My experience today with Japanese health was an interesting one. I walked to a clinic in my neighborhood late this morning, because I had intense flu symptoms all weekend, and I needed a note to miss work. I wasn’t feeling so great today anyway, as I had already suspected would be the case last night, but my supervisor from work told me that I just needed to stay home today no matter what, and go to a doctor at some point for the doctor’s note.
Why? Well, apparently schools have a very specific protocol for people with influenza. If you have influenza, I was told, the first day you have fever counts as Day 0. After Day 5, you are allowed to return to school. (So six days total that you must remain absent from school.) However, you must have at least 48 hours between the time you last had a fever and the time you return to school. So, while it can be longer, you have a minimum influenza quarantine of sorts of six days, no matter what.
Now, for my job, we have a differentiation between personal/vacation days and sick days. However, to set your sick days as sick days, you need a doctor’s note. And, by a doctor’s note, they really just mean the dated receipt that you are given when you pay your 20-ish dollars at the end of your visit to the doctor. So, I had to go see a doctor today in order not to have to take three days of vacation days for my required absence (read banishment) from school this week.
I found the clinic alright, despite the name having been misspelled in the e-mail to me about the clinic. Walking in, I noticed that, naturally, nothing was in English. I had no idea what to do, but saw a small room with benches and people, and a small desk-type area that was not very reception-y. A lady approached me and handed me one of their white masks*, which I accepted gracefully, as I asked if anyone spoke any English.** She said that the doctor knew some, and so I wandered into the waiting room behind her.
She asked for my insurance card, which I gave, and then attempted to pronounce my name, which is written quite clearly on the card in Japanese lettering (katakana). For those who don’t know, you can’t mispronounce this sort of thing, because each ‘letter’ only has one way to be pronounced, no matter how it is combined with other ‘letters’, Nonetheless, I had to help her read the name aloud for some reason. Whatever…
So I sat and waited on one of the benches. One of the ladies came back with some paperwork for me to fill out (yes, in Japanese), and handed me a small thermometer. I had some hesitation in using it, though I couldn’t quite tell why. Nonetheless, I eventually stuck it in my mouth, and it proved that my fever had, indeed, resided.
As I waited, more people arrived and did as I had done, minus asking about the English. I eventually noticed that there was only one thermometer, and that the lady would do one single, quick (with no twist or anything) swipe of the bottom part of it with what looked like an alcohol swab each time after someone new used it. I solidly decided not to think about it – I already had germs enough in me to manage for this week – , but I made an inner snarky comment of If I wasn’t already infected, I sure will be now before setting it aside.
Eventually, a version of my name was said over this scratchy speaker in the ceiling, and I was summoned to room #1. I found out after this little bit that my supervisor had already called and mentioned that I was coming, and so perhaps she gave enough details for their concerns, because I found it rather odd how the doctor instantly asked me, ‘So, you might have influenza?’ and then asked only two or three other questions before shoving the swab thing up my nose for the 60% success rate rapid flu diagnostic test.
It was only when the test came out negative a while later, and I responded with a ‘Seriously?’ to the doctor’s confident declaration that I ‘just have a cold’, that the doctor asked my symptoms. For the previous three-ish days, I had had high fever, intense muscle pain all over my body, a horrendous and throbbing headache (even causing my hearing to be pained), and a sore chest with some coughing, and I hardly could get out of bed for anything other than the bathroom or more water. Today, however, things were significantly improved, and my fever had finally broken yesterday (so, no more fever today, but still low-level aches and pains of all sorts).
Nonetheless, – and I partially attribute this to a lost-in-translation bit – he prescribed me a different medicine for each of these ailments, to last me for five days. I went and sat in the waiting area for the third and final time, before being called up to the desk again, paying about $20 US, being given two receipts and my insurance card, and being pointed to the building across the street.
Across the street, I used my Google Translate app to translate a questionnaire about ‘Are you pregnant?”, ‘Do you have any history of severe illness?’, ‘What allergies do you have?’ and the likes (plus one question I never quite figured out about ‘Generic Medicine’ or something), waited a few minutes, and then paid just over $5 US for a baggie full of medicines I didn’t want. (Really, I just wanted the receipt from my doctor’s visit, and then to go back home and have a green smoothie and some sleep.) But, hey, at least it all cost me only about $25 US for the visit and the meds. Could have been much worse than that.
When I called back my supervisor, at her request, to inform her of the results and the rest of my visit, she said she’d talk to the Vice Principle and call me back after a while. About ten minutes later, she called and informed me that, though the Vice Principle was on a business trip for the day, she, the head of teachers, and the school nurse had all convened and decided that, despite the rapid flu test, I had the flu, and so can not return to school until Thursday at the earliest (and even later, if I am still sick Thursday), and that it would all count as sick days (since I had gone to the doctor today). She said she would inform my visit school of this, she wished me well, and she told me to call if I needed anything these next few days on my own. I thanked her, and that was that.
So, I unofficially officially have the flu.
*I must admit, I have a sort of odd phobia against these masks. I think they remind me of the feeling of being stuck under the blankets too long in bed, making the air super stuffy and hard to breathe, but then add in the factor of their being hooked around your ears, like then pressing the blankets against your mouth, increasing the intense suffocation and decreasing the chance of fresh air entering your mouth or nostrils… and so these masks elicit in me a sort of instant panic whenever I consider actually putting one on my face.
**Okay, I realize I am in Japan. I am not aiming to disrespect their culture by wanting English here. I simply do not know enough Japanese to work my way through a medical visit, in which every detail counts, and the slightest misunderstanding could be incredibly troublesome and even dangerous.