Patchwork Yokohama
17. Medical Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          Vince had vowed  never  to go to a doctor in Japan. He had a
          healthy distrust of  the  medical  profession in any country
          and resented the  hours  he  had  spent in waiting rooms. It
          seemed that professionalism  for doctors and specialists was
          measured in the  amount  of  time  they  kept you sitting in
          spiritless rooms with out-of-date magazines.

          Of course, if  you  are  going to vow not to go to a doctor,
          you should first vow not to get to sick, and this is not the
          sort of promise  you  should ever make to yourself in Tokyo.
          Half the city  suffers  from  a  perpetual  influenza.  Just
          travelling to and  from  work  will  cure  one's  low  blood
          pressure.  And  if  you  think  that  walking  up  and  down
          thousands of stairs  in  a  day  is  good exercise, you soon
          discover that it  also  gives you arthritis in the knees and
          ankles. In spring  time,  the cedar pollen has everyone with
          swollen eyes, sneezing and wearing white masks.

          One of the most prevalent problems, especially in summer, is
          the range of skin ailments that afflict the average resident
          of the larger  Tokyo  area.  It  was one of these that smote
          Vince. He had  become  infected  with  a  tinea fungus while
          working in a  tin  mine as a student, but had always kept it
          under control via  a  whole host of home remedies. After two
          years in Japan,  none  of  these remedies seemed to work any
          more and it  was  in  the summer of 1992 that he developed a
          heat rash that  turned  into  some  sort  of  eczema. He, of
          course, ignored it  for  as long as possible, but his ankles
          became swollen and  that  also  happened  to  be the week in
          which he carried  the omikoshi and they got stomped by fifty
          other pairs of  tabi.  It  also turned out to be stand on or
          kick Vince's feet  week  and  he had decided that not all of
          this pedal injury was accidental.

          After three days,  Connie felt that Nozomi who was after all
          a trained nurse  could  help.  She  came over and tut-tutted
          over the feet  washing  them  with  disinfectant. This stung
          like hell, but Vince's own father had always advocated detol
          washing for any  external  injury  and so he was prepared to
          bend to such  a treatment if only out of habit. Vince's feet
          had other ideas.  They  had suffered 34 years of antiseptics
          and enough was enough. They rebelled. Within a day, they had
          swollen to such  proportions  that  the skin had broken into
          little rivulets that  wept  blood.  On the day Vince finally
          agreed to go  to  the  doctor,  he couldn't stand up without
          assistance. For the  first  time  since  he got to Japan, he
          would have preferred  to  have  been  sleeping  in a western
          style bed instead  of  a  futon,  just because it would have
          been easier to  get  out  of  one.  He  could  scarcely walk
          although he certainly  tried  to  walk  as much as possible.
          Anticipating  his  first   visit   to   a  Japanese  doctor,
          amputation wasn't out of the question.

          When Vince visited Dr. Otake's waiting room, above the local
          Makudonaruda at 7:45 a.m., he witnessed a professionalism of
          a new order.  Not  only  were there no seats left, but there
          appeared to be no standing room either. The room was chocked
          fuller than the  Yamanote train during the morning peak hour
          and Vince would  not  have  been  at  all  surprised  to see
          nurse's arrive with  white  gloves  to  push everyone in. As
          there was no such nurse, prospective patients ebbed out into
          the hallway and  down  the  stairs, up the street and around
          the block. There  were  even people waiting in the elevator.
          Vince suspected that half the customers at Makudonaruda were
          actually waiting to  see  Dr. Otake as well, even though the
          surgery wasn't due to open for another hour and a quarter.

          Certainly, the man  must  have  had  some  reputation, Vince
          decided. Nozomi had  told him that Dr. Otake was always calm
          and cheerful and  gave no nonsense medical treatments. Vince
          was not at  all  sure  whether  the throngs of people in the
          waiting room and outside were testimony to Dr. Otake's skill
          or to the number of Japanese people with skin problems.

          Connie found a  spot  somewhere  near the ceiling to prop up
          Vince and went  over  to place a card with his name on it on
          top of a  pile of hundreds of others. Vince had read his way
          through Anna Karenina and Gone with the Wind by the time his
          name was finally called late that afternoon. He was led past
          vast trays of  gauzes,  cotton buds, tweezers, white plastic
          jars full of multi-coloured pills and multi-coloured plastic
          jars of white pills into Cubicle No. 8.

          The nurse pulled  a  plastic  screen  across the doorway and
          Vince found himself in a monk-like cell with a cot bed and a
          machine that resembled  an  aircraft flight recorder box and
          was clearly labelled  in  English,  Laser  Knife.  Vince had
          suspected as much  from  the start. He only hoped that laser
          amputation was less painful than the regular sort.

          If Vince had  thought the waiting was through, he was wrong.
          There were eight  such  cubicles and Dr. Otake didn't arrive
          for another half  hour. Vince was surprised to discover that
          the specialist was a woman. He would never have made such an
          assumption in Australia,  but  here  in Japan, it had seemed
          possible that all  doctors  were  men  and  all  nurses were

          Dr. Otake took  one  glance  at his feet as if they were the
          50,000th. pair she had seen that day and made a quick sketch
          of them. Vince  caught  a  glimpse  of it and it looked more
          like  one  of  Picasso's  etched  nudes.  She  then  burbled
          something to the nurse and left within thirty seconds.

          Before Vince knew  it,  a hyperdermic needle jabbed into his
          shoulder and 20  ccs  of clear fluid emptied into his veins.
          Vince's brain told him that these were drugs. He was ushered
          back to the  waiting  room  where  they  spent  another hour
          watching  another  nurse   doling   out   pill  and  creams,

          "You take the  green  ones  in the morning between breakfast
          and lunch. You  take  six  of these red ones a day, one with
          every meal. You  have  two  blue ones just before bed and if
          the pain gets  so agonising that it's unbearable take one of
          the apricot ones with the purple spots.

          Finally, Vince's own  medication arrived and he was relieved
          to discover that  there  were enough pills to share with his
          junkie friends at  work.  Admittedly,  there  were  no green
          ones, but there were white, pink, yellow, red, blue, russet,
          cobalt, canary yellow,  tan and beige ones: seventeen kinds.
          Plus seven plastic jars of cream.

          "You take this one in the morning with breakfast ..."

          "What's it for?" Vince demanded groggily. akf

          The nurse looked  at  him bewildered, as if it was the first
          time that she had ever heard the question.

          "You take this  one  in  the  morning  with  breakfast," she
          repeated dumbly.

          "What's it for?"

          "It's for breakfast."

          "I know you  have  it  with  breakfast," Vince said testily.
          "But what is it called? What does it cure?"

          "I don't know," the nurse blushed. "I only work here."

          Aghast at the sheer quackery of Dr. Otake's surgery, all the
          reports he'd heard  about  the  malpractice  of the Japanese
          medical profession were confirmed.

          "She hardly glanced  at my feet," he told Connie. "Then, she
          gave  me  an  injection,  without  even  checking  my  blood
          pressure, without even  asking  me  if  I  were  allergic to
          anything. And I'm  half  tempted  not  to  take  any of this
          pharmaceutical factory full of pills that they gave me."

          Connie looked at  him patiently, "Maybe, you should at least
          try them, Vince.  There  were an awful lot of people in that
          waiting room. You'd  hardly think that there'd be so many if
          she didn't have some success with her patients."

          "I don't know."

          "Now,  what  would   you  tell  me  if  you  saw  a  crowded

          "I'd say the tucker was good and it was cheap."

          "So, we already know that Dr. Otake charges reasonable rates
          and maybe her medicines work, too."

          Mumbling  something  about   the   dissimilarities   between
          restaurants and clinics,  Vince  reluctantly  started taking
          the pills and  was  more than a little chagrined to discover
          that  they  did   work.   The   swelling  went  down  almost
          immediately and when  he  returned  to  Dr.  Otake's waiting
          room, the following  Monday, his feet were beginning to feel
          normal. Connie had managed to convince him that it could not
          possibly be as  crowded  on  a  Monday  as  it had been on a
          Saturday. But she was wrong. The only difference was that he
          was ushered into  Cubicle  6  instead of Cubicle 8. It might
          have looked exactly the same had it not been for the absence
          of the laser  knife. In its place were two containers of dry
          ice. No fewer  than  three nurses bowed and apologised their
          way into the  cubicle to get a beakerful of the solid carbon
          dioxide and soon  Cubicle No. 6 was looking like the perfect
          stage setting for  Macbeth  and  Banquo's  meeting  with the
          witches on the heath.

          Over the weeks as Vince's feet repaired themselves, he moved
          up the line  of  cubicles.  Cubicle  5  had the radio knife.
          Cubicle 4 had  the  electrolysis  lamp.  Cubicle  3  had the
          oxygen equipment. Cubicle  2  had  a  collection  of medical
          comic books with the most up-to-date techniques. And Cubicle
          1 had the infra red analysis camera.

          Once  he'd  reached   Cubicle  1,  Dr.  Otake  came  in  and
          pronounced him cured.  She  congratulated  him  on  his fast
          recovery. He had  after  all  repeated  only one part of the
          treatment. He'd spent  two  sessions  in  Cubicle 5 with the
          radio knife. She  neglected  to mention that he'd never been
          in Cubicle 7 and when she asked him if he had any questions,
          he thought for a moment and asked:

          "Yeah, what's in Cubicle 7?"


          "Well, the laser knife is in Cubicle 8," he counted them off
          on his fingers.  "The  radio  knife is in Cubicle 5, the dry
          ice is in Cubicle 6, the medical manga are in Cubicle 2, the
          electrolysis lamp is  in  Cubicle 4, the infra red camera is
          here, and what's in Cubicle 3?"

          "The oxygen equipment," Connie replied. "

          "That's right, the  oxygen  equipment. So, what's in Cubicle

          Dr. Otake smiled  sublimely and closed the curtain without a

          "I'll go look for myself," Vince muttered.

          But he didn't.  He  simply  kept  on  wondering.  Was  it  a
          professional  secret  or   was   the   question   just   too
          unprofessional to be  answered?  Vince wondered what you had
          to do to  get into Cubicle 7, what foul diseases of the skin
          were treated in  there.  But  some things are better left as
          mysteries and Vince was happy enough with his old feet, that
          hadn't been amputated  after all. Happy enough anyway, never
          to want to go back to Dr. Otake.