Whether it is my age or the humid summer in Japan I do not know, probably a bit of both, but since moving to Tokyo I have come in contact with skin problems I never had before. Those and the accompanying visits to the doctor, together with all the hospital visits that having a baby entails, have given me ample chances to think about how different the medical system is here form what I am used to in Sweden. It is almost as if the only thing that is not different is my feelings about going to the hospital – as long as I do not need to see a doctor I am happy.
Having what I would like to call hospital phobia makes going to the hospital a daunting task in itself; trying to communicate about skin problems in Japanese does not make it any easier. Before our baby, my wife always came with me to the doctor (now it sounds like I am a big consumer of healthcare which I really am not, but the few times I have had to go to the hospital here in Tokyo has kind of multiplied and grown in my mind – a side effect of my hospital phobia I believe). Then I felt safe – I was protected both by my wife and by my inability to speak Japanese. My wife did all the talking, filled out all the forms (there are a lot of forms to fill out in Japan), took care of me like I was a child. Since our child came into existence however, I have had to leave the “child role” and go to the hospital all alone. Soon there will be me taking our son to the hospital, so I really need to practice and expose myself to handling hospital visits by myself. Like this past week when I needed a consultation about my skin problem.
When I have had a medical issue and needed to consult a doctor in Sweden, it has generally started with calling the general practitioner’s office early in the morning, entering my phone number, and getting a time slot when they would call me back. When they did, I then tried to be allowed to have an appointment in real life (I often felt that they rather I did not come). Of course this is not the procedure for emergencies, but for argument’s sake let’s say I was calling about my skin issue. After having described my issues on the phone, begging for an appointment, I get an appointment later that day and hopefully the waiting time is not too long and I get to see a doctor who is not too busy and has the time to listen to my situation. In my skin example the doctor is a bit unsure what to say and suggests I see a specialist; the doctor will write me a referral. Then I go home and wait. I wait. I wait. I wait. It has happened that I have had to wait for months before getting an appointment with the specialist doctor.
The good part is that if you see a doctor or need medicine or surgery in Sweden there is a low maximum sum you pay every year, and the rest is paid by the social security system. That way everyone is supposed to be able to afford getting sick (I guess the downside is that you sometimes have to wait a very long time to get the medical attention you need).
Now to Tokyo – I have not yet come across a general practitioner here and the concept of making appointments seem to be limited to the big hospitals. Instead, if I believe I have a skin problem, I need to seek out a skin specialist by myself, and then go to that doctor’s waiting room (and hope it is not too crowded in these Corona times) and wait for my turn (sometimes fifteen minutes, sometimes a few hours). Often the what my wife likes to call hospital is a one doctor private clinic and the opening hours often include week-ends.
The good part is the accessibility, I do not have to wait for months to see a specialist; I do not even have to wait until after the weekend. The bad part is that there is no roof when it comes to payments, so I am happy that I am luckily covered by my wife’s health insurance, which means we pay 30 % of the cost.
Experiencing the two different systems has made me appreciate the ease of getting a consultation in Japan while at the same time has made me reevaluate a little bit the vexing parts of the Swedish system. There are benefits of meeting a doctor you can ask about a skin problem and an itchy eye and a sore throat at the same time, not needing to seek out three different hospitals. And after a few visits to the doctor in Japan I am already missing the amount of time I was given at the doctors office in Sweden (those days I remember feeling that I hardly had time to finish explaining my problem to the doctor before it was time to leave – how different I see it know having experienced the local one doctor clinic with a small waiting room filled to the brim with people waiting for a brief consultation with the specialist; change of perspective can really paint the world in a different color).
My skin issue? Well I left the hospital quite energized and proud of myself – I managed to communicate my problems, talk about my medical history, ask my questions and reasonably understand the answers, all in Japanese! Or so I thought – when I came to the pharmacy my confidence crashed to the ground. I was given two creams – I thought there would be only one, and that one I knew how to administer. But the other one? What does it mean? How should I use it. Should I use them both? Which one first? (I really need to practice more for the sake of our son I remember thinking.)
I came home to my wife quite distressed, but my wife said 大丈夫 darling – that’s alright (大丈夫 actually meaning big height husband for some reason). And then she called the hospital and spoke to the doctor, asked about the creams, solved my problem. What! – she called to the hospital and could speak to the doctor, just like that? Wow! – for a hospital phobic like me the Japanese system is actually rather really good. Especially when exposed to it under the protection of a wonderful wife (that’s alright should really be 大丈婦 instead – big height wife makes things alright).
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