Here in Japan, I avoid going to the doctor like I avoid dating J guys. Aside from my yearly compulsory medical check, I’ve only been twice since my arrival (my last experience during The Cold War is still fresh in my mind). I don’t think anyone likes going to the doctor, but with the additional cultural and language differences, the encounter can become a complete nightmare.
So you can imagine my delight when I realised my contraceptive pill was running low. Trying to avoid a visit to a J doctor, I tried (and failed at) all other possible methods of pill acquisition (save a flight back home, that is). Alas, since my doctor in Australia wouldn’t write a prescription for my sister to mail me (something about it being illegal to send prescription drugs overseas? Pfft), I knew I had to face the unwanted challenge of seeing a doctor here yet again.
I had been warned that getting the pill in Japan would not be as easy as back home (a once a year visit to my GP for a blood pressure check and the $20 repeat prescription) and sure enough, Japan did not disappoint. In fact, the whole experience was a hard pill to swallow…
Pill 1. 8:35am, arrive at clinic full of people…forgot that 8:30am opening time in Japan means queuing from 7am.
Pill 2. Make self known to reception, where five staff members (and aforementioned full waiting room of people) stare at me. Whisper discreetly the need to see gynecologist (can’t just see GP for the pill in Japan).
Pill 3. Reception lady asks something in incomprehensible Japanese. Look at her with confused expression. Nicer lady comes to the rescue and am asked in easy Japanese if this is first visit to the clinic.
Pill 4. When answer yes (surely obvious as am quite distinct), am given complicated form to fill out asking kanji, kanji, kanji. Fill out the few questions possible: name, gender, smoke?, drink? (realise the 600+ kanji learned to be Tried and Tested are of absolutely no use).
Pill 5. Return form to five sets of beady eyes at reception, apologising for inability to read form. Nice Lady proceeds to ask loudly, in front of entire waiting room, as to the reason for need to see gynecologist (am teaching 434 kids in a town with a population of 48,000…at least one student’s uncle’s cousin’s father’s daughter was listening to exchange). Am utterly mortified and no longer think of her as ‘Nice Lady’.
Pill 6. Told to wait for name to be called. Wait. Waiting room of people stare at me (glad others are entertained).
Pill 7. Hour later, name is called. Am ushered into doctor’s office by Short Nurse.
Pill 8. Dr.G (as he will be referred to…due to lack of self introduction) points to chair, proceeds to ask questions about medical history without eye contact or remote hint of friendliness.
Pill 9. Dr.G asks many personal questions. Married? Have kids? Want kids? Want the pill so don’t have kids? All the while scribbling notes. No actual medical examination carried out…not even blood pressure check. Find this mildly concerning.
Pill 10. Dr.G asks if one sheet of the pill is sufficient (month’s worth). Heard from Dr.Japanese Friend this is standard, but if pushed, three month prescription might be issued. Stare Dr.G down, not relishing thought of repeating torture (and expense) every month for remaining time in Japan. He offers two sheets. Continue to stare him down. He relinquishes and offers three sheet prescription.
Pill 11. Manage to communicate to Dr.G that regular Japanese pill is not acceptable (have heard stories of side effects and lack of effectiveness). Request equivalent to current Australian pill. Dr.G approves of challenge…possibly only one in his week. He takes Australian pill packet and am told to wait in reception while investigation carried out.
Pill 12. Am approached by Short Nurse in the waiting area…assume to provide an escort back in to see Dr.G. No such luck. Short Nurse returns Australian pill packet in front of entire waiting room. Die a little inside.
Pill 13. Am then informed (loudly, in front of everyone) that equivalent pill was found, Dr.G had called pharmacy and is not in stock. Am directed by Short Nurse to pay for doctor’s visit and see pharmacy next door to resolve delivery.
Pill 14. Pay ¥3,500 for humiliating affliction (am not charged by doctor at home) and breath sigh of relief when leave clinic.
Pill 15. Am braced for more humiliation as enter pharmacy. Am surprised when greeted by lovely pharmacist who sits and (discretely) reads the a form of kanji, kanji, kanji questions to ascertain allergies etc. Decide to like pharmacy better than clinic.
Pill 16. Am told prescription will arrive in a week. Leave pharmacy completely drained from morning of exposure and repeated humiliation.
Pill 17. Return to pharmacy week later to pick up pill. Greeted by different pharmacist who thinks Japanese is easier to understand when yelled. Abhor being talked to like deaf person (have perfect hearing…last medical check proved it).
Pill 18. Deaf Talker pulls out pill packets in front of waiting room of people and proceeds to give five minute lecture on how to use the pill (feel like stupid teenager when in fact have been using the pill for ten years). Reevaluate previous estimation of pharmacy being happy place.
Pill 19. Pay ¥6,500 for three month pill prescription. Leave.
Pill 20. Weigh up stress and emotional pain of repeating procedure in three months versus a pill-less life.
Pill 21. Take a look at pill packet when arrive home. Contemplate hysterectomy.