Currently writing this after a recent coronavirus scare.
It was April 10th, 2020. My alarm went off twice. The alarm’s snooze button was hit on both occasions so after getting up I had to rush to go to work. I headed out the door after quickly getting dressed. I had a fever earlier in the week which eventually went down and had been coughing since Tuesday. This morning however, the cough would be more than I ever imagined.
The 1st Ordeal – Excessive Coughing on the Train
After boarding the train and after one-stop my throat started to tickle and tighten up. “Oh no, I need to cough,” I thought. I coughed twice but that still couldn’t get the choking feeling out of my throat. It was about to be a coughing episode. I knew this because the month before the same incident happened to me. While on the train I couldn’t stop coughing. It felt like something was stuck in my throat and couldn’t get out. I closed my eyes and hoped that the feeling would somehow disappear but it didn’t. A small box of Tropicana was in my backpack. So, I took it out and proceeded to drink it but that didn’t help either. I needed to get out of the train and fast.
Meanwhile, I prayed and hoped that the next stop would come up soon. At the same time, I could feel the urge to cough growing more and more and my throat tightening. My next stop was *IK train station. I hadn’t been there before. However, I knew I had to get off the train as soon as possible, no matter where it was. I came off the train and started coughing excessively to clear my throat. With tears running down my eyes and my heart racing I wondered if this was it. I kept thinking, “Did I catch the coronavirus?” ” Should I finally get tested?”.
After my coughing episode subsided and I was able to properly breathe again I called my office at work. I told them about the scary ordeal I had just experienced. I also told them I was about to go to the nearest doctor and get tested. Little did I know how hard getting tested would actually be. I am now convinced that Japan makes it this hard so people can’t get tested. This ensures they keep their coronavirus numbers low in the media.
The 2nd Ordeal – Finding English Speaking Doctors nearby
The time was now 8:00 am. As I searched the internet for English speaking doctors near me something dawned on me. I would have to wait another hour before being able to visit one as most of them opened at 9 am. I proceeded to send a Line message to my coworkers and they were very supportive and told me to relax. One, in particular, *S went as far as to search doctors in my area that I could visit. She also sent me the links to them. Bless her soul.
I visited the nearest clinic, went upstairs and saw a notice on the door. The clinic would be closed today. I started to panic and fell to the floor crying. Eventually, I decided to stop crying and relax as it wasn’t helping at the time. I needed to seek help.
The 3rd Ordeal – The Sarcastic Helpline Volunteer
While searching online for Japanese helplines, I found a number on the Japan visitor website. I called the number and a young man answered sounding kind of startled. He sounded as if he never expected anyone to ever call his number for help. Anyways, I told him my situation and asked him if he could help. He started asking sarcastic questions like “Isn’t there a hospital near you?” I then told him this is why I called. I wanted help finding a hospital nearby that speaks English. Most importantly I wanted to be tested for the coronavirus due to my symptoms.
He told me to take a taxi in front of the *C station and visit the *CU hospital. I thanked him and spent 4000 yen traveling via taxi to this hospital. Soon I would learn what a waste of hard-earned money that would be and you too will soon learn why.
I translated my issue into Japanese using Google translate. This was so I could easily show the person at the front desk. I hoped he or she would direct me to the doctor inside for at least an assessment. This is what the message I wrote read:
🇯🇵In Japanese – “私を助けてください。 火曜日から咳が出ます。 私は電車の中にいて咳をし始め、呼吸できなくなりました。 コロナウイルスの検査をして、必要な薬を手に入れてください。 これは先月も私に起こりました。Watashi o tasuketekudasai. Kayōbi kara seki ga demasu. Watashi wa densha no naka ni ite seki o shi hajime, kokyū dekinaku narimashita. Koronauirusu no kensa o shite, hitsuyōna kusuri o te ni irete kudasai. Kore wa sengetsu mo watashi ni okorimashita.”
🇬🇧In English – “Please help me. I have a cough since Tuesday. I was on the train and started coughing and couldn’t breathe. Please test me for coronavirus so I can get the medication I need. This happened to me also last month “
The 4th Ordeal – The Unsympathetic Hospital Staff
Upon arriving I noticed the person at the front desk saw me and turned away. ” Oh no a foreigner is coming and is going to try to speak to me in English run away” was the expression her body language displayed. I eventually made eye contact with her. She hurriedly approached me with an “Ohayo Goziamasu” or Good Morning in Japanese. I returned the polite gesture and proceeded to show her the google translated message. Then, she directed me outside the building. She asked no further questions.
She pointed to a number on the board outside and told me to call them. Apparently they could speak English. The number was ***-***-****. It belonged to the JNTO Japan visitor hotline.
The 5th Ordeal – The Helpful Call Center Agent
At this point, I was feeling frustrated. I just wanted to get tested for the virus and figure out what was causing my symptoms. I sat down outside it was a bit chilly also and called the number provided. A very helpful young lady answered the phone. I told her my issue and my location and that I wanted to be tested for the virus. She sounded very hesitant to give me any information. However, she started searching. She said the closest English speaking doctor’s office to me that did tests was 47 minutes away. It was the *T hospital in F city. She advised me to call before going which I decided was a good idea. She proceeded to give me the number after which I called.
The operator/ front desk person answered in Japanese. I then proceeded to ask ” Eigo o hanasemasuka?” or “Can you speak English?” She told me yes and told me to hold on. I got transferred to a male there at the hospital. He tried his best to convey to me in English that in order for me to be able to go to his hospital and get tested for Corona I had to first call the Coronavirus consultation desk to see if my symptoms qualified for the test.
I thought to myself, “All this just to take a test I am willing to pay for no matter the cost?” Without hesitation, I thanked him and called the number to the consultation desk.
I was disappointed when I called and realized that no one there spoke English. How was I then a foreigner with only basic Japanese going to communicate with this person? I had to listen attentively to what the person said on the phone. Actively I replied with “hai hai and Arigatou Goziamasu ” not to sound rude because I didn’t understand a word they were saying. Eventually, the call ended.
I started to once again panic and break down in tears. The person whom I saw at the information desk at the *CU hospital probably saw how long I was outside for on the phone and for some reason came outside with two other persons pointing at me and saying something in Japanese.
At this point, I had once again called the Japan visitor hotline. I asked for advice on what to do next. My Japanese speaking ability is poor and I couldn’t communicate with the person at the consultation center. I then asked her if she could speak to the 3 persons standing outside on my behalf and she agreed. I then said “sumimasen” to the young lady at the *CU hospital. Politely I asked in Japanese “Can you speak to this person on the phone, please?”
The 6th Ordeal – The Breaking Point
The three people immediately inched backward from me while the man of the group interjected by straight out saying “no”. He pointed to the same number on the board that the woman had told me to call earlier. I tried to explain in the best Japanese I could that this same number is the one on the other end of my phone line. My only request was that he t talk to her so she could translate the information to me. I just wanted to know if they could see me or not so I could leave. He repeatedly kept saying “No talk” and pointed to the number on the board.
I was at my breaking point with this whole roundabout situation. Falling to my knees I started to cry saying “please please speak.” Without sympathy for my cause or a break in emotion the two ladies left. Only the man and I were left standing outside. He then told me “chotto matte kudasai” but directed me to stand outside the hospital. This was away from the doors. He told me not to come inside with him.
At this point, I was thinking, “What just came over me? Was I wrong to let out my emotions there and then?” I was just feeling so frustrated and helpless. “It’s my fault I didn’t learn Japanese in the first place,” I thought. “I want to go home(back home to Jamaica).,” I also thought.
The lady on the phone from the Japan visitor hotline tried her best to calm me down. I was hysterical. It was hard to understand why the *CU hospital staff were unable to briefly talk to her even though she speaks Japanese. I just needed her to tell me what they were saying. I wanted to know if I would get some help here or not.
Eventually, the man at the hospital came back with another man following closely behind. “Was this my breakthrough?” I thought, “Did they understand my plea for assistance?” The new man came out conveying the same message the first man had but in a little more English. ” No we can’t talk to her and you can’t get tested here. Call the phone number on the board.”
He said this sternly even though I tried to explain that I was on the phone with someone from the call center number on the board. I again broke down but this time I realized there was no way getting through to these people. I walked away upset and feeling lost. The lady on the phone eventually calmed me down. She told me to once again call the *T Hospital and ask if I could come in. I thanked her and apologized for being so hysterical on the phone with her and once again called them.
Soon after I decided I had to leave that *CU Hospital. I would never get the help I needed there so I boarded the first bus I saw. I didn’t know where it was going but I just needed to leave that place. Thankfully the bus was going to my home station *S.
The 7th Ordeal – The Nonchalant Hospital Staff
On the bus, I called the *T Hospital once more asking for English assistance. I told my issues in the best way possible in Japanese. I could hear the operator telling my condition to someone else in the background while laughing. “Did they take me for a joke?” I kept thinking.
The same gentleman I had spoken to before came on the phone.
For the entire 20-minute bus ride he found a way to politely tell me I can’t get tested there without calling the Japanese consultation number first. Once I got to *S Station I thanked him and ended the call.
“Oh boy I just want to be home with my family at this point,” I thought. “Why do I have to go through so much trouble just to get tested or see a doctor about corona?” I was about to give up and take the taxi home. Suddenly I remembered I told my workplace I would get tested today so I was determined to try one last time.
The 8th Ordeal – The Not so Competent Doctor’s Office
Last month when I had a similar coughing/ sore throat issue I visited the *TB doctor’s office in the *P mall in the Station. The doctor and front desk person spoke very good English as far as I remembered. I thought, “This is my last hope to get some proper help.” I then boarded the bus back to *C city. This time to *C station.
At this point, I had calmed down. Once I arrived at the station I headed straight towards the doctor’s office. It was surprisingly empty and I got through to see a doctor in about 5 minutes.
One surprising thing about doctors in Japan is that they never do a thorough check like the doctors back home. I went inside the doctor’s office and told him about my symptoms. He checked my temperature and my breathing with his stethoscope and nothing else. No medical history questions and no questions about my last episode of coughing. It seemed as if he was eager to just diagnose me and get me out of there.
The 9th Ordeal – The Not so Shocking, Shocking News
I was slightly taken aback to hear him say I think it’s just a respiratory infection. I mean with the coronavirus going around and respiratory problems being the main issue and all. Wouldn’t you as a doctor refer your patient to get tested at the nearest hospital and provide information? If I was a doctor I know I would. I realised that he was about to send me on my merry way with just a pain killer and cough medicine. So, I decided to push further and ask for a reference to do a coronavirus test. He then agreed and told me to wait in the waiting room. In my mind, I thought “Finally I’m getting through! He will call the hospital on my behalf and provide me with a referral paper and instructions on where to go and an appointment.” I thought wrong.
What was even more surprising was while waiting in the waiting room one of the front desk ladies discreetly came to me and told me because of my symptoms I will have to wait outside the doctor’s office for my prescription. “Wow, the doctor suspects my symptoms as being coronavirus related but at the same time was about to send me home with just pain killers and cough medicine?” I didn’t want to cause a scene as I did earlier at the *CU hospital. So, I agreed and went to sit on one of the stools outside the office.
I didn’t have to wait long but I was disappointed when I saw that along with the prescription I only received a paper with general coronavirus information. All of it was in Japanese with a sticky note of a number I should call. ” Is this the doctor’s idea of a referral? Telling me to randomly call a number without advising them that he checked me. Oh boy only in Japan,” I thought. I thanked the front desk lady and paid her. I guess this is what I get in exchange for the cheap cost of healthcare In Japan.
The number which was on the sticky note led me to call the office of The Association of Medical Doctors of Asia Medical Information Center. The lady who answered sounded genuinely concerned. She asked me questions about my symptoms when I told her I wanted to be checked for the coronavirus. Unfortunately, she then told me I needed to call another number to set up a coronavirus test in my city. She also said the people I call may only speak Japanese.
The 10th Ordeal – The Never-Ending Cycle
“Oh boy, here we go again, “I told her I don’t speak Japanese well. She tried to assist by calling them herself while I was on hold. She could help translate. However, she came back on the line and told me that the number was ringing without an answer due to the high volume of people calling. She told me I should call on my own and have someone who speaks Japanese help me. I didn’t want to keep her on the line any longer. She had helped me a lot and I was taking up a lot of her time. I, however, asked for the term coronavirus test in Japanese before ending the call and made note of it.
The 11th Ordeal – The Final Straw
I proceeded to call the number. This number led me to call the city telephone consultation center. This would be the last number I would call in my eager pursuit of getting tested for the novel coronavirus. They took forever to answer the phone so meanwhile on hold with them I decided to fill my prescription. When they finally answered I tried my best to convey in Japanese again that I wanted to be tested for the coronavirus. My basic Japanese speaking ability couldn’t quite convey the message. To my dismay, the woman on the phone proceeded to provide me with the phone number of the same JNTO Japan visitor hotline which I had called earlier in the day.
This was the last straw. I thanked the woman on the phone and decided to give up. “No wonder the numbers for the coronavirus are so low in Japan. They make it hellishly difficult for someone even with symptoms to get tested, ” I thought. I decided I needed to rest, I needed to go home.
The 12th and Final Ordeal – The Lesson
I was hungry and I hadn’t eaten breakfast. It was around 12 pm at this time. I found no fast food places open but then remembered I had cooked lunch the night before and it was in my backpack. I could have that for brunch. I took the train back to *S Station. I bought a few food items for the weekend at the convenience store and headed home via taxi. I ate lunch at home and thought about the stressful and unproductive day I just had. It, however, taught me three lessons:
- I need to save as much as possible to return back home
- I need to go back home as soon as possible as this country may not be for me
- If I was gravely sick with the coronavirus I would probably be in deep trouble mainly due to the fact that a lot of people lack empathy here, my inability to speak Japanese and the long and ineffective health care processes here. (Hopefully, I won’t get gravely sick)
I am now writing this after taking a nap. My throat feels tight again but I’ve come to the realization that until I get a chance to go back home to my country Jamaica and even if I do have the virus (hopefully not) I will have to self treat myself at home and I will maybe never truly find out if I have it or not.
Let’s hope I don’t have the coronavirus and this is just a curable “respiratory infection” as the doctor said. Surprisingly he didn’t even recommend me to do a chest x-ray for this so-called “respiratory infection” he thinks I may have. I hope what I have is not serious. All I can do now is turn to God for guidance and protection during this uncertain time. 🙏
*Some names have been changed for privacy reasons
By Jewel R – Check out here blog HERE
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