To: newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"

Subject: Locals fulfilling stereotypes

       No, I'm not going to complain about the quality of the driving around here again. Instead, I was struck again recently by the thoroughness of the Japanese at work. At Go-chu on Tuesday, we had a health check for the teachers. I was given the option of taking it or not, and I chose "not"--the school nurse is great, but she's been making eyes at me lately, and I didn't really want her examining me. I didn't escape, though. The next day, at Manyo, my supervisor translated the two hundred "have you had this" questions on the health form, and I said "yes" only to enough things so as not to be suspicious--I know the level of confidentiality I can expect in Japan, and if I had any of these problems I would not tell my boss, never mind the nosy little mouse of a school nurse: constipation, chronic diarrhea, hallucinations, a sense that people are always looking at or talking about me (of course they are!), a need to do things (washing my hands, etc.) over and over, sexual problems, etc.; we really gave her electronic dictionary a workout. Of course, this level of thoroughness on a health form wouldn't be strange in America, but then came the actual check-up. First, the basics--I was a little taller (183.3 cm) and slightly lighter (89.2 kg) than I'd guessed (could I be growing?). Then, "please step into the truck." "Truck?" "Yes, truck." OK, into the truck, and a chest X-ray. Still not so weird. Hearing test, eye test. They didn't even try what I think was the psych exam on me. Then a row of three doctors tapping, listening, and feeling. I think one scraped out some sort of sample while he was looking down my throat. Then the phlebotomist--the very greedy phlebotomist--six tubes of blood she took out of me! When I took my medical form from Japanese immigration to my doctor back home before I came here, he was astounded not just at the number of exams they wanted but at the obscurity of some of them--he couldn't imagine why they wanted to know my levels of this electrolyte and that hormone, mostly things American medicine considers inconsequential. The plebotomist in Japan was very impressed with how anemic I'm not, although the iron level that she remarked on seemed to be less than when I'd given blood in the States (my red meat consumption is way down, of course). Fortunately, the nurse who handed me a cup was less greedy than the phlebotomist: "Only this much." Finally, I was directed behind a curtain and told to take off my shirt (again) and lie down. I had the very first electrocardiocram of my short life (my heart passed). All in all, there was a staff of about 15 people for our assembly-line checkups. I am very confident about my health after passing all of that.
       The nurse who gave me the cup had started to explain very slowly, but I relieved her immensely by interrupting to say, "I understand the cup." But what if I had misunderstood the cup? While I was producing it, it struck me that they would talk about it for years if I'd walked back into the office and presented them with a semen sample. I really shouldn't have thought that, though, because I'm sure the principal now thinks I'm a bit immature for laughing to myself as I filled my cup at the urinal next to his. Though, as the wheels turn, I've decided that next year I'm going to bring in some whitish goo on check-up day and hand them a fake sample ("Isn't this what you meant?") before producing the real one and telling them the other is only cornstarch or some such thing. I'll have to arrange for somebody to be videotaping the school nurse's face. Then she'll never again complain about how bad an example my American lunch (or my refusal to drink Japanese milk--have you read "The Jungle"?) is setting at school.

O Genki De ("be healthy")--I certainly am.



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