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The Time I Got Sick in Japan

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Practically my entire time in Japan was spent in a haze of illness.

My theory is that my body simply had no resistance to all the new germs and bacteria floating in the air of this different country. I spent a good portion of my childhood fending off sickness after sickness, building up a fortress of memory cells that keep my coughs and colds to a minimum these days. But in Japan, all bets were off, and my body became an all-you-can-eat buffet for every virus for miles.

I got a bad cold every other week or so, which always lasted for at least five days. My supply of medicine was tiny, and getting more over-the-counter drugs required a 1.5 hour drive. Even when I got to the medicine aisle, I had no idea what to buy since everything was in Japanese. Though I had studied the language for years, I didn’t know all the nuances surrounding drugs.

While I do occasionally get colds in America, they are usually fairly mild and merely uncomfortable at their worst. But each and every wave of illness in Japan was accompanied by a raging fever that would last for days at a time, sapping my strength and sending me shivering to my bed. Fever-reducing tablets seemed to have little effect on bringing down my temperature, and I would hobble to work with my head feeling like it was floating several feet above my body. The slightest head movement would bring on vertigo, and I ended up using a trash can in the staff room more than once for vomit. Charming.

Whenever this happened, I’d be sent off to the local clinic, which was run by an elderly man with no English ability whatsoever. He would sit there with an electronic dictionary, trying to ask me questions before throwing his hands up in the air in defeat. As a result, he would just poke and prod at me in silence, then send me away with copious amounts of drugs. This one-doctor/one-nurse facility was a pharmacy as well as a clinic, and I would come away with BAGS of medicine. Many drugs in Japan still come in powder form, which means you put some water in your mouth, then pour a packet of foul-tasting powder in there, then mix it all together before swallowing. The process made me gag every single time, so I rarely ended up taking the medicine given to me. Plus when I checked with my dad regarding the drugs, he found that they often had nothing to do with my condition. For a fever, the doctor apparently gave me a powerful anti-coagulant as well as a diuretic. I decided not to take them.

However, on one occasion, I felt so abysmal that I tumbled into the clinic and nearly passed out in the waiting room. My fever was nearly 104 degrees, but the doctor decided that an enema would fix me right up. I was nearly delusional with fever, but knew that this sounded sketchy as hell. I refused the enema, and immediately a nurse was at my side, attempting to jam an IV needle into my arm. I jerked away, saying “NO” repeatedly. For all I knew, they were going to knock me out, then pump my intestines full of so much water that I’d explode into a fountain of feces. The doctor was not used to his patients refusing treatment, but eventually just sent me home with a bag of drugs and the instruction to drink “many water.”

I felt so awful that I decided to give the medicine a chance. I had about a dozen powders, and I could read enough Japanese to decipher that I was, apparently, supposed to take them all at once. I choked the powders down, then retired to my bed with plenty of water and a book. But I was too feverish to make out the words on the page, and I fell into a doze. I woke up shortly afterwards suffering from auditory hallucinations.

I heard people screaming, especially children, and I began freaking out. I didn’t realize it was a hallucination at first, and I tried to run out of bed, only to fall flat on my face. I was so dizzy that I could only crawl, and I began to make my way down the stairs on my belly. It took ages for me to reach the first floor of my duplex apartment, but I immediately emailed my dad all the medicine I had taken. I knew my fever was high, but I had never experienced anything like this before, and I was worried that the drugs had something to do with it.

Sure enough, I got a quick response that said, in all caps, “STOP TAKING EVERYTHING!”

One of the medicines in particular was an antibiotic that was illegal in the US since it could cause sudden liver failure (and death), as well as, you guessed it, hallucinations.

Also snuck into the drugs was another anti-coagulant, and a laxative. The next few hours were terrible for me, but luckily most all of the medications were flushed out of my system within 12 hours.

I never went to that clinic again. I swear that doctor was trying to kill me.

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