Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Japan and My Tonsils: The Healthcare Strikes Back

Read Part 1 here.

Part 2

When last we saw our hero, me, I had just recovered from my first bout of Japanese strep throat. I had taken the four days worth of antibiotics, which seemed to do the trick. I felt better, my fever was gone, and my throat was pain free. I was a little concerned however, since my tonsils seemed to be a little swollen. I decided not to worry too much and went on with my life.

After another couple months I got sick again, went to a different doctor who became my primary care physician, and got more medicine. Again, only four days of antibiotics. Then two months later I got sick again. Another four days of the same antibiotics. Three months later, sick again. Four days of antibiotics. I would have been concerned except my doctor seemed incredibly unconcerned. I would go see him, he'd ask what's wrong, and I'd say the same thing as always. He would laugh, "Haha! Again? OK, here's your four days of antibiotics." This went on for years. I kept saying I should have my tonsils out but the doctor said it wasn't necessary. In hindsight, I should have gotten a second opinion. Maybe I could have convinced someone else to give me stronger medicine for more than four days and finally had this strep knocked out for good. I still wasn't confident enough in my Japanese, though, to go to a non-English speaking doctor. And when it comes to English speaking doctors in Japan, the pickings are slim.

Two months ago, over the winter break, I went back to America to visit my family. Two days into the trip I got strep again, as usual. Fortunately I was expecting this and already looked into how my insurance worked to make sure I'd be covered. I was excited. An American doctor with American drugs. The strength of American drugs was probably best summed up by Jerry Seinfeld who said, "Figure out what will kill me and then back it off a little bit." I got ten days of meds at two grams a day. That's almost seven times more powerful than the Japanese meds for over twice as long. Each pill was almost the size of a Werther's Original. It was some powerful stuff. I felt better after two days but of course took the pills to completion. I hoped this would be the end of it.

A month later, back in Japan, I got sick again.

I went back to my normal doctor for the last time. I brought the empty bottle of the giant America pills as proof and explained that if these didn't work, then obviously weak pills for four days wouldn't either. I asked him again about surgery or his opinion on taking literally any other option instead of the same pills for four days. He said he still didn't think I needed surgery. It was just because of this dry Japanese air that I was getting sick. He said he'd try something new though. He handed me my prescription, reminded me to gargle, and sent me on my way. It wasn't until I picked up my meds that I realized it was a prescription for the same pills as before, for five days.

I took the pills but after four days I saw little improvement. It's a bit scary when antibiotics stop working. I realized I needed a change. I needed stronger drugs, or surgery, or something. I didn't really know what to do. I decided to leave that to the professionals. I noticed there was an ear, nose, and throat doctor near my house. My Japanese had improved by this point and I felt confident that I could make myself understood. I went and at first I thought he was great. He looked at my throat with a bunch of different shiny metal sticks and depressors and magnifying thingies. He even wore that classic doctor's reflective circle on his forehead. He seemed confident until I told him that I was already on antibiotics. He asked to see them and I showed him. "But these are for five days! These aren't working?" No, I told him, they weren't. I showed him the American med container and pointed out how much stronger they were. I asked if maybe he could just prescribe me more meds to take with these antibiotics. He sat there with his head down looking at his notes, taping his pen, and muttering "geez, what to do..." Eventually he made a decision, wrote me a script for more meds, and I left.

I was happy. That doctor had seemed to take this seriously. He hadn't laughed and brushed it off like I was used to. I looked at the prescription and was pleased to not recognize it, meaning it was something new. I had hope. I took the prescription to the pharmicist to have it filled. She asked if I had any questions. I asked her if I could take ibuprofin with this medication since I found ibuprofin was always good for pain and fever. She said, "well... this is ibuprofin... so no." Wait, what? I asked her to clarify; these aren't antibiotics? "Nope! Ibuprofin! Here you go! Odaijini!"

Ibuprofin?! A pain killer?! I don't need a pain killer! I need a strep killer! I was frustrated. I went to two different doctors and neither of them seemed to be taking this seriously. Then I started thinking, well maybe it's not serious. Maybe everything I've heard from others and the entire internet is wrong and strep isn't actually dangerous. Maybe I could just let my body fight it off on it's own.

No. I want my tonsils out. I'm sick of them and I want them out, I finally decided. I will deal with these amatures no more! It was time to find a surgeon.

In America, as far as I know, all ear, nose, and throat doctors are also surgeons. They're all qualified to remove tonsils. I wasn't sure of the situation in Japan but I decided I needed to find a good one. If he didn't do surgery then maybe he could recommend a hospital that does. I put my request on Facebook to see if my Japan based friends new of any good doctors. I got a reply from Paul's (this site's owner's) girlfriend, Yoshie. She had taken it upon herself to do research and it appeared there was a famous doctor that was only about 40 minutes away. A famous doctor? Sounds great! I went immediately.

What followed was the most bizarre experience I've ever had at a doctor's office. It cannot be put into words. Except it will be.

Stay tuned for the next chapter, Japan and my Tonsils: Celebrity Doctors and The Looming Surgery!


  1. I don't know why so many doctors won't listen to their patients. Is is because most patients here don't take any interest in what the doctor is doing to them?

  2. or maybe they want to help the drug industry and ply more unnecessary drugs to us? Big business, drugs.