Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A visit to the doctor

I don't know if it's the same in America; maybe it varies by school. But here in Japan, public school teachers must have a health check every year. Actually, it may be all public workers (or I may have made that up). Either way, usually some doctors and nurses come to the school and administer the checkups to the staff here all on one day. This year I was away on a business trip, so I was responsible for getting my own checkup. Only I was limited to one place - I had to be checked there. Why? I dunno - I'm sure there's some bureaucratic reason lurking somewhere.

So I made an appointment, which in and of itself was no easy task. Apparently they were all booked up for the next week or two. After I told them that I had to have this done by the end of August, they agreed to squeeze me in. In retrospect, I don't know what the big deal was...but I'll come back to that.

On Sunday morning I set out. This place was a bus and a train and a 15-minute walk away, so I was plenty hot and sticky by the time I arrived. This isn't the first time I've been to a medical institution in Japan. I've previously been to a hospital in Tokyo, as well as a couple clinics here in Kansai. This place was different, though.

As soon as I got to the reception desk, I noticed that about 2/3 of the people in the lobby waiting room were wearing some kind of blue pajama/scrub hybrid. Joe had mentioned this to me before - that patients at these health check centers have to wear some kind of hospital gown. Luckily, maybe because I had a limited checkup or because my school has a relationship with this center, I didn't have to don the pajama-scrubs.

The place was rather interesting, and different from any checkup I had ever had back in the States. Not necessarily bad different, but certainly different different. For one thing, there were about 20 gajillion nurses calling patients' names and herding them around. And when I say "herding," that's what I mean. Essentially, this place was broken down into at least a dozen different stations. Each station was a different part of the process. You'd sit in the lobby and wait for your name to be called. Then you'd go to some little cubicle in the hallway with the nurse and answer some questions, like when is the last time you ate (there's an X-ray, so you aren't supposed to eat  for like 12 hours prior) and if you've had any illnesses recently. Then you wait again. Then they x-ray your chest. Wait again. Then your name is called and you go pee in a cup (interestingly about that - you don't hand them the cup - there is a little window IN THE BATHROOM that I suppose borders on the lab, and you leave your cup there when you're done). Then you go sit down and wait again. Then you have your eyes checked and are weighed and measured. Wait some more. Then the doctor sees you for about 20 seconds to check your breathing. Then you bring your chart to the front and can leave.

It took me about an hour from the time I checked in to the time I left. I was surprised - although I've had quicker checkups back home, this place was pretty fast and efficient considering how many patients seemed to be flowing through. The only downside is that my overall impression was of cattle being herded around. The nurses and staff were friendly and polite enough (in typical Japanese fashion), so it wasn't so bad, but it wasn't personal at all. Then again I guess that's the nature of this kind of thing - it's not like you're going to see your doctor. Thus I was a little puzzled, in retrospect, that the woman on the phone had told me she could squeeze me in to see the doctor. I spent all of 20 seconds with him!

Probably the strangest part was that after I finished, the lady at the reception desk gave me this ticket to use the public pool in the building. Uh...ok? Let me just change into this swimsuit I brought along just in case.

Only one coupon use allowed per 6 months. Dang.


  1. The check-up system was streamlined in the not too recent past. The same thing happened when my husband had a check-up at a hospital. They seem to have created a better cattle call for the required physical exams. I'm sure this was done because it's more expedient for the hospitals and they can make more money per test, or possibly the government changed the regulations to reduce costs.

    It's a good thing though because it speeds everything up. The only down side is that only certain clinics and hospitals perform these check-ups now, so you are limited in which ones you can go to. Only those with the right set-up will do them.

    You don't actually "have to" do this, but you get a lot of pressure if you don't take these exams, and really, there's not reason not to if you have the time since it's cheap/free.

  2. Interesting. I didn't realize it was optional. I suppose it's good to go get checked out, just would rather sleep in most Sundays...heh.