Trip, stumble and fall
Thursday, April 29th is a holiday in Japan called Showa no hi (Showa Day) to honour the late Emperor Hirohito (posthumously known as Emperor Showa). It was the former emperor’s birthday, and a national public holiday for that reason. Hirohito reigned for so long that after he died, the holiday was kept on the books (possibly just out of habit). I had a part time job on that day near Omotesando in Shibuya Ward, at a place I’ve been too many times. I enjoy going to there, because it’s relatively close to home, and because the street itself is a good photo-opportunity. Omotesado Avenue is sort of like 5th Avenue in New York City. The nearby Harajuku district with the famous Takeshita dori street and Meiji Shrine are each significant tourist attractions (and good photo ops).
The weather had been rainy in the morning, and the pavement was wet. When I had to leave home there was no rain falling, and I went out without an umbrella. By the time I reached Omotesando dori a little after 2:00 p.m. it was spitting rain, but nothing that bothered me. Later in the afternoon the rain picked up once more. Along my way, I stopped at the corner of Omotesando dori and Meiji dori Avenue, because that is the best spot to see the western part of the street in good perspective. (Omotesando runs east-west. It starts on high ground near JR Harajuku Station, then it dips down towards Meiji dori Avenue, and then it rises again towards Aoyama dori Avenue.) I like that particular spot for pictures - the corner that used to feature the Condomania condom shop before it was demolished to make way for redevelopment.
I took a very good photo of the perspective looking west (uphill) from that corner. I noticed there were many policemen out and about. In fact, there were two foot patrolmen standing at that corner, and I stood just behind them when I took my picture, shooting over their shoulders.
Moments later, the pedestrian light turned green (what they call blue in Japan), and I crossed the street en route to my part time job. I was dressed for work and wearing dress shoes, not sneakers. Very soon after crossing the intersection - less than 60 seconds after taking my picture - my dress shoes slipped on the slick, wet pavement and I came crashing down on my right knee. The right patella was broken entirely in two.
It happened so fast. By the time I knew I was slipping I was already on the ground, and I could hear my knee hit. Naturally, I began screaming - a foreigner on the wet pavement in the middle of a busy sidewalk with Japanese passing by looking at me. But I had help. Just in front of me, three Japanese men turned and asked if I was okay. Are people kidding when they say this to a person who is obviously in distress!?! As calmly as I could, I said no. The men asked if I needed an ambulance. I told them about the policemen at the corner of Omotesando and Meiji dori, only a few dozen meters away that I passed when I took my picture. They fetched the police. I felt my knee through the fabric of my trousers. Something was definitely out of sorts down there. I didn’t touch it again. Scary!
I had my wits about me. I could talk to the police, answered their questions and shown them my identity card. I told them I wanted an ambulance and I told them what hospital I wanted to be taken to. (I later repeated the information to the ambulance paramedics.) I think the police were happy they had a foreigner who could speak Japanese on their hands. I remembered to dig my cell phone out of my pocket and telephone my two parti-time jobs scheduled for that day (the other was in Shin-nakano in the evening) to tell them what had happened. An emergency replacement would be required immediately, without warning. Making the calls wasn’t as easy as it sounds because one guy - the main guy - wasn’t answering his phone. I had to telephone his assistant, instead, but the message go through alright.
During the ambulance ride I had enough wits about me to answer more questions from the paramedic who was sitting with me, and to have some conversation with him along the way. Then I fished out my camera from a pocket and got a couple pictures. It was a rare photo op.
April 29th is roughly the start of the annual Golden Week spring holiday in Japan. Technically, Golden Week runs from May 1st to May 5th. Some people are lucky to make an early start of it, on April 29th, which I think somewhat explains the police presence I noticed in Harajuku/Omotesando. Anyway, because it’s a major holiday it’s a really bad time to get sick or injured and in need of a doctor or hospital visitation. I was lucky. My injury was not considered an emergency, so I was sent home from the Emergency Room after x-rays, a knee brace and crutches, and told to return on the morning of Monday, May 3rd. The hospital was open, even though it was a holiday. I didn’t want to wait so long with a broken bone, however, and on Friday 30th I made some telephone inquiries. Another hospital closer to home that I sometimes use - the Nakano Police Hospital near JR Nakano Station - was open on Saturday morning, and I decided to go there rather than wait at home the whole weekend until Monday 3rd to go to the other place.
With no appointment, and no referral letter (a “shoukaijo,” an important document, I visited the Nakano Police Hospital on the morning of Saturday, May 1st. On the electronic reservation machine (which looks a lot like a bank ATM), I selected “seikeigeka,” or orthopedics. The machine was all in Japanese and I couldn’t read it. I asked a hospital staff person to point out to me the icon for “seikeigeka.” Problem solved. Because I had no reserved appointment, I had to take a number and wait. I didn’t have to wait too long before I was called into the outpatient clinic to see young Dr. Ozeki. After listening to my story, sending me off for new -rays and a CT scan of my knee, he decided I ought to be admitted immediately. And that’s what happened. He said that surgery could be done at his hospital on Thursday, May 6th - a full week after my accident - and the reason for admitting me several days early was to monitor an existing medical condition.
Could I have seen a doctor and been scheduled for surgery much sooner if it had not been a major public holiday in Japan? Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s unknowable. It is what it is, so there.
I thought it was a good decision to visit the Nakano Police Hospital early rather than wait until Monday 3rd and visit my usual hospital. And, I thought the decision to admit me immediately was probably good and right. But I said, “Hey, wait a minute! I have to go home and pack a bag!” They let me do that. Before leaving the hospital, I filled out some admission forms with the help of a nurse. They were all and only in Japanese. Then I said, “Okay, I’ll be back in 90-minutes.” So, I hopped in a cab, went home, quickly threw together some things, then caught another cab and returned to the hospital. Since I’ve been in a Japanese hospital before, I had an idea of what I would need to pack and where in my apartment those things were at that moment. During the cab ride home, I was making a list in my head. It was no small amount of stuff - like packing for a short trip.
When a person is in distress and a state of incapacity it seems that pretensions to modesty are quickly abandoned.
Communication with the outside world was almost eliminated because I had no internet access or wifi in this hospital. I had my computer with me, and an old cell phone (not an iPhone). That means it was extremely difficult - even impossible in some cases - to warn my various jobs about my condition. Luckily, the holiday plus work disruptions caused by the state of emergency declared by the government to combat the 4th wave surge of the coronavirus pandemic - gave me a little wiggle room about contacting employers and work contacts.
The nurses’ speaking volume hurts my ears, plus it compromises my privacy by allowing everyone in the room easily to eavesdrop on our conversation.
Without wifi, internet and e-mail access, I relied on the television beside my bed. When I arrived I bought a re-chargeable pre-paid card that can be used to operate both the bedside television and small refrigerator. Every weekday afternoon at 1:00 channel 3 featured a foreign language film with Japanese subtitles. I watched Charlton Heston’s Ben Hur, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd’s Back to the Future Part III, Fred Ward, Michael Gross and Kevin Bacon’s Tremors, and the modern John Sturgis classic The Great Escape. Also, Sharknado. Other things on TV included Korean and Chinese soap operas, Japanese historical “samurai drama” soap operas, News in Japanese, Japanese and American MLB baseball, some golf, three teleshopping channels, various Japanese daytime talk shows, cooking shows, police dramas, and more. Police dramas seem especially popular. Or, maybe I was regularly seeing the same serialized police drama every day.
Health, or at least physical soundness are enviable. I looked out the window at people on the streets below, children and adults, walking along and taking their knees and their mobility for granted. How I envied them! Within my hospital ward itself, I was able to move around by myself on crutches. Almost all of the other patients - mostly elderly - could not do even that, but were bedridden, dependent, and - it looked to me - pretty helpless. I suppose they envied me being able to move around like I did. I’m thankful my condition isn’t worst. I could have hit my head. I could have lost teeth.
Japanese nurses talk too loudly. I’ve witnessed it before, during four previous hospitalizations here. Sometimes I feel they almost shout at me, and I often raise my finger to my lips - a gesture that seems universally comprehensible - to discourage them. Do Canadian nurses talk overly loudly, too? I suspect they do, and I suspect it’s because of conditioning, a habit acquired through dealing with many hard-of-hearing elderly patients. Or, maybe the voice is a natural affectation of a command-and-control personality, or function. Maybe I just happen to meet loud talkers in the hospital, or maybe it’s some magical, mystery combination of these. Maybe they think that if they just speak Japanese loudly to me then I’ll understand them better - like a baby, or something. Well, I won’t. For my part, their speaking volume hurts my ears, plus it compromises my privacy by allowing everyone in the room easily to eavesdrop on our conversation. I admit, though, that out of boredom as well as a desire to learn better hospital vocabulary, I eavesdrop on conversation between the other patients in the room and their nurses, behind their closed curtains. I try to figure out what they’re saying, and also what they hell is going on over there by listening to the sounds. Not just the sounds within my own room, either, but all the sounds reaching me from outside, from the hallway, from the nearby nurses’ station. The sound of the meal service approaching. Nurses talking amongst themselves in the hallway. The sound of the nurses’ call bell was easy to identify. Old ladies down the hall repeatedly pressing the call button because the nurses weren’t responding fast enough, then shouting out for help demandingly in their weak old lady voices. I think the most common request was for assistance with the toilet. It seems patients hesitated to call for the nurse until the need was overbearing.
There’s a rhythm to a hospital. Wake up at 7:00 a.m., vitals check, pre-meal meds, 8:00 breakfast, post-meal meds, shower, 11:30 vitals check, meal, post-lunch meds, 5:30 p.m. vitals check, dinner, post-dinner meds, lights out at 9:00 p.m., and much more depending on one’s condition. I regularly asked the nurses “Keikaku wa?” What’s the plan? I wanted to know what to look forward go as a way of visualizing the day. That makes me think of the rhythm your find everywhere: a school; a factory; a prison; an airport, bus station and train station; a restaurant; a bookstore. Even self-employed work-at-home people have a rhythm. Out of boredom and by default, the rhythm of the hospital became important to me.
That’s how I visualize the rhythm. I suppose the nurses do it differently, dividing their shift instead into the various administrative meetings and tasks they have to perform routinely. Whenever I passed the nurses’ station they always had their faces deep in different laptop computer screens. Reviewing and updating patient and hospital information, I guess.
Admitting Doctor - Dr. Ozeki Takuma
Orthopedic surgeon - Dr. Tomioka Yoshihito
Anesthesiologist - Dr. Haruyama Naoko