Friday, April 8, 2011

My Morning Hospital Visit

Your first question will be the same thing Mikan-sensei asked when I called to let him know I'd be meccha late to work that day. "Are you okay? Are you sick?"

I'm okay, and I'm not sick. But there are a few things we Amurcan's get checkups for regularly that do not come standard on the teachers' round-robin summer health check, and I figured it was time to go collect my latest clean bill of health. Truth be told, I hadn't been for some stuff since college, when the health center was 'free' and right across the street. It was spring break, so there were no classes, and I could spend the entire morning waiting on hospital benches stress-free.

In Japan, women's health is a little bit difficult for me to understand. First of all, I did get some weird looks when I marched my little self on in there, complaining of no symptoms, no irregularities, no pain or possible STDs, and wanted to get a pap test. I was prepared for this, as I had read that women in Japan generally don't go to the gynecologist unless they are over 30, or married (and soon to be pregnant). But listen, y'all, where I'm from, this is a yearly thing.

So yearly, and so regular, in fact, that I didn't quite know what to ask for. "You want us to check for cancer?" they asked. "Um, yes..." and found myself at a loss as to what else to ask for. What does a pap smear even actually test for, other than that? All I wanted was to have the same-old regular procedure I used to get from the excellent and practical nursing staff at Vanderbilt University.

Well I knew it wasn't going to be that, exactly. Usually, ALTs around here go to a doctor in Osaka, because he's discreet, works on weekends, and speaks English; and in some ways, you go out of town for these things for the same reason you buy your underwear out of town, so that no one will see you do it and report your size and color preference to approximately everyone in town. But, heck, try turning up at your very local hospital where you are guaranteed to run into at least one student and their parent (check!) and asking for a test that young unmarried women just don't get. Congratulations, your infamy as a probable slutbucket has just been achieved.

But I'm of the mindset that I hide nothing because I have nothing to hide, so I smiled at that student and said hello, I did (plus it was just in the hospital entrance area, so his mom totally did not know why I was there in the first place).

But I digress. The actual visit was pleasantly complicated. Mostly I read my book in between visits from my de facto interpreter Hatch, who used to work for the BOE (before my time) who helped me fill out the kanji-laden forms. Here's the thing.. hospital terminology is ridiculous even in English, let alone Japanese. Hatch broke down the questions for me, but this meant she was asking out loud all those wonderful personal things you fill out on a gynecological form. Once again.. nothing to hide, hide nothing...

The exam itself was conducted in a weird chair, and the doctor had a ridiculously light touch (much like the doctor who handled Jermaine last year), which I believe to be because Japanese women are shy/delicate flowers. This is also the reason for the curtain between you and the doctor. It was over so fast, I got nervous that he wasn't actually doing the test I thought I was there to get. It was weird, but I was in a very "this WILL be weird so just roll with it so you can get your clean bill of health" state of mind, so I wasn't bothered. There was even a screen which displayed for me, from my perch, all manner of things in a black and white sonogram-looking manner. According to the doctor, who peered around the curtain at me for a moment and pointed to the screen, all that looked fine, and they'd be able to report on the cells by next week.

As I was getting ready to leave, I asked Hatch about checking for breast cancer as well. A general probing once-over was the norm in college, right after checking out your 'down there' parts, the nurse lady would give your girls a good feel, pronounce them fit, and send you on your way. Hatch said you have to make appointments for those things, so I figured I might as well look into it...

When we went downstairs, she said they could fit me in that day! I didn't realize what I was getting myself into, but figured it was better to check than not, given my family history. What I was in for was a breast exam unlike anything I'd ever experienced, and which most ladies under 35 have perhaps not undergone. First I had an actual mammogram from a sprightly nurse who wrestled both me and the machine, and crushed me up down and sideways until I wondered if the pain was really worth an official statement of what I already knew, but it was too late, I was half naked in front of a big machine and it was almost over... I next (waited for an hour and then) received an actual sonogram to check them out a different way.

All in all, it took forever, was weird, and cost as much as a weekend in Osaka. I was the youngest person in the breast exam line, and everyone probably thought, oh those 'Mericans and their paranoia, feelin' the need to get checked out every year!

But we do what we do, and it had been a while since I'd collected this particular type of clean-bill-of-health, so I wanted a new one. Plus I was feeling keen to sample a whole new kind of Japan experience. I think I'll skip the dentist, though.

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