I was scheduled to have eye surgery in Tokyo on Wednesday, December 11, 2013. It was to have been a relatively quick procedure for a cataract in one eye. I’m sure the other eye will have to be done in the future. Having any medical trouble, even an emergency while in a foreign country is a potential nightmare for any traveler or businessman. For a long time my great fear while living in Japan was having tooth trouble and having to use a Japanese dentist, until finally it happened about fourteen years ago. During the year-end holidays I broke a tooth and needed an emergency appointment at the local clinic on the last business day of the year. Since then I have had a root canal and a wisdom tooth extraction as well as regular cleaning at the same clinic. (It’s a husband and wife team of dentists. Sometimes I get Mr. Dentist, and sometimes Mrs. Dentist.) Economic necessity forced the decision to use a Japanese dentist upon me because dentistry here is covered under the National Health Insurance plan (“kokumin hoken”). In Ontario, where OHIP does not cover dentistry, visiting my family dentist simply became too expensive. Just like in Canada, a medical appointment here is a lot of hurry up and wait. If I am patient and flexible things turn out alright. But my fear of tooth trouble like my fear of medical trouble probably rests with a fear of the unexpected. Generally speaking I do not like surprises, forced change of plans and the unexpected. But naturally, life being what it is, those are practically the only guarantees. But …
Whenever I told anyone here that I was having eye surgery they immediately asked “Lasik surgery?” I got so tired of it I wanted to slap the stupid morons about the face and neck. Cataract surgery is not treated with a laser - Lasik surgery. It’s treated with a scalpel and the physical removal of the deteriorated lens and its replacement by a prosthetic lens. But so many people have heard of Lasik surgery that that’s all they can imagine. They don’t stop to think. They probably don’t even know exactly what Lasik surgery is. It’s probably just something they heard then got stuck in their pea sized imaginations. So I stopped mentioning it. The problem is that the doctor prohibited me from working for one week after the procedure - an order my wife delighted to enforce - leaving me to explain my absence somehow. No problem. I’m pretty good at telling stories.
The doctor kept asking for my wife to accompany on all my appointment with him - and I had been seeing he for a year trying to schedule the surgery. I didn’t get it. He spoke English better than my wife. If he wanted me to understand the procedure all he had to do was to tell me in English. I suspected that he wanted to talk to my wife in order to repeat to her everything in Japanese that he had already explained to me in English in the belief that at home she would explain it to me in even better English. In the end my suspicions proved correct. That’s exactly what he wanted to do. Add to that my wife’s resistance to take time off from her work to accompany me on appointments and, in the end, to accompany me to the surgery as well. She was always against me having the surgery in Japan and I was always insisting to the doctor that the surgery was our business, his and mine, and not my wife’s business. Forget about my wife. Just do the surgery.
“That’s not how we do it in Japan.”
My wife repeatedly counseled having the operation done in Canada. I wanted to do it in Japan because, after all, this is where I live, work and pay health insurance. Most of all, my Canadian eye surgeon insisted that if she did the work then she wanted to be solely responsible for all of it, from pre-op care to the end of post-op care. So even though the surgery itself only takes about twenty minutes my Canadian physician was asking me to be in Canada for five to six weeks. I considered that way too much time to be away from Tokyo and my work here. The missed work plus the cost of airplane tickets, plus the cost simply of being in Canada means that the procedure would end up costing me many thousands of dollars and my standing at work rather than the few hundreds of dollars it ended up costing me. My Canadian doctor’s plan - the plan that my wife urged on me - was clearly the worse option.
Three days before surgery I began a protocol of antibiotic eye drops. I did not know the exactly time of the procedure until the day before when I telephoned to confirm. I wasn’t even sure the operation would go ahead until I had a final blood test two weeks before. The surgeon already refused to do it once, my first chosen date in March 2013, because he insisted on evidence of favorable blood chemistry. That took a while to finagle, but I got a string of good blood test results in a row. Yahoo!
I didn’t even know the time of my procedure until one day before when I had to telephone for final confirmation. I was told to arrive at the clinic at 3:00 p.m. for my 4:45 p.m. procedure. That meant leaving home at 2:30 p.m. I arrived and preparations began quickly. I was given several rounds an anaesthetic eye drops, I put all my stuff in a locker and changed into a hospital gown and slippers and waited 90-minutes in a room with other patients - mostly old ladies - and then I finally walked into the operating theatre. The apparatus was like a dentist’s chair that reclines all the way back. Three nurses, one female anaesthesiologist and the doctor himself were all there. I was hooked up to three monitors for heart, respiration and blood pressure. But my readings were so high (because I was nervous) that he refused to do the surgery. The female anaesthesiologist suggestion had a lot to do with it, too. I cancelled a full week of work to do this surgery and repeatedly asked them, then told him to proceed. But he still refused. He said I should check in to a hospital as an overnight inpatient and have it done under a general anaesthetic. Clinics like his are not licensed to do general anaesthetic procedures. I suggested to him that I did not want to do that, that I would not do it, and that the eye would go blind eventually. It’s a dead eye. He was my man. Wednesday 11th was my day, I wanted to proceed. I have no intention of seeking out any other options any time soon.
He did give me a referral to another doctor. He didn’t tell me where to go or who to see about having the procedure done in a hospital under a general anaesthetic. That was decidedly unhelpful, I thought, and I was angry about wasting almost an entire year of preparation.
Afterwards I cried bitter, bitter tears the likes I haven’t shed since … .
The only thing left is suicide.