I recently had my annual health check at work for students and staff. I wrote about the same event last year, mockingly deriding the badly translated English-language health questionnaire we were given (the one that asked women about pregnancy, giving them only “Possibly Yes,” and “Certainly Yes” as options). Just like last year it was mostly just for show, and a farce. I passed both urine and blood tests knowing that I should not have passed them with a clean bill of health. Of course, the manner in which the medical history questionnaire is filled out probably affects what doctors will look for, so filling it out falsely might have distracted their attention - which was my intention.
The team of doctors who visited the school are not my doctors. I have a doctor in Tokyo, and none of those guys is it. Even with my own doctor I feel no obligation whatsoever to accurately and honestly say everything, so it is even less so with people who are not my doctors. There is such a thing as privacy, after all, sufficient lack of which minimizes our humanity rather than enhances it.
I telephoned the English-language Foreign Residents’ Advisory Council in Tokyo and read the health questionnaire questions to them over the phone. I was happy to hear their estimation that the form was illegal - an illegal violation of Japan’s strict new privacy law, which came into effect a couple years ago. It bolstered my determination not to fill it out honestly.
The examination included hearing and eyesight. The opthamologist - a woman - had us - all the teachers with eyeglasses - look at the eye chart with our glasses on. I know that my left eye is weaker than my right eye, even with my glasses. Maybe I need new lenses. Anyway, the doctor said that my right eyesight was perfect, but that my left eye was “bad” and I should“be careful” and have it taken care of. I thought, isn’t that what you are supposed to do now? You’re the doctor, so write me a prescription for new corrective lenses. But that’s not how they do it in Japan.
Then she repeated the exam three times as if doing it again would change the results. I noticed that she was looking down at a piece of paper, not watching me. So when she asked me to repeat the test with my left eye I just moved my right eye over the machine’s eyepiece and read the figures accurately with my good, right eye. So much for professional thoroughness.
The old guy who listened to my heart was entertaining.
“Hello! I am a doctor. Please lift your shirt. What is your country of origin?”
“Ah!! World War I. President Wilson. President Harding, Coolidge, Hoover,Roosevelt. President Truman.”
I tried to pay attention, thinking that there might be some point to this list’s recitation.
“Everything is okay.”
His examination of my heart was less than perfunctory, leading me to conclude that his purpose was nothing more than to make sure I had a heartbeat. I wondered, “Is this how American military doctors screened draftees in the days of conscription in that country? Is this how Japanese Imperial Army doctors screened their wartime draftees? Wow! It’s amazing, and I don’t mean in a good way.”
Thinking of him staying up late the night before pouring over books in an effort to refresh his old schoolboy English and have something to say to us nurtured some feeling of duty in me - or, a kind of pity, really - to try to talk to him, or at least listen to him. I was glad to get out of there.