Since being born blue a month early, head to head, with my identical twin in photo finish fashion (Nobody knows which one of us was born first. I think it was me because she was dead at the time.) I've spent more time than my fair share in a hospital. Over the past ten years, I've had four knee surgeries in Tokyo. Several years ago, I snapped my ACL ligament doing a jump kick in karate class. (I know, I'm a jackass.) The doctor at the time wouldn't fix it because, in the doctor's words, "You're not an athlete. You're a woman." As a result, I've needed patch up surgeries over the years. This year, I've finally got the ACL repaired. Here's one thing I've learned over the years.
In Japanese hospitals, pain is considered a relatively good thing. When my kneecap broke in three places and my leg started to spasm, causing me to internally stab my thigh over and over, I screamed for morphine. The doctors and nurses laughed. " You're not getting morphine! You don't have brain cancer." I was encouraged by the ER nurse to look around and see all the other patients correctly suffering in silence as they waited to be treated. I look up and sure enough, there in front of me was a salary man with a samurai sword through his head waiting patiently as he pretended to be asleep, or maybe he was dead. I don't know. All I know is that the only other people screaming were two, what looked like 7 year-old boys with broken fingers. The three of us locked eyes and began screaming in unison, creating a Bermuda Triangle of Pain. By that, I mean everyone around us pretended we didn't exist. A few minutes later, the doctor agreed to give me a "mild morphine". However, they only had suppositories. Yep, that's right, the home of the space-age toilet doesn't have chewables. The nurse said,"We will have to remove your clothing." "I can't move!" "What do you want us to do?" "Cut them off and stick the morphine up me!" "But they are nice clothes!" "They are from Uniqlo. Cut them OFF!" Had I been in America, the nurse would have been cutting through my clothes with massive shears as I was wheeled into the ER saying something along the lines of, " Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to wear your wedding dress again?"
Perhaps the best example of just how comfortable Japan is with pain is the fact that friends smuggled drugs into the hospital for me. Yup, I routinely got gifted chocolate, Starbucks and a bottle of valium. I soon became a model patient:)