When we moved to Japan, something that didn’t go away was my need for birth control.
*Disclaimer*: A part of me feels embarrassed to type those two little words, but let’s be real- children are just not on our radar at this point in time. I feel like I’m letting everyone in on a secret, and I also realize I’m probably setting myself up for comments like, “If God wants you to have a baby, it’ll happen whether you want it to or not” but I’ll keep writing anyway. This post is by no means intended to spark a conversation about family planning.
What I really want to talk about is how vastly different my experience going to the doctor and obtaining birth control has been from my experience in the States. I won’t go into how awful it was the first time I had to go in for the preliminary check-up and cancer screening to even get a prescription. It was worlds apart from my annual check-up at the small OBGYN office in Phoenixville, PA. I almost didn’t write about this because I think my feelings are tainted with a little bit (okay, maybe a lot) of culture shock, but it’s something I feel like I needed to write about because I don’t think these feelings will completely subside. I need to get this stuff out of my system.
The first thing that is vastly different is the fact that I can’t make an appointment. From what I’ve been told, with the exception of “special cases,” each appointment is first come, first serve. Not only are scheduled appointments not available to me, but the normal waiting time for an appointment is one to four to however many hours, depending on the number of patients, and other factors that I don’t understand because I’m not Japanese.
The hospital where I go for appointments is in Koriyama, which is about 20 – 30 minutes away from Tamura. It’s a huge hospital, and when you check in at the front desk they give you a little slip with a number and you walk up to the office of whatever doctor you need to see that day. It’s kind of like when you have to take a number at the deli counter before you can order roast beef or honey glazed ham. I know, deli meat is not comparable to my health, but that’s honestly what I think of each time I’ve gone to the hospital. I’m not exactly sure of how many different types of doctors reside in the hospital, but I do know that across the hall from the OBGYN is a dentist’s office. After a month of taking my new medication, I had to go back to the hospital to check in with a doctor, and then would be able to walk across the street to the pharmacy to buy what I needed.
On Wednesday morning I woke up a little bit earlier than usual, and Matsumoto Sensei (one of the many wonderful people I work with) drove me to the hospital. She even bought me a perfectly chewy walnut cookie from 7-11, and Jenny, one of my beautiful co-workers and also a Saint, gave me a to-go mug with cold brew coffee. I even remembered to bring a book with me.
The day suddenly seemed a little bit brighter.
For my first hospital visit, I think we waited a little over three hours to see the doctor, but this time we only had to wait a little over two. The doctors don’t start taking in patients until 9 a.m., and so even though we got there a little past 8 a.m. and had been given number 25, we still waited quite a while. After I was called in, it took about five minutes to talk with the doctor and tell her that the pills were working, that I was not experiencing any side effects, and that I wanted more. I was then ushered into a different office so that they could do blood work and was given another number, but thankfully I got in right away.
Now, to pay. Guess what? You get a number for that too.
Like I said before, this is a huuuuge hospital, and every single patient walks back down into the main lobby filled with chairs, and waits for their turn to pay. During my first visit, I was given a little plastic card that I now use to check-in to the hospital. After speaking with the doctor, I put the card in what looked like an ATM machine, and it spit out a little slip that had yet another number on it – my number to pay.
In the lobby, there is a screen that shows what number is next. There is no rhyme or reason to the order that the numbers are shown – I mean, if there’s a reason as to why I was number 316, and numbers 314, 315, 317, 318, and then 400 were called before me, I just don’t understand it. I know there’s a reason. There always is.
Matsumoto Sensei told me she usually waits at least half an hour to pay, but Jesus was watching out for me, and we only waited maybe 15 minutes. Then we went to the pharmacy where I was given…yep, you guessed it! Another number. And I waited for my prescription to be filled.
I then went home and took a 2 hour nap before I had to go back to work. That was hands down, my favorite part of the day.
Now, as I am sitting here writing this, I can only laugh. On Wednesday, I wanted to cry.
I wanted to cry because I’ve been sick with a cough and I had to wear a mask because that’s what Japanese people do when they’re sick, or if there’s dust, or if there’s talk of the flu. I wanted to cry because I didn’t know that I needed blood work done, and even though I am by no means bothered by needles, I didn’t want to have to wait for anything else. I wanted to cry because I thought I was going to be able to get six months of medication because the doctor I saw last time said it was possible, and this doctor said it wasn’t. I wanted to cry because this is going to happen every three months.
But now, I can laugh about it.
I am constantly reminded that it’s okay if I don’t understand. It’s to be expected. It’s okay if things are different because this is not America, it’s Japan. And I am still alive, even after all of that waiting.