An Annual Physical

Every year, I get a physical provided by the town of Asagiri, my home. They offer a yearly physical for everyone over 40 years old. They suggested several dates and I could pick the one that worked best for my schedule. Not exactly the best way to spend a morning on my day off but I’m at that age when regular physicals are probably a good idea.

I arrived at the town office at 8:30 in the morning. Five large white buses, marked with a large red cross identifying them as medical service buses, occupied the parking lot. So, I had to park across the street and walk about 100 meters. I came with a checklist of services I wanted done. I brought a urine sample and two stool samples. They also asked me to bring a small towel from home. I wanted blood work done, plus an ultrasound to check my stomach and other innards, and a chest X-ray. The X-ray and the ultrasound covered several kinds of cancer. I’ll be skipping the barium shake and stomach screening, thank you. That’s a special kind of fresh hell I can do without, so no thanks. I go to Hitoyoshi and use a stomach camera every couple of years. I have to pay extra for that luxery but believe me, it’s worth it.

I entered the center, took off my shoes, and was immediately greeted by a nice lady who asked for my paperwork. I handed it to her. Crap. I didn’thave the checklist with me. I left it on the dining room table. That’s okay, she said, you can fill out another one. Well, I replied, the problem is that the checklist is filled with a bunch of hard medical Kanji that I can’t read. I asked her to wait one moment and she said no problem. I called Manami and asked to her photo the check list and email it to me. After giving the proper amount of ridicule for my absent mindedness, she did exactly that. With the aid of the photo, I filled out the form. What an age to be alive. Done and done.

I took a number, 72, and sat down with a group of mostly seniors. Greetings and complaints about the hot weather clattered around the room. They called number 67. Number 67 went to the table at the front and the rest of us shifted one chair to the right to fill in the empty space. I’m not sure why we did this; it was unnecessary. But the efficient and organized use of space seems to come naturally to the people of Kuma County. I waited for about 5 minutes reading the news, shifting chairs, and checking my FB account.

I’m embarrassed to say that I was so engrossed into the news that I didn’t hear my number called at first. I hope they didn’t have to call too many times. After accepting my apologies, the lady at the table looked at my checklist and double checked my name and address. She also made sure, using simple Japanese, that what I was getting checked was actually what I wanted checked. Are you sure you don’t want to drink the barium shake and get a stomach screening? Hell and No.

After that, she sent me to the next station.

At the next station, a man double checked my name and took my urine sample and double checked the date I had written on the container. He sent me to the next station.

At the next station, a man double checked my name and took my stool samples and double checked the date written on the container. He sent me to the next station.

At the next station, a man took my checklist and totaled the cost of the services I would get that day. I paid 4500 yen, or about 45 dollars. After paying, he sent me to the next station.

At the next station, a man took my height and weight and sent me to the next station.

At the next station, a very steady handed nurse drew four vials of blood while asking about where I was born, how long I have been living in Japan, and if I like Japanese food. The usual. I used to hate these kinds of banal conversations but no longer. The point of small talk is to pass the time. We did exactly that. She marked each vial with my name and the date. These were double checked by myself before she sent me to the next station.

I sat on a bench and waited for a doctor. I returned to the news. But I didn’t have to wait long. I was called after a few minutes. I met with a doctor in a small private room. He asked me to lift my shirt and he poked and prodded, saying nothing. He told me to look left and right and he pushed on certain areas on my neck. He asked me if I had any problems. I told him that my left knee hurts sometimes but that’s probably because I’m overweight. He agreed. A little too quickly I lamented. Before sending me on my way, he noted that my shirt had Colorado written on it. He asked me about it and I said yes, I lived in Colorado for many years. He knew that the capitol was Denver and that Colorado Springs was south of there. He seemed proud to know that. I complimented his knowledge. I left the room and went to the next station.

Here, I talked to a very serious lady who asked for my health stamp card. Every time I do some town sanctioned healthy activity, like getting a physical, or going on a town walk, or join a marathon, or something the town recognizes as officially healthy, they stamp my card. And behold! The stamp I got today filled the card. She informed me that I was entitled to a 500 yen (5$) coupon useful at any local store. Cool! I going to buy booze with that. I did not inform her of my intentions. She then told me that since the weather was turning hot, I should make sure to avoid sugary soft drinks and try to drink more iced green tea and water. She also gave me a little talk and a pamphlet about how much salt and sugar are in various foods.

She then sent me outside to the buses.

I was met by a man in a broad-rimmed straw hat and sunglasses who guided me to the proper bus. Inside the bus, I waited about 5 minutes and then was brought behind a curtain. I was directed to lie down and lift my shirt. They smeared goo all over my stomach and performed an ultrasound. They checked my stomach and innards while directing me to lay in different positions and breathe. After that, I used the towel they directed me to bring to wipe the goo from my belly. Last year, I forgot to bring a towel. They provided one.

They guided me to my last stop, the chest X-ray. I stepped inside the bus, waited a couple of minutes. Stepped up to a machine, embraced a big square thingamabob, took a deep breath, held it, and it was over. He checked my checklist, told me I was finished and that I should return inside.

I went back inside. The nice lady who helped me in the beginning checked my list, told me I was done, and that the results should be ready in about a month. I’ll receive a notice in the mail to determine a good time for a consultation if necessary. If there is an emergency, a go to the hospital right now type of problem, they will call. Is it okay to inform my wife of a medical emergency? You bet. Thank you, Mr. Powell, you may go home now.

It was 10:00 am.

I was disappointed again this year to not be introduced to any member of the Death Panels I’ve heard so much about. Maybe next year.

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