Archive for November, 2013

Day 40 (November 30)

Posted: November 30, 2013 in Daily update
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40 days and 40 nights have I weathered out the storm. Now that the Ark is parked outside, we must decide which two nurses, doctor, and patients will be allowed on board. Dr. Tamura and Nurse Sakai have definitely made the cut, but how about the quota of 2 patients? The lady who is 8 months pregnant with her first child is definitely allowed on, which leaves room only one more. “I promise I’ll send another ship,” I say, as we pull up the anchor from the makeshift dock positioned right outside my 9th floor window.

Ok, so maybe I’ve completely lost my mind, but that’s what I get for being isolated for a month and a half. This morning I started my new stretching routine and got a little closer to touching my toes, but I still think it’s going to take some time for my muscles to adjust to their new work schedule.

In the afternoon I went for my 20-minute back-and-forth stroll in the hall of the ward, and just as I was on the last lap my German friend Tomasu showed up for a visit. He was in town from Tokyo for some autumn sightseeing in Kyoto and was grateful enough to swing by for a bit. He not only brought fresh fruit, but also some nutrient-packed bread and tasty camembert cheese. The amount of support and encouragement I’ve received since my hospitalization is truly humbling. I can only hope to return the favor after I’m back in the real world.

Tomorrow is Sunday and that means another visit from my VIP Kanako. She’s my Very Important Partner while also her VIP:  Very Impatient Patient! I feel another epic game of Scrabble on the horizon.

Tomasu keeping good company

Tomasu keeping good company

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Day 39 (November 29)

Posted: November 29, 2013 in Daily update
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The weather was very moody today. Rain that fell in the early morning yielded to sunny skies which further yielded to sleet before dissipating to clear weather for the rest of the afternoon. I can only imagine what it felt like outside from the comforts of my climate-controlled bubble, but it sure did look cold out there. The leaves have already started falling and it’ll only be a matter of time before the trees shield their clothing for the winter.

Today I received a get well card from Carol, a friend of the family who I’ve known since I was too young to speak. It’s nice to know that people 6500 miles away are thinking of me. I wonder what will happen if someone sends a letter or package after I’m discharged. Will my doctor hold it for me and hand it over during my subsequent check-ups?

Just before lunch a nurse came to take away my handy pillbox. Another patient was in need of it, so I was left with an old pudding container and a cup that looks suspiciously like the ones they give you for a urine sample. I didn’t mind though, as the new receptacles take up much less space on my narrow nightstand. I would have a lot more space if not for the television that is bolted directly on top. It’s basically just dead weight as I don’t watch the boob tube anyway. I tried to remove it on my first day of admission, but I didn’t want to risk breaking it.

In order to further break up the monotony of my day-to-day living, I now have added two challenges to get me through the rest of my stay. The first is easy: I will set aside 30 minutes each day for walking. Since I’m not allowed outside the hospital grounds I’ve decided to play by the rules and walk up and down the hallway. Today I walked for 15 minutes, which was probably about a kilometer. It felt great to get moving again and I hope to work up to one hour of nonstop walking before they kick me out of here. The other, more difficult goal is to start stretching my muscles! I want to be able to touch my toes by the time I’m released. Man I should have started this from day 1 because today I could barely touch my knees! I’ve always wanted to become more limber, so now is as good as a chance as any. A pre-New Year’s resolution if you will.

My new medicine holders

My new medicine holders

(hospital fashion)

Day 38 (November 28)

Posted: November 28, 2013 in Daily update
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Recently it’s been day after day of beautiful autumn skies with amazing visibility. The wintry gales blowing in from Siberia have pushed the pollution out over the pacific, and from my room you can literally see a hundred kilometers in every direction. My only wish is that I could be enjoying these vistas from the top of a mountain rather than from the top of my bed.

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the US, but here in Japan it’s just another regular day in the life of hardworking people. Turkey is not a traditional dish of Japan, but a lot of foreign-owned bars and restaurants serve the autumn fowl on this auspicious day. Here in the hospital I was served ‘hamburg’, which is a Japanese version of Salisbury steak, so I could still celebrate the holiday with something slightly resembling American cuisine. I am thankful for the kind nurses who put up with my antics, to the doctors who actually diagnosed the disease before I coughed myself to death, and to all of the amazing support I’ve received from friends and family.

Kanako made a surprise visit this afternoon, as she works nearby every Thursday and had a little time to kill beforehand. We had time for a brief nap before I sat with her in the lounge. I ate a cookie while she ate some healthy-looking vegetable penne. Kanako has that magical power to brighten up my day. It wasn’t that I was having a tough day or anything, but her smile and positive energy can make a great day even better. We didn’t have time for Scrabble today, but there’a always the weekend, which is just around the corner.

Tomorrow is Friday which means…..it’s bath day! It’s amazing how simple your life can be when all of the responsibilities of society are stripped away. Will the bath be the highlight of my day? Well, you’re just going to have to hold your breath and wait until my next blog post.

Autumn skies

Autumn skies

Day 37 (November 27)

Posted: November 27, 2013 in Daily update
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When you enter the hospital on the first floor, after passing by the guard desk you’ll reach a bank of 6 elevators, only one of which goes to my floor. This specially dedicated elevator is designed to prevent clueless patients and visitors from accidentally wandering into the TB ward. Once you exit the elevator and turn left, you’ll reach the entrance to Ward 11A, my home for the last 6 weeks.

As you step into the hall, you’ll find rows of black cylindrical oxygen tanks hidden behind a wall of curtains. Across from this respiratory aid is the nurses station, an apartment-sized box of immaculate workstations and flat screened computers. Every morning the space is crawling with nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and other assistants who service both my ward and the ultra-isolated home for drug-resistant TB patients on the other side of the building. The nurse station is a self-contained bubble and the only place on the hall where workers can relax without having to wear their surgical masks. The difference between their ‘natural’ and ‘masked’ faces can be stark sometimes. I only know my caretakers by the shape and color of their eyes, so when I catch a glance of their full profile they often look like a completely different person.

Across from the working center of the ward is the common room, where I spend most of my time when not in the bath, staring out the window, or sneaking off downstairs. The room has a couple of uncomfortable sofas lined up in front of the TV and a large bookshelf stacked with donated Japanese novels of questionable quality. Behind this there are two tables with seating for 10, with a computer workstation nestled in one corner of the room. A drink machine occupies the other corner.

Other than the common room and bath, the rest of the ward is filled with patient rooms. Most of them are shared but there are a few single rooms which are reserved for patients with special needs. I haven’t done an official headcount of the number of patients in my ward but I’m going to guess it’s somewhere between 25 and 30.

Now that you have a mental image of my newly-adopted home, I can go about describing my day. Well, nothing much happened. I took a bath and ate some ice cream. Sometimes it’s good to have an uneventful day after so much drama over the last few weeks.

The nurse station,  on a rare occasion when it's deserted

The nurse station, on a rare occasion when it’s deserted

Day 36 (November 26)

Posted: November 26, 2013 in Daily update
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Well, it didn’t take long to find a replacement for Mr. Miyoshi. I now have a new roommate sleeping beside me, a thin curtain separating our modest attempts at privacy. I don’t know much about him except his TB was caught during a recent health exam. In Japan, employers are required by law to provide a yearly health exam to their employees. Usually it involves a blood test, urinalysis, an X-ray, and perhaps a Barium test if you’re lucky. This is the time of year for those check-ups, so hospitals prepare extra beds in anticipation. There was another new patient admitted a few doors down as well, so it’s only a matter of time before this ward fills up completely. I hope I’m not still here when that happens.

Kanako came to visit again, and she was just in time to attend another TB presentation provided by the boring doctor upstairs. We went to one of these presentations on my very first day of hospitalization, but now this program was addressing issues with reintegrating back into society after being discharged. I learned such important things as: Yes, you can have a hotpot party with your friends! No, you don’t have to wash your clothes separately from other family members! Cover your belly button when there’s lightning or Raijin the god of thunder will take you away! Ok, so we didn’t learn about that last one but it’s still important to remember when you’re on the beach during a summer rain squall.

The presentation was informative but pretty boring considering the lack of exciting visuals. Most Japanese people are not good at making powerpoint presentations and rely too much on reading straight from text-heavy slides. Despite our sleepiness, we were able to entertain ourselves by drawing pictures and by ‘patient watching’ during the 30-minute debacle.

I had another sputum test today and I bet you’re just dying to know the result right? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with a ‘p’ and ends with an ‘ositive’. Dr. Tamura reassured me that testing positive has nothing to do with a relapse of my condition and that the medicine is working. He did stress, however, that if next week’s test is negative then I would be released, and if it was positive then we could negotiate and try to get approved for what he called ‘home isolation’. I can tell that he is on my side and definitely feels my pain. I told him how stressful it is being locked up in here. I don’t mind the hospital itself. I have 3 solid meals a day, a warm bath, and a place to sleep. It’s just this chronic insomnia causes me stress, which raises my blood pressure and makes me short-tempered. In order to be eligible for home isolation, you need approval from the public health office, the very same office that I chewed out on the phone yesterday. Of course my public display of anger could work in my favor and they might agree to my release just to get me out of their hair. I’d rather not have to go this route though, so my best option is  to simply test negative during next week’s sputum check. Until then, I’ll continue my daily routine of reading and writing and visits to the convenience store.

Today's exciting powerpoint presentation

Today’s exciting powerpoint presentation

Day 35 (November 25)

Posted: November 25, 2013 in Daily update
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I definitely jinxed myself. Just as I was talking about how no one ever uses the squat toilet in my ward, I suddenly found myself in dire need of it. Nature called out of the blue this morning, and both of the western-style toilets were occupied. I held off as long as a I could, legs crossed while swaying back and forth but in the end I squatted. Over the years I’ve become accustomed to the unique posture, which is a vast improvement over my bowel accident a decade earlier on the slopes of Mt. Fuji.

This morning, Mt. Miyoshi was let out as expected, so I’m down to just two other patients in my room. He did stop by to say farewell and offer his condolences for being let out before me. I hope that I’ll be the next one of the list to be released back into society.

Spending a month in the hospital is a fantastic way to improve your language skills. My confidence on the phone is skyrocketing thanks in large part to the numerous calls from the city health office. Today I reached a whole new level of proficiency, where I was able to chew out the government official in Japanese without missing a beat. My heated tirade left my poor victim utterly speechless, and I wonder if she’ll even bother calling me again. It’s a long story that I don’t want to go into, but hopefully my displeasure with the communication channels in place will go into making the system a lot better in the future.

Dr. Tamura ordered another sputum test and blood exam for tomorrow morning. Usually these are done on Thursdays but he is trying to speed up the process in my favor. If I test negative, I could be out the door before the start of the weekend. This is in direct contrast to the city office, who try to complicate matters and take their own sweet time before making decisions. The doctors are on my side and want to expedite the process of my release. After explaining our new course of action, I turned to the doctor with a simple, honest request: “Can I borrow some of your phlegm for tomorrow’s test?” His cackling reverberated down the corridor as he strolled off to check on other patients. I think my sense of humor is starting to rub off.

Fuel for hospital survival

Fuel for hospital survival

Day 34 (November 24)

Posted: November 24, 2013 in Daily update
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“Wow, your blood pressure is high”, remarked Murakami-san, my nurse for the day. “Of course it is,” I smirked, “because of this place.” She nodded in agreement while removing the velcro straps of the blood pressure cup fastened to my left bicep. Usually my numbers are well within range and even a bit on the low side, but the lack of sleep and exercise are catching up to me. I feel a bit like a wild animal trapped in the zoo: torn away from loved ones and forced to pace back and forth in its concrete cage. I know my numbers will drop the minute I’m released from this place, but until then I just need to figure out a more effective way of releasing stress.

One of the patients a few doors down was discharged today. There wasn’t an official announcement or anything, but I saw family members helping the elderly woman pack her things. You would think that after several months of constant daily care the nurses would give her a hearty send off, but these farewells are definitely anti-climactic. Although there are few patients that I’ve gotten to know, I have become sort of close to some of the nurses here, so I hope they’ll at least give me a high five when I get the boot. I think the reason for the quiet departure is because of the weekend. Sundays are the quietest days of the week, with only a few nurses and no doctors on duty. If you’re going to suffer a myocardial infarction, don’t do it on a Sunday.

Since I’ve covered just about every aspect of my hospitalization, it’s time to focus on the dirty part of my daily life: the toilets! There is only one restroom in the ward with only one entrance, so the women have to walk right past the men’s room to enter their fecal depository zone. Fortunately there’s a courtesy curtain covering the entrance so the men can urinate without having a captive audience of female patients or nurses. Two urinals line the wall on the right, flanked on the end wall by a wheelchair accessible water closet. On the lefthand side of the space are two more toilets, one of which is a Japanese style squat toilet. So when it comes time to empty the bowels, you either have to wait until the two western-style toilets are free or roll the dice by hovering over the ceramic vortex. I don’t have anything against squatters, but I do question the appropriateness of having them in a hospital, where most of the patients have trouble standing, never mind bending their knees. I seriously wonder if the toilet has seen any use. You’ll get an even worse ratio at schools throughout this country, with a row of 7 squat-toilets juxtaposed next to one lonely porcelain throne that is always occupied, while the rest remain abandoned.

Kanako visited again (the third day in a row in case you were counting). We had another couple of games of Scrabble before dinner was delivered. While I ate, she snoozed in the bed beside me, until the nurse came in and interrupted our short-lived moment of peace. I’m thinking of installing either a lock or a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on my curtain so I have a moment of peace. Once again I walked Kanako out to the bus stop to see her off. I may start going for walks every evening under the cover of darkness. I just have to make sure I don’t get locked out of the hospital!

The Lone Squatter

The Lone Squatter