28 September 2007

Pain in the... er...

Small things make me happy. One recent happy thing is that I found a pediatrician who understands English. Yippee. When we first got here, we found a very sweet English speaking pediatrician, but seh retired a few months ago, leaving us in the lurch. Looking for another one wasn't that easy. The list of doctors I had didn't have a single one who spoke or understood English.

One just can't afford to have a communication gap with a doctor. When we first got to Japan, it was cold. Very cold. At least we were. The temperature differerence between Singapore and Tsuruoka was some 30°C. To say that we were freezing would be an understatement. And every trip out of the guest house to get essentials like milk and bread would lead to major discussions on who's turn it was to brave the elements.

And wouldn't you believe it, I developed a rash. In... er... a very sensitive part of my anatomy. And in keeping with Murphy's laws, I picked a long weekend to come down with this. The offices were closed, our liaison was out of town and we were totally on our own. So first thing we did was look up the dictionary. We didn't find a word for rash. So we looked up 'boil' only to find that the dictionary only had listings for the verb, and not the noun. In desperation we ran down the list of words we thought we could use. So we finally got the Japanese words for skin, wound (yes, that's as close as a pocket dictionary lets you get), pain and medicine. Off went the better half, the little one, and yours truly to .... (fanfare please) the ER.

First thing we had to call a cab. Fortunately we could recite the address of the guest house, so we rattled it off, and a cab was soon there. Then we looked up hospital in the dictionary and told the driver where we needed to go. And got to the hospital, and the ER. That was the first battle won.

At ER there were forms miles long with pretty and not so pretty squiggles. So we kept saying "English" until someone managed to get us a form in English. We filled that out, and waited.. and crossed our fingers, toes, eyes... anything crossable. After waiting interminably for someone to acknowledge us, a nurse came up, took my blood pressure, and started talking to me. Actually she was talking AT me. A ten day crash course in Japanese had nowhere near prepared me for this. Once she was done, she bowed and waited. We stared at each other and said the one word that we knew for sure, "wakarimasen (I don't understand).

A and I looked at each other. Well, we thought, let's try telling her what the problem is. So we fired off all the words we'd memorized and gave her a very triumphant smile. And she looked totally blank. Then it hit us that there was this probability that she had no clue what we'd just said.

I mined writing. She smiled, and came back with a paper and pen. And then I drew out (what looked to me like) a human body, much to her amazement. I'll be darned if that didn't look more like the chalk outline from a homicide investigation. Sometimes, I wonder if she thought I'd knocked someone off. I pointed to that drawing and to then pointed to myself. And marked the spot with an "X". By this time she was trying desperately hard not to laugh.

And then, slowly, there was this growing crowd around me while I tried to explain what was wrong. And I had a suspicion that the nursing staff was trying desperately hard not to giggle. With mimes, drawings I think I managed to communicate what was wrong with me. And finally got to see a doctor... who didn't speak English.

After an examination, the doctor asked me to wait outside. Then he handed me a slip of paper with the words "Please Wait" painstakingly written on it. And wait I did for another hour. By this time I was starting to suspect the worst. Anyone who's watched lots of (desi) movies knows that if a doctor isn't talking to you, then something is seriously wrong. My imagination was on overdrive.

Finally my problems seemed that much closer to a solution. The staff at the ER had decided to page an English speaking doctor, get him to come to the hospital and see what was wrong. And finally, without resorting to any playacting or drawing, I spoke to someone who understood exactly what I said, who very reassuringly spoke to me in English, assured me that all was ok, and gave me a prescription. And thankfully didn't call the cops about a chalk outline.

One good thing came out of all this. The two of us started taking our Japanese lessons VERY seriously. After all, when in Rome..... know how to say that you have a whatever in your wherever.


RJ said...

Very well narrated. It was fun to read. I am sure it wouldn't be fun being in your shoes. Take Care.

Tys on Ice said...

jeez...next time carry those b-tex creams...or perhaps u shud hve just scratched to make them understand..no...on second thoughts they may direct u to the zoo...lets just say u hve just scratched the surface on this language issue..

Vidya said...

@RJ: glad you liked it. sometimes it's easier to laugh at these situations than to crib at them.

@Tys: this visit to the hospital was after b-tex, chandan etc all failed :O

Preethy said...

Ah! The stress of not understanding the world ard u! So real and so scary. When we moved to Tokyo we refused to take cabs and avoid any interaction that involved human contact. Luckily Tokyo isnt that bad and we were taken through the ordeal by those selfless beings called 'relocation consultants'!! Nevertheless it is spooky and that too when u have a @#$% in the &^%$! Hope your vocab now includes key words - in their polite forms of course! ;-)

Ziah said...

LMAO!! Poor you!! Must be fun though, in a way.. figuring out your way in an unknown land.. :)

We once had JAP clients and then a whole Japanese delegation down to B'bay... was it painful!! Finding a translator in B'bay is also painful.. I guess this was reverse lost-in-translation!:) Anyways..

Keep rockin Japland babes!!:)