It’s an Emergency

Living in Japan is a perilous affair. Just one look at the inhabitants will tell a visitor to beware, dangerous heat seeking bacterium of potentially nefarious origin lurk around every doorway waiting to catch an unaware immune system dormant. Countless numbers of my National Geographic quality pics have been ruined by paranoid mask wearing individuals – none of which can be salvaged by the Elizabeth Taylor lens or the indispensable crop feature.

Add to this paranoia of 10 plagues the concern about “The Big One.” Earthquake. Japan sits on several ever shifting tectonic plates which have doomed the island nation to catastrophe at some point in the next ten years. We’ve witnessed 3 small ones since our arrival. I believe that the more of these the better. Any pressure release off the plates keeps “The Big One” at bay in my book.

Being a family of nomads, fears specific to a particular geography I have found to be overblown. The scorpions in Arizona provided mindless entertainment for the cats. I neglected my parental obligations in protecting my children by choosing not to invest in black lights for illuminating the hallways at night so that the sleepy night walkers could easily identify the now incandescent glowing army of scorpions guarding the bathroom doors. Who knew scorpions glow in the dark? As far as I know, no one died while visiting our house in Arizona. Nor did anyone get attacked by a wild cougar during our sojourn in Seattle.

Although skeptical of the Nostradamus type predictions of Tokyo’s demise within a certain time frame, I did find it prudent to investigate the appropriate emergency procedures regarding earthquakes and medical emergencies. Living in a foreign country with the vocabulary and grammar of a toddler presents numerous communication obstacles in an emergency.

The Tokyo American Club conducts a yearly orientation every September for newly arrived foreigners outlining basic information on assimilating to life in Tokyo. Although the thought of sitting through a two-day seminar encouraged me to drive nails through my eyeballs, the threat of missed opportunities from a purposeful lack of information due to my own laziness forced my attendance.

The first two presentations scared the Hell out of me. Earthquakes. The first guest spent a month without power, water or food after the earthquake in Kobe while across the bay life went on as normal. We were told to be prepared to walk to the airport in case of a big earthquake 60 miles away. It wouldn’t have been complete without scary video (Click here for scary video) and there were lots of them. I bought three emergency back packs for $300 dollars each. The contents of these back packs will allow our family to survive, injured, on fire, with 4 broken limbs for several weeks. It will take us that long to walk to the airport which for mysterious reasons will be functioning normally.

Our next presentation was equally uplifting. Medical emergencies. The timing for this presentation was appropriate as I was on the verge of a medical emergency immediately following the earthquake presentation. Truthfully, I was already an old pro at the medical system given that one of the Clampetts had already suffered a broken toe. I sat back as the English doctor took the podium. The World recognizes the inferiority of the UK medical system versus the prestigious American Ivory Tower epicenter of all medicinal knowledge – I doubted he would tell me anything of value. I raised my American flag and pulled out the IPhone – time to check my email.  I’d already vetted the closest hospital. Thing I and Thing II kept me up on the latest advances in ER procedures and locations.  Between that and 18 years in Big Pharma- I doubted he could tell me anything about healthcare I didn’t know. Yawn, stretch.

Dr. Dr. “Japanese Hospitals can turn you away if you arrive in an ambulance.  For any                      reason – if you are afraid you will be turned away- take a cab. They can’t turn  you                away if you arrive in a cab.”

That got my attention.

A hospital can just turn you away because they feel like it? I’ve heard of reasons like full or understaffed- but no reason? So take a cab?

Dr. Dr. ” Also, something you may not be used to where you come from. The hospital                         Emergency rooms aren’t open 24 hours or on weekends- only certain hospitals                     have those hours.”

Just one issue-One only needs an Emergency room on weekends or in the middle of the night. Thankfully Dr. Dr. provided hand outs with the ER listings. Offspring #1 has been to the ER so many times I had to rotate between them in order to avoid Child Protective Services. I think Spouse may have even been interviewed by them when Offspring #1 accidentally broke Offspring #2’s arm but that was such a long time ago it hardly even counts now….

As hard as it is for me to admit, I went straight home, hair on fire, and re-wrote my emergency plan. The hospitals were re-mapped according to which ones had 24 hours emergency services. I double checked our family physician information for the cell phone number. Didn’t he tell me to call him on his cell phone in an emergency? Yes he did. Good. That meant I was completely covered. Ouiser’s Type A Emergency Check List was completed and “X”d.


Emergency List

Physician Info            X

Dentist Info                 X

Hospital (2)                X

Map                                X   All points highlighted, evac sites, English, Japanese

Taxi direc (J)             X

Etc… (You get the picture)

Armed with the interesting tidbit that people only react to information within 3 days of receiving it, I distributed the emergency backpacks to Spouse’s office, home, etc.  and refilled with small bills, maps, copies of passports, and all things needed to get out of the country. I bought gallons of water and canned food in case we got stuck for 2 to 3 weeks.


I briefed the Clampetts. Spouse sat patiently. The Offspring played with the new bedside flashlights and slippers. (I didn’t want little feet to be cut by broken glass in case the Big One came in the middle of the night) We were all prepared and I slept easy that night.


Then came an emergency.

A real one.

A big one.



Not covered by any of the previously mentioned experts. I only tell you this in case you to experience this most traumatizing event outside of the borders of one’s own country. Ladies- you guessed it.

Yeast infection. Lord help me.

No ability to simply run over to the corner CVS and pick up an Over- the Counter cream, ointment or tablet and get on the with the day. This would now require a trip to the doctor.  I call in.

Ouiser –        ” I need to get in to the MD today- I have a yeast infection” It’s Monday.

Reception –  ” The MD can see you next Thursday.” As in 11 days later.
She must not understand.

Ouiser –         ” Ummmm- this is one of those conditions where you need to see the doctor                            urgently.”

Reception –    ” Yes- I understand a Yeast Infection, but he still can’t see you until next                                    Thursday.” How about a little help here.

11 Days? Really- I would be taken over in yeast by then. Is there a such thing as something such as this invading other parts of the body – similar to leprosy? At the very least I would be backing up to trees and fences the way horses do to scratch.

Reception –           ” Well- you can go to the Emergency Room or call the number at his                                         Hospital Clinic and they can see if they can find a doctor to see you.”

Then of course there was a third which she hadn’t covered. Call the doctor on his cell phone with my “Emergency”…I weighed the two options presented.

Emergency Room. How would this work? I go to an ER and explain my condition. I don’t speak Japanese. I could draw a picture of my condition. That would go over well. What exactly would I draw a picture of? Would it be a cartoon series in great detail? This seemed to be a rather humiliating scenario. Alternatively, I could take an interpreter- whom could I call? Our one day a week housekeeper? I doubted I could pull her away from her current nannying position at the last-minute. My Japanese sensei? Too personal. Someone with whom Spouse works? Are the netherparts covered in conversational translation? All I could hear was Offspring #2 saying “eeeeeooooowww.” In my mind the SNL George Bush Sr, “Not Gonna Happen.”

Option 2- the clinic recommendation. I called in and talked with a lovely Japanese woman who informed me that phone calls would begin immediately scoping the vicinity in search of a physician that would see me today. She would call me back. I drummed my fingers on the table. What about that MD from the UK? I was desperate.

I called- he could see me in an hour. I called the Nose in the US – she’s Ivory Tower trained- and made sure that I knew what Dr. Dr. should prescribe in case he didn’t know. Although young, and in theory most up to date in current treatment modalities, he might have learned that tree bark resin contained active ingredients effective against yeast with few known side effects. I wanted something FDA approved.

The Clinic woman hadn’t called me back yet anyway- although American, I’m more patient than the average. I’d given her 20 minutes to find someone else more qualified than the English chap. She obviously didn’t realize this was a life or death situation.
The English bloke it would be.

In his defense, he had gone to Medical School even if it was in the UK.  His knuckles failed to drag the ground and his sentences were grammatically in tact. After he gave me the correct prescription, I grilled him of several topics of interest including vaccinations and asthma treatment guidelines and his knowledge combined with accessibility convinced my elitist Patriot-loving heart that he was worthy of providing care for the Offspring as well. I switched to Dr. Dr. on the spot. I actually spent 20 minutes discussing vaccine theory with me. Imagine that- no RX throwing followed by a snort and a stamping out of the room like I’m used to- completed in 2 minutes or less.

The recurrent visions of myself dragging said hind parts along my favorite Pottery Barn  carpet in a dog lotus style position began to abate as the pharmacist filled the prescription for a substance made in the sterile facilities of a pharmaceutical company.

The lesson in all of this is to learn the Emergency procedures for the country in which you reside- as soon as possible- since each will be unique to the given country’s circumstances. Just one step left-  I can’t figure out how our American Health Insurance works here….

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20 Responses to It’s an Emergency

  1. Klatonic says:

    I love this blog! Very insightful. I enjoy living through your experiences.


  2. I know it’s not funny, but I laughed out loud reading this post! I remember our first meetings here in US, where they were teaching us a trick or two about living here. love, love your article.


  3. Lisa E. says:

    You are so smart to have an emergency plan! The last time my husband and I were in Japan, there was a minor earthquake that my husband slept through and I experienced because I had jet lag and was up at 4am.

    Since I’ve only been there for 2 weeks at a time, I usually bring enough medication (all kinds and varieties) with me to last the whole trip. During our first visit, however, my husband needed aspirin so we went into a 7-Eleven to get some. In Japanese, I asked the guy at the counter where the aspirin was. I got a weird look, so I asked again. Then I broke out the dictionary and pointed to the word for aspirin (which, btw, is a-su-pi-rin!) and eventually came to understand that 7-Eleven does not sell aspirin and I had to track down an actual standalone pharmacy to get it!


  4. He he…it’s the “little” things that get you! Maybe you need to send a suggestion to The Tokyo American Club on the important information that is missing from their presentations 🙂

    Interestingly, and apparently very different from your situation, is that in many countries in the Middle East, the pharmacy is the first place anyone goes, and many drugs that would require a prescription in the U.S. are available over the counter. This has sometimes made my life much easier, as I can look up the active ingredients of whatever medicine I need (since the brand names are different) and then just go buy it. However, this did once lead to a pharmacist trying to give me an anti-malarial medicine when what I was searching for was pain meds…so you have to stay on top of things.


  5. Our doctors in the UK are great. I don’t know why Americans think otherwise.


  6. Ann says:

    Oh Ouiser..I know you must less itchy now! Jorge and I never had an emergency plan when we lived in can imagine what we(esp Jorge) were like when our first earthquake hit..middle of the night..glasses way over on the bathroom sink and kids across the house..that night after the quake I actually felt safe after with Jorge! Can you imagine??? I am impressed that you have a plan!


  7. Michi says:

    Same here! Even to get ibuprofen you need to make a doctor’s visit and get a prescription. Let’s not even get into yeast infection meds!

    I’m enjoying your blog, I’d really love to travel to Japan!


  8. Tokyo Jinja says:

    Always get a few extra diflucans prescribed every time you are home…And in an emergency, now you know I always have some!! And lots of other spare meds too!


  9. alastor993 says:

    Great post again! I thought my emergency list was okay, but I didn’t think about the yeast infection possibilities!!! Very worried now…
    Since I’m in China I can’t give you any tips on health insurance, but don’t you have travelers insurance or expat insurance? My Dutch insurance doesn’t cover anything when abroad, so I canceled it and went with a travel insurance. There are a lot of good sites around and most of them also give personal advice to help you pick the one that suits you best.
    Hope you’re feeling better by now!


    • amblerangel says:

      Thanks so much! I learned a valuable lesson or two on that one. Now the health insurance has caught up with the move – I appreciate your comments because knowing the health care insurance coverage- and having it- are a must.


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