Take fifty of these and call me in the morning

As promised a while back, a medical story.

For well over a year, I’ve been experiencing fatigue.  “Fatigue” is a irritating problem: it’s hard to describe precisely, unpredictable, and there are lots of possible causes including sleep problems, diet, stress, lack of exercise, emotional issues, licking lead paint walls, or any combination of the above.  The toughest thing of all is that you can still basically function, it’s just that something’s “off”.  In my experience, this is hard to explain to healthcare professionals.

So to my perverse relief, the problem intensified a few weeks ago to the point I was unstable on my feet, unable to stay alert or concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds.  Great, symptoms I could actually describe!  Off to the doctor I went.

Now, while my Japanese has improved to a point where I could probably battle through a medical consultation, when it comes to health matters, I didn’t really want to experiment with it as a language-learning opportunity.  So, I shopped around for an English-speaking doctor in Tokyo.  I found a Japanese doctor near my house who was listed as speaking English “fluently”.

Ah, “fluently”, my favourite hazily-defined word.  It means lots of things to lots of people.  Obviously, it meant something different to this doctor than it did for me.

“Konnichiwa… ah, hello,” he said as I entered the room, projecting my powerful aura of foreign-ness.
“Hello”, I said, wanting to keep proceedings in one language, at least.
“Where from?”
“Ah! Many times I have been there. It’s my favourite place!  I… uh…”

He dived into his draw, plunking a hefty English-Japanese dictionary on to his desk.

“… oh, traveled! to there in eight years ago.  I like it very much.  I had a car crash there.”

I started to get a little nervous now.  I was relying on the English language as my conduit for acquiring ingestible chemical substances.   Although sure that we could have proceeded at least a little more effectively in Japanese, I decided to persevere and plough on in English.  As a language learner myself, I know I would have been a little gutted had my efforts been brushed aside had the tables been turned.  He was certainly giving it a red hot go.  I’m realising in retrospect that it was a foolish decision.

I described my symptoms to the doctor – the dizziness and fatigue and what not – and explained that I worked in a Japanese environment.  Without the need for any tests, his diagnosis was decisive.

“It’s all….. (how do you say it in English)… about your head… (how do you say “psychological”)…”
“Ah yes!  Psy-cho-logical.”
“I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think it’s psychological.”
“Yes!  It’s psy-cho-logical.  I’m sure of it.  You should eat antidepressants.  I’ll give to you.”
“Look, I’m not sure if that will help…”
“And these are for your stomach.”
“For my stomach?”
“Yes, the antidepressants will make your stomach painful.”
“Oh, and try this on your muscles, it might do something.”

He passed a roller over my shoulders with some kind of watered-down version of Deep Heat.  It had the net effect of feeling somewhat wet before evaporating.

“You feel better, yes?”
“Uh… yes?”

In my enfeebled state, I decided to go with the flow at this point.  I naively thought that Eastern medicine was about energy and balance and chakras and whatnot, but apparently here at least it was about stuffing me with mind-altering substances and seeing if anything interesting happened.  I would have even preferred to be fobbed off with the “Try getting some more exercise and call me if things don’t improve” classic that I just love to paying $60 in a 5 minute consultation for in Australia.

With that, my time was up.  I received my gift bag of medicinal candy:

From front to back, anti-clockwise: stomach-ache powder, aspirin (maybe?), strange rubbing alcohol, a variety of anti-depressants.  They were given loose, just like this, with some hand-written instructions in Japanese that I couldn’t really make out.

At the very least, thanks to the wonders of Japanese socialised medicine, both the consultation and medicines only cost me a grand total of about $30.  He gave me a range of three different antidepressants to see which one I liked.  I didn’t try any of them.

Post-script: I went to an actual native-speaking English doctor on the far side of Tokyo a couple of days later.  He gave me a thorough check up and a blood test, and I’m on my way to getting on the mend, fingers crossed.

Lesson learned: go to a “native”-level English-speaking doctor.  If you can’t do that, perhaps it’s better to go to one who can’t speak any English at all.