Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, August 22, 2005

Week One, Day 3: Waiting Made Simple

Sunday the 21st was a rare gem: a day of thinking and doing absolutely nothing. It was the first such day I’d had in ages. Since my wife had skipped out on her tennis club duties that day both to look after me and do both our shares of the Sunday housecleaning, I admit I did feel a bit guilty, but hey…I was following doctor’s orders. (Besides, I think my wife really enjoyed it, as evidenced by all those chests and drawers she wound up going through.)

Monday the 22nd was an altogether different animal. My wife and I both took the day off from work (though my regular work still hasn’t started yet) so she could take me to Kashima Rousai Hospital for the visit with The Specialist. (dark, ominous fanfare) We had no idea how long I’d be there, or whether I’d wind up staying there for a long, long time, so we didn’t bother making any fixed plans. I just left all unnecessary pocket payload behind, and we left the house at an early hour. We’d been told on the evening of the 20th that we couldn’t make an appointment (?!??), so we just had to try to get there quickly and beat the crowds.

As it turned out, we made excellent time. We’d actually left assuming that it would take about an hour and a half to get there with the object of arriving half an hour before the place opened. As it turned out, even with the morning rush hour and a 7-11 breakfast stop it only took us about an hour to get there. It was a full hour till opening.

Unfortunately, Kashima Rousai Hospital is well aware of its importance and its popularity, and its system reflects that. It was a full hour until the opening of treatment, but reception apparently started a long time before that. We had arrived an hour early, and we were able to check in immediately, but the place was already packed.

And I do mean PACKED.

I have been to a number of hospitals and clinics here in Japan. It is pretty much a given that they will be crowded, mainly with old people who get free treatment and have nothing better to do, anyway. Whenever I went to Asahi Central Hospital, which is considered the #1 hospital in the southern Ibaraki/northern Chiba region, it was quite crowded and busy, to be sure. However, it wasn’t packed solid.

The urology department of Kashima Rousai was most definitely packed solid, and the median age was probably 60. Part of the problem was that there was only one urologist on duty. (Asahi Central always had two or three specialists going in whatever department I went to there.) Another problem was that they had apparently overbooked appointments while at the same time trying to squeeze in walk-ins like me. (I would’ve made an appointment, but I was told I couldn’t if it was a first-time visit, and my brief stay in the emergency ward didn’t count.)

After a wait of nearly an hour, my name was called, but when I headed for the door, I was handed a folder of documents and told to go to an upstairs lab for a urine test. At least there was no wait for that. It was my third such test in as many days, but I didn’t mind. They can have as much of my urine as they like. Blood is a different story. I’m not sure how much blood they took out of me at Koyama Memorial and then Rousai on Saturday the 20th, but it was a lot. Now, on the 22nd, I was thankful they weren’t planning to take any more…so far.

My wife and I returned to the urology department and resubmitted my papers, whereupon I was told to return to the fossilization chamber (i.e. waiting room) and wait my turn to see the doctor. Sighing, we did as we were told, but we found almost all the seats had been taken. I wasn’t in serious pain anymore, but I still had a lot of discomfort in my gut and lower back and didn’t really want to stand. My wife and I were just deciding that we’d probably have to split up when I suddenly heard a familiar-sounding, gaijin voice calling my name. It turned out to be an ex-pat friend of mine I hadn’t seen for quite some time. (Names are remaining unmentioned to protect the innocent bystanders.) Ironically, I’d been planning to call him, so our chance meeting was a fortuitous one…if not particularly pleasant considering our circumstances. Sensing correctly that we wanted to chat, a Japanese man sitting next to my friend immediately stood and beckoned me to take his place. While my wife sat in another seat nearby, I seated myself next to my friend, and we had a good chat until his name was called. It really helped to pass the time, which was a good thing. By the time I got called in to see the urologist it had been more than two hours since our arrival.

The urologist had my X-ray prints from Saturday night. He also had a nifty, little ultrasound scanner he used to check out old #1 and #2 (right-side kidneys). In the end, what he said wasn’t much different from what the doctor at Koyama Memorial had said, which I hope helps to improve the latter’s unfortunate reputation. However, the Rousai urologist did go to a lot more detail. He also pointed out some other things, both in my scans and my urine test, that most definitely bothered him. He went to great lengths to make sure I understood why.

“The ureter (i.e. the tube that connects the kidney(s) with the bladder) appears to be pinched off in a couple of places,” he said, “especially right between the two kidneys themselves. Those places are real danger spots for stones to appear.”

After that, he made me an appointment to come back on Wednesday the 24th for additional tests. (Oh, boy…) I was also given a prescription for a medicine that would dilate everything down there to try to encourage the stone to piss off (literally). (Double oh, boy…) I was then sent on my way.

The fee I wound up paying was remarkably low, especially compared with other hospitals I’ve visited. Then again, I guess it’s not such a surprise. I’ve heard that Kashima Rousai is partly subsidized, which makes sense. After all, the name “Rousai” literally means “work-related disaster”, and the hospital is located near the big Kashima (region, not city) industrial project. It’s the main hospital that all those factory workers go to. It also has special facilities and services for company-related health concerns. I guess it’s only natural that its fees are low, which goes even further to explain why the place is so damned crowded.

One ironic time-saver was the fact that, unlike most Japanese hospitals, Rousai Hospital doesn’t dispense much medicine itself. Instead, it gives you a whole list of pharmacies that it cooperates with, and they are located all over a radius of many tens of kilometers. The clerk at the cashier counter told us one closer to home would probably be cheaper, but the ones near the hospital would probably be faster and more reliable. I went for the latter option. That had to be the shortest wait for prescription medicine I’ve ever experienced in this country. Ah, the merits of decentralization…

Next we had to go over to Koyama Memorial Hospital to pick up the prints of the X-rays and CaT scan they took there so I could take them to Rousai on Wednesday. The urologist at Rousai wanted to get a good “before and after” comparison so as to better understand the situation. It was here that Koyama Memorial lived up to its reputation to some extent; the reception and clerical staff seemed to have little idea what they were doing. At the very least, the people in front had little or no idea who they were supposed to refer us to until they called around and asked. Once we were sent to the right room, however, service was efficient and rapid.

When the X-ray and CaT scan films were delivered, the doctor who had cared for me while I was there immediately hurried over to find out how I was doing. He wanted to hear everything the urologist at Rousai had said, and he closed by saying, “This is probably going to take time, and it should. You’re going to want them to check everything with great detail. Anything you miss now could trouble you later.”

He sounded almost apologetic when he said that. Considering the reputation of the hospital where he’s employed, his words are very ironic. But I’d say his heart is definitely in the right place, and that will make a difference. I wish him luck.

The next adventure will be on Wednesday morning...

4 Comments:

  • Ack! Emergency rooms suck. I don't think I've ever waited less than 5 hours in any ER, in three different cities. Still, it's cool that fate brought you together with an old friend while you were there!

    Good luck with Wednesday!

    By Blogger DewKid, at 5:24 AM  

  • Yeah, good luck, sounds like they want to do surgery to open those tubes up though. Be sure to take your laptop if you go in the hospital, I want to see what happens with LITOTRS when you're on morphine!, Just kidding. You'll do fine.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 8:14 AM  

  • Good luck with everything, man. I had a coworker pass a few stones and he was out of work for over a week. Wishing you well.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:57 PM  

  • Greetings, good to catch up on things after a long absence from the net, best wishes from down under, ps. married now and a baby due on 27/09.

    Glenn.

    By Blogger Khoshar, at 3:11 PM  

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