Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Week One, Day 1: Emergency Ward Meditations

Since my dear friend Don Snabulus is giving us a picturesque account of his adventures along the Pacific Crest Trail on his blogsite, I thought it might be nice to talk about my own trials and tribulations during this period. I’m sure Snabbie’s experiences were much9 more pleasant than mine (though, judging by some of his comments, I guess I’m not so sure…though he did get a much better view).

Saturday, August 20th started out as any typical work day, which was highly ironic for two reasons:

a. Summer vacation wasn’t over yet.
b. I don’t usually work on Saturdays.

This was no ordinary Saturday, however. This was taikennyugaku (literally “trial enrollment”) day at the academy. Basically, it gives students of other junior high schools that are thinking of entering our senior high a chance to experience a couple of sample classes. It also gives some of the local cram schools an opportunity to prove to some of their weaker students just what failures they really are by forcing them to sit through a class that is way beyond their capacity (i.e. “See what you’d be able to do if only you pulled that tiny, orange-haired excuse for a head out of your aft shaft and studied for a change?”).

As one of our school’s poster children, I’m asked to do this thing every year, even over my annual objections. I don’t really mind teaching the classes so much (most of the time). They can actually be rather fun. The problem is that, when you think about it, it’s false advertising; except for a couple of exclusive grade-12 seminars, I don’t teach senior high classes. It’s pretty sad to find out that kids have entered Seishin Gakuen Senior High looking forward to my communicative English classes only to find that they’re going to be getting nothing but five to six hours a week of boring exam English (i.e. sadly outdated grammar/translation) lessons. Almost every year I’m asked if I would mind teaching one communicative lesson a week to Room 5 (the class made up of students from other junior high schools), even if for only half a period. I always say yes, but it never happens. At least they make up new excuses.

Anyway, it seemed I was stuck doing the “trial enrollment” lessons again. It had already been an unusually busy summer, what with the trip to Australia followed immediately by the music club’s training camp followed immediately by the band contest followed soon afterward by a very demanding presentation about our new sister-school in Australia. Meanwhile, while all those were going on, I had papers to check, a very large PowerPoint presentation to work on, songs to write and record on commission, and music of my own to practice. I also had to take care of the kids since the wife was rarely if ever home and the in-laws were happily exploiting the fact that I was.

I took comfort in the fact that at least the “trial enrollment” lessons would be no-brainers. I could recycle my old teaching materials, go through the motions, and consider the false advertising safely delivered. Naturally, I was nonplussed to hear (at the last minute) that the lessons would be twice as long as usual and no longer divided by ability level. In other words, my old plans and materials were useless. I actually had to prepare, and I actually had to think. I was not amused.

I won’t go into much detail about the two lessons themselves. As it turned out, I had no trouble filling a double-length lesson slot. I actually had material to spare. Since the students were grouped by area this time, many of them knew each other, which actually made the classroom atmosphere a bit warmer than usual. I assumed my “Mr. Kevin” stage persona and had a ball with it.

Well, at least I had a ball with it until the pain appeared in my lower back halfway through the second lesson.

When you think about it, there’s little difference between a teacher and a stage performer (except that stage performers tend to get paid more). It’s kind of a general rule among any kind of performer that, while you’re onstage, you never show your audience any bad feelings, no matter how much it hurts. Hopefully neither the students nor the parents sitting in the back to observe figured out that my smile was really about seventy-five percent gnashing of teeth. Needless to say, when I came to a good stopping place in the lesson and realized I was actually a minute or two past quitting time, I hastily ended it and bolted back to the staff room.

At first I figured it was just a cramp. It was only natural considering the brutal schedule I’d been on over the previous few weeks. However, when I tried and failed to make myself comfortable in one of the sofas in the staff room, I noticed with alarm that the pain was most definitely on the right side of my lower back.

Old numbers one and two were acting up again.

You see, unlike most people, I actually have four kidneys. I have a normal pair and a smaller, extra pair. (No mutant jokes, please.) Twenty-one years ago the normal one (#1) and little one (#2) on the right side started interfering with each other, which hurt more than a little bit. (Understatement alert.) I wound up having to endure all kinds of extremely barbaric and humiliating forms of torture that the doctors called “tests”, often with college students observing and taking notes, followed by eleven hours of surgery, a week of recovery at the hospital, and another three weeks of feeling like a total invalid at home. No, it wasn’t fun. No, I wouldn’t like to go through it again.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t help noticing that the pain rapidly growing in my right side as I rolled and thrashed around on that sofa was of the same nature and in the same location as that ordeal twenty-one years ago. That definitely didn’t help matters.

When the pain became unbearable, I went to the dispensary and found it dark and locked. Apparently there was no nurse on duty even though we had about a hundred guest students plus their parents there at the time. I went to the office and borrowed the dispensary key (arousing the concern of the entire office and administrative staff, who were having a conference there at the time) so I could go in and lie down for a while. Less than ten minutes later, when the pain became excruciating, I phoned Mr. Ogawa and asked if he could take me to the nearest emergency hospital.

As I slowly boarded Mr. Ogawa’s van, gritting my teeth, he asked me which hospital I wanted to go to, Koyama Memorial, or Kashima Rousai. I thought he had to be joking. Koyama Memorial was about a three minute drive away. Going to Kashima Rousai, which is actually a considerable distance away from Kashima City, would take at least an hour. I asked him to take me to Koyama Memorial.

Herr Maestro Ogawa furrowed his brows. “Are you sure?”

My voice was more like a guttural wail as I replied, “Whatever! Koyama’s closer!”

Mr. Ogawa shook his head and put his van in gear to comply with my request.

I can understand his concern. Koyama Memorial Hospital is brand, spanking new. It is a relocation and upgrade of the old Koyama Hospital, which was located in a hard-to-find area near the beach. It was constructed near Kashima Soccer Stadium just in time to be in service when the latter was a venue for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament. It is a very high-tech facility with cutting-edge equipment, and its main function is emergency care.

Unfortunately, it also has a hideous reputation. There are lots of horror stories about it, mainly involving patients brought there who were hustled through, given slip-shod treatment, and hustled back out again to find that they actually had far more serious problems than the doctors had said. In our own music club’s case, we had a student slip on a stairway while carrying a tympani and seriously twist her ankle, and when they brought her to Koyama Memorial she wound up waiting an hour before the doctor took a quick look at her, said, “Come back next week and we’ll X-ray it,” and sent her on her way. That was in 2002, just before the World Cup. Needless to say, Mr. Ogawa firmly believed the hour trip to Rousai was a better option. However, I was in too much agony to give a damn.

We arrived at the emergency wing at Koyama Memorial, where I had to wait behind two ambulance arrivals and what appeared to have been three participants in a local judo tournament that had apparently gotten injured in quick succession. It was more than half an hour of pure hell before the nurse finally called my name.

To their credit, though, they did not hustle me through. On the contrary, the staff there was attentive, thorough, and professional. The doctor they called in was particularly concerned with my case, and he told the nurses to keep an extra careful eye on me. They did. In fact, they wouldn’t let me out of their sight even despite the various visitors I had (including a couple members of the Seishin staff followed by my wife and kids). They wouldn’t let me move until I told them I didn’t feel a lick of pain anymore, and then they wheeled me over to give me all kinds of X-rays and CaT scans (which, considering all the automation and little, feminine electronic voices politely telling me when to breathe or not, was actually kind of fun).

The prognosis? One or both of the kidneys on my right side had coughed up a stone.

When everything was done, the doctor told me in a very apologetic voice that, as an emergency care facility geared mainly to injuries and pregnancies, they didn’t have the right gear or specialists to give me the proper care I needed. They could ease the pain, but I would have to go to Kashima Rousai for full treatment. Unfortunately, since it was Saturday, Rousai would also be in “strictly emergency” mode. That left me with two options. I could go home and deal with the pain via prescription painkillers until Monday, or I could proceed immediately to Rousai’s emergency room and get their advice. Somehow, going home sounded more attractive, so I got the painkillers and got in my wife’s car for the ride home.

I made it about halfway there before the pain suddenly came back almost in full force again. Needless to say, we dropped off the kids and headed for Rousai immediately.

Unfortunately, Kashima Rousai’s prestigious position as the most comprehensive and reputable hospital in the area (second only to Asahi Central, another hour away) means that it is also the most popular. That also means it’s the most crowded. In Rousai’s emergency wing I had to wait in line ahead of four ambulance arrivals and a whole bunch of people, most of whom were elderly and few if any of whom looked like they were truly in an emergency situation. My wife had told the receptionist that I had been referred there by another hospital which had already given me painkillers. That had probably been a mistake. The nurse on deck asked me if I was in a lot of pain, and when I told her that it had eased off a bit (another mistake), I was made to wait. Finally, maybe even thankfully, the pain started to kick in a bit again, and I continued being frankly honest, so they hustled me right in…more than an hour after my arrival.

Rousai’s treatment that night seemed a lot simpler and even more old fashioned than that of Koyama Memorial, but the pain vanished in a shot and never returned. The quick X-ray they gave me seemed to show that the stone had moved quite a bit lower in the track and was on the verge of being passed through. Still, the (female) doctor said that there were some things she saw in the X-ray that she didn’t like. She told me I needed to see the specialist on Monday. I was given the option of remaining there at the hospital so they could keep me under observation, but I declined. I had already had my fill of hospitals for one day.

Besides, I knew that I was just getting started…


  • I remember when you went into the Hospital 21 years ago. I also remember visiting you there. I remember not knowing what to say or do, and scurrying off rather quickly. I still feel bad about that, to this day.

    I'm sorry you are going through this again, and I'm hoping you get through it as quickly as possible!

    Now onto part 2....

    By Blogger DewKid, at 5:21 AM  


    Yes, the last time I remember, we came to visit and you were so wacked out on morphine I wonder if you remember us being there. You kept going on about some Romanian gymnast, OH what was her name?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:08 AM  

  • Oh, you Ameddikans make me MAAAAAAD!!!

    I want to beeef you veddy haaaaad!!!!

    By Anonymous Ecaterina Szabo, at 4:47 PM  

  • ihola! Soy "Inu".
    I had worked at Koyama about a few years ago. It is surprising to me that the hospital was recorded in your blog.
    I wonder how the world is getting closer.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:39 PM  

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