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Hospitalization in Japan

Posted: October 24, 2013 in What to expect

This is my 4th hospitalization in Japan, so I’ve become a bit of an expert. This post is an attempt to help others who may end up in a Japanese hospital.

What to expect

I’m not going to lie. Life in a Japanese hospital can be a very stressful experience. Fear, insomnia, lack of privacy: these are all things that could very well drive you mad, but if you’re mentally prepared for these intrusions beforehand, it becomes a lot easier to deal with.

Schedule

A lot of the schedule will depend on the reason for your hospitalization, but expect a very early wake-up call. The nurses usually turn on the fluorescent lights in your room at 6am (though for my current hospitalization, it’s  a slightly more reasonable 7am). The first act of business, if necessary, is a blood test. After that, they may take your blood pressure or check your temperature. Next comes breakfast, which is usually an hour after you are forced awake, so be careful about going back to sleep as it will screw up your circadian rhythm. After breakfast, the cleaning staff will come in to clean the room, followed by a nurse and/or doctor some time around 9 or 10am. If there are tests to be run (e-xray, CT, ECG, etc), they are usually done in the morning. Lunch is at exactly noon, and you’ll get a little free time after that until about 2 or 3pm, where the nurse and/or doctor will come in again to check up on you. Visitation hours usually start around 2 or 3pm and last until 8pm or so. Dinner comes at 6pm and lights out around 9pm generally. The nurses make regular rounds during the night and may enter from time to time to check vital signs and such. All in all, there’s very little time to do much relaxing or to have time completely to yourself.

Meals

Meal times are set and food is served in your room, regardless of whether you have a private room or whether you share with other patients. You need to bring your own cutlery and are usually responsible for washing it and caring for it yourself. Menus are usually posted in the hallway of the hospital, but they are in Japanese only. In addition, you’ll find a list of all the items served for each meal on a printed piece of paper when your meal is delivered. There’s also a total calorie count for each meal, so you can keep track of how much you are eating. Generally it’s about 1500 to 2000 kcal per day, which may not be enough for those with a high metabolism. Stock up on snacks if you don’t want to go hungry.

Rooms

Most rooms in the hospital are shared, usually with 3 other patients. While private rooms are available, they come at an additional cost comparable to a stay in a hotel. This is actually my first hospitalization in a shared room. The other 3 times I ended up having my own room even though they said it would be difficult to have a private room. Some places may give you a private room out of sympathy of being a foreigner. Rooms will have a bed, a nightstand, a small refrigerator, a TV, and a place to hang or store clothes. Space, just like the rest of Japan, is limited, so try to schedule your visitors accordingly so you’re not stuck with 10 friends in a space that comfortably holds only a handful of people. Rooms can either be too hot or too cold, depending on which nurses are on duty. Make sure you bring a variety of clothes so you can put on or take off layers as needed.

What to bring

Hospitals in general provide a bed and little else. You need to bring everything for your daily needs, including soap, shampoo, laundry detergent (if laundry is available for patients), towels, tissues, trash bags, clothes, toiletries (except toilet paper), books, razor, a hairbrush, pen, and a notebook among many other things. Some hospitals may not even have a trash can for you to use. It’s better to ask for a list from the hospital prior to being admitted. Every hospital has a guidebook (written in Japanese) outlining the policies and a list of things to bring.

Visitors

Visitation hours and policies vary, but visitors should be an integral part of your hospitalization experience. Friends, co-workers, and family members should be welcomed and will definitely make you feel a lot better. It can be stressful managing the throngs of well-wishers though, so set up a schedule and try not to have everyone visit on the same day or at the same time. Tell your visitors you’re only available for a short time, because seeing people takes energy you may or may not have.  All visitors should consider wearing a mask and to make use of the bottles of hand disinfectant outside of each room. Hospitals are a breeding ground for all kinds of nasty illnesses, so guests as well as patients need to protect themselves.

Keeping in touch

Mobile devices are generally prohibited in the hospital rooms. You must go to a different area of the hospital to send an e-mail or talk on your cell phone. The same goes with wi-fi, though hospitals are finally starting to jump on the bandwagon and may have a computer with internet access available for patients. The place I am staying at now has both a computer and an extra LAN cable in the common room so that people can use their own laptops. If you are hospitalized long-term, then ask the nurses about receiving mail and packages at your hospital. They will give you an address that you can give to your friends and family. Be sure to double-check to see if any items are prohibited in the hospital (sometimes flowers and raw food are not allowed in the hospital because they may be a breeding ground for germs)

Well, I guess that covers most of the basics. If there’s anything else you’re curious about, leave a comment and I’ll try to address it.