Last week when I received a note in my mailbox that I would need to be at school at 8:30 for a medical check up for insurance the next Wednesday, I was a little nervous. I haven't been to a doctor in about three years, unless you count going to the free clinic to get shots for my India trip, which was hardly a physical examination. I haven't had an actual physical in about 5 years, either, because my activities in college didn't require medical check ups.
Needless to say, I was nervous. Moreso when the note dictated that I not eat or drink anything after 9:00PM the day before. I'd never had a physical that required something like that, and I didn't know exactly what to expect. My experience with physicals in the US was that a check up meant checking height, weight, blood pressure and other things. I don't think I've ever had a cholesterol check or anything of that sort.
Walking into school this morning, then, I wasn't sure what to expect. I dutifully had not eaten or drunk anything but water since 9PM, which was pretty okay since I went to bed at 10. Skipping breakfast, though, I thought could turn into a problem, so I packed an emergency juice box in my purse, just in case. After some messing about with forms in which I desperately tried to figure out whether or not I'd gained 10kilograms since being 20 years old (having no idea what kilograms is in pounds [I know now, of course]), I was led through a series of tests that made me feel like an astronaut in training.
Besides the typical height, weight, and blood pressure tests, they also drew blood, took a urine sample (which, this might be too much information, but I had to drink an entire bottled water to get myself through), a chest x ray, and this weird electric test where they attached suction cups to the area around my heart and these odd clips to both my wrists and one ankle. I still have no idea what that test was, and I hope I don't have to repeat it any time soon.
The most terrifying moment for me was when they drew blood. For those of you who don't know, I'm hypoglycemic, which means I naturally have low blood sugar (which the doctors will probably discover when they examine my blood). When I was about 2 years old, I was hospitalized because I was having seizures, which were caused by severe drops in my blood sugar. Since then, it's been largely self regulated, with only one or two major incidents. When I was a freshman in college, I was getting some warts on my hands removed, and I hadn't eaten a thing all day. The combination of seeing my hands all bloody, not having food, and being in a closed space of the doctor's office with the elevated stress level that naturally brings caused me to pass out and seizure.*
It almost goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: The prospect of having blood drawn terrified me. It's not that I'm scared of needles (I mean, I have one tattoo and plans for at least one more), but rather I was terrified of losing blood and having the same result as I had my freshman year. I looked away and concentrated on a box on the table while the nurse stuck the syringe in the crook of my elbow, and was pretty okay until I made the mistake of looking. Now, the amount of blood drawn probably wasn't actually that much, but I rarely see that much blood at once, much less coming out my own arm.
I had to take a few breaths to steady myself, and I think I must have gone pale or something, because the English-speaking nurse they had assigned to help me out asked me if I was okay. I managed to pull myself together and made it through the rest of the battery of tests, buoyed partially by my sheer confusion at the thoroughness of each test.
It was a strange experience. I don't know what Japanese health care is like, and I don't wish to be in a situation where I have to learn. But if this first experience is anything to judge, the doctors are just like any doctor anywhere - professional, kind, and concerned about doing their job well.
Yet another way in which people are people, no matter what country they happen to be living in. A seemingly empty sentiment in this world, (especially America), where things like health care, food, and shelter are commodified and sold, right along with the people who bring them to us, but each new experience reminds me that those around me are not commodities, and though they may be nameless, they are not worthless.
*Friends of mine will also remember about 7 months later when I passed out after breaking my toe - I don't consider that blood sugar related, as I'm just a weakling and that was the first bone I'd ever broken. Also, many of you are familiar with my time in the emergency room in India, which was a combination of dehydration, low blood sugar, and a bad reaction to some food. Again, not solely caused by low blood sugar.