From: Peter Rivard
Date: Tue May 20, 2003 10:53:06 PM Japan
To: Newsletter
Subject: My Big Excitement

Hi, all,

       I've had another big adventure--not just a first for me in Japan, but a first for me ever. I learned that I am capable of ordering an ambulance in Japanese! And that I'm capable of communicating my exact symptoms in Japanese, though less colorfully than I might manage in English ("It hurts," instead of the more accurate expression, "Oh, holy dear gerund deity-with-an-obscene-middle-name it hurts"). Apparently 35 is not too young to have a kidney stone. No great cultural observation--I've never been admitted to a hospital or ridden in an ambulance back home, so I can't tell you what's different.
       On second thought, I did notice one difference, though to be honest I've noticed it from the outside many times. The ambulance took about as long to get to the hospital as I would've taken myself had I been healthy--and riding my bike. Yes, in Japan, emergency vehicles go SLOWER than regular traffic; instead of racing through red lights they stop on yellow; and instead of getting out of the way of ambulances, Japanese motorists do everything they can to get in front of them. The idea, I learned when I asked, is that the first responsibility of emergency vehicles is not to cause additional emergencies. It sounds great except when you're squirming in pain, unable to speak more than a syllable at a time because of it, and whatever tiny fragment of your brain isn't swamped with pain signals is wondering if your appendix is about to burst or if it already has. Given the complete lack of physical checking and care before departure, the 20 mph ambulance crew wouldn't have known, either, that it was merely a total blockage of my kidney output due to a stone and not a soon-to-explode appendix that had put me in their care. No care, no predeparture check to be sure you've got plenty of time to waste, and no speeding--you get what you pay for, I guess (ambulance service is free here). If you ever need to get medical attention quickly in Japan, the last thing you should do is call an ambulance--instead, bundle the patient up in a few blankets, load her up on the back of your bike, and drive her there yourself.
       And, in the end, I was drugged to high hell, which wasn't nearly enough, admitted for an expected two- to three-day stay, and then by the end of the day, after the stone had slipped out of the kidney, allowing the organ to deflate and then drain normally, released with a couple of morphine suppositories to use if needed when the stone makes its eventual escape (I'm guessing there must be a reason why it's in suppositories). The fun part was after the final examination by the doctor, when the nurse just wouldn't accept that I understood what to do with the suppositories and broke it down into really basic, grunt-level Japanese illustrated with a truly wonderful gesture. She also called my (female) bosses and asked them to explain to me what to do with the suppositories, just in case I hadn't gotten it. My bosses, when I called them later, were as delighted not to have to explain the damn things to me as they were not to have to go to my funeral. I'd been talking to the nurse all day in full, articulate sentences about all sorts of normal topics; I can't imagine why she thought I'd misunderstand "Insert in butt" accompanied by a whole-arm, whooshing, drive-`em-home gesture. Oh, well, she probably went home thinking, "Foreigners are so weird," too.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop,

Peter

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