I Went to a Japanese Doctor Who Doesn't Speak English and It Was Not What I Expected

I'm writing through the haze of lots of mysterious medications.
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Louise Hung
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I'm writing through the haze of lots of mysterious medications.

I really wanted to be writing about my trip to Hong Kong. 

My amazing, emotional, gut-wrenching, possibly-changed-my-life trip to Hong Kong. But I wanted to do that post or posts justice, and my wits just aren't about me right now. 

My trip to Hong Kong a few days ago feels like a dream. Not in an "Oodilally! I could write about this in gorgeous detail with HILARIOUS observations!" kind of way, but in a foggy "Was the talking Leopard Prince part of my trip or part of my haze?" So the Hong Kong stories will have to wait. 

Lou sick with mask on

Welcome to my sick room (I don't really wear that mask at home, but it covers up a lot of my sick-face so I opted for the look). 

You see, I am sick. I have pneumonia (again) to be exact. I'm really good at getting it. And I'm on a lot of meds that try as I might to research, I cannot figure out. So I'm kind of Jell-o right now.

While my head feels like a balloon doggie (buoyant but in knots), and I'm not going to lie typing this right now seems like my fingers are operating independently of my everything else, I'm antsy. 

I'm not supposed to be writing right now. I'm in bed hacking up pure evil, breathing sucks, my innards hurt, and my husband keeps trying to discourage me from opening my laptop. Rest, rest, rest -- that's what everyone keeps telling me. 

But a person can only lie in bed watching Elementary on Netflix for so long before going mad and wondering if she could pull off a hybrid Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu Halloween costume. (Jonny Lee Liu? Lucy Liu Miller? Jucy Lii Liuller?)

I went to a Japanese doctor who didn't speak English, and with the help of my husband, the internet, and my charades skills, I've lived to cough another day. As always, I hope my role as the "village idiot" of my neighborhood serves to entertain or even enlighten (in case you find yourself going to the doctor in Japan armed only with this). 

So I'd been coughing for a while by the time I got back from Hong Kong. It actually started to get really bad when I went to cold and snowy Aokigahara Forest a couple weeks ago. But being ME, I ignored it. 

I ignored my cough for more than a week after Aokigahara. I ignored my cough for my entire Hong Kong trip (despite gasping and hacking while scurrying up the hills of the humid city). I ignored my cough until breathing became painful and difficult, and my husband dragged me to the doctor. 

I know, I know, I shouldn't have to be dragged. But not only am I anxious about going to doctors, but visiting one that probably didn't speak English doubled my anxiety. 

But I had to go. So I strapped on one of those surgical masks that are popular in Japan, so as not to cough all over the other patients, and with my husband, walked the five blocks to the doctor's office. 

Arriving at the white brick medical building, we walked in and entered an elevator with one other lady going to the fifth floor. I had a coughing fit in the elevator, and the poor woman huddled in the corner of the elevator as politely as possible. 

"Su-mi-ma-HACK HACK HACK," I tried to say sumimasen to apologize, but it just made the hacking worse. The elevator doors opened and she went one way, my husband, my phlegm, and I went the other. 

Entering the doctor's office, your typical "soothing tones" and piped in classical music establishment, we were greeted by a friendly nurse in a little white triangle hat, a navy blue sweater, and a knee length nurse's uniform. Despite feeling nervous and nauseous, I couldn't help but think how pretty she looked. 

Of course she addressed me, but while I stood there and tried to hack a response, my husband jumped in and explained that we didn't have an appointment, I was quite sick, and that I didn't speak enough Japanese. 

I usually get grumpy when he does this, as lately I want to at least try and communicate, but in this case, I was delighted to be deemed "She Who Cannot Speak Good." 

She told us it would be a long wait, so we found a seat in the waiting room and I concentrated on breathing.  

By the way, have ever had to wear one of those surgical masks for a long time? Mine covered my nose, my mouth, and extended well under my chin. Breathing was already difficult, but wearing this mask like a wheezing Optimus Prime, and breathing in my own hot breath, made breathing entirely unpleasant.  

So there we sat. The white guy and the phlegmy girl in the waiting room. I tried to go over the Japanese terms I'd written down for this visit — cough, lungs, "I've had pneumonia before," "I've been coughing for two weeks," chest, hurts, etc. — but nothing seemed to be sticking in my brain. For all I knew, I'd get in the exam room and default to telling the doctor, "Yagi o sawaranai," or "Don't touch my goat."

Finally, I heard my name called and I got up to go into the exam room. My husband asked if he could accompany me and thank the Great Kitten in the Sky, they said yes. 

I had read all sorts of things online about Japanese doctors being stern or no nonsense. "Don't ask questions," said one online forum. Not that I had the real ability to ask any questions, but that kind of atmosphere made me sweat. 

As I turned the corner into the exam room, I was afraid I'd meet Grumpy Cat as doctor, Tardar Sauce with a tongue depressor and a rectal thermometer. 

But when I walked into the exam room, I gurgled a sigh of relief.

I know I talk about Dudley Moore a lot here. I don't know if it's some holdover from my parents watching the Arthur movies on repeat, but my doctor looked like the nicest, smiliest, Japanese Dudley Moore ever. He even had the hair. 

He asked me to sit down next to him at a desk, not on the very low exam table across the large room (it only came up to my knee). My husband sat in a chair next to me. 

As per usual, the doctor would address me, my husband would answer and the doctor would continue speaking to me. I was able to answer a couple questions here and there, and was even able to solve a language impasse when neither doctor nor husband could translate "wheezing" (thanks interweb!). 

When it came time to listen to my lungs, "Dr. Moore" motioned for the cheery-looking exam nurse to come over. They said somethings to me in Japanese, and motioned at my shirt. The nurse made a lifting gesture, so I started to take my shirt off. 

Oops. The room exploded with "not necessary!" 

"Lift Louise!" my husband chimed in. The nurse made the lifting motion again, so I just slightly lifted my shirt. She pulled it out from my body and the doctor covertly put the stethoscope up my shirt and onto my chest for a listen. 

After that was done, it was on to the X-ray song and dance. 

My husband couldn't come with me, so I walked into a large room with what looked like a green screen above a long, wide step. A mini stage. 

Again the nurse made a lifting motion, but having learned my lesson, I cautiously asked if I she wanted my shirt. Also remembering my near doctor flashing five minutes ago, she enthusiastically shook her head and hands no. I laughed and did the same thing. We laughed and shook at each other for a moment. 

But she still needed something. She pointed to her own shoulders, then quickly to her bust, and made a dropping motion. I know at home you're playing along in this game of charades and you're shouting, "Bra Louise! One syllable, sounds like 'draw,' take off your bra!" but in my haze I just didn't get it. 

Finally, I shouted, "BRA!" and yanked at a bra strap. She nodded in relief. 

Slipping my bra off from under my shirt and tossing it on a table, I stood in front of the green screen and held my breath as directed. 

And I kept holding my breath. 

And holding my breath. 

And holding my breath. 

My lungs were screaming, the phlegm threatening to explode out my eyes. 

I heard a commotion from the control room and my husband's voice came over the intercom. "You can breath Weasel, they made a mistake."

REALLY?!

I held my breath again, this time briefly, and the X-ray was taken. We got my results back in minutes and the doctor confirmed that it was pneumonia. I was actually relieved to hear the diagnosis. At least I knew what I was dealing with. 

We checked out with the nurse at the front desk, went downstairs to fill my copious prescriptions at the pharmacy, and were on our way. 

A few days later I'm feeling a little better, but the rattling in my lungs has not subsided. I'm not surprised, this is kind of what my body does in this situation. So it's back to the doctor tomorrow. However, knowing what I know now, the visit doesn't seem as daunting. 

But just to be on the safe side, I've learned how to say, "Should I take off my shirt?"