Heh, heh. Sometimes I don’t remember that FACEBOOK relays information very quickly and if that information is not explained, people may be concerned. Well, that is what happened today when I told the FACEBOOK universe that I had an MRI [please note that since this post is going out much later than expected the beginning is not exactly accurate. Oops.] Let’s begin with this, I am perfectly healthy and there are no concerns; however, in the immortal words of Desi Arnaz, “Matthew [in place of Lucy, of course] you got some explaining to do!!”
Well, since roughly my second week in Japan, I have been poked and prodded as a Japanese medical mystery. I did not know I was mystery; I thought I was a fully normal, healthy, slightly overweight American, but the day before my first day of teaching at St. Mary’s I was given a physical which opened the proverbial can and plunged me into an in depth exploration of the Japanese medical apparatus.
Let’s begin with the physical, which was within itself a very unique and foreign process. At the beginning of every school year, St. Mary’s brings in a team of doctors and nurses to examine every individual on staff. Now, staff members do not have to receive the physical, but most do because it is free and it eliminates the need to get a physical later in the year. The process is quite impressive. The staff forms a line in the hallway and then in the order in which you arrived, you go through the exam. The nurses in the first room check all of your standard information (weight, height, heart rate, pulse, eyes and peripheral vision, etc.) and take blood and urine samples. In the second room, you receive an electro-cardiogram and then you meet a doctor in the third room to discuss the results of your electro-cardiogram and initial examination—my doctor just pointed at my stomach and shook his head no, which I’m guessing was his way of telling me to lose weight. After that chat, you journey to the parking lot where they have a medical RV that contains a x-ray machine. After the x-rays, you are done and they’ll send the results of your tests a week or two later.
This happened on Tuesday, August 21st. And truth be told, I did not think much about it; it was a standard physical and I had other concerns, like adjusting to a new school, learning to pronounce a series of student names that I have never heard before, purchasing items for my new apartment, etc. So, at the end of the day on Friday, the physical was a distant memory and the only thing I wanted was a good stiff drink. Luckily, the teacher’s association was serving appetizers, beer, and wine in the school cafeteria in order to celebrate the completion of week one. Unfortunately, before I had the chance to have my first drink, I was intercepted by the school’s nurse who seemed very concerned about my well-being. She immediately started asking questions about whether I had been experiencing any pain or discomforts that week. Truth be told, I had been unbelievably sore all week, but that was because I had just started lifting again for the first time in four years on Monday; therefore, all of my muscles were in a state of active rebellion, but that seemed perfectly normal.
Anyhow, the nurse—and let me say this about Jennifer, I would trust this women with my life. Seriously, I have never met a more capable nurse in my entire existence which is probably the bi-product of her being a military nurse for twenty or so years, but this woman knows her stuff—explained that one of my blood tests came back extremely questionable. Apparently, my CPK–an abbreviation for creatine phosphokinase–levels were extremely high which either signifies that my muscles had recently undergone some form of strenuous exertion or they were deteriorating because of some unknown illness or my heart was near the point of collapse due to an undiagnosed pulmonary infarction. Option number one is good and the second/third is really, REALLY bad.
After a quick discussion, she diagnosed that it was probably the lifting which had tweaked the results, but to be safe, she arranged another blood test for the next Wednesday or Thursday. On the appointed day, I went back in for my blood test and ended up spiking the results to such a high level that the local doctor freaked out and demanded that I see a specialist. Now, I won’t tell you the level, but to provide some sort of comparison, please realize that my levels were hirer than what might be found in professional triathletes/marathon runners after completing a race and people dying of terminal diseases, apparently when you die from a terminal disease your body releases high levels of CPK. Pleasant, huh?
The school nurse and high school secretary quickly arranged an appointment with a specialist at one of the premier medical clinics in all of Tokyo, apparently they work in conjunction with Johns Hopkins Hospital in the states. A quick statement about the Japanese medical process–in order to get into one of these clinics, the client, me, needs a doctor of status to write a fairly convincing letter saying that I require their services. Luckily, St. Mary’s had connections to such a doctor and with in a day or so I had an appointment for the next week.
Over the next week I found myself wondering if I really needed this appointment because I felt perfectly healthy and I was pretty sure it was exercise related, but everyone who was in the know kept telling me that I needed to see the specialist. What a hassle, but on the appointed day, I journeyed to the clinic in Rappongi. I chatted with the specialist, they ran some more blood tests, and then he theorized that I probably had overly sensitive muscles—all of my dear readers who are now laughing at my diagnosis can kindly STOP!!! IT IS A SERIOUS MEDICAL CONDITION!! JERKS!!! Heh, heh. Okay, it isn’t . . .
Anyhow, after my slightly embarrassing, but extremely funny diagnosis, the specialist told me he was going to research my results and as long as he did not find anything abnormal, I was done and could resume all normal activities. With a spring in my step, I left the clinic with hopes of never returning again; alas, that was not to be the case. Two or three weeks later the specialist contacted me and he said couldn’t find any research to support his diagnosis so he was sending me to an even higher-ranking specialist, a neurologist, for further consultation.
Funny enough, and to the absolute amazement of the school nurse who must have been wondering whether I had connections to the yakuza, I now had an appointment at one of the top hospitals in Tokyo!! On the appointed day I adventured into the hospital, got established as an accepted patient, and then met with my neurologist. We chatted about the specialist’s concerns; talked about his theories on what was going on with my physical condition; completed a physical examination that involved the doctor checking my reflexes with a very hard and swift blow from a tomahawk-shaped mallet—I always saw that done in old movies and television shows but ever recall it happening in real life—and arranged a return visit so I could get a MRI.
Two weeks later I arrive for my MRI. The initial part of the process was quick, minimal waiting and no paper work. Apparently, once you are an established member of a clinic or hospital, things tend to move very quickly, amazingly efficient people my Japanese hosts!! Even though it was quite efficient there were two entertaining, but slightly disturbing, moments during the actual MRI process. The first involved a horribly confusing, albeit humorous, discussion on clothing. Upon arriving in section of the hospital where MRIs are completed, a very Japanese nurse, which translates to mean one who speaks little English, tried to explain what items of clothing needed to come off and what needed to be put on. I’m still not sure to this day if boxer shorts, socks, and the provided hospital robe were the correct items, but they seemed like a better first choice than just my birthday suit. Secondly, I do not like MRI machines. I discovered roughly two years ago that I am somewhat claustrophobic. This claustrophobia doesn’t just involve crawling through tight spaces wearing fire fighter gear, but also includes being placed into the tube that is the MRI machine. It was not an amusing experience; I was seriously close to freaking out and if they would have ever tried to place my head in the tube, there would have been words. However, what aided me in keeping it all together is the entertaining thoughts of what would happen if I did freak out, half naked surrounded by only Japanese speaking lab techs. It did not seem like a positive scenario for Japanese-American relations. Hee, hee.
After the MRI, I headed up to the lobby where my doctor’s personal assistant/nurse was waiting to escort me to the doctor’s office so we could discuss the results of my MRI. It was during this discussion, while peering at a cross section of my leg, that the Doctor gave me a clean bill of health by explaining that my “muscles, like those of a pig or cow, are good enough to eat.” Heh, heh. I started to worry a little bit about my doctor’s cannibalistic tendencies and whether I should be concerned that lunch time was quickly approaching but luckily for me and my Of course, he offered to do further tests but since one involved electrocuting my muscles and the other involved a biopsy, I decided we were done with this process.
So, in the end, I am as healthy as I thought and the CPK test was due to either lifting for the first time in a very long time or overly sensitive muscles. Hee, hee.
End results or conclusions about the Japanese Medical Apparatus are as follows:
- Compared to the U.S., medical treatment is far less expensive. I would never say it was cheap, but my MRI ran around $500 while in the States it could go anywhere from $500 to $5000.
- Language can make any uncomfortable moments more uncomfortable and awkwardly hilarious. I recently realized that I absolutely love awkward funny!!
- Japanese doctors tend to be overly cautious which is both good and bad and their bedside manner is somewhat outrageous which is both bad and entertaining!!
- I am surrounded by some wonderfully good people in Japan—Thank you Jennifer and Fumi. I love the fact that you were here to keep me safe.
- I’m somewhat glad this whole experience happened because getting entered into the system takes some time, but once you are in the system, things are amazingly fast. Now, if something would ever go wrong, I am in the system and everything will be streamlined.