Off Into The Sunset

Just Something To Do

Medicine in Japan

Today, because my company generously cares for our health, I went to the doctor for the first time in Japan for a checkup. I certainly experienced some of the differences between Japanese and American medicine. The first thing was I got to take a stool sample for the first time in my life! It was greatly aided by this poster with the cute little turd on it demonstrating the correct way to sit on the toilet to collect your sample. I found this a little strange. I mean, do anthropomorphised turds shit out little people?

The actual checkup was pretty normal for the most part, except for some key differences. It was pretty much like the kind of thing we used to have to do in the military, where you go around to all these different stations with your folder and you get checked out for each diagnostic - blood, chest X-ray, eyes, ears, etc. Except it was much better organized and no one was yelling at me. The most significant part, by far, though was the stomach cancer screening. You can’t eat or drink anything (including water) from the night before to prepare you for it. Then you stand on this platform, and take some white stuff, (basically just like pop rocks) which give you gas and you’re not supposed to burp. The big thing though is that they make you drink a thick slurry of white stuff - this is barium. Now I was told I could refuse to take the stuff, but my Japanese is nowhere near good enough to convince anyone of anything, so I gave in. (Barium is a low-level radioactive substance, and if there’s one thing we learned in the Navy Nuclear Power program it’s that any exposure to radiation increases your risk of cancer, so I still try to reduce my exposure to X-rays and stuff as much as I can). Now, the reason for this procedure is that Japan has a high rate of stomach cancer (10 times higher than the US). And they were really adamant about how important this procedure is. “If you do this we’ll diagnose if you have cancer. You don’t want cancer, do you?”

The procedure itself is actually pretty neat, because you can watch a screen and see the stuff go down your throat and into your stomach. You can see your spine and all your organs in real time, just like those fluoroscope movies of people eating they used to show us as kids. Then, the guy moves the table into all sorts of positions to see how the barium flows and if there are any growths, I guess there would be irregularities.

But anyways, my point is, this stuff is nasty. Immediately after giving it to you they give you this big warning sheet and a couple of laxatives to make sure you get the stuff out of your system as soon as possible.

I’m just thinking that perhaps the Japanese have such a high rate of stomach cancer is because they all do chest X-rays and drink barium shakes once a year, you know!

Anyways, I give this checkup 3 Godzillas.

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They did give me a coupon for a free drink at the local cafe, but still, a checkup isn’t supposed to make you feel worse.