A trip to the Doctor’s

February 22, 2007

While getting dressed one morning I noticed two moles, quite close to each other, on the upper left of my abdomen, that I hadn’t noticed previously.  Having been alerted to the worrying stats on skin cancer in Australia, and also to how quickly moles can turn malignant, I decided to have them checked by the nurse here at GRIPS.

First, I visited my friend Teruyo in the student office, to find out where the school’s surgery was, and what time it was open each day.  After giving me the facts, Teruyo leaned across the desk and said:

‘Be careful.  Other students have said that the nurse is a bit odd.  She may be mentally ill.’

This isn’t what I wanted to hear.  It confirmed something that Susanna, who had studied here two years ago, had told me about her experiences with the nurse.  I instructed Teruyo to send out a search party if I wasn’t spotted the next day – just in case I happened to be in the room when nursey went round the bend.

My own diagnosis, though, is that the nurse is probably quite sane, but that her conditions of employment aren’t helping her mental stability.  (People who have worked in Treasury’s Issues Management Unit will know what I mean – yes guys??).  The surgery is located in a quiet service corridor, away from all of the activity of the school, and behind a solid windowless white door.  So the poor thing probably doesn’t get much human contact.  And when another living being does turn up, it is usually a snivelling, coughing or otherwise distracted foreign student with little Japanese and only passable English.   

So nursey appeared quite happy to see me walk through the door.  I told her my concerns and showed her the offending moles.  She got out her magnifying glass to have a close look at them, and pronounced that, although they looked quite normal, she would send me to the doctors’ surgery in nearby Roppongi Hills, just in case.  She also kept me there a little while with some conversation, and invited me to drop in anytime so that she could practice her English conversation skills.

Which all adds weight to my hypothesis of reasonable sanity placed under unreasonably stressful loneliness.

The next day I went visited the surgery in the Roppongi Hills complex, which is a large office tower, surrounded by extravagant landscaping including a sculpture of a large spider, a bit like the one that I wish had eaten the annoying actor who played Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.  The surgery was a large affair.  On walking through the door, you are greeted by a pleasant young Japanese woman asking (in Japanese) for your health insurance card and your letter of referral.  Once your details are punched in, she points you in the direction of a set of lounges and asks you to wait for a little while. 

There were about three or four other patients waiting at the lounge.  No ‘Time’ or other magazines were on the coffee table, but that was OK because quickly after I was led to another part of the surgery, to wait on another couch outside what turned out to be the dermatologist’s office.  After about 5 minutes of watching young nurses in pink nurses’ uniforms rushing about with files, one of them asked me to come into the doctor’s surgery.

Inside the doctor (whom the school nursey had told me to call ‘sensei’ (a la The Karate Kid) was sat in front of her desk and wearing a surgical mask.  The pink nurse came into the room after me and shut the door – so I had to reveal my embarrassingly un-Brad-Pitt-like, hirsute abdomen to two strange foreign women.  The doctor examined the moles and then made a short speech in Japanese.

‘Sumimasen, demo … wakarimasen’, I whispered (‘Excuse me, but … I don’t understand‘ – I’ve been saying this a lot over the last five months).

She then repeated what she had said, this time in halting but passable English.  I don’t know why the Japanese do this.  A lot of them speak quite good English, and I am clearly a clueless foreigner – but they’ll still talk to you in reams of Japanese at the drop of a hat.

Anyway, she explained that the moles weren’t malignant, but that each time I go out I should wear sunblock, especially in Australia, which is known for its harsh sun.

I thanked her for her time, and was shown out by the pink nurse, who directed me to the payments counter, near the entrace and the waiting lounge.  There, another young woman took my file and asked me to wait on the lounge.  After a few minutes, she directed me to where three other young women were sitting at cash registers, waiting for customers to come along and pay.  The service culture in this country is remarkable – they devote considerable resources to ensuring that there is someone to deal with customers.  Despite this, the woman working on her own at my local surgery in O’Connor was able to process my payments faster than all four of the Japanese admin assistants combined. 

So, with no worries, I stepped out of the Roppongi Hills complex, past the useless spider and out into Tokyo’s warm winter sunshine, to walk back to school.  On the way, I saw in a sidestreet a homeless Japanese man sitting with his back to a wall, cradling in his arms a large and very contented white-brown cat, who had found a convenient (if a bit whiffy) place to soak up the sun. 

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