after 30 minutes, the bass drum sound turning to the sweet sounds of a baby breathing. Peace.

Meet my second neighbour. Directly across from me, headphones on, laptop on, what must have been the funniest movie ever made playing on his computer because he would not. stop. laughing. Not a loud, obnoxious laugh, though. This could barely be described as a laugh. It was a gentle sucking in and expulsion of air; a polite noise to indicate that yes, what was said was funny; a Japanese, I'm-in-a-hospital-and-must-be-polite sort of laugh. The most irritating laugh I've ever had to suffer.

An obnoxious laugh could be stopped. Ring the nurse, point to the offender's area, and sleep. But how could I call a nurse for a little snicker, a soundless chortle? Call her over and have her wait? "You'll hear it, I promise! It's unbearable!" There was nothing to be done. The rage that had unfolded itself into boredom concentrated itself into an impotent wish that the man's computer would explode, ending my suffering.

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 1
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 2
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 4

16 September 2011

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 2

Zero Hour: 9:00a - "Don't Thank Me; Thank the Knife." - Dr. Hibbert

Minor surgeries like gall bladder removal and appendectomies are typically done by laparoscopic surgery. Unfortunately for me, I was in the city hospital -- as opposed to a private hospital -- and they lacked the equipment for laparoscopic surgery. So I had a good ol' fashioned laparotomy. For those of you uninterested in Wikipedia articles: in laparoscopic surgery, small holes are cut into you (3-4) for a camera, a knife, and a tweezer like apparatus to grab your diseased organ; in a laparotomy, your abdominal wall is sliced through to gain access to the diseased organ. Laparoscopic surgery has a significantly shorter recovery time since the damage to muscle is minimal. Laparotomy recovery time is longer (and more painful), but leaves you with a significantly cooler scar. And my dad always told me that chicks dig scars.

When I was wheeled out of the room where I changed into my surgery outfit (they're as bad here as they are back home), two of the guys from work had arrived and were standing with Aimee at the end of the hall. I opened my legs and flashed them, but being a modest country, the nurse had asked me to leave my boxers on while I was changing. Everyone laughed nonetheless. (Except for 10 excruciating hours of pain post-operation, I made light of this entire experience).

The cute doctor and her team of nurses were in the operating room and we greeted each other as if we were meeting for the first time -- it was very formal and not at all surprising. I jumped up onto the table and laid back and we practiced the things they would ask me after the operation was finished to make sure I was coherent: Open your mouth; Squeeze your hand; Open your eyes; Breathe. I know all these things regularly but we practiced them several times so they were familiar. I have no recollection of whether or not I said them.

After my Japanese lesson they put the gas mask on me. I started to feel drunk and I told them and everyone laughed. Then I asked if I was the first foreigner anyone had operated on, and that got a really good laugh. My greatest regret is that I cannot remember anyone's answer.

There's an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry tells George that the secret to being a comedian is going out on a laugh. George spends the episode leaving meetings and so forth after making everyone laugh. I followed this rule to a tee. Everyone was laughing and I felt pretty good and then I was out. The next thing I remember was someone saying "Stanton-sama" and I was being lifted from the operating table to a bed. After that I remember hearing my co-workers discussing Sex and the City (the male ones; Aimee and the female were discussing something else, I later found out).

The pain started promptly when I got to my room, and it was my own doing. I mentioned that we practiced some sentences earlier. The one I practiced more than any other was "Sore o nuite kudasai." Or, "Please pull that out."

The English speaking doctor told me I'd have a catheter for the operation; pretty standard procedure. He told me it would be removed around 6 hours after I woke up; not so standard procedure? "Um, what if I want you to take it out earlier?" I asked. He said to just tell the first person I spoke with that I wanted it removed. So I practiced that very simple sentence over and over because I wasn't sure how my Japanese would be right after surgery. Pretty good, apparently, because whomever I spoke to removed it promptly. Painful, but much less painful than waiting 6 hours till I was fully coherent.

I dozed on and off for the next couple of hours while Aimee sat next to me, alternatively upset because I was in pain, and enthralled by her book while I slept. I think she preferred it while I slept, and rightly so -- I'm orders of magnitude grumpier when I'm in pain than when I'm, let's say, hungry. In particular, I don't like to be touched. So I was writhing in pain on the bed and Aimee's (anyone's) first instinct was to touch me, but that just made me lash out.

When the pain became unbearable I asked for relief. The nurse came and hooked up this bag full of milk-looking fluid to my IV and told me it would take 30 minutes to empty into my bloodstream. It didn't help. The 30 minutes came and went, but 20 minutes after that the pain was worse. I asked for something stronger and they brought a bag of heavy-duty pain killer. I have no idea what it was but it worked wonders; I was in pain one moment and then blissful the next. It was 30 minutes before visiting hours ended so Aimee snuck in a kiss while I was high and left. I don't know how long I slept for.

When I woke up again I was in pain. But dull pain; pain waiting to be painful. I wanted to outsmart this pain so I called the nurse again and asked for more medication. But she said I couldn't have any. The stuff they had given me earlier was too strong to give regularly; I'd have to wait 3.5 hours before I could have something else. And the something else couldn't be the strong stuff -- it had to be the ineffectual milk. I was livid. The pain sensed weakness and launched its assault.

Slowly, I could feel the pain spreading from my incision into my lower abdomen, and then up into my stomach, stopping just below my ribs. My entire mid-section was screaming. It felt like I was being stabbed to death, but somehow gently enough that I wouldn't die. I pushed the buzzer repeatedly for the nurse but they kept telling me the same thing: they couldn't give me anything. I asked for a doctor and this took forever because there wasn't one in the wing I was staying in.

By the time the doctor arrived I was in tears, almost screaming. My legs were kicking back and forth and I was alternating between squeezing the sheets and pounding the mattress. The doctor must have been moved by my death throes as he authorized the nurse to sedate me -- but with the ineffective milk. I almost died. And later, I think the nurse thought I had.

I watched every drop drip into my IV for 30 agonizing minutes, and then lay there for another 10 building a hatred in my head so powerful it would have infected any remaining vestigial organs, had I had any -- good riddance, tonsils and appendix. The milk did my body no good. Then suddenly -- I have no idea how much time passed -- I found myself on my side, in rapture. I felt nothing. I didn't even respond when the nurse asked if I was alright. I didn't respond again when she asked more urgently. Nor did I flinch when she grabbed my wrist to check my pulse, presumably to make sure she hadn't just killed me.

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 1
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 3
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 4 

15 September 2011

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 1

Saturday, 10 September, I got up at 8:00a for work, as I usually do. My abdomen felt a little cramped, but I didn't think anything of it. I ate breakfast as usual, showered as usual, and went to teach my classes as usual. The irritation persisted throughout the day, and I thought maybe I slept funny. When I got home we went out to celebrate a friend's birthday and the irritation persisted throughout the night at about the same level. Neither of us thought much of it; we joked that maybe I had appendicitis.

At 4:30a Sunday morning (11 September), I woke up in a little bit of pain for the first time. It dawned on me that maybe I should feel around my abdomen to see if the pain was localized. And it was -- above my appendix. I got up to use the washroom and then laid back down in bed and felt around again. Yup, right above the appendix. I turned to Aimee and asked, "Are you awake?"

"Ugh," she groaned.

"I think I'm sick."

Some more poking by me and some groggy getting dressed by Aimee preceded our walk downstairs to the convenience store to find out where the closest hospital was. Just down the street, luckily. Rather, luckily if it was open.

We walked through the doors of the hospital and the place was dark. No lights. No noise. No people. We poked around and I called out once for someone behind the counter (the counter that had a bank of computers with their screens on. I knew I wasn't too far gone because I still raged about wasted energy.), but no one was around. On our way back out a patient came out of the elevator and he explained to us that the hospital wouldn't be open today because it was Sunday. This floored us. In Canada hospitals are open all day, every day (although apparently emergency care [24 hour hospitals] is a thing from 1950 onward). Furthermore, you have to call first in Japan; you can't just show up.

We went home and checked Google for hospitals in Nagoya that were open on Sunday and found a couple. We called one and they were closing in 15 minutes (so if I showed up with my guts in my hands...?). We called the second one and they were open, so we jumped in a cab before they could send me and my primed appendix elsewhere.

Once we finally got inside the hospital, things became normal. They smell as sterile as any North American hospital; they're bureaucratic; the tests are as routine; one of the doctors even spoke English. One important difference, though, was the wait time: nonexistent! We walked in the door, I handed them my card, and within 10 minutes I was being examined by two doctors and three nurses. I was in the examination room by around 6:30a and by 7:30 I had had bloodwork and a CT scan. By 7:35 we were waiting for a surgeon to consult with the other two doctors (and when a cute Japanese woman walked by I said to Aimee, "I bet that's my doctor," to which she rolled her eyes) and by 7:40 I was diagnosed with acute appendicitis.

The English speaking doctor asked if there was any Japanese person we could call to have them help translate, because some of the vocabulary is pretty technical, so I went through my phone and called everyone I knew. However, since we were all out late with most of them the night before, no one answered their phones. I finally got a hold of one of the three people who work in personnel at our company, but none of them were able to come before 9:00, which is when the doctors wanted to operate. "Do your best," I said to the English speaking doctor.

There's not a lot to know about appendectomies, surprisingly; they're pretty routine. He drew a map of my large intestine, appendix, and blockage, and explained what they would do. He told me the possible complications and the recovery times, and introduced me to my doctor: the cute Japanese woman who walked by earlier.

Mike: 1 Aimee: 0

73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 2
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 3
73 Hours in a Japanese Hospital: Part 4 

22 May 2011

Why Dogs Bark at Other Dogs

Aimee and I were in Osu with our friends Chris and Caitlin, and their friend Anne, this afternoon. The girls wanted to go shopping and Chris and I opted to go wandering rather than suffer being strung along to various shops. We're both horrible to go shopping with, we've been told, and that wasn't about to change in a single afternoon.

We were wandering around aimlessly when I noticed a tall white guy walking in the opposite direction with his Japanese girlfriend. I raised my eyebrows in a male "I acknowledge your existence" sort of way, as I usually do when I make eye contact with men, and he laughed. I realized that I had looked at his Japanese girlfriend before I made eye contact with him, and he must have seen me do it, and when I raised my eyebrows he must have thought I was somehow complimenting him. I would have laughed in the same derisive way had our situations been reversed.

I laughed and told Chris what had happened and he laughed and said, "After living in Japan I now understand why dogs bark at other dogs."

I laughed again because I instantly understood what he meant. We're all foreigners in Nagoya but we're not tourists: we live here, we work here, we have lives here. We've got our social circles, our local bars, our grocery stores, our neighbourhoods; we have the same things that are "ours" that we all had back in North America. So when we see a foreigner we all instantly wonder what they're doing in "our" city.

The phenomenon is probably more strongly felt where we live than if we lived in a tourist city, like Kyoto or Tokyo. No one comes to Nagoya for tourism. There are a couple of huge office towers here and a single castle - nothing too interesting. It'd be like going to Canada to see Hamilton. So any foreigners we see here almost certainly work here. They're not just some dog who happens to be passing through our park; they've moved in and we want to know why.

This feeling isn't malicious, but it's definitely stronger than the feeling of curiousity when we see foreigners in our home towns. I think it stems from the experiences with douchebags that we've all had since living here. The obnoxious foreigners who get angry when waitresses don't speak their language; the obnoxious foreigners get upset when they can't pay with credit cards; the obnoxious foreigners who lose their minds when they see a sign without English on it. You get my point.

We all love that we have the opportunity to live and travel abroad, and we think that everyone should live in a foreign country for part of their lives. It's a life changing experience and everyone, douchebag or otherwise, should try to experience it. Nevertheless, we still all feel like barking a little when we see someone we don't know.

13 March 2011

Happy Japaniversary?

11 March 2011 was our one year anniversary in Japan. We've got lots of goodbye parties and end-of-the-year parties to go to this month, so we decided not to do anything special. This was a good idea, as The Ring of Fire gave us something much more memorable than an expensive dinner.

Neither of us have been in a country during a natural disaster. The closest thing to a natural disaster I've experienced was a big ice storm in 1998. So this has been a very interesting experience for us, even though we're 400km south of where the earthquake's epicenter was.

To start with, I've never felt an earthquake last for 2 minutes. Since we're 400km from the epicenter, what we felt was probably only a magnitude 3 (I'm guessing based off of other 3s I've felt since living here) but it lasted for so long. The other earthquakes I've felt have lasted for 10 seconds. Maybe. Sometimes it has taken me the duration of a quake to even recognize that one was happening and I wasn't just dizzy. But this one I had time - lots of time.

I was eating a sandwich in the lunchroom when I felt a train go by (the school I was at is next to a train station) and the building did its usual rumbling. But when the train was gone the building was gently swaying. I thought it might be an earthquake, and after sitting in my chair for 10 seconds trying to figure out if I was just dizzy or not, I got up and stood in the doorway. For 30 seconds. And the building still swayed. I could hear two of the staff members at the front of the school talking, and they didn't sound alarmed, so I walked up.

"Uh, this is an earthquake, right?" I asked. The ladies paused, tilted their heads to the side in consideration of my question, and concluded that yes, the gentle swaying of our building was indeed an earthquake. They started to giggle softly at the strangeness of it; "I thought I was just dizzy," one of them laughed. I started laughing too and said I had thought the same thing. The other lady took out her iPhone and checked a website that reported earthquakes at almost the second they happened. The long time it took for the page to load, and not the way her face sagged when she saw the magnitude of the earthquake at its epicenter, should have been the first indication that maybe this wasn't a small, localized earthquake.

"There was an 8.6 (report at the time: I think it has since been raised to an 8.9) earthquake in the Tohoku area," she said quietly. What had before been humorous laughs at the gentle swaying of the lights and 100kg air conditioner hanging above our lobby, and the silliness of thinking we were just dizzy, turned to somber thoughts about what our office would have looked like after 2 minutes of an 8.6 magnitude earthquake.

Even though I knew the size of the earthquake, the reality of the situation didn't start to take hold until after work when I checked my phone. My shift started at 3:00, just 15 minutes after the earthquake, and lasted until 9:00. When I took my phone out of my pocket it was lit up like a Christmas tree: four missed calls, 6 unread text messages, 4 unread emails, and countless Facebook notifications. My train ride home was spent texting one of my sisters and drafting an email to send to family and friends when I got home.

More troubling than the numerous attempts that were made to contact me was the visible frustration of the Japanese passengers trying to contact people with their cell phones. Almost everyone on every train I've been on is doing something with their cell phone, but it's usually mindless, meant to pass the time. On this night, everyone was focused and intense. I knew that 8.6 magnitude earthquakes were bad, and knew that the number of people trying to get in touch with me was indicative that the aftermath was terrible, but seeing people who live with earthquakes year-round so worried was really disconcerting.

I spent two hours when I got home writing emails, texting, and calling family and friends back home to let them know we were alright. I'm thankful that I'm alive in a time when it's so easy to get in touch with people. Had I not been working, I would have been able to let people know that we were alright before they even woke up back in Canada. At the same time, had cell phones and the internet been down, me not being able to respond promptly to emails and text messages would have been interpreted as a sign that I was not okay. Choose a metaphor to describe the good and bad of instant communication - there is no shortage.

15 February 2011

Who is your daddy, and what does he do?

I had a private lesson with a 16 year old girl today and it prompted me to finally write about something that, for a long time, I've thought is quite strange.

There are an unusual number of Japanese kids who don't know what their parents' names are, nor what their parents do for a living. Let that sink in a little. It's natural for a 5 year old to not know their dad's name, nor to know what their father does for a living. But a 16 year old girl? It's unbelievable.

I know the names of every family member I can think of, and I know what they do for a living. This 16 year old girl with whom I was talking thinks her father's name is Norimoto. Thinks! I guess this gives her an out when she gets in trouble at school and can't give her father's name to someone so they can call him, but I really can't think of how this is beneficial.

Later in the lesson we were talking about occupations and I asked what her nameless father did. She said she wasn't sure. Okay... not everyone knows exactly what their parents do at their place of work. But most know where they work. "Does he work in an office?" "Um, maybe?" Maybe!? You live with a nameless man who disappears for more than half the day and you don't know where it is this man disappears to?

This isn't an isolated incident; as I said in the beginning, this is something that has perplexed me for some time. I taught a junior high school class a couple of months ago and they were learning occupation names. Only one of the students knew what his father did (he's a pastry maker).

I get that it's rude to call your parents by their first names (at least when you're young) but I don't think it's rude to ask them their names. And unless your father is a member of the yakuza, I don't think it's unwise to ask what he does. Or at least where he works. At the very least, maybe ask the general direction he heads in when he leaves the house in the morning.