Japan Stories

Japan Stories: The ER

There is a stretch of sidewalk between the train station and my house that is a bit precarious. It’s narrower than usual, it has a telephone pole right in the middle of it and on the side closest to the building it passes in front of it runs right into a tiled 45 degree slope downward that is easily double the width of the sidewalk. Often, if there is anyone else on the sidewalk, rather than struggle with the lack of space, I’ll just walk over onto the tiled slope and skip past them without issue. Of course I’ve always done this while wearing the shoes I wear all the time.

The other day it was cold and raining pretty hard when we went out and I decided to wear my snow boots because they are more waterproof and also pretty warm. I’ve never worn these in a non-snowy situation and I learned quickly that the grip on their soles is lacking. It works great in snow, not so great on wet slippery pavement. All day long I was slipping and skidding, it was not fun. Walking home at the end of the day I was tired and anxious to be off the streets when I passed this narrow spot in the sidewalk which of course had other people on it. I thoughtlessly stepped off to the side like I had a hundred times previously without remembering that this slope was tile and that I’d been slipping in my boots all day. And I went down instantly, fast and hard. My back felt tweaked, my hip clearly took a direct hit. I felt really old right away. I also immediately noticed that my right hand was completely numb and had a big abrasion along the thumb part of my palm – as that seemed to have taken the brunt of my fall when I smacked it hard into the curb. I was pretty annoyed.

I got back up and as I continued towards my house I realized that my hand wasn’t getting any feeling back and felt very ghostly when I tried to squeeze it. I could squeeze it which was great, but the numbness was lasting much longer than it should have. I was also starting to feel a little nauseous. Having broken bones before, I wasn’t excited about this particular combo. I got home and put ice on my hand and immediately started googling broken thumbs. Over the next two hours while the numbness faded and the pain kicked in I read that the symptoms of a broken thumb were very near when I was currently experiencing. That and my hand had progressed to a solid 8 on a 1 to 10 pain scale. I also read that the longer you wait before getting medical assistance with a broken thumb the more likely you’ll have lifelong side effects of it, so I decided I should go see a doctor. And because no emergency in my family ever happens during weekday business hours, it was not 8pm on a Sunday and the ER was my only real option.

I’ve never been to a doctor of any kind in Japan and was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, though I’d been looking forward to the first time I got to use my fancy new National Health Insurance card. Heath care is socialized here in Japan and I pay $300 annually for my entire family to be a part of it. Compared against the $1000 a month we used to pay in the USA this was already an improvement but how would it work in practice? I was about to find out.

I got to the hospital and the check in receptionist spoke perfect english which was a relief as I didn’t know what to expect. The nurse he handed me off to didn’t speak a word of english though, and we had to communicate via a live translator who she called and we kept passing a phone back and forth. Apparently “I fell and I think I broke my thumb” is a new one in Japan and they kept asking me about my head, if I’d passed out today before falling or another day recently, or had been drinking. I finally conveyed to them that I didn’t hit my head, hadn’t been drinking and didn’t pass out, I simply slipped on some slippery tiles. They seemed disappointed. What a boring injury.

I was told that I’d see the specialist in about 30 minutes and about 10 minutes later he called for me. He spoke better english and went over the details with me. After looking at my now swollen hand and seeing where it hurt me when he moved it he confirmed that it was acting very much like a break, but he’d need x-rays to confirm the idea. I agreed and was whisked off to the x-ray room, which was right around the corner. When I’ve gotten x-rays in the US they cover me with lead aprons and the doctors hide behind several walls and layers of thick glass. Here, the doctor lined things up and just reached out of the room with one hand to fire the x-ray. It was so casual. The x-rays contradicted our suspicions and showed no break. This was good news. My hand was really killing me by this point though. The doc told me to keep it rested, put some ice on it and take these pain pills, then sent me home. I walked back in the door almost exactly 1 and a half hours after leaving. I also got hit with a $20 bill when leaving the hospital, a fee they were very apologetic about. There won’t be any more fees, that was the entire cost of this endeavor.

A few days later and the swelling has gone down and my hand feels much better, but I’m still amazed at how much easier the ER experience was here than eery time I’ve ever gone in the US. For comparison, even with insurance in the US, the last time I went to the ER I was there for 6 hours and walked away with “nothing wrong!” and a $5k bill that insurance didn’t help with at all because my deductible was around $10k. So, let’s just say this experience – all things considered – was pretty great.

Japan Stories: The Beginning

2 months ago we landed in Japan. Me, Tara, Ripley and our cat Vincent. We moved out of LA, packed half our stuff into a storage unit and brought or sold/trashed the rest. We dumped our LA apartment and US mobile phone accounts and got a house and new SIM cards in Shibuya, Tokyo. We moved to Japan. If you follow me anywhere else on the internet you’ve known this for a long time but I wanted to lay out the backstory here for later context. I keep thinking of things I want to talk about relating to this move and thought doing a blog post every day might be a good excuse to do that, as well as motivation to jump start the blog again. I’m fast approaching my 20th anniversary of having a blog, and it would be a shame for that to roll around and this place be covered in dust, I think anyway.

Today I registered my bike. All bikes in Japan need to be licensed and you get a little sticker which is like a license plate on your bike and the registration lasts for 10 years. There’s a lot of reasons for this, it helps reduce theft because cops can (and do) stop anyone on a bike at any point to check the registration. I’ve been told “anyone at any point” is a nice way of saying “foreigners only” but I’ve never been stopped and I know many Japanese people who have, so at least in my limited experience it’s a wash. I also know people who have had their bikes stolen, and weeks later returned thanks to the license. I also know people who have left $3k bikes unlocked outside restaurants in Shibuya and forgotten them only to go back the next morning and find them still there. Bike theft in Tokyo is seems is more the drunk guy accidentally grabbing the wrong bike and riding home than it was in LA where anything and everything loose will be stripped and sold off in minutes. In LA I used 2 heavy duty U-locks and had to super glue BBs into the allen wrench bolts on my bike to prevent people from running off with my saddle or handlebars, in Japan the tiniest cable lock is enough of a deterrent that sends the message. Anyway, I got my bike registered and it was a perfect example of a smooth and streamlined system that flies off the rails when something isn’t the usual. What I mean is, my bike isn’t a brand name, or rather, isn’t a brand at all. It was built by hand, in the 1940’s by a guy in Europe. There’s a number on it that passes for a 4 digit serial number but in all likelyhood that’s actually just the part number of the plumbing tubing that the bike builder used. The registration calls for a make, model and 10 digit serial number. The guy at the bike shop had no idea what to do. We laughed about it and he figured something out, but this is a common thing I’ve seen – There are 4-5 possible options and as long as you fit perfectly in one of these it’s smooth sailing, but if by some unfortunate luck you happen to be a combo of two of those, or worse – one they hadn’t considered, people get completely stuck and have no idea how to improvise. This is a operational and societal issue, but one of the many things that I’m seeing now as a resident, but never had reason to encounter as a visitor, even a frequent visitor for over 10 years.