Before I left for Japan, my doctor gave me a CD of all my medical files, sent me an email with the doctor’s referral letter, and made me promise not to forget to bring them to the doctor.
What did I do? I forgot it, but we’ll get to that.
The past week I had so much on my mind that everything just slipped my mind. The organization that had been helping me find a nearby rheumatologist, figure out the cost of my medicine, and set up my doctor’s appointment, Japan Healthcare Info, told me about applying for a subsidy card the Monday before my appointment, and then the night before mentioned needing a phone number and the letter from my doctor in a sealed envelope. Well, obviously it was too late for me to get a letter from my doctor in a sealed envelope, all I had was the email. So, I figure before I left, I would try to print it out. I bought a phone number from Skype, so now I can put that down on forms, even though I do not plan to actually use it. On Thursday, I also applied for the subsidy card which reduces the cost of my medicine from $750 to $350, which I pay every two months. Yeah, my medicine is very expensive, if anyone else has expensive medicine and are planning on studying abroad in Japan, make sure to apply for this in the same place that you apply for your Health Insurance and Residency Card. Only took maybe 20 minutes to get it, and I do not think that there is any hidden agenda behind providing this for me, it’s just based upon the income, and since I do not currently make any income, I get this amount– from what I understood.
So far, so good. After taking pictures of my medicine, packing my bag for Calligraphy class in the morning, and writing down a couple things I could say in Japanese to the doctor, if he didn’t understand, I went to sleep. Completely forgetting about packing the CD and ignoring any worries of the Referral Letter.
Fast forward to the next day…
My classes have ended, I ask my Japanese teacher if at hospitals in Japan I can pay with Credit card. She didn’t really know, but thought if the hospital was big enough, I would be able to. I didn’t know how much my visit would cost, but decided not to take the risk if I had enough time. I thanked the teacher, and rushed to the library to try to print out my referral letter. Get there, and of course the size is not correct. I try to change the size on the computer and it doesn’t work, no matter how many different strategies I try– though I am rushing so I was not thinking calmly. Figuring, at least I have the email it will work out, plus it is better to be on time (I was scared I would get lost) and have payment method figured out before I get there, I went ahead and left without it. What else did I forget? The CD. I did not forget the CD in the US, just in my dorm room. Now I see it and it torments me everyday… Oh that CD with all my medical history my doctor told me to not forget. Well…
After stopping by a 7-11 in the same area the hospital was in, I get money (more than enough) and head to the hospital. My appointment was at 3:00. They told me to get there by 2:30. After stopping at 7-11, getting money and eating some food, I was there by 2:00. I wandered around the hospital for a bit. Trying to match up the Kanji of the location that the organization I mentioned before, told me to meet the translator at (which is provided by the hospital for free, so they are volunteers) proved to be a difficult task. I found one where I thought the first two kanji did not match, but the last two were close enough. I ask someone at the desk where this was and she pointed me to a different counter. I swear to god, it had different kanji for the first 15 minutes of me sitting there. I stared at it wondering if I was in the right spot. Thankfully, I was in the right spot, my headache must have made me misread the kanji.
However, just because I was in the right spot did not mean everything went smoothly. I’ve studied two years worth of Japanese, I can survive when getting a subsidy card, I can get food, I can a little bit about myself… But for the life of me, I could not think of what to say to the people at the desk. I just kind of stared and said “Someone told me to meet a translator here”. She of course didn’t know what I meant and started saying something in Japanese, really the only thing I recognized was that she said a word that ended in -sho. I was like… Okay, a card. Residence card? Insurance card? The subsidy card? I pull everything out of my wallet offering them up… She gave up and found someone that spoke English.
Apparently, in Japan, you get a card for the hospital you go to. In the US we don’t do that, I was a new patient, I didn’t have a card, so it makes sense I had no idea what she was talking about, but at that moment I felt… as though the day was just going to be a mess. However, thank gosh there were very nice women that spoke English at least better than I spoke Japanese. I filled out paperwork (the poor worker looked terrified when the woman who originally helped me left, but I assured her that I knew enough Japanese to fill out the form), and then I took a seat and waited as they got my hospital card and everything else ready for my appointment.
I did not meet my interpreter/translator, until the time of my appointment at 3:00, so it’s a good thing that I did not wait for them to show up before trying to talk to the counter– even if my heart and head worked double time. However, he was really nice! A 4th year, medical student, who spoke English very well, despite only having spent a couple weeks (a month, maybe) in England. Also, he was cute… (am I blushing?)! Miraculously, he was able to put up with me and my incompetence at remembering to bring any important documents from my doctor back in the US. He translated a the referral letter I had on my email, and explained to the nurse that I’m worthless (I have no idea what he said, but I am sure he conveyed my emotions well, not just because he’s cute).
We chatted about random stuff while waiting to see the doctor, and all-in-all, it was a good experience for me. My doctor really tried to speak English, which made me relieved. Obviously, I can’t have the same conversation I have with my Rheumatologist in the US due to the language barrier, even with the nice volunteer interpreter, but I was able to get a prescription for my medicine and he did an ultra-sound of my joints to see if there was any swelling– because Japanese doctor’s do not trust looking, touching, or my own thoughts. They need science and stuff to back them up. Kind of joking, but really that was the first time for them to do an ultra-sound on any of my joints– I thought it was super cool, also, I just love learning about medical stuff that’s going on in my body. After my appointment, the interpreter showed me around the hospital and explained in more detail what the nurse told me what I would do for my next visit and then helped me with the payment process. Then we said good bye… This doctor’s visit feels shorter as I am typing it up, but I did not get back to campus until 6:45, after leaving at 12:45. That was 2 hours spent commuting and 4 in the hospital. So grateful for the interpreter volunteering 3 hours of his time to help me. I do not even remember his name, and only vaguely remember his face, but I am so grateful to this cute-interpreter 4th year medical student. If anyone knows him, please thank him more for me!
I am still not sure if I will be okay next time if I come back alone… Hopefully my Japanese miraculously improves in 2 months, or I make a friend who has free time and I feel comfortable bringing with me to the hospital, but… We’ll see!
So my tips:
- Make sure you bring a sealed Referral Letter from your doctor in your home country!
- Do not forget any medical files or other important documents your doctor gives you in your apartment, dorm room, house, or back in your country.
- Know more about how hospitals work in Japan. I thought I did my research before I visited, but I felt completely out of my comfort zone (which is good for improvement in language and overall growth, just not so good for one’s heart rate).
- If you see at least two/four kanji that match up you might be in the right place, but you could also be in the complete wrong place… So just ask! People won’t bite… They might run for someone who speaks English, but they won’t bite.
- If you are from the US, know your height and weight already in the metric system. I knew my height, but didn’t know my weight. And at the time my interpreter was converting it for me, he looked completely shocked! I am fat~~ (especially in Japan). It is okay, but he ran the numbers 3 times to double check
- If you have expensive medicine, apply for that subsidy card!
Obviously if you forget something, don’t understand, can’t communicate your thoughts, or basically any other problem that arises, it will be okay! Just remember to breathe, and be nice. Everyone will be willing to help you if you do not seem like a crazed lunatic.
Any questions? Let me know!
& Good luck!