Friday 9 May 2014

They Just Make You Worse

We’re all feeling much better now, thanks for asking. Well, the eldest still has sporadic diarrhea, my wife has an eye infection, and I still can’t fucking speak properly, but in general this represents a considerable improvement on the situation two or three weeks ago. I also now know that the Japanese word for phlegm is ‘tan’, so every cloud and all that.

Coming as I do from the UK my expectations of a healthcare system are very much coloured by the NHS, which is one of those things that sounds great in practice and gets the job done, but it’s not until you see another way of doing things that you really understand the drawbacks. That said, I’d take either the British or the Japanese systems over the shameful mess that is healthcare in the US: the richest country on the planet has citizens who can’t afford to get basic healthcare, and has a goodly proportion of people who seem philosophically and existentially opposed to poor people not dying of treatable conditions. THANKS OBAMA.

I digress. The NHS (National Health Service, if you’re in anyway unsure). It works fairly well, up to a point. If you need something urgently then my experience has been that it’s always pulled through, but if it’s anything that can be put off until later, then put off it shall be. This is surely better than the other way around, but still, it makes being able to walk straight into a specialist clinic whenever I feel like seem like a bit of a brave new world. It also makes the amount of drugs that get prescribed in Japan frankly alarming. At one point last week I was knocking back seven different sorts of pills after dinner, at least half of which were to counteract the side-effects of the other half.

Those of you with more cynical frames of mind (and/or more experience with privatized healthcare systems) may wish to put this tendency to prescribe huge amounts of drugs to doctors and pharmaceutical companies scamming the system. I couldn’t say, and while I wouldn’t disagree I might also suggest that some of it is, at least in part, a result of doctors just giving the punters what they want. Back in the UK if it’s cheaper to take time off work and rest up properly then that’s what the doctor will tell you to do, but how are you going to show off your massively swollen sense of gaman if you’re in bed at home? Because remember, in Japan it’s not the working hard that counts, it’s being seen to try to work hard, even if that means doing a shitty half-arsed job because you can neither see nor breath properly and are infecting everyone else within touching distance with whatever highly communicable disease you happen to have that week (“but masks!” you say. Fuck off with your masks, I say, and learn to wash your hands properly). No, better to struggle into work brandishing your mask and your pills and your inhaler and your mouthwash and your suppositories and show off just how tumescent you’re gaman is, because if you’re going to be sick you may as well be ostentatiously sick. Bonus points for death-rattle hacking and/or if you cough hard enough to make yourself puke.

Not that it’s all bad. I cracked a rib playing rugby a few years back. Now, ribs are those kind of bones that don’t seem to do anything at all, really. They just sit there by a bunch of offal like a nightwatchman at a sausage factory. Not like leg bones; break one of those (and I have) and that’s a major inconvenience. You need a plaster cast and crutches and can’t walk properly for a couple of months. Even breaking fingers and other hand-bones (ditto) puts you out of action for a while: splints and minor casts and, if it’s your dominant hand, writing like a pre-schooler when trying to compose professional missives for an embarrassing length of time.*

Cracking a rib entails none of these myriad problems. Cracking a rib is, in many ways, simplicity itself compared to damaging almost any other bone in your body. Cracking a rib only causes problems when performing two activities:

1.    Moving
2.    Breathing

A list of pain inducing activities which is almost elegant in its concision, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The doctor did, at least. His advice was basically, “Well, there’s shit all I can do, so here are the strongest painkillers I can prescribe. You’re foreign and you’re big, so take double and see how it goes.”

I swear to god I’m not making that up. “You’re foreign and you’re big, so take double and see how it goes.” That’s really what he said (in Japanese, of course), and bugger me if he wasn’t right. I am foreign and I am big. No denying that. The painkillers also, mercifully, blissfully, worked, and so, less happily, did I.

So yeah, more power to (some) Japanese doctors. Load me up with pills and I’ll wave my gaman about with the big boys, and if you want to let me play fast and loose with the dosages then so much the better. Though if you could also sort out the kid’s bowel movements in the meantime it’d be much appreciated; fast and loose is better in some situations than others.

*Can we at least pretend we’re not going to make a wanking gag here, please?


  1. I only went to the doctor once in Japan and it was pretty awesome. In Australia, you can easily wait for an hour to see a doctor but I was straight in and out.

    A lot of foreigners complain about Japan drugs being ineffective but they've always worked well for me. Maybe because I only take them when absolutely necessary so I haven't built up a tolerance.

    1. The over-the-counter stuff is pretty ineffective, but the stuff on prescription generally does exactly what it says on the tin. I was pretty sceptical about all the drips they like to prescribe here, but they really do perk you up.

  2. If you find the right doctor in Japan, you've struck gold; I've met a few amazing doctors here, but the system overall gets clogged up by hypochondriacs who make doctor/hospital visits more frequently than they do cafe visits. Supposedly, the average Japanese person visits the doctor 18 times per year. That's about as many as I've made in my entire life.

    1. Yep, it can be very hit and miss regarding quality. Not helped by the cultural prohibition against getting a second opinion (thought this is soemthing my wife finally seems to be getting over).

      18 times a year? Bugger me. I guess one must be seen to be making an effort at all times. Stay at home and recover in bed? What kind of lazy bastard are you?

  3. "The system overall gets clogged up by hypochondriacs" and ANCIENT people who have nothing else to do, because you're going to stay in and watch Japan TV without going mad?

    Canadian here. Our medicine may be the most socialized of all the Anglo nations, which ain't saying much compared to Nordic/Franco/Dutch/German Europe. Is it perfect, no. Would I rather need help for my kids there than Japan, the US or Britain? Hell yes! Socialized medicine is like socialized education and social-welfare, as I put it to the Wall Street sellout I call 'eldest brother': if your kids are hostage to the same system mine are in, your pull gets all the kids the care they deserve; and don't forget, you can pay for social-justice, or you can pay for security so my class doesn't cut your throat in the night, but pay you shall!

    1. While I can't comment on the situation in Canada, I can agree with the general thrust of that. I also like the sneaky implication that Japanese daytime TV producers are in cahoots with the medical industry to drive up profits ;)