Hello, hospital

"This will hurt a little."

I have a general rule that if you have to hurt me for medical purposes, I'd much rather not know about it in advance. While I possess a perfectly reasonable tolerance to pain, I've the resistance of a glass rose in an elephant stampede to the prospect. It was therefore deeply unfortunate that this was the first sentence in the stream of Japanese sent my way that I had actually understood.

The hospital: it was actually very swanky and new.

The hospital: it was actually very swanky and new.

My body has a distasteful proclivity for headaches, from low-level throbs that persist all week to skull crunching pain that leave me fantasising about pain-syphoning brain-tube attachments. They're all nasty. We hates them. But with a mixture of drugs, hot or cold packs and whining interspersed with an eclectic collection of profanities, they're manageable. 

However, every 1 - 2 years I get a migraine so bad that I need to go to the hospital. The requisite severity is defined by a multi-part, show n' tell discussion with the toilet bowl on the subject of that day's food. This sweeps all hopes of oral medication down ... uh, the toilet... and being alone becomes an extreme sport.

Two strange facts about hospitals in Japan: they deal with many routine medical treatments that would be confined to a GP surgery in the UK and secondly, they close. To see a doctor nights and weekends, you need to know which hospitals have out-of-hours care. You also often need to call ahead and warn them you will be arriving. 

At this moment in time, I didn't know the location of any hospitals. Since moving to Tokyo, I'd found a clinic and located a possible vet but hospital? I just wasn't intending to get this ill. Even though this had happened before. Several times.  

OK, foresight bad but optimism impressive.

I called a friend. 

And discovered I didn't have their new phone number.

So I sent a tweet.

(What? It worked. You just gotta pick people who are as obsessed with computers as you are.)

Promised a rescue, I tried to keep cool by lying down on the floor. Japanese apartment typically have the toilet in a separate tiny room from the rest of the bathroom. Sprawling out therefore meant I stretched into the hall. I tried not to think that such prone cadavers were a common theme in detective TV shows. 

At this point, the cat chose to have a meltdown. Being circled by a yowling feline did not help the headache nor the cadaver concept, especially once I dimly recalled a TV program on animals that could sense mortal illness.

"Help's coming," I mumbled at her. "They like cats. You'll be fine."

The out-of-hours hospitals I've visited seem only to deal with walking-wounded patients, not ones requiring instant life-saving treatment. I'm unsure where the latter category go and I have high hopes of never finding out. The result of this distinction is a cool and quiet atmosphere, not the frantic bustle of a UK A&E room. It also makes me feel less guilty about seeking emergency medical help when I am fairly sure I am not going to die. My friends translated for the doctor as I described the problem and concluded our calm discussion by vomiting to emphasise the points I'd just made. 

I began typing into google "what is the advantage of autoinjectors"... this was the suggested auto-complete. The Universe is not of one mind.

I began typing into google "what is the advantage of autoinjectors"... this was the suggested auto-complete. The Universe is not of one mind.

Then I was given an injection hidden in a tube. Rather that a regular syringe, the device resembled a cylinder wide enough to hold a pen. This was pushed against my upper arm. Google later told me these were 'autoinjectors' that are designed principally for self-adminstration by a non-expert (e.g. diabetes sufferer). I'm not quite sure what the advantage was of using these in a hospital, but it was momentarily distracting. It was also the point where I was told it might hurt.

 It didn't.

The autoinjector was defunct. The nurse went away and found a fresh one which dutifully dispatched its needle and left a sizable bruise. It also failed to make much of a difference to the pain, which was disappointing for something as invasive as a needle.

While this medicine was busy failing, the hospital also did blood works. Needing bright light, they dropped a cloth over my eyes to protect me from the glare. In fact, I didn't have much light sensitivity and preferred a little warning before being stabbed with a needle. Lifting the bottom of the eye shield, I peeked out.

"Are you planning to blog this?" my friend asked.


The blood tests came back with a high white blood cell count, likely due to inflammation, but nothing more sinister. I randomly noted this meant I didn't have dengue fever; a link my friend from India had told me about the night before. My brain might be hurting, but it was still providing trivia.

The hospital gave me a second round of pain medication in the form of a suppository; the main remaining route into the body since the injection had not done its job and oral still had an instant return policy. Twenty minutes later, the pain and sickness had subsided and I cautiously drank water while debating how to politely express that I'd like all my medicine taken up the butt from now onwards. 

When I was discharged, I paid a provisional ¥3,000 and a receipt that I had to present to the hospital cashier once they were open during the next week. The total bill would turn out to be ¥5,260 (~$47 / £36). It was the best money I'd spent that I never wanted to have to spend again.  

The medication didn't totally clear the headache, but it brought it down to a very manageable dull ache that faded over the next couple of days. I returned home and drank two bottles of water. As I cleaned up the apartment, I found a cat toy in the room with the toilet. I think it might have been left as an offering. 

[For anyone else in a similar situation in Tokyo, a friend told me about this service where you can get advice about hospitals in English.]