Life Lessons From Spending the Night With Japanese Emergency Services

I'm fine. My husband is fine. I am YOUR WOMAN in an a low to moderate emergency.
Publish date:
July 21, 2015
fear, japan, medical emergency, Emergency Room

I really should know better than to go see Marvel movies.

When I saw Iron Man 3 in the theatre, I had a "seizure-like" episode outside the lobby doors.

After we saw Guardians of the Galaxy, my husband and I went home, argued like Honey Badgers, then barfed (I blame the questionable Italian food and Star-Lord).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was also met with barf.

Then last night, my husband (I'll call him Mr. Louise) and I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron which just got released in Japan. I should have heeded the pattern.

We went to a theater in Kawasaki, a town between Yokohama and Tokyo, that looked like a ship, and offered its patrons blankets.

After the easter egg in the credits, Mr. Louise ran out of the theater mumbling "I gotta get out of here." I gathered up our stuff and hurried out after him.

I found him looking a little pale, and a little sweaty in the lobby. I won't go into the details of why he needed to rush out of the theater, but anyone's whose ever been sick can take a guess.

Walking out of the theater, things started to get worse. We made it just outside the theater when my husband took a knee. Then he sat all the way down.

"Something's wrong," he said.

With the color draining out of his face, we made it back to the theater lobby, where Mr. Louise started complaining of shortness of breath and other frightening symptoms. Again, in respect to my husband and his privacy, I won't give too many details about his condition.

Lesson #1: When Everyone is Looking to You to Remain Calm (Language Barrier Be Damned!), You Find a Way to REMAIN CALM.

My usually even-keel husband was starting to panic, I was starting to panic, and the teenage movie theater worker helping us looked like he was going to piss his pants.

Having Mr. Louise grab my hand and say in all earnestness, "Louise, I'm scared," was one of the most gut-twisting moments in my entire life. I don't wish such a moment on anybody.

I knew I had two choices: Freak out or calm down. I knew what I would want in that situation, I knew how Mr. Louise had been for me in similar situations, so I gritted my teeth and made a decision.

"It's okay to be scared, Love. Makes perfect sense. But I'm not scared. Tomorrow, we'll talk about this over eggs and this will all be a memory."

"OK...that's good..." he tried to smile, and went back to being pale and sweating.

With my Japanese-speaking husband busy breathing, I turned to the teenaged movie theater employee who probably REALLY wished that he hadn't worn the "I speak English" button on his uniform that day, for help.

Feeling eerily steady and decisive, I explained to him in a mix of English and bad Japanese (Crapanese) that my husband was not well, and that we needed help; we needed an ambulance.

The poor kid was so nervous and out of his depth. His English wasn't terrible, but dealing with my sick husband and a "Japanese-looking" woman who didn't speak enough Japanese, caused much of his vocabulary to go out the window. To his credit, he managed to get the basics of my husband's condition, gather his manager and a security guard to help out, and CALL THE AMBULANCE.

The manager smiled and gesticulated wildly. The security guard kept trying to speak rapid Japanese to me. The teenager tried to translate, but he looked like he might cry.

I felt like the eye of the storm. The temptation was to join in the maelstrom and give into the fear-tears that were dancing behind my eyeballs — make someone else fix it.

But then I'd look at my husband, battling with how his body was betraying him, and I'd double down my determination to keep everyone on task.

More than once, I couldn't help but think how the village idiot had now become the ringmaster.

May the Great Kitten in the Sky help us all.

Lesson # 2: Don't Be Pressured Into Being Agreeable

When the EMTs arrived, I faced an onslaught of questions in Japanese.

I answered them the best I could, but I couldn't keep up, despite my teenaged movie theater-translator's best efforts.

I picked up on the EMTs' frustration with my lack of Japanese, and noticed that they started making erroneous statements about my husband's condition. In retrospect, I think they might have been fed incorrect information by either the manager or security guard, but either way I stopped being consulted.

I heard "has high blood pressure," something about his "reaction" to the 3D movie we saw, and my husband being a smoker.

"Wait. No." I waived my hands, "None of that. Mr. Louise doesn't have high blood pressure, we did NOT see a 3D movie, and my husband doesn't smoke."

The security guard made a "quiet down" gesture and told me it was OK. Did I need water? To sit down? I felt like I was being asked to behave.

"No. It's not okay," I said in probably rude Japanese. Again, the EMTs ignored me, the security guard told me it was OK.

"NO," I said and turned to my translator. "LISTEN. TELL THEM: NO high blood pressure, we DID NOT see a 3D movie, and Mr. Louise does NOT smoke."

Eyes wide, he turned to the EMTs told them what I'd said, and watched them react. "Oh! No high blood pressure? No 3D movie? Not a smoker?"

"YES. Correct." I said, and made eye contact with the lead EMT. He nodded, and confirmed my statements.

During this exchange, the "polite expat" in me was screaming, "YOU'RE BEING RUDE! BACK OFF!" But this was one of those situations where I just couldn't.

There's a chance I overreacted, but making sure they had an accurate history of my husband's health became paramount in the moment. I regret nothing.

Lesson #3: There is Always a Way to Communicate

As the EMTs wheeled my husband out of the theater lobby, I felt a burst of anxiety as we said goodbye to our teenaged theater worker-translator — the only other English speaker.

(I tried to tell his manager that he was impressive and exemplary. I hope he gets a prize.)

The five minutes in the ambulance were ENDLESS.

As the EMTs worked on Mr. Louise, they handed me paperwork (in Japanese), and as I tried to decipher it they continued to ask me questions.

Among the three EMTs, they probably knew 10 English words. I probably understood a quarter of what they were saying. There was a lot of heads held in hands and blind stabs at words.

Thank the Great Kitten for pantomime.

The EMTs and I found the best way to communicate was through two parts gesture, and one part words. If I wasn't grappling to keep it together, the situation would have been hilarious.

When Mr. Louise felt nauseous, I said, "He is..." then pretend to vomit. When they needed to know if he was dizzy, they would say, "Is he...?" and an EMT would wobble and pretend to lose balance. Somehow we pieced together a pretty accurate picture of my husband's condition.

Finally we arrived at the hospital. My husband was wheeled into the exam area, and I was ushered into the "waiting hallway."

An EMT sat with me, and we were able to have a conversation about contact information and some basic details about our life.

When he was finished, the EMT smiled at me for the first time and said "I'm going now. You are going to be OK." My armor cracked a little, and I fought off tears while I thanked him.

I sat alone in a dark emergency room "waiting hallway" for a few hours. By 2 am, my armor had melted away, and all the emotions I'd held at bay flooded into my brain and out my eyes.

I'd gotten my husband to safety, but now I was literally in the dark. I'd kept everyone calm, but now I wanted someone to keep me calm.

Eventually a nurse came to get me, and delivered me to my husband's side. We stayed at the hospital a while longer, before my husband was released with medication and instructions. We got home as the sun came up.

He's okay, and we're both a little wiser today.

The whole experience feels unreal. Pushed so far beyond my comfort zone, I was forced to rely on the strength of my own instincts.

Oddly, despite my continued lack of Japanese language skills, I don't think I would have been equipped to do this a year ago. If Japan has taught me anything, it's to look square at what you're afraid of, decide you're going to do it, then just GO. No looking back, no time for ego.

So that's how I got through our night with Kawasaki's Emergency Medical Technicians.

I am intensely grateful to the EMTs for their patience and creativity in communicating with me, and I will forever be indebted to our teenaged theater worker-translator for working through his own fears.

However, in the struggle to take care of my partner when he needed help, I learned a lot about my own mettle. My armor may have melted away, but now I know it's there when I need it.

I wish this had never happened, but my husband and I both agree it was valuable.

And yes, we had eggs this morning.