Archive for December, 2013

Week 9 (December 29)

Posted: December 29, 2013 in Weekly update
Tags: ,

Kanako and I officially celebrated my release from isolation by heading down to Yamaguchi Prefecture for a couple of days. We explored Akiyoshidou, Japan’s largest limestone cave, which sits under a vast plateau of karst and grasslands bleached yellow by the wintry frosts and Siberian gales. We wanted to stay much longer but unfortunately my doctor scheduled my first follow-up appointment for the 26th of December.

We came back to Osaka late on the 25th and the next morning I headed back to the hospital for a check-up. This time I did not have to wait in isolation and I finally got to see Dr. Tamura without a mask on. He looked much different than I had imagined. Anyway, my blood tests were normal and the sputum culture results came back negative as expected. I submitted another sample of phlegm which I assume was also negative since they haven’t tried to drag me back to the hospital to stay again.

The other good news from the doctor visit is that I am now down to just two different antibiotics. I took my last dose of Pyrazinamide on Thursday morning and it’s not a drug I’m going to miss. Here in Japan it only comes in powder form and no matter how many times I take powdered medicine I can never get used to the bitter taste and the awkwardness of forcing a package of white powder down the throat. With that obstacle out of the way, I can now take all of my medicine with in just one swallow (9 pills in total but that’s nothing compared to the 12 pills of warfarin I can wolf down at one time).

Kitaguchi-san from the Osaka city health department made her first home visit to confirm that I have been taking my medicine. I basically have to show her all the empty medicine packages and she counts them to make sure I didn’t forget any doses. She will come next week accompanied by a nurse employed by Osaka city, who will take over these weekly home visits until my treatment is complete. The only plus side to having a nurse come to your apartment every week is that there’s a huge incentive to keep your home organized. It’s one of our New Year’s resolutions and something we will strive to do a better job of.

Friday was Kanako’s birthday and we were able to celebrate it without be chaperoned by doctors or nurses. I gave her some presents while we enjoyed a nice lunch and a lazy afternoon nap. Afterwards, we cooked dinner and watched the first Star Wars movie on DVD. It was our first time to watch the classic movie and both of us agreed that it was pretty dumb. I mean, sure it was groundbreaking at the time, but the story line is pretty silly when you think about it. After that was finished we watched the Family Guy parody which we enjoyed a thousand times more than the original.

Much better than what they served in the hospital

Much better than what they served in the hospital

Week 8 (December 20)

Posted: December 20, 2013 in Weekly update
Tags: ,

It’s been a week since I gained my freedom and things are starting to settle down for the most part. It actually feels like a lot longer since I made it out of the hospital, and there’s never a dull moment when you come home to a list a mile long of things to do.

After seeing friends all weekend I headed to the city office on Monday morning to meet with the health officials. I had to submit paperwork from the hospital and to work out a schedule for home visitations from the public nurse. Here in Japan, the patients themselves are responsible for submitting paperwork at both the hospital and the government offices, so I feel a bit like a courier at times. Whenever I go to the hospital they give me papers to submit to the city office and vice versa. One day I hope they will automate their system so they can just do transactions electronically but judging by the computer systems still in use at the Osaka city health department I’d say they are still a long way away from entering the digital age.

The TB medication is going well. I haven’t forgotten a dosage yet and I don’t plan on it anytime soon. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to be able to sleep in without being interrupted. I can easily sleep the entire night through, even with the cold temperatures. Speaking of the arctic air, it seems to have actually helped my lungs. In the hospital I was having asthma attacks almost daily because of the incredibly dry air, but the humid air of the outside world hasn’t caused me any problems. My cough is almost completely gone as well. It still acts up a little at night, but nothing compared to before.

Next Thursday I will have my first visit with my doctor after being released. We’ll be able to see more clearly whether or not the TB bacteria is completely dead or not. Regardless, I still need to keep taking my meds until at least the end of April in order to prevent a relapse, but hopefully the dosage can be reduced a bit after getting the latest results.

My collection of daily pills

My collection of daily pills

Day 53 (December 13)

Posted: December 13, 2013 in Daily update
Tags: ,

I spent most of the night in a silent battle with the nurse. She’d come in to make her hourly rounds and turn on the heat in our room. I’d wake up drier than a wrinkled prune and turn the heat back off. This repeated until morning. Looks like I’m getting out just in time, as the ward heaters are starting to pump out intensely dry air that was aggravating my asthma.

After breakfast I finished my packing and waited for Kanako and her parents to arrive. They came shortly after 10am. After saying farewell to my roommates and a few other people in the ward we lined up for photos with the wonderful nurses. Next came the official check-out procedure with the main accounting office downstairs. Even though the city told me they’d cover 95% of my medical costs, in the end they covered everything. Maybe it’s their way of apologizing for keeping me in so long.

“Do you know what today is?”, Kanako quizzed me sternly. She was looking for a reply that didn’t state the obvious, so Friday the 13th and my release day were out as possible answers. I gave up, but she zealously reminded me that it has been exactly 10 years to the day since we first met.  If she knew back then about my run of bad luck a decade later she might have stayed away. Being reunited with her seemed like the perfect way to commemorate our anniversary.

Upon leaving the hospital, Kanako’s father drove us home and ended up cooking a nice omelette lunch for us. It felt strange setting foot back in our apartment after being away for so long. At first it felt as if I were visiting someone else, but now the comfort and familiarity are starting to return.

So there you have it. After nearly two months of isolation I’m back in society; so what next? Well, you’ll be happy to hear that I will continue updating this blog weekly until the end of my medical treatment. Stay tuned for the next part of my ongoing saga: dealing with the Osaka city health department!

Saying farewell to the nurses

Saying farewell to the nurses

Day 52 (December 12)

Posted: December 12, 2013 in Daily update
Tags: ,

Well, this is my final full day in the hospital, and Kanako, sharp-eyed as ever, pointed out that I will be released on Friday the 13th! Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers now can they?

I spent most of the day packing and sorting through my stuff and dreaming about life on the other side. The first order of business is to catch up on sleep, followed by gorging myself on every type of cuisine in hopes of putting back on some of that lost weight. Hiking will come next; perhaps this weekend if I’m feeling energetic enough.

While rummaging through my belongings, I decided to count the number of books that I’ve read since being hospitalized. Here’s the complete list, in random order:

  • Dark Summit – Nick Heil
  • The Wind is Howling – Ayako Miura
  • Born to Run – Christoper McDougall
  • It’s Not About the Bike – Lance Armstrong
  • No Way Down – Graham Bowley
  • Stranger in the Forest – Eric Hansen
  • Against the Wall – Simon Yates
  • Into Thin Air – John Krakauer
  • Ultra Marathon Man – Dean Karnazes
  • Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson
  • Mountains of the Mind – Robert Macfarlane
  • The Beckoning Silence – Joe Simpson
  • Fresh Currents – Eric Johnston
  • Tokyo Vice – Jake Adelstein
  • Minus 148 degrees – Art Davidson
  • A Walk for Sunshine – Jeff Alt
  • The Lost Wolves of Japan – Brett Walker
  • The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide – Andrew Skurka
  • The Mountain Monks of Mount Hiei – John Stevens
  • Serious Creativity – Edward De Bono
  • Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
  • Lowside of the Road – Barney Hoskyns (still reading)

I think I averaged about 1 book every 3 days, which is a pretty good pace considering I was also doing a lot of writing and blogging during that time. Of course, I didn’t have much else to do while being confined to such a small space. I think it was a much more productive time than just wasting away the hours watching movies or playing video games.

The sunset this evening was spectacular – a perfect ending to my long period of isolation. I received two weeks worth of medication to take home with me and have to come back in exactly 2 weeks for an outpatient check-up. I hope they don’t find a reason to have me re-admitted!

My last sunset in the hospital

My last sunset in the hospital

Day 51 (December 11)

Posted: December 11, 2013 in Daily update
Tags: ,

The Christmas decorations are up in the hospital. As I type, I’m surrounded by an adorable collection of holiday plushies: Frosty the Snowman is holding down the fort with his buddy Rudolph, everybody’s favorite button-nosed reindeer. Santa, looking more than a little plump after raiding the hospital kitchen fridge after hours, sits nearby in a glazed look of agitation. He’s going to have to lose some weight if he wants to make all of those deliveries.

Christmas isn’t celebrated as a religious holiday here in Japan. Sure, there are decorations, tinseled trees, and carols everywhere you go, but if you ask the average citizen about the meaning of Christmas, they’re likely to reply with: “Isn’t it Santa’s birthday?” Christmas is all about eating cake, going on a date, and looking at colorful lights. Gifts are optional.

I received an early Christmas present this afternoon. Dr. Tamura stopped by to tell me I can be released anytime. We decided that Friday would do; I wanted to get the date set in stone before he changed his mind! So there you have it. I’ll be officially discharged the day after tomorrow. Jude if you’re reading this then you can go ahead and schedule your long-over hair cut.

It still hasn’t sunk in, but the end is in sight. Now of course, I’ll out of the fire but still in the frying pan so to speak, because the antibiotics will continue nonstop until at least the end of April. I don’t mind that, as I’ve been taking anti-coagulants daily for the last 6 years. So far the TB meds haven’t wrecked my liver so let’s hope it stays that way. I should be good to go as long as I avoid alcohol, which will be easy since I quite drinking completely when I had my heart surgery.

Kanako came by this afternoon and we celebrated with ice cream and Scrabble. Kanako said I looked incredibly happy today and I honestly do feel ecstatic. I doubt I’ll be able to sleep tonight but that’s fine with me, as the only thing I need to do tomorrow is to relax and pack my bags.

Frosty and Rudolph: partners in crime

Frosty and Rudolph: partners in crime

Day 50 (December 10)

Posted: December 10, 2013 in Daily update
Tags: ,

Since this is my 50th day of hospitalization, I thought I’d do something a little different. Below is a list of 50 things I have learned about Japanese hospitals:

  1. Resistance to flatulence is futile.
  2. Sometimes grown men do wear diapers.
  3. Shit stinks. Literally.
  4. Lights out comes much too early.
  5. Light on comes much too early.
  6. Hospitals are BYOE – Bring Your Own Everything.
  7. You can never have too many books.
  8. If the nurse says it’s gonna hurt, it probably will.
  9. Needles are a necessary evil.
  10. Medicine always has the most unpronounceable names.
  11. The changing of the sheets is something to look forward to.
  12. When the doctors says ‘soon’, they really mean they don’t know when.
  13. Toasters make everything taste better.
  14. The TV in the common room is always turned up way too loud.
  15. Moaners will be moaners.
  16. Don’t expect a good night’s sleep.
  17. Bath time is something to be cherished.
  18. Privacy can only be found on the porcelain throne. Unless you need assistance with that too.
  19. The thermometer goes under the arm, not under the tongue.
  20. Pain meds are your best friend.
  21. Nurses will always come in unannounced. Keep your pants on to avoid being surprised.
  22. There’s never enough storage space.
  23. There’s a Nurse Ratched in every hospital.
  24. Another man’s dentures are never fun to look at.
  25. Japanese people really do love sleeping.
  26. Routines aren’t designed to be broken.
  27. White bread really should be outlawed.
  28. My room is always too ‘bright’ for the nurses.
  29. Water takes 3-1/2 minutes to boil in the microwave.
  30. Pajamas are shockingly expensive.
  31. A catheter really is the worst thing imaginable.
  32. You can never have too many visitors.
  33. Nurses wear white. Assistants wear pastel.
  34. Pay phones are still very much in vogue.
  35. No the windows don’t open. I already tried them all.
  36. If given the choice, always go for the bed by the window.
  37. No matter how bad you may feel, there’s always someone much worse off than you.
  38. Don’t get sick on a weekend.
  39. Fruit always tastes better in the hospital.
  40. Even though everything is made of concrete, the fire department will still come to test the alarm systems monthly.
  41. Don’t get your head stuck in the bed railings. At least that’s what the warning signs say.
  42. Most of your fellow patients were probably born in the Taisho era.
  43. It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
  44. Japanese people do not know how to whisper.
  45. Beds always face east or west.
  46. The tea they serve is always tepid and never potent enough.
  47. A little bit of Japanese can go a long way.
  48. If you need to have your pubes shaved, it’s better to get the male nurse to do it.
  49. Don’t be afraid to use the nurse call button.
  50. Blogging about your experience can help ease the emotional pain.
50 days and counting

50 days and counting

Day 49 (December 9)

Posted: December 9, 2013 in Daily update
Tags: ,

With more construction work continuing upstairs, I spent most of the day trying to get my mind off the noise. A lot of it blends into the background until you start focusing on it, by which it starts to drive you mad. My game playing roommate got a new video game in the mail and proceeded to play it the entire afternoon. Normally that wouldn’t be cause for concern but the new toy involves touching the screen or device with a finger, resulting in a tapping sound more annoying than a leaky faucet. That, together with the high-pitched buzzing of electric razors, left me with a terrible headache. I’ve never used an electric razor in my life – I think my ears must be particularly sensitive to the frequency of the pitch, as it sends me running down the corridors in much the same way your beloved pooch would respond to a Galton’s whistle.

Other than those minor annoyances, it was a relatively quiet day in terms of medical treatment. I didn’t see Dr. Tamura at all today, so there was no update on my prognosis. I’m still following the unofficial motto of this fine establishment: “Hurry up and wait.” The nurse did tell me that I have a blood test and X-ray tomorrow, which my doctor had told me about last week. And he seems to be keeping his word for once about not ordering another test of my sputum. Maybe I will be released later this week after all. Oh, no, I better not start thinking like that again or I will be in trouble. Ok, I take that last statement back.

The food has completely repeated itself, as I have now tried every single dish offered at the hospital. Some of the food isn’t bad, while most can be considered edible by most humane standards. There are a few things that I don’t care too much for, one of which being seaweed. I can eat dried seaweed until the cows come home but I can’t stand the slimy fresh stuff they slip into my miso soup and into some of my salads. If I was stranded on a desert island with a group of Japanese people then I’d definitely be the first one to die of starvation. My fellow refugees would be chowing down on seaweed and kelp to their heart’s content while I would be staring in a hallucinogenic trance brought on by hunger and dehydration.

Tomorrow is a day I thought I would not have to face. 50 days of hospitalization. A new record for me and a milestone I hope to never repeat.

Maple leaves showing their true colors

Maple leaves showing their true colors