Thursday, January 31, 2008

In the City

My apologies for the lack of Japan-related posts; it's difficult for me to achieve a writer's flow when I'm only using one hand. Patience.

My article about Ioujima was published in this month's Kinko Bay Tidings, the international newsletter for Kagoshima city.

If you're look for English interpreters in Kagoshima my recommendation would be IS Interpretation Services at http://www.ists.jp/. They also offer online translation.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Only Human

雨降って地固まる
“Difficult trials will build character”


In the past two months, I’ve had a bone shattered by extreme forces, dealt with a right-side disability while I healed, had my wrist torn open and “fixed” by doctors I can’t entirely understand, and through it all, the worst experience by far has been giving up immortality.

Because it takes a debilitating injury like this to force us to look at ourselves and admit our bodies are much more fragile they we would imagine them to be; we are capable of incredible feats, to be sure, but in the end, our survival and lack of injury depend entirely on luck and circumstances. Skill and experience play a part, no doubt, but it only takes one freak occurrence, one stray gust of wind, one rock under a wheel to make our pride fall from grace.

It’s a terrible thing to be stuck in a hospital in another country, where you can usually get by with minimal language skills but here, to have to learn the medical terminology as well, and receive no visitors.

Hospitals were first designed by sadists who wanted an entirely new way of seeing people suffer. Tight, crowded quarters. Surrounded by people you believe to be sicker. An old woman moaning across the hall at two in the morning. Prodded for examinations on a regular basis. Forced to answer intimate questions about your life.

Although blood sampling is a necessary part of testing and hospitalization, it still doesn’t change one small fact: nurses are cutting you open and draining part of your life force. Doesn’t matter how small or insignificant or easily recoverable it is… that little trickle of red gently floating through the clear tube like soda through a straw is you, drop for drop.

I see all these TV dramas about action-packed emergency rooms with supportive families, mothers grieving at an unacceptable loss, and a rollercoaster of emotions until the unlikely yet irrefutable diagnosis is confirmed. My God… thank goodness they discovered it in time.

But, in reality, what of the moments before surgery? Those long waiting hours sitting on plain, white sheets, the only companion a twittering of voices just beyond the barrier of the nurses’ station. This is what it’s like. Waiting. From the waiting room in the lobby to the waiting room of the department. Then, waiting on a diagnosis or waiting on treatment. Waiting to wake up from this nightmare and return to your life as a healthy, unscarred human being.

The Japanese nurses. Occasionally one will come by to offer refreshment, or perhaps suggest a good suppository for pain relief (kind of a catch-22, if you ask me). You might even have your arm pricked for blood sampling, or asked to strip so a 43-year-old woman can sponge you down. Body temperature is measured under the armpit, not in the mouth. For the record, 37 degrees C is equal to 98.6 degrees F.

As a foreigner with poor medical Japanese skills, I noticed that I was treated with just a little more respect than a patient in the children’s ward:

“Please wear your shoes when you walk, or your socks will get dirty.”
“Don’t put your dirty shoes on the bed” (obviously, I didn’t)
“You should give us your money to hold before you go into surgery. Hospitals are dangerous.” (not exactly instilling me with a lot of confidence for sleeping here)

Any attempts to approach the nursing station with a serious question (what time is the doctor coming… where is the shower… can I receive visitors now?) were met with a fit of scattered giggles, long stares, and a forced confrontation with a “spokesman for the nursing organization”, who managed to shyly mutter a reply.



Coming out of surgery, regardless of the nature or severity, is like beginning life anew. The moment that anesthesia kicks in you are either destined to die in eternal sleep or be reborn.

Waking up, everything seems loud and fast – the assistants shuffling the meat sack you once considered your healthy body onto a gurney, the doctors yelling in voices far too loud to be considered good bedside manners, that “everything had gone ok! Look!”

And you are, quite literally, a child once again: forced to spend day and night in bed unless escorted by a senior figure, waited on hand and foot by women dressed in white (even mouth-fed when the situation calls for it), and relearning how to do the most basic tasks with different parts of your body incapacitated or overwhelmed with pain; you might be able to brush your teeth with one hand, but how to get the paste on the brush?

...

I want to believe in impossible, fantastic miracles: that a beautiful woman from another realm will come by, pursued by evil one-dimensional monsters, and have the ability to heal with just one touch. Something about my life, my experiences on this world make me the perfect candidate for her magic; she heals me, I defeat the monsters, and we live happily ever after on a tropical island.

...or, perhaps, this has all been some great mistake; there’s nothing wrong with my wrist, just some doctor who can’t read an x-ray properly. Normal people don’t break bones, so why should I? Quick band-aid and some Advil, I’ll be fine.

Somehow, these visions never come to light. Worst of all, I have enough time to ponder them, over and over again...

All those dramas you see with caring families tending to the wounded as they lay incapacitated, friends cracking jokes and getting their ill companion to forget his woes, ties of love forming as a significant other realizes time is short, and all of us are only human, only flesh, destined to only borrow time on Earth…

These things don’t happen to me, due to my own lack of ties of blood and water. I lay incapacitated, living by the clock as I always have.

When I tell people I run marathons, one of the first two questions out of their mouths is: “wow, that’s a lot of time running – what do you think about?”

What every runner thinks about, what every runner lives his life by: the race itself. Going from one mile to the next, one kilometer to the next, passing each second by focusing on the numbers that keep one sane and grounded: pace, time elapsed, time to finish, time to next marker… and any landmark can be the next marker, whether you’re pushing yourself to catch the man in blue or straining to just keep pace until this uphill is finished. Living one moment to the next without looking back, only the now and the what will be, what could be…

Even in a hospital in the middle of Japan with my right arm affixed to a metal stand, I remain the same runner, the same thinker, as if I were passing the 15K line in a half marathon. I run alone, in a sea of spectators, seeing only the numbers in my head and how they will play out. Now is no different: what time does the doctor arrive… how long until these meds kick in… when can I leave… when can I escape?

I remain as I always have been, alone in a sea of people, always the watcher, never the watched. I’d like to believe that my isolation over here has been the result of being lazy about friends, lovers, or even traveling acquaintances, but the truth is, this is the most alone I’ve ever felt in my life, being in pain, cut off from family, and lacking serious friends in Japan, and it’s a bit of a shock to me.

I don’t think I can afford to keep others at arm’s length anymore. I never push to know, never try to involve myself than as more as some guy you might like to have a drink with. And I’m reaping the consequences of living such a lifestyle, as I go into day five of hospitalization by myself.

I happen to be a foreigner, and a human being in pain.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Standard of Care

About a month ago I expressed my discontent at the way the emergency orthopedic surgeon in Kagoshima handled my injury back on December 18th. This was based mainly on:

1. My limited knowledge of relevant medical Japanese
2. Fury at myself for having the accident in the first place
3. Pain as I felt the bone pressing on the nerve

During a follow-up in the US, I discovered another surgeon would not have treated the fracture in the same manner (granted, he did not have the initial x-rays or as much information about the accident). As such, I felt the entire Japanese medical experience could have gone better.

As I was sitting in recovery from this past (and hopefully last) surgery, I had the chance to review the file from my initial visit. It turns out… they did as thorough a job as anyone would expect, taking X-rays, CT scans (cross sections of the hand and wrist), culminating with a 3D imaging display of the damaged bone.

The staff were knowledgeable. The surgery was done properly. Although I was in no intellectual condition to choose my treatment, given the choice now, I probably would have opted for the same conservative treatment (closed reduction over surgery) and waited to see where the cards fell.

However, I am still rather annoyed. Why? Because I wasn’t given the choice. It’s one thing to tell a person bleeding from his chest “let us take care of it, we know best” in an emergency situation, it’s quite another to not consult with a fully conscious healthy young individual in no immediate danger about his options. This type of injury, a distal radius fracture, should consider the needs of the patient before the injury; practically all doctors are in consensus on this point. And yet, because it was deemed I was either unable to understand the different courses due to the language barrier or my own foreign stupidity, I wasn’t given a second choice.

The language barrier? Understandable to ignore an unintelligible person, especially in an emergency. But I had my accident at 9:00 AM and wasn’t treated until 4-5 PM, with my bilingual boss standing guard: no one mentioned anything to him, nor apparently thought about bringing in a medical interpreter.

In all likelihood, this isn’t even really a case of cultural differences, but rather doctors in any country believing themselves to be gods, having total control over life, death, and pain while you’re in their grasp.

Knowledge is power. If your condition can wait for a few hours, call a trusted friend and ask them to do some research, or better yet, be prepared for anything…


Useful Medical Japanese

Itami ga dou desu ka?
痛みがどうですか?
How is the pain?

Nibui/sasuyouna itami
にぶい/刺すような痛み
Dull/sharp pain

Karada ga daruii
身体がだるい
My body feels heavy

Shokuyoku ga nai
食欲がない
I have no appetite

Samuke ga suru
寒気がする
I have chills

hakike ga suru
吐き気がする
I feel nauseous

Memai ga suru
めまいがする
I feel dizzy

Mune ga kurushii
胸が苦しい
My chest feels tight

Ikigire
息切れ
I’m short of breath

Rentogen no shashin wa mite mo ii desu ka??
レントゲンの写真わ見てもういいですか?
Can I see my x-rays?

Kafunsho
花粉しょ
Hay fever

Shujutsu
手術
Surgery

Isha
医者
Doctor (or sensei)

Kangoshi
看護し
Nurse

Gairai
外来
Outpatient

Kyokubumasui
局部麻酔
Local anesthesia

Zenshimasui
全身麻酔
General anesthesia

Monday, January 21, 2008

Englishiness

Listen, dad, if you are are going to say naughty things in front of these American girls then at least speak English-English.

Alright my son, I could've had it away with this crackin' Julie my old China.

Are you telling a bunch pork-pies and a bag of trout? Because if you are feeling quigly why not just have a J. Arthur?

What, billy no mates?

Too right, youth.

Don't you remember the crimbo din-din we had with the grotty Scottmen?

Oh, the one that was all sixes and sevens!

Yeah, yeah, she was the traveling strife of the Morish dancer what lived up the apples and pears!

She was the barrister what become a bobby in a lorry and...

Austin Powers


If you've lived in Japan long enough, or spent enough time searching Japanese job websites, you might have noticed certain employers will specify the type of teacher they want in the classroom.

- Do you look Japanese?
- Oh... sorry, you must have blonde hair and blue eyes, not green.
- Are you British, Australian?
- What state are you from?


When I was first being interviewed over the phone by an AEON rep from Chicago, one of his first questions was my point of origin. Although he might have just been making casual conversation, my mind was tuned to an "ESL mode", and I considered the basis of such an inquiry. Texas, Texas... let me think. We've got the BBQ, we've got the Mexican food, we've got the insane pride, we've got Lance, and, oh yes, we are one of the few states to acknowledge these with anything other than a "huh?":

"Get 'er done!"

"Dumber'n a sack'a potatoes"

"If a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his butt when he flew"

"I reckon"

"Fixin' to..."

"Y'all"

"Howdy"

...I've even been known to say "you're real purdy" on the few occasions when I feel my southern boy charm will hit home.

The point being, English is not necessarily what we perceive it to be. Who are the word police, the "wordanistas" if you will, to tell a Japanese person that his shop sign stating "Let's Happy CHRISTMAS!" is wrong? If he wants to call it English, that's his right! And may he gain foreign customers by charging them to take pictures!


Courtesy of Engrish.com


No one can tell you your style of speaking or your dialect is wrong for any position, because English reaches as far in variation and style as any other language on Earth. Did you know everyone in the world originally spoke English? Look it up. Now, somebody's gonna say "I did look that up and it's not true." Well, that's because you looked it up on an English website with recognizable text. Next time, try making up a word to prove your case:

Oldspeak -noun The English language as originally spoken by the gods, passed down to men to be eliminated by attrition.

My interpretation of English tells me that's how the language works.

The Englishiness of the matter is... anyone can teach English to you, I promise to communicate English as if it doesn't concern you.


Sources:

- Stephen Colbert
- 1984, George Orwell
- http://www.japannewbie.com/2008/01/03/cockney-rhymes/
- http://myso-calledjapaneselife.blogspot.com/2008/01/cultural-limits.html

Let your friends have a butchers at this, so they can have the wood on others and share a sixty-sixer to feel right as rain.

NOVA Schools Still Reopening



In the wake of the dissolution of NOVA on October 26th, G. Communication Co has been doing their best to clean up the mess of Nozomu Sahashi. On November 12th, NOVA schools in Nagoya began reopening (link). The next day, G. Communication Co announced they would be hiring back former teachers, or those who felt compelled to stay (link).

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a few former NOVA teachers in the Kagoshima area. Although the majority of schools remain closed, the branch in Kagoshima is set to reopen very soon; the employees who stayed in Japan included those with families, those receiving financial support from home, and some who just decided to risk everything and work private lessons in the interim.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Surgery and Reformatting

I go into the operating room on Wednesday and am a little unsure about my recovery time; I know this is hardly a deadly experience, but for me, it does qualify as life-altering, simply because I've never been injured. Any support would be appreciated.

In the meantime, I'm starting to work on reformatting and redesigning the blog. The name will stay, but I hope to have something a little more accessible to people looking to move to Japan.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Accident on Relay Tsubame

A 73-year-old woman was killed as her car was struck by the Relay Tsubame limited express train in Omuta (大牟田市). The Relay Tsubame, running between Shin-Yatsuhiro and Hakata, connects the Kyushu shinkansen line to the Kagoshima line.



I take this route all the time to get to Fukuoka...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Whips and Scorns



Steve Prefontaine was 24 years, 4 months, and 5 days old when he passed. He still holds the record for the fastest 5000 meter at the high school level. His name is revered. His legacy undisputed.

The world record for the mile stands at 3:43.13, the marathon 2:04:26.

I freely admit - and I know this will let some of you down - I am not an olympic runner. I can break a five-minute mile, sure, but four minutes? Or do it over 26.2 miles? I think not. Even if one were so inclined to do so, I don't think I'd like being a living skeleton.

Turning off the furnace. My metabolism in the wake of my injury is slowing down, not ready to accept the usual steady flow of carbs like fuel to the fire. Nothing burns now, or even flickers.

I know injuries are part of performance. Some more severe than others. It's a fact of life, and it sucks. But, this isn't permanent. My body will heal. My mind will become anew at the experience. It's hardly the first time a runner has been cut down:

http://petersracereports.blogspot.com/2007/11/burning-race-entry-fees-or-feet-dont.html

http://lisasbostondreams.blogspot.com/2007/10/evaluating-and-regrouping.html

The main reason I bring this up isn't to refresh the point or keep the story alive... I will have to go into surgery next week, as the bone isn't healing on its own. A metal plate will be installed, perhaps removed at a later date. I now see the doctors were holding out hope that the fracture will repair itself on closed reduction alone, but it was just too severe.



And so, I say goodbye to the ranks of humanity as I become part-robotic, a freak of nature, an annoyance at airport metal detectors, and join the ranks of the Wriststrong Nation:




Just finished: Once A Runner, John L. Parker
Working on: Looking for the Lost, Alan Booth

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Japanese Required for Residents?

Ken Worsley of Trans-Pacific Radio has posted over at Japan Economy News regarding a potential language requirement for foreign residents of Japan in the near future. Evidently, if you are a long-term resident or looking to be one, you will have to demonstrate a certain degree of Japanese language proficiency, so says Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura:

"For foreign people living in Japan to be able to speak Japanese is not only important for improving their own quality of life, but also necessary for the Japanese society as a whole…It would be a very good thing if this helps build momentum for learning Japanese language in the respective home countries of foreign people living in Japan."

Although the government may have ulterior motives for such an initiative, I believe this is a good step for the internationalization of Japan; if the public is aware that foreign residents are required by their own government to learn something about their language and culture before arriving at Nippon - this should be done anyway, but isn't always - then the social barriers that shouldn't exist in the first place will start to break down in people's minds. Maybe one day, a foreigner can be seen having difficulties using chopsticks and observers will think ahhh, that poor man, he must have broken his wrist, rather than him being an incompetent non-chopstick-using gaikokujin.

I will admit it will be difficult to gage such language skills (JLP4 for first years? JLP2 for three years?), but even having it unenforced and existing as a face-value regulation will provide a needed push to foreigners entering or already living in Japan to brush up their language skills.

Melodramatic, but the truth...

A runner who could not run was out of his element. He would not even think of himself as an athlete; ridiculously there would be a kind of guilt about it; that was the worst part. He would begin to feel uncomfortable around his training comrades and the feeling would be mutual, like a newly wounded soldier among the embarrassed whole ones, who would not wish to be reminded of certain crap game aspects of life.

Once A Runner, John L. Parker, Jr.
Great book about a miler breaking four minutes

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Experience

I stayed in my room a good portion of my high school years. As much as I'd like to report that there was a girl in there with me for the majority of that time, I don't think there were too many in my year who would have appreciated the whole "video game" wallpaper scheme. What can I say... my parents weren't exactly quick to redecorate following my 14-year-old realization that Nintendo wasn't the ultimate authority in the universe.

That's how it went for me: wake up, go to school, run, return, and work in the confines of wood and plaster, sheltered from the uncertainties of the real world. No reaching. No desire. Only comfort and routine. The security of the known.

If I were living with that state of mind right now, in my current physical condition, I can predict two possible outcomes:

1. Lapse into a state of depression. See no one. Speak no good, no evil.

2. Anger. Unjustified anger at what cannot be controlled. My mind in a loop to sort out blame, exploring a never ending stream of "what if"'s. What if I had walked that morning? What if I had accepted a late fee and put off paying bills until after the holidays? What if I had paid closer attention to my bike?

Unprepared to deal with the world as it was handed to me. Bad things happen for no reason whatsoever; no amount of faith, bargaining with time, or hope in a fantasy solution will change that.

I accept it, and that alone is amazing to me. I'm sitting here, my right hand in a great deal of pain, the muscles in my arm flabby and waning, my legs itching for the open road... and I can stand it. This is the longest time in my adult life I've gone without so much physical activity. I honestly believe I'd have instantly gained weight and lost energy, but more to the point, wouldn't have been trying to reach my physical potential.

I guess that's a big part of why I exercise so much, what motivates a lot of my actions. Original intent of the species. Just what man is capable of doing, what he was intended to do living without self-flushing toliets and microwave ovens. Having to run from predators, throw spears with accuracy to catch a needed meal, and be in his physical prime to attract members of the opposite sex.

We're still ruled by that, in many respects. Intelligence and frontal lobes will only combat millions of years of evolution for so long.

This is one reason why I'm so concerned about my injury. What happened thousands of years ago when a man broke his arm? He died. Assuming he even lived long enough to watch it heal into a deformed state, his life would have been effectively over; the will but not the power to provide for a mate, no longer appealing to the females in the area, appearing, in every sense of the word, to be damaged goods. No longer was he able to climb trees, ascend a rock face, throw a weapon, grasp a large object...

I know we're far from that, but it still dominates my thinking. However, instead of letting something like this turn me primal and consider desertion, depression, or suicide, I can only see a new experience. This one not reaching as far as travels to distant islands, but rather a deeper understanding of myself, of how I function, of how other people function with one hand.

I'll live through this, and I'll return to normal, having living a portion of my life with a disability not everyone understands. I still won't claim to be omnipotent - I don't know how I would handle losing a leg, having a major operation, or being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I don't. But I believe, based on this experience, I'd accept it and try to live the only way I know how: keep exploring. Keep pushing boundaries. This broken bone may stop me from reaching physical peaks, but nothing short of death can stop the broadening of the mind.

A new perspective. Things that once seemed impossible now a part of reality that I must deal with facing forward.

I welcome it all.

Give me rain, and I'll stand outside to know what it means to be wet.

Break my bones, and I'll learn dependence, compassion, and ambidexterity.

Take away my friends and my family, and I'll understand loneliness.

Leave me be, and I'll discover life and hardship in my own way.

Why I'm Glad I'm not Famous

...or really, don't have any desire to be.


What are we doing? Selling ourselves, selling everything. Happiest day of my life. Quick, I'd better do the invites and bake a cake. Must have a press tent, it's a wedding. You know, I must see pictures of myself with other people I'm in a programme with. Oh, now I'm pregnant, maybe we should televise the birth. Get Ruby Wax to present it, maybe it'll make jimmy Carr's 100 Greatest Caesareans. I'm not having a go at you, I'm sick of these celebrities living their life out in the open all the time...

Why would you do that? It's like these pop stars who choose the perfect moment to go into rehab, they call their publicists before they call a taxi, then they come out and do their second autobiography, Love Me Or I'll Kill Myself. Kill yourself, then. The papers lap it up. They follow us round and that makes people think we're important and that makes us think we're important. If they stopped doing that, people wouldn't take to the streets going, 'Ooh, quick, I need a picture of Cameron Diaz with a pimple.' They wouldn't care, they'd get on with something else. They'd get on with their lives. You open a paper, see a picture of Lindsay Lohan getting out of a car and the headline is, Cover Up Lindsay, We Can See Your Knickers. Of course you can see them! Your photographer's lying in the road with his camera up her dress. You're literally the gutter press. And f&%! you, the makers of this show as well, you can't wash your hands of this, you can't keep going, 'Oh, it's exploitation but it's what the public want.' No. The Victorian freak show never went away, now it's called Big Brother or X Factor. Where the preliminary rounds, we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multi-millionaires. And f&$# you for watching this at home.

Shame on you and shame on me...

I'm the worst of all cos I'm one of these people that goes, 'Oh, I'm an entertainer, it's in my blood.' Yeah, it's in my blood because a real job is too hard. I'd love to have been a doctor. Too hard, didn't want to put the work in. I'd love to be a war hero but I'm too scared. So I go, 'Oh, it's what I do,' and I have someone bollocked if my cappuccino's cold, or if they look at me the wrong way. Do you know what a friend of mine once said? They said I'll never be happy because I'll never be famous enough, and they were right.

From the show "Extras" on BBC

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dental Care in Japan


Photo courtesy of http://www.phimatrix.com/

歯肉炎 (しにくえん) - gingivitis
虫歯 (むしば) - cavity
歯医者 (はいしゃ) - dentist
充填 (じゅうてん) - filling

Familiar with all those terms? Some of them? Recognize the kanji, but wouldn't know them out of context?

Welcome to my world.

If you're a member of the "stay a year and no more in Japan" crowd, this information probably isn't for you; you can time a visit to the dentist when returning home for the holidays or after you leave for good.

However, if you're planning to stay in Nippon for the time being, hold a job with medical benefits, and pay close attention to your health, you might want to read a little further.

Seeing a doctor in Japan usually isn't a problem if you speak Japanese. But for those of us who are still learning conversation skills, and have little in the way of medical terminology in our vocabulary, even seeing a dentist can pose a challenge:

"You have gingivitis, a chipped tooth, and two cavities. I'll need to take x-rays and perform some tests; what kind of fillings would you prefer?"

This being the case, I sought an English-speaking dentist. In my corner of the world, I had thought I might have been out of luck, but fortune and a Google search directed me to Access Dental Clinic and Access Dental Counseling:

http://www.accessdentalcounseling.net/
http://www.accessdentalclinic.net/

Although there is a clinic set up in Kagoshima city, the primary purpose behind the website is to offer counseling to foreigners seeking dental care all over Japan, including information on tooth disease, gum care, and cleanings. This group of doctors offers free interpretation services (in person if they operate in your area), comparisons of the Japanese dental system with that of other countries, and relevant insurance and payment information.

Apparently, if you choose to pay through an insurance company, you must cover 30% of the cost at the time of the appointment. Although this doesn't sound too bad, the company requires the dentist to adhere to strict guidelines on the tests performed and examinations conducted, even when the doctor concludes they are superfluous.

The result for a standard cleaning, no problems requiring treatment? 3,500 yen without insurance, 2,370 with insurance (including a barrage of procedures).

I didn't really note any differences in the cleaning, except the hygienist used a purple dye which stayed on my tongue for the rest of the day, and the doc recommended I use small, "better" Japanese toothbrushes rather than big, clumsy American ones; which is true, as it's difficult to find large toothbrushes here.

Every six months, or every 25,000 chews. Proper maintenance is key.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Across the Border



When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the natural ties which have connected them with others and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of their own unique God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Japanese are created equal, that they are endowed by the Son of Heaven with certain unalienable rights, that among these are being recognized as Japanese, being considered able to use chopsticks, and not being marked as a criminal solely based on race. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their unjust powers from the apathy of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to accept that nothing can be done about it and shrug "shouganai"...



Going Out

I walked into the immigration section of Narita International Airport with my arm in a tattered white sling, a backpack strap weighting my chest, a laptop case slung around my neck, and my left hand supporting a large green piece of luggage containing gifts, clothes, and $0.83 American. Physical state.

Psychologically, I had just gotten out of the hospital, had shattered my first bone and was concerned about a full recovery, was emotionally exhausted from a night layover in Tokyo and pondering the welfare of the family, and knew I now had to face the arduous task of dealing with bureaucratic officials and filling out paperwork when I was incapable of writing.

Fortunately, the lines upon lines of starry-eyed Japanese and foreigners heading towards the black overhead signs were not meant for me, or so I thought. Stealing a sideways glance at the hoi polloi, I followed the green arrows boasting "Automated Gate Registration".

Paperwork in hand (having completed it before my accident), I was somewhat confident that I could handle this with my arm tied behind my back... or front, as the circumstances dictated.

"こんにちは."

"こんにちは."

"お願いします."

"はい..."

My file was being created, and everything was going smoothly until I tried to give my fingerprints…

Index fingers: five tries, unreadable
Middle fingers: three tries, unreadable
Ring fingers: two tries, unreadable

Keep in mind that my right arm was weighed down by a large fiberglass cast extending under the elbow, which contained a very fresh fracture. My fingers didn’t like what I was doing, and must have rebelled by losing their natural oils and surfaces. What followed was:

(日本語で)
“I‘m sorry, but we can’t do it now. Please try when you return.”

“I have to do it today; when I return, I have to get from Narita to Haneda in three hours.” (presented copy of schedule)

“I’m sorry, we can’t do it.”

“All right, I understand. Please read this later.” (presented copy of Re-Entry Japan’s tract to protest the biometric filing of foreigners)

I turned my back before the tract could be refused or discussed (I wanted them to think about what they were doing, not engage in a long debate while my flight departed). A few minutes later, as I stood in the “normal” lines awaiting the customary stamp and head nod, I saw the official I had been speaking with look right at me, talk to his supervisor, and laugh.


Coming Back

My arm still hung in a sling, though this one was composed of a more durable, navy blue fabric. My exhaustion was roughly the same on account of a five-hour delay in Chicago.

Trudging through the terminal, my head still swimming with images of animated characters and time machines (thank you, in-flight entertainment), I was too numb to care about issues like racial discrimination and terrorism. All I wanted to do was sleep and forget about life.

My cast had been swabbed four times this trip, to determine if I had masterfully sculpted a hand-shaped plastic explosive. I had missed my flight to Kagoshima, and was faced with the task of learning just where (or if) JAL had arranged a hotel room.

大丈夫. No worries.

Short line at the “Re-entry Permit Holder” sign. Prints accepted the first time, the tract cheerfully discarded by the official.

While waiting for my baggage, a friendly woman approached me with hotel and meal ticket information, including the shuttle bus schedule to Haneda. Success.

As I prepared to exit customs with a blank declaration form, the officer looked at my arm, waved me through, and said in English “next time”

ただいま.


Conclusions

- Fingerprinting foreigners exclusively is racial discrimination. There's nothing to debate there.
- I see liitle point in fighting the fight with border officials, as they're already overworked and feel less than appreciated; this matter should be appealed directly to the Ministry of Justice.

I wasn't exactly unbiased going out and back, but even after a relatively painless screening, I still believe this new policy is blatantly discriminatory, marking foreigners as potential criminals before they've even entered the country; in the case of permanent residents, it's absolutely absurd.

I won't be fighting from down here, but I will spread awareness as best I can, and keep an eye out. Again, if you have had any interesting experiences at Narita, Nagoya, or Osaka, please email me and let me know where you stand on this issue.


Photo courtesy of Shanghai Daily

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Week by Week

December 18th
Bittersweet morning as I sustain an unstable comminuted fracture of the right distal radius after my mountain bike had decided it should travel solo. Great deal of pain, yelling, and confusion. Little knowledge in the area of broken bones.

Taken to Imakiire Hospital (今給黎総合病院) in Kagoshima where my wrist was set under closed reduction by an orthopedic surgeon. I was unconscious for just over an hour. Typically with broken wrists, the patient's lifestyle is taken into account when considering treatment. I couldn't exactly be eloquent in my explanation, but I wish they had asked me what I wanted to do. Awaken with my arm in a cast under the elbow.

Overnight observation in the hospital, followed by a personal day. Returned to work.


December 31st
Followup with a doctor in Austin, Texas. My concerns were:

- How long will I be in the cast
- Was the bone set properly, did it shift...?
- What does this mean for future vigorous activities
- Will I recover my range of motion

Doctor confirmed that the fracture was set well, but he personally would have installed a metal plate to reduce the likelihood of potential errors. Informed I would probably recover well if there were no problems; cast would be changed/shortened in a few weeks, removed about a month after that.


Interim
Research into these types of fractures and the various treatments. YouTube reveals a plethora of crazy stunts involving bicycles and skateboards. Colbert, on the other "hand", offers a different take:



Ruminate about the differences in treatment offered by the US and Japan. Nothing conclusive, as many Japanese doctors study in America. One theory posed to me as to why the doctors in Kagoshima might have opted for a less invasive procedure could have been tied into the Buddhist beliefs about keeping the body pure and whole, thus avoiding dirty methods like external fixators, k-pins, and plates (this ties into why many Japanese oppose organ donation).


January 8th
Return to a local orthpedic clinic (クリニック) for a followup x-ray (rentogen, レントゲン) and consultation. My concerns:

- Are the jagged areas healing/will they heal normally to ensure full range of motion
- When should I come in to have a short cast set

I meet people who understand my pain, and catch sight of a kid with an external fixator attached. The x-ray reveals that the fracture is partially healed, and hasn't shifted. I'm taken to an adjacent room where the cast is cut, and I can see my hand for a brief moment before a shorter cast is constructed. My elbow can bend, and it is really sore. With all these one-armed pushups I'm doing, my body is going to look like some "half buff, half weakling" freak show for a while. I decide to look into acupuncture following full removal to help promote muscle growth.

Will return next week for another x-ray. Surgery isn't ruled out yet.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sakurajima Half Marathon



28th Annual Sakurajima Running Race
第28回ランニング桜島大会の概要


When Sunday, February 24th
Where Sakurajiima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Distance Half marathon, 10K, 5K
Price ¥3500
Benefits T-shirt, onsen ticket (most likely to Furusato), and a towel

Although the cherry blossoms will not be blooming and holding this pennisula to its name, this is still an excellent race. The course starts out on one of my favorite places to run in Japan - the lava trail on the southwest side of Sakurajima volcano. With the smoke plume still blowing towards Miyazaki, you won't even have to worry about ash showers. Race, and enjoy some of the best views and onsen in the country.

Website


Registration

- Registered mail
- Online with Sports Entry
- Online with Runnet

The deadline is Wednesday, January 16th

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Slow Recovery

Number of broken wrists: 1
Number of x-rays: 2
Number of catches: 22

I'm still rather concerned about making a full recovery and avoiding malunion, but in the meantime, let the new experiences overwhelm me.

- I can learn to be partially ambidextrous as I start relying on my left hand
- I can slow down as I avoid excessive exercise and start reading and writing (well, typing) more often
- I actually look like the pathetic foreigner who can't use chopsticks as I use my other hand, but it's easier than a knife and fork
- I'm working on my one-armed pushups while I still have my strength; great solution to those with only three limbs
- I have a story. More random people approach me as I walk around with a gleaming cast and want to know what happened. Maybe this can be used to get dates...

Although I will not be racing in the Tokyo Marathon, I will fly out there and walk all 42.195 kilometers (unless it's pouring rain). In addition, I'm sending in my deposit for the 2010 Antarctica Marathon. I will endure even if I have to have this thing sawed off.

I'm still making travel plans. After researching some popular hot springs, I've come across one near Fuji-san that supposedly is beneficial in healing fractures...

Shimobe Onsen, Shimobe Town

Historically, Shimobe hot spring offered relief to Takeda Shingen for his shoulder that was injured by Uesugi Kenshin in the Battle of Kawanakajima. The lukewarm water of this hot spring is said to have healing effects on fractures and bruises. Previously known as Shimobe Town, it merged with other smaller towns in September, 2004, to to join Minobe. Onsen Contents: pure hot spring, 27C-34C.

http://www.yamanashi-kankou.jp/english/english024.html

Friday, January 04, 2008

Breaking your Wrist in Japan

Ongoing coverage

As this is still a rather unique experience for me and I happen to live in Japan, I'll be reporting my struggles in this sinister endeavor, from treatment options, to doctors, to anything related to Japan and wrist injuries.

After thoroughly searching the YouTube and discovering some rather disturbing people (ones who actually try to break their wrists), I found the closest equivalent to my accident. Watching videos of people breaking bones is so wrong... well, enjoy!



You don't notice the wrist at first. It's your fingers; they won't bend properly. They're the ones that feel broken, twisted in an awkward inward shape, almost beyond your control.

Upon further examination of the x-rays and discussion with an orthopedic surgeon in Texas, I can only conclude the doctors in the Kagoshima ER did not really care if I recovered full use of my wrist, so long as I remained alive to avoid lawsuits. Granted, every injury is different and nothing is an exact science, but the fact remains that I'm 25, I plan to keep using my wrist, and I wasn't treated as such.

Injuries such as mine (a comminuted complex fracture of the radius) often require metal plates to be attached to ensure proper length of the bone is maintained. I wasn't given one, and now the fracture is sinking, leaving two huge jagged stumps where there should be a smooth surface. I don't know what exactly that means for future range of motion and weight bearing, but it's safe to say it isn't normal; I'll probably have to have the bone re-broken and surgery performed, because I won't live with restrictions. I'd sooner die.

I'm not alone. Two years ago, Hideki Matsui of the NY Yankees broke his wrist, ending a consecutive streak of games.

Stephen Colbert launched his own campaign to raise wrist awareness following a small chip he made after a fall on July 26th:



The point being, my wrist is not lost yet. I am glad my ankle isn't shattered in the same way, as that might put a sudden end to my existence.


手首 tekubi (wrist)
整形外科 seikeigeka (orthopedics department)

Throughout the questioning on the ambulance and in the ER, I realized I didn't really have the knowledge to describe my symptoms; a disadvantage, to be sure. To newcomers, be sure to keep the city guide for foreign residents close at hand; all of them should have information on emergency medical care, including English speaking doctors.

A list of doctors with such skills is available from the US Embassy website.