Going to the Doctor in Japan

I hate going to the doctor’s office. Any doctor’s office. Throughout my life, I’ve fainted countless times in the middle of an examination or while sitting anxiously in the waiting room. Once I even fainted in the morning when I was still at home, only thinking about my doctor’s appointment later that day. (If Sigmund was still alive, he would have had a lot of fun conducting studies on me, I’m sure.)

That was in my home country, where communicating with the doctor was not an issue at all. Try picturing the same scenario in Japan, a country where I don’t read or write and barely speak the language (barely meaning basically not at all).

Calling the doctor’s office to make an appointment was the first step in this glorious cultural experience. I told them in Japanese that I don’t speak Japanese (always a fun thing to do because it confuses people big time). After that, I was passed on from assistant to assistant and spent about 10 minutes in total in the waiting line. I don’t know what exactly they did or discussed in that time but they came to the conclusion that none of them could talk to me in English. Fair enough. I managed to pull out of the hat the very few words I know in Japanese which made it possible to ask if they were booked out today and if so, if it was possible to get an appointment the next day. I could also tell them “nose“ and “hurt“ and I understood the number 12. Alright then. 12 o’clock tomorrow it is.

My nervousness the next day when walking into the clinic was immediately combatted with lots and lots of Halloween decoration all over the reception and waiting room. I also got distracted from my worries when filling out the questionnaire in English, when reading questions like “Are you lactating?“ and thinking: What the heck is lactating? I actually had to pull out my phone and google it. The result made me laugh.

What stopped my laughing soon enough though were the kids I heard screaming in the doctor’s office. What was going on in there? The little girl that was up right before me started crying as soon as the door to the office opened and she realized it was her turn. Her mum literally had to pick her up and drag her in there. What did the little girl know that I didn’t know?!

My turn. I quickly gazed around the office to examine the potential torture equipment. Lots of pointy things and tubes that I hadn’t seen before in my home country. And – more Halloween decoration. Which got me thinking: Someone who shows just as much dedication to Halloween as I do can’t be all that bad, or can they?

Of course not. The doctor was amazing. He spoke to me in English, he let me say why I was there even though he already knew that from the questionnaire, and he didn’t rush through the examination at all. He took the time to explain to me exactly what was going on with me and what could be done to fix it. We even laughed when he showed me the image of a skull and said: “This is an Asian skull. Our noses are wide and flat. Your nose is high and long.“ (I don’t know if it was appropriate to laugh at that point, but he laughed, too, so I think we’re good.) He asked me which medication I’m using from my home country and he looked up the ingredients in a big medical book and explained to me the bad effects they were having on me. I promised him to throw them out.

I learnt two things today: Nasal allergies/ allergic rhinitis caused by pollen flying around exists in autumn as well as in springtime. This thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I thought I just had a common cold that lasted for ages. The doctor told me that it’s common for foreigners in Japan to suffer from nasal allergies (hence the explanation about the different noses) and that if I stay in Japan for a longer period of time, it’s something I’ll have to learn to live with.

The other thing I learnt is that going to a doctor’s office doesn’t have to be all that bad. I have a follow-up appointment in 10 days and I’m looking forward to going there “anxious-free“ this time. And to enjoying the Halloween decorations.

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