Being sick sucks. (That’s it end of blog post. lol)
No seriously! This is especially true when you come down with something that is not your average everyday cold. Aside from the normal Japan is different from the US (or whatever country you’re from) bla bla bla there are a lot of other bits and pieces that you will find yourself experiencing. For some reason people don’t mention these pieces in their blog posts or whatever. It’s probably because there is so much else to talk about regarding health care and how it’s different but since I am sitting here with not much else to do but think about it I figure I will share my experience so that maybe you’ll find yourself better prepared for this type of situation if you happen to end up in it.
First off, and I know how harsh this is going to sound, coming down with something while you’re here in Japan is a huge reality check. This is true whether you are here by yourself, with your spouse or with a family which you feel is well established. If you’re not ready to be independent having even a minor case of the flu will let you know it. And in a very blunt way. The reason I say this is because your support system, although not gone with today’s technology, is not readily available to keep you company, make you soup or run to the store and get you some meds. This means you’re ultimately going to have to get these little things squared away on your own which although I realize are not that big of a deal can seem much more like a mountain when you’re in a place where Chicken and Stars isn’t readily available.
Since we’re on the topic of family let’s talk about the challenges that you are likely to face with those back home. This is a bit of a tough subject because you really need to see things through both the eyes of those back home who are worrying about you but it would also be incredibly convenient if they would do the same in return. Of course that is wishful thinking on my behalf but what can I say? I’m a dreamer.
Odds are your family, if they are anything like mine, probably worries and that means everything they have in their heads is exaggerated. My mother, for example, thinks that after telling her that “I am going to the hospital” I am making a trek up a mountain to see a shaman in a grass hut. Naturally this is not the case but still after 7 years and 2 trips to Japan she still somehow has images of a WWII field hospital in her head. You’ve got to love her though, she is just a caring individual which is probably why whenever I have so much as a headache she worries that I could have come down with some crazy illness like yellow fever or diabetes. Of course I can laugh these things off now because I have been here for so long and at this immediate moment I am not struggling with something that has me bent over in pain (at least not anymore) but it’s important for family members to remember that suggestions of this sort can often cause those of us over in Japan a lot of unnecessary stress. Not only are we already worried about being sick, being in another country, getting the right medicines, taking the right dosage, communicating with our doctors, communicating to you that we’re find but we wanted to update and now in the back of our heads is that notion that my mother thinks I have encephalitis. Great.
Again, I cannot stress enough how much these concerns come from loving parents who worry about their kids. But parents. . . if you’re reading this. For the love of all that is keeping us sane. . . try to understand that we’re not moving into The Last Samurai.
So what about having a not your average cold and trying to work through it? This is what I am going through right now. In fact this is an all new experience for me because this is the first time that I have come down with something that I either couldn’t take care of on my own or didn’t already know the type of treatment for. The first struggle is trying to explain what it is that is going on with you. However, we are pretty lucky here in Okinawa. Not only do we have the military hospitals (for those who have access to them) but we also have a lot of doctors who speak English, some are even from places like the UK and Canada. In all fairness however explaining what is going on with you when you have never really experienced it before is still a challenge regardless the language. One thing that I did this time which was incredibly helpful was track all of my symptoms and the medicines that I took on my iPad so that way I could bring it to the doctor and not have to worry about trying to recall everything that had gone on up until the appointment. This turned out to be incredibly helpful. It can also be helpful to insert words from a Japanese phrase book (such as Lonely Planet) which are designed to help you get through a medical situation if necessary.
The second thing is that although I have a lot of experience in Japan and have adapted a lot of my lifestyle to a Japanese lifestyle when you’ve come down with something you’re not familiar with some of those things can just be down right irritating to deal with. Now I know how silly this might sound coming from someone like myself who is always saying how much I love this and that about Japan but when you’re sick it’s like an entirely different story. For one having a futon and not a bed has been particularly brutal. It’s not the softness or anything like that but because it is on the floor and trust me when I say: when you’re sick the floor is further away then normal. Then there is the food. There are soups and similar foods here to what you can find in the US but there are some things that I like to snack on when I am sick that I can’t find here like dry cereal for example. Although they do have it you can’t find it as commonly at small local grocery stores which I personally frequent when I am sick and don’t want to go to a huge department store. This probably sounds like I am nitpicking but it’s not that. It’s just the things that I have been thinking about over the past few days.
Overall being sick in Japan whether it is something simple or something beyond what you’re familiar with is really no big deal. You are ultimately going to have access to everything you need and get yourself figured out just like you would in any other country. The main thing you need to do is stay focused and positive to ensure that you can carry out the steps to get yourself squared away.