I was admitted as an inpatient to a major Tokyo hospital for 48 hours by the clock, or three calendar days - 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, December 17 to 11:00 a.m. on Friday, December 19. It was no emergency, but a long-planned and necessary surgery (“shuzutsu”) I needed under general anesthetic (“zenshin masui” in Japanese). Surgery under general anesthetic in a foreign country doesn’t sound like a nice combination, does it? Oh, well.
I didn’t tell my wife anything about it until the very last moment, until about a half hour before she left the house for her work on the morning of Wednesday 17th.
“Bye! Oh, I have a doctor’s appointment today. I won’t be here tonight. And I won’t be here tomorrow, either. I’ll be back on Friday.” Like that.
The surgery I had is often a routine thing lasting between ten and twenty minutes and done in a licensed clinic or a hospital outpatient clinic under nothing but a local anesthetic. But mine lasted 48-minutes and there were complications both with the surgery and with the recovery.
Upon admission I had to pay a 50,000-yen deposit (about $500) either by cash or credit card. The balance was due upon discharge, either by cash or credit card. My balance was 83,000 yen, so my total cost out of pocket even with the Japanese social health insurance was 134,000 yen, or about $1,250.
My surgeon was a woman with very good English. Some of the ward nurses - both male and female - had a little English ability because, remember, English is a mandatory school subject in Japan until at least the end of high school. With their English and my Japanese we got along just fine. Plus they had electronic dictionaries among their trolley of medical stuff that they used with me. Or, maybe they had one electronic dictionary to share among themselves whenever they came to my bed. As the son of a doctor I was exposed to a lot of medical information and vocabulary as part of my parents’ table conversation. I thought everyone knew this information and terminology but learned years later that they did not. Plus I studied biology in high school, I knew what my procedure entailed, and also I’m just a naturally clever chap. So I could help the nurses say in English what I guessed they meant but were struggling to say even with the help of a dictionary. It was awkward, though, when the cute female nurse looked up the word “evacuation” in her dictionary. I knew what she was asking even before she looked it up. I just didn’t want to have to talk to her about it.
The female nurses tended to treat me like I was a child or young person. Maybe it was the language thing: the inability to communicate fluently places one in a juvenile category of people’s minds.
By sheer luck I got a private room with a private toilet and shower at no extra cost. I had arranged to occupy a four-bed room but there was no space available anywhere else, so I got put in a single. Also because of space, my room was in a leukemia ward. I think they meant to put me on the eighth floor, but I landed on the seventh floor instead. The other patients’ ages ranged from 38-to-80 years old with a preponderance of elderly. I fell in the middle of that age spread although the female nurses tended to treat me like I was a child or young person. Maybe it was the language thing: the inability to communicate fluently places one in a juvenile category of people’s minds.
I had to wear a mask whenever I was out of my room in order to try to protect the cancer patients, whose immune systems were weak as a side-effect of their treatment, from germs.
Instead of spending 1,000 ($10) to buy a pre-paid card to use the hospital room’s television I brought a book, a digital Walkman, and a radio. I used the radio constantly. Among other shops in the basement there was a convenience store that sold The Japan Times English-language newspaper. That’s all I bought because I was on a regulated diet. Day two, the day of my surgery, I ate nothing at all and consumed no liquids after 1:00 p.m. My surgery began around 4:00 p.m. I was the last of eleven patients receiving the same procedure but as the only one to receive a general anesthetic I was saved until the end.
All the operating theaters were on the fourth floor. I was taken down in a wheelchair. Later I was returned to my room on a gurney.
The anesthetic was injected directly into my IV line. I looked up at the surgeon and said - as the drug traveled up my body - “My shoulder feels funny. … Now my face is burning. My face is burning. My face ….” Then I woke up.
I had a lot of nausea after waking up. In my first examination by the surgeon the following morning I told her, “I was sick about seven times last night.”
“I know, I read the nurse’s report. I think that anesthesiologist sucked.”