Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sick of Being Sick, or, Being Nasally Penetrated in Japan

I'd like to say that Hayate is helping me hydrate here... but he's actually stealing my drink bottle >.<

 The first time I got flu in Japan, I innocently went to the doctor hoping for a medical certificate and maybe some drugs. It was not the experience I was expecting. Here's what I wrote to friends and family at the time:

With the loomingness (yes, I made that word up) of my thesis I’ve been trying really hard not to get sick, even wearing a facemask at elementary schools and carrying my own alcohol hand lotion. Nevertheless, I started feeling rotten and took myself off to the hospital. That sounds dramatic but that’s where doctors are here; there are very few clinics/surgeries with GPs. Usually when you get sick you go to a hospital, make a guess at what is wrong with you then go to that department. During the initial “guess what’s wrong with you” questionnaire at reception I was asked if I had been overseas or in contact with someone who had in the last ten days. Since hubby had just come back from Australia I had to say yes, and was immediately sequestered away in a special room sealed away from the innocent non-going-overseas-public with thick concrete walls. I was seen by a doctor who made an effort to speak English, in the way my male students do (spouting off every sentence they can remember then asking me in Japanese what they just said). Although I haven’t done any Japanese study in over a year, I’m obviously absorbing some via osmosis because I got through all the forms and the exam with no major difficulties (a first for me at a Japanese hospital). The doctor told me that they were going to test me for influenza (shortened to influ’ here, which makes more sense than ‘flu but is annoying to say). He said “there will be some pain”. So, given the level of his English, I assumed optimistically that he meant discomfort and said that was fine… then a very muscular nurse quietly stepped behind me and held my head in a vice-like grip, and I began to suspect that he had actually meant “pain”. I had heard that the test for swine flu involved a cue-tip up the nose. That does not do it justice. The implement looked about 25 cm long, and it went up my nose and then scraped down the soft tissue behind the nose and down the back of my throat until I gagged and coughed and cried profusely from one eye. It was dry and not as bendy as something intended to navigate the inside of my head should, I feel, have been. It was not cool. The test took twenty minutes to process. While I was waiting the nurse came out to tell me that I would take twenty minutes (in Japanese). She then apologised for not being able to speak English and said that she had asked around all the other nurses but no-one was confident so she’d ended up coming out to tell me. When I first got here, I actually used to get angry when people apologised to me for not speaking English. I’d say “you’re Japanese, I am in your country, I should be apologising for not speaking Japanese better!” I still get annoyed by it, but my reasons have changed a little. Most people have studied English for six years. Many have studied it for nine years. They should be able to speak English better. The constant apologising reflects not an embarrassment that all that studying was a complete waste, but a reflection of the widely held belief that it’s impossible for Japanese people to speak English. They aren’t saying “I wish I had studied harder so that we could converse more equitably”, they are saying “it’s a bummer that, being Japanese, there’s no chance of us communicating in anything but Japanese.” Anyway, the nurse then told me that she had wanted to climb Uluru since Junior High School (clearly the textbook hasn’t changed since she was a pre-teen, I knew exactly what she was talking about). She managed to persuade her husband to go to Australia for their honeymoon but on the day of the climb the weather was bad and they weren’t allowed to. She told me that she cried, but they enjoyed lots of other things in Australia like eating and rafting. Then she left. Finally the results came back, and I officially had the flu.

Usually my schedule is mixed, with a different school each day and a balance between elementary schools, kindergartens and junior high schools. This term, the person who makes the schedule clear just said “fuck it, let’s just go by quotas” and stuck me at elementary schools every day for a week, followed by a week at JHS, followed by another week at elementary. If you’ve never taught in a Japanese elementary you won’t understand quite how horrific that is, but basically elementary is very very tiring and I usually find three in a row exhausting, so five? Not cool. In addition, ‘tis the season of nasty germs, all of which congregate at elementary schools. There seems to be no social inhibition against nose picking here, and kids often spend class busily digging away in their snot-mines before wanting to shake my hand and high five me at the end. Yay. So it wasn’t terribly surprising when I got gastro, but it was definitely unpleasant. I have never felt as helpless in my own body, like a passenger tied up in the back of a get-away car. One night I thought I was going to suffocate because I couldn’t stop vomiting long enough to draw a breath. My husband vomited so hard that his eyes were bleeding. Not bloodshot. Bleeding. Liquid blood, like gothic tears.
Anyway, we survived, and I dragged myself back to work for a peaceful week at JHS, but then the following week was elementary again and I only made it three days into the week before contracting flu. My temperature spiked at 39.9, and despite knowing what was going to happen, I figured I had to get to the doctor.
And it happened again.
The violation of my nasal passages.
On the upside, this time I got my drugs in an inhaler, which I foolishly thought would mean a liquid spray but turned out to be a device for delivering powder into my lungs. Fun!

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  1. OMG! If I ever get jock itch in Japan I am totally not telling anyone!

    1. I strongly recommend it. They are big on enemas and suppositories here...

  2. "English, in the way my male students do (spouting off every sentence they can remember then asking me in Japanese what they just said)"

    Hahah, yep. There's a girl who will come up to me and say things like, "I am a dog." "I like night play." and then look confused and ask the other kids what she said...... >_<

    I had the nose probe a few weeks back, too. PHEW! What a ride. I feel bad for that nurse though who ACTUALLY went to Australia and was going to climb Uluru, but then got rained out. SUCKS! :(

    Hope your hubby's doing ok with the bloody tears and all. :Q

    1. The blood tears were totally goth (pronounce goorrrth). If I had been able to move I would have taken photos ;)


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