(Not) Getting Medical Care at Night

A few nights ago, my wife suddenly grabbed her stomach in pain. “Ouch,” she said. It was a very loud and long-lasting “ouch,” and as this had happened earlier in the week as well, we thought it best to have a doctor check it out. This was 9:00pm on a Friday night just before Obon weekend, so all regular doctors had already gone home. And as we eventually found out, the whole of medical care in the Tokyo-metro region was closed for the evening.

First, I checked Google Maps for area hospitals that offered emergency medical care (救急治療). Everything in my area was listed as closing before 8:00pm or anytime before right now. That seemed strange, since you can’t trip over a curb and break your leg in a major American city without falling into the arms of an emergency room attendant. We finally found the number for a 救急治療情報センター (Emergency Care Information Center). They gave us a list of four or five local hospitals to call in just such an emergency. Which we did.

Here’s the short version: Each place we called said “no.”

Worse than that, one nurse summed up the feelings of every place we called: “If this happened to you earlier in the week, why didn’t you go see a doctor in the daytime?” I guess it’s a good question, but the reality is that we thought that first bout was from something my wife ate, so we didn’t think too much of it once the symptoms abated. But the nurse in charge didn’t ask (or care) about any of that. It was clear from her reaction—and the reaction of every place we called—that they couldn’t be bothered to help someone who had the rudeness to get sick after closing time.

We finally drove to a nearby 24-hour hospital that had an emergency room. When my wife went up to the counter, the old guy sitting there looked shocked. “What are you doing here?” he asked, as in, “What are you, a person who could very well be having a medical emergency, doing at this emergency room intake counter?” Even though he was protected by what looked like bullet-proof glass, his biggest concern was whether my wife had taken her temperature when she first came through the door. You know, because of coronavirus.

This, it seems, is a major reason for each nurse’s bad attitude. In our part of Japan, it is reported that 80% of hospital beds allocated for coronavirus patients are currently full. Given that Japan already has a labor shortage in the medical field, this sudden influx of those suffering from the virus is causing everyone to lose patience with patients.

We never did get to see a doctor that night. The next day, we visited a regular gastroenterologist. Fortunately, it turned out to be nothing serious, despite the few hours of pain. But besides this good result, we learned a few other things about medical care in Japan. The main one is that emergency rooms (at least those in our area) don’t work like the ones in the US. From what we can tell, the proper way to enter an emergency room in Japan is on a gurney coming out of the back of an ambulance. If you come in a vehicle that lacks flashing lights and doesn’t go woo-woo, they might not let you in.

If you do manage to get into a Japanese hospital, I’m sure that the care will be top-notch, and it will all be had for a reasonable price. But if you are going to live here, please make sure you follow the step-by-step, time-limited instructions for getting sick. And don’t call after 9:00pm.

[Image Credits: ゆーまさ/photo-ac.com]

Tim Odagiri

Tim Odagiri is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and now life in Japan. Find his latest books at OwaniPress.com.

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