Archive for March, 2014

Week 22 (March 31)

Posted: March 31, 2014 in Weekly update

Ok, so I just spent the last half hour typing up a really detailed blog post for your enjoyment, but all my hard work ended up in vain, as the words were swallowed by a giant monster living somewhere in cyberspace. I hope my words were delicious.

On Monday I had my final day of teaching at the company class. We did a more relaxed lesson, as I turned the contents of the TOEIC test into a 2-team competition. It was a great way to wrap up the 28-day business English boot camp, and the students all said they enjoyed my class.

The following morning, I headed to Shikoku island for a day hike with my good friend Ted. Shikoku island is home to a 1200-km Buddhist route that loops around the entire island connecting 88 temples associated with the Shugendo sect of Buddism. After briefly visiting temple #1, we drove to the final temple and took a taxi down the valley so we could hike the last 8km of the route. Even though the pollen counts were high, it was an enjoyable walk in the countryside and a chance for Ted to do a little more research for a book he is writing about the pilgrimage. We finished off the long day with a soak in a local hot spring.

Mid-week brought another home visit from nurse Yohara. I asked her if patients ever accidentally skip doses and she said it was fairly common among elderly patients. I feel proud to admit that I haven’t forgotten to take my medicine even one time, but I sure I probably just jinxed myself by saying that. I’ve still got 3 weeks to have a mental lapse which could very well happen considering my schedule will change dramatically from the second week of April when the semester officially starts.

Since rain was forecast for Sunday, I seized a small fair-weather window and woke up at the crack of dawn for another hike on Saturday. I went to northern Kyoto Prefecture near the Sea of Japan where I thought the pollen counts would be lower. Unfortunately my nose rain like a neglected faucet and I even starting coughing a bit. I guess I was tempting fate by not giving myself enough time to recover from Tuesday’s hike. On Sunday morning I woke to find my usual clear mucus had turned yellow and that my chihuahua hack had developed into a full-blown cough of the Saint Bernard variety. I guess it was my body’s way of telling me to take a few days off and rest.

The last day of teaching with my company class

The last day of teaching with my company class




Week 21 (March 23)

Posted: March 23, 2014 in Weekly update

Well, I survived St. Patrick’s Day unscathed. Actually it’s not such a big holiday over here except with the Irish expats, and since I can’t drink alcohol anyway I avoided all of the madness and focused on keeping my histamine levels under control. The pollen has hit my immune system with a vengeance, so I keep that mask tightly secured every time I head outside. I’m not sure if the antibiotics acerbate the problem or not, but I’m not taking any chances.

Being kooked up inside all day is not good for the conscious, so fortunately my trips to the office to teach English help me forget about my runny nose if not momentarily. Actually, some of my students also suffer from seasonal allergies so in that case I don’t feel alone. It is estimated that 30% of Japan’s population is afflicted with some form of cedar fever. Most years I evacuate to cedar-free areas in either Okinawa or abroad, but weekly nurse visits mean I must stay in Osaka and ‘grin-and-bear it’ as the old saying goes.

Friday was the spring equinox, and luckily for us it is a public holiday. We don’t prescribe to the clock-turning customs over here, which makes keeping track of the time much easier than back home (though it does make the time difference fluctuate). To herald in the coming of spring, Kanako and I headed out for a hike with a few friends. Someone forgot to tell mother nature that spring had arrived because we fought our way through fresh snowfall and blustery conditions that had us wishing we had packed the down jackets. While it was refreshing to get out in nature you can just about guess how my immune system responded. Upon returning I downed an antihistamine and let nature run its course. It usually takes a couple of days to recover from a spring outing and I can say my system has finally calmed down.

Nurse Yohara was busy last week so she couldn’t visit, which means she will have a lot of empty medicine containers to count when she comes this coming Wednesday. We worked out a schedule of visits for the remainder of my medication schedule (less than a month to go luckily). I’ll start working again from April which doesn’t leave my schedule very open except for Friday afternoons.

I’m ready to finish off March and enter my final month of treatment. Unfortunately that means there are only a few more blog posts left before I move on to another chapter in my life, so I’ll try to make the final few a little more interesting.

Suffering from the pollen but enjoying nature

Suffering from the pollen but enjoying nature

Week 20 (March 16)

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Weekly update
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Twenty weeks of TB treatment and I can truly say that I feel pretty “normal” now whatever that means. A little over a month of antibiotics left until my urine will finally return to its usual color (remember the medicine turns my pee a reddish orange color).

Some of you were waiting with bated breath about the results of Kanako’s TB test. Sorry to keep you all in suspense: her blood test came back negative and her cough has dissipated, so you can exhale with a huge sigh of relief. I’m guessing that our air purifiers helped exterminate the airborne particles before they had time to implant themselves in her lungs, or maybe her immune system was strong enough to deal with them on its own. Of course it could have been the Tai Chi power running through her veins….

It was an uneventful week at work with the exception that Thursday’s classes were cancelled because my students had another training session. I didn’t mind having an extra day off (with pay) and celebrated by watching the rain pour down all day. Later that evening we had a minor earthquake that woke us up but otherwise caused no damage. Despite living in a seismically active country, we don’t feel temblors all that often. Folks in Tokyo experience them all the time, but down here in Osaka it’s been relatively calm. Of course, experts predict the great Nankai earthquake will cause great destruction here in western Japan but we’ve all got our fingers crossed that the fault slip won’t occur for a few more centuries.

On Saturday Kanako had a rare day off, so we celebrated her negative TB result by frolicking with the Elves and Orcs of Middle-earth. Despite the fact that the movie is about to be released on DVD, here in Japan it’s just come out in the theaters. The main reason for the delay is so that the dubbed version could be made. Yes, they’re still behind the times here and every Hollywood movie gets overdubs done by famous Japanese actors. When you go to the movies, you have a choice of subtitles or overdubs, so we always go for the subtitled versions, which are certainly less crowded that the ones with all of the actors speaking perfect Japanese. Generally speaking, movies are about 2 to 3 months behind the west, so that the movies you can watch on the airplane are the ones currently being shown in Japanese theaters.

On Sunday, I headed out on yet another hike. Both the pollen counts and PM2.5 were unusually high, but a visit to the deciduous forests could not be put off any longer. As you may recall from earlier posts, I try to hit the trails once a week to give my lungs and muscles a much-needed workout. Today temperatures were well above freezing, resulting in a purging of my skin pores that usually only happens in the humid weather of mid-summer. The cool breezes meant that any lingering breaks brought a chill to the bones. It’ll still be some time before T-shirt weather will officially prevail, but it’s nice to have a sneak preview of things to come.

As a result of exposing my nasal cavity to the elements, my immune system kicked into overdrive after returning from the hike. I called in the back-up troops hidden in the white powdery depths of the Claritin and all returned to normal except for a bit of irritated eyes. Hiking during this season is always a precarious undertaking, but it sure beats the alternative of sitting at home and watching the dust collect on the bookshelves.

My friend Paul navigating the sandstone maze

My friend Paul navigating the sandstone maze

Week 19 (March 11)

Posted: March 11, 2014 in Weekly update
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Sorry for the delay in getting this blog updated. I blame it on the pollen…..

Last week after a couple of days of work, I headed back to Dr. Tamura on Wednesday for a blood test and check-up. The results were good. My liver function is stable, but my INR is still too low. Time to bump up my warfarin dosage yet again. I have only one more check-up before the end of my TB treatment, and after that it’ll be a juggling game to get my warfarin dosage back to normal after the antibiotics run their course. He said it takes about 2 weeks for your body to fully eliminate all of the drugs from your system. I guess that makes sense if they’ve been running through your bloodstream nonstop for the last 6 months!

I still feel pretty tired after working half a day, so I’ve got in the routine of taking a quick power nap after getting home from work. That seems to help, and I pretty much go straight into REM sleep immediately after putting my head on the pillow. I think a lot of my fatigue is from my allergies. So far they haven’t been too bad. I mean, I do have a runny nose and sneezing, but it’s not nonstop like it usually is. My guess is that the pollen, in the words of the Carpenters, has only just begun and that it’ll continue to worsen along with the rise in temperatures. The antihistamines are on standby just in case. I usually don’t take them unless it’s a really heavy pollen day. Instead, I just rely on wearing a mask every time I go outside.

Despite the flowery discharge, I did make it out for a hike on Sunday. I went to Mt. Rokko, a local mountain that is only a 20-minute train ride from Osaka. Little did I know that they were hosting an event on that day, and the trails were overflowing with hikers. The event is known as the Grand Traverse. Participants start at the far end of the range at the inhumane hour of 4am and traverse along the entire mountain range, ending in Takarazuka some 53 kilometers later. It’s definitely not my idea of fun, especially when sharing the mountain with 1100 other masochists. Fortunately, we did a section of the trail near the end, so we were off the mountain before the majority of sufferers stumbled off the mountain after dark.

Speaking of sufferers, today marks the 3rd anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I was actually in New Zealand when the earthquake hit, so I didn’t experience it first-hand. I have traveled to some of the areas hit by the tsunami, but it was many years ago, and I feel their pain. The Japanese government has done a pretty poor job on reconstruction efforts, instead focusing their energy, attention, and monetary resources on preparing for the 2020 Olympics. Living in Japan, you definitely get the sense that the central government only cares about Tokyo at the expense of the rest of Japan. If the quake was centered in Tokyo, you can bet that the city would have been completely rebuilt by now. Anyway, at least the government has paid for my TB treatment, so I there’s a tiny bit of moral fiber left in their aging bones.

This hay fever seems to have activated some facial muscles

This hay fever seems to have activated some facial muscles

Week 18 (March 3)

Posted: March 3, 2014 in Weekly update
Tags: ,

I can’t believe March is already here. It’s my last full month of treatment, so you know I’ll be counting down the days with a sense of joy and relief. Now, to recap the week:

Monday and Tuesday were spent teaching my new students. They are all around 24 to 25 years old and get along really well with each other. It’s a dream scenario as a teacher, as they all listen attentively and do what they are told. I still feel pretty wiped after work and have managed to sneak in a few early evening naps before dinner. The training facility has an employee cafeteria utilizing the latest in technology (designed by the company itself, no doubt). You pay for your meal after you eat by taking your tray to a sensor-lined counter. Your empty plates and bowls are instantly scanned and your total caloric intake is displayed alongside your total. After that you pay the cashier and take your tray to the conveyor belt that shuttles it back to the kitchen. I’ve been tempted to eat a high-calorie meal just to see if there’s some kind of alarm system built in whenever you overeat.

Wednesday was my day off and nurse Yohara came by to check up on me. These weekly visits are turning into a bit of a rehearsed routine. She is required to inquire about my progress and I’m obliged to hand over the empty medicine packages, which I’m pretty sure she uses to either decorate the office or repackage them with sweets to give to her children. Or maybe she just shows them to her boss to prove that she’s been out working all day instead of killing time at the local department store.

On Thursday Kanako went to our local ward office to have her TB blood test. We haven’t heard back from them about the results, but are expecting a reply any day now. If it turns out she does have the disease then I guess I’ll be extending the life of this blog to include not only my recovery, but hers as well. Fingers crossed that it won’t be necessary. She does have a pretty bad cough that is leftover from her bout with the flu. Let’s hope that it will improve soon and that TB is not the culprit.

Friday was another day of work, where I went to bed at a reasonable hour after the fatigue of working a full work week (if you can call 4 half-days a ‘full’ week that is). I needed my rest to prepare for another exciting weekend. On Saturday evening I went to a Mardi Gras party at my friend CC’s restaurant. He’s a New Orleans transplant who serves authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine from his bistro that is only half a block from my apartment. To celebrate the occasion, he invited a swing jazz band to perform, which really livened things up. Despite the rainy weather, the group led a small carnival-style parade down the streets, blasting out their catchy tunes in much the same way a marching band belts out patriotic hymns on the fourth of July. Within minutes the cops showed up to put a muzzle in our conviviality. This was despite the fact that they had received written permission from the authorities to hold the event. It only takes one grinch to spoil the party, however. This country continues to defy logic: every Sunday a troup of right-wing vans meander the streets of my neighborhood belting out old Japanese songs professing their love for the emperor. They sometimes shout at pedestrians and make some very racist comments towards those of Korean and Chinese descent. The decibel levels are through the roof, yet the cops do absolutely nothing to stop them, but when a group of people want to gather peacefully and spread love and culture through music, their efforts are squashed immediately. Still, it was fun to see my neighborhood transformed into a festive vibe if even for a split second.

On Sunday I woke up at 6am to head to the mountains with my friends Tomomi and Baku. They picked me up from my apartment and we headed deep into the mountains of Shiga Prefecture to climb another snow-capped peak. Recently temperatures have been way above average and rain fell most of Saturday evening. The snow had all melted at the trailhead and we didn’t hit any white stuff until a third of the way to the summit. The snow was wet and rotten, turning our shoes into a soggy mess, but the beautiful beech forest made up for any discomfort. We followed one lone set of footprints, as well as the tracks of wild boar, deer, and bear, through the slushy slopes under cloudy but calm skies. The locals people we spoke with in the village at the foothills commented on the lack of snow so early in the season. Usually their hamlet is buried well into April. The pollen counts were low, and it was great to explore another new area of Kansai before the snows return for another encore (temperatures are back down to freezing as I write).

This coming week I have another appointment with my TB doctor. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the next installation of this blog, tentatively titled “Week 19”.

Rotting snow and fog in the early spring weather

Rotting snow and fog in the early spring weather