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Archive for September, 2012

I’m Back!!! or This is Why I haven’t Posted in so Long

Posted by Heliocentrism on September 8, 2012

me and my anonymous hospital roommates

September 9, 2012

I’ve been sick. Actually, it started last year around spring. My doctor found something.  He wanted to operate. It wasn’t life threatening so I chose not to do anything about it other than to get check-ups and wait and see. I didn’t want to have an operation. Honestly, I was scared. So if I didn’t have to have an operation, I wouldn’t.

But then in the spring of this year, it started to bother me. I was in a lot of pain. It’s funny how pain just drove away any fears of an operation. I read many books about my illness and was well aware of the pros and cons and worst case scenarios. Without pain, I was okay with not having an operation, but with pain, I felt that surgery was my best choice.

I was very lucky. In April, when I decided to have surgery, my doctor looked through his schedule. It was full all the way up to December. My heart sank thinking about being in pain for many more months. But then my doctor saw a patient scheduled for a July operation, who had actually cancelled. The appointment was just never erased. He made a quick phone call and I got that appointment.

2 Student Doctors

July was a great time for me, work-wise. Summer vacation for high school starts in late July and ends in late August so this meant that I would not miss too many days of teaching. Even with several weeks of convalescing at home, I think  I only missed about one week’s worth of class time.

In May, I started to take medication as preparation for surgery. This was the most expensive drug I had ever been on. Even with Japanese National Health Insurance paying 70% of the cost, the treatment still cost me 15,000YEN (almost 200USD) a month for three months.

But then one of my neighbors told me that as an employee of the JET Programme, I was covered under additional health insurance. She showed where to go online for the information. I printed out the forms I needed and asked my supervisor at work for help. We poured over those forms and she made numerous phone calls to make sure that everything would be done right and I would get my money.

In the mean time my medical bills kept adding up. I had an MRI, blood tests, x-rays, and many doctor visits. They actually made me check into the hospital about 5 days before my surgery to do some more tests and monitoring.

my chair for guests

There are some differences between staying in a hospital in Japan and staying in a hospital in the US. The obvious one has to do with health insurance. Every working person in Japan has good health insurance, so you stay in the hospital until you no longer need to stay in the hospital. In the states, you stay in hospital until your insurance is no longer willing to pay for your hospital stay. My stay in the hospital was 15 days, though it felt like longer.

I was given a list of things to bring. It included, soap, shampoo, conditioner, towel, hand towel, tooth-brush, tooth paste, knife, spoon, fork or chopsticks, a cup, pen, slippers, and anything else I needed to keep me comfortable and entertained. I was given the option of wearing my own clothes or wearing the hospital’s clothes. I chose to wear my own clothes, though I woke up from surgery in a hospital yukata.

This is what I thought about as I was sedated for surgery,

The day of my surgery I was very nervous. I was not afraid of dying, though I knew that dying is a possibility with any surgery. But death was not a issue with my illness. If I never had surgery, I would still live. I would just be in a lot of pain. No, I was not afraid of death; I was afraid of the pain.

I hoped that I would get lots of drugs; just tons of drugs. I did. But when I walked into the operation theater, (Yes, I said walked in.) I was scared and I would have thrown up on the floor had I not been purged. (Don’t ask.)

I hopped up on the operation table and a team of doctors and nurses scurried to hook me up to machines. I had a needle put into my spine and another into my right hand. I knew that I had met most of the people in the room a few days before, but now they were all wearing masks and caps and could only be distinguished as, “blue people” or “pink people”.

I was told when I was to be put under. I knew that I should have a nice relaxing thought in my head at that time. I pictured Mark and me watching the sunset on a junk in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Then everything went fuzzy.

When I woke up, the first thing I saw was a clock. The time was 2:00pm. My surgery was scheduled to end at 10:00am. My first thought was that something went wrong, but I was too drugged to really be worried. A doctor was trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t really focus. He might have been telling me that the operation was successful and everything was fine. But I don’t remember.

I woke up again in another room. Mark was there and he told me that the operation took twice as long as they thought it would have, but everything worked out perfectly. Doctors and nurses came in and out of the room and I vaguely noticed them. They would ask if I needed pain medication and Mark would tell them, “yes”.

I was given shots for my pain. I could not drink or eat anything until I passed gas. I tried to talk, but found that I could not. My throat felt raw. I begged for water, but I could not have any. The nurse did compromise a little. I was allowed to hold a piece of ice in my mouth for 3 seconds, but I could not suck on it.

The rest of my time in the hospital was spent “learning” to walk, reaching various goals, and getting rewards. My goals and rewards were things like, if I could eat 30% of my food I could have my IV taken out. If I could pass gas, I could get the needle in my spine removed.

I had tubes in me that I was unaware of until they were taken out. “Wait, I had something going into my back!?”

The last Monday in the hospital I thought I would be able to leave. I was walking by myself, eating at least 40% of my food, and feeling great. But I was told that I could not leave until the following Friday. I was heart-broken, but at least I could look forward to Mark visiting me. He came by everyday.

When I left the hospital I was told to not do anything. I was to rest. The problem was that I felt great. When you’re sick and feel sick, staying in bed and taking things easy is no problem. But when you are sick, but don’t feel sick, you get cabin fever. I would take a walk to the corner store because I was feeling fine, then spend the next day curled in a ball of pain, because I was not actually fine.

Eventually the doctor gave permission for me to go back to work. My supervisor helped me to send my paperwork to the JET insurance company. A week afterwards, I got my refund. The whole thing, treatments, drugs, 15-day hospital stay, and surgery ended up costing me about 100USD. Plus, my supervisor got me to take hospital leave, instead of sick days, or vacation days. So I got my full paycheck for the month I was out sick without it all coming out of my vacation days. So now, I still have vacation days to roll over to my new contract year.

Now, I’m still not 100% back to my old self, but I’m feeling great and pain-free and very much glad that all of this didn’t leave me flat broke!

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