I’m hoping that you’ll never need to visit a hospital in Japan. But, just in case, you might want to take a look at the various Japanese that will save you in the event of an emergency.
So far in my life, I’ve lived in five different countries. I’ve been hospitalized in four of them. The only country that I haven’t needed an emergency hopsital visit was Thailand… that time Rei (my fiance and then girlfriend) did go to the hospital, though. So I’ve at least visited hospitals in every country I’ve lived in.
Just over a week ago, I fell, broke my jaw, and got a beastly scar on my chin, which required an emergency hospital visit here in Vietnam. It was… interesting. But that’s a tale for another day.
Getting hospitalized here in Vietnam brought back all sorts of memories. In particular, it reminded me of the time I had to go to the hospital in Japan.
My Hospital Visit In Japan
I’m not sure if it’s a traumatizing memory or a precious one. I suppose it’s both. It’s also a bit ridiculous, too. And in telling the story, I think I might be able to teach some cool Japanese, too.
It was a Saturday night, and I was out drinking with friends in Ueno.
Living in Tokyo, all nightlife revolves around the last-train times, or 終電（しゅうでん・shuuden）. Since I was an English teacher at the time, I had work the next morning (working weekends being the bane of any conversation school employee’s life). So I said bye to my friends, and I hopped onto 山手線（やまのてせん・yamanote-sen ・ Yamanote Line）.
Like any last train any day of the week in Tokyo, it was packed, and I was forced to stand.
Since I lived in Shimokitazawa, I needed to change trains at Shinjuku Station, and the ride from Ueno to Shinjuku is pretty long, because they’re on completely opposite sides of Yamanote Line–a bit over 30 minutes. Not too long if you have a seat, I guess. But it’s not a fun ride when you’re exhausted, it’s packed, and you can’t wait to go to bed (because you’re dreading work in the morning).
The train seemed to hardly be moving at all, slowly lugging it’s way around the western edge of central Tokyo.
And I was sweating. And getting more nauseous every second.
Niko, you cannot throw up on this train, I thought. At the same time, I was wondering why in the world I was feeling sick to begin with. I hadn’t really had that much to drink. It’s just, the train was so hot. But then, none of the other passengers seemed to be sweating like me. I prayed I wasn’t getting sick.
It was the Standing Marathon of Doom.
I almost–almost–just sat down on the floor. But I didn’t want to be that guy sitting on the floor in the train. Also, there wasn’t really any room to be sitting down in the first place, and I wasn’t too keen on having a Japanese salaryman’s crotch right in my face.
Fight-O. I can do this.
5 more stations.
Ikebukuro. Just breathe.
Mejiro. F$%* this is taking a long time!
Takadanobaba. Two more, two more, two more.
Shin-Okubo. Okay, we’re close. Just one more station. Why is Shinjuku so far from Ueno?!
And then–at last–the train pulled up to Shinjuku Station, and the doors opened.
I stepped out, and everything went blurry.
I blacked out.
Now I can feel myself lying on the train platform. I can’t move. I can’t even open my eyes. Why can’t I move? Why can’t I open my eyes?
No, I’m not going to be that guy passed out at the train station. Everyone’s gonna think I’m just some idiot who drank too much. Must. Get. Up.
I had a brief sense of fighting to lift my body–and failing.
And I fell face-first into something. Something hard.
Then, all at once, my strength came back to me.
I struggled to stand, and a couple of friendly Japanese guys helped me up. One of them handed me my phone. I must have dropped it.
So now that I have my strength back, I’m thinking only one thing–I cannot miss my last train. I throw my hood over my head–ashamed–and I rush down the stairs, turn left, pass through the Odakyu Line gates.
By some sort of blessing, this train was not packed door-to-door. There weren’t any open seats, but there weren’t many people standing either. Whatever. I stood by the door, hood pulled down far over my head. Then the train doors closed, and I saw myself reflected in the glass–my face was covered in blood.
I should have been worrying about being injured. Instead, though, I was just embarrassed that I was bleeding on the train. I tried to shrink back even further into my hood, avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the train car, my eyes on the door in front of me.
A few minutes later, the train arrived at Shimokitazawa. I left the train, left the station, walked the ten minutes or so back to my apartment, careful to hide my bleeding countenance from any people I passed.
I made it. Home at last. Alive!
But then I looked in the mirror, and my first thought was Oh sh*&. I have to go to the hospital. Aside from the blood trickling down from a sizeable crack in the center of my forehead, the skin above my lip was gaping open. That needs stitches.
First, I took a shower. Then I tried to work out how I was going to get to the hospital.
Getting To The Hospital
Now, when you suffer a serious injury in Japan, you should really call an ambulance. It’s free. It’s fast. It’s safe. All you have to do is dial 119 and babble English into the phone. I’m sure they’ll find you.
kyuukyuusha yonda hou ga ii yo
You should call an ambulance.
But, yeah, I didn’t call an ambulance. Why? Well, (1) because I’m an idiot, and (2) because I hate having people make a fuss over me. Having paramedics and sirens and all those eyes on me sounded worse than the injury itself. So instead, I walked out to the empty early-morning streets of Shimokitazawa and waited to flag down a taxi. It only took a few minutes.
I got in the cab, and I think I said something along the lines of:
byouin made onegai shimasu
Please take me to the hospital.
Well, that’s the correct version. I probably messed up and said に (ni) instead of まで (made), because in my gaijin brain に means “to,” and I wanted to go to the hospital. But yeah, the correct way to say it is まで. I suppose a direct translation would be something like “Hospital until please (take me).”
The cab driver responded by saying something like:
doko no byouin desu ka
I’m pretty sure that the taxi driver did not notice the huge gaping wounds in my face. Maybe he thought I was going to visit a friend or something. Anyways, I said:
ichiban chikai tokoro onegai shimasu
Whichever one is closeest.
Okay, yeah, he definitely wasn’t looking at my face, because then he said:
ima aite inai kamoshirenai desu
It might not be open right now.
So then I leaned over a bit, making sure that he could see my face. I gestured to the cuts.
jaa doko demo ii no de itte kudasai
Then please just go to anywhere that’s open.
He must have thought that I got beaten with a baseball bat or something, because he gave me a suspicious look, then started driving.
The first hospital we went to was closed, after all.
The second one, thankfully, was open:
Being the lucky kid that I am, the urgent care here was pretty much empty. I was practically the only person there. Kind of incredible if you think about how many people are living in Tokyo. Having visited an overly crowded E.R. in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I have developed a newfound gratitude for the state of the urgent care center that night.
I walked in, deposited my Health Insurance Card at the front desk (since I was an employee in Japan, I had National Health Insurance, 社会保険 / shakai hoken, which got me 2/3 discount on all medical costs).
After waiting a few minutes, I met with some doctors, then nurses took me to get a CT Scan.
By this point, I was feeling pretty much normal, although a little tired. I was also having a lot of fun answering the doctors’ and nurses’ questions, because we were all speaking Japanese, and it was a great chance to practice all that until-then useless medical vocabulary I’d learned.
A nurse and I made small talk about how she visited California once. I’m pretty sure she was flirting with me. Must have been my rugged looks and manly facial wounds. Or my imagination. Yeah, it was probably my imagination.
I sat down with a doctor. He showed me a scan of my brain, and I thought, Awesome!
I forget exactly what he said, but the general message was You have no concussions. There’s no fluid leaking in your brain. Congratulations.
The Painful Part
Since I had no brain damage and no broken bones, all they needed to do was stitch up the huge gashes in my face. 大したことない (taishita koto nai). No big deal.
I lay back, the doctor looking down at me. He was holding a gigantic syringe–local anesthetic for the stitches. He looked at the needle, then down at me and said:
kore itai yo
This is gonna hurt.
I remember noticing that the doctor was the only one who used casual language with me. I guess because he was the 先生 (sensei) and I was the patient, so he was above me in the social hierarchy? I’m not sure, but I’ve noticed that quite a few doctors in Japan have this exceptionally casual way of speaking that, at times, almost feels rude.
Okay, this is going to hurt. That’s fine. I can handle a little pain.
But then the doctor looked over his shoulder at the few nurses looking over at us, and he said:
dare ka kare wo osaete oite
Somebody hold him down.
Hold me down? WTF. Is it really gonna hurt that bad?
Then a nurse comes over and lightly pushes down on my forearms, just above the wrists. She wasn’t wearing gloves. I remember the feel of her skin on mine. Her hands were warm–smooth-and not at all clammy. It was a calming feeling.
And then the shots started.
I have had anesthetic shots in my face on two separate occasions, and I can tell you this: It is quite possibly the most painful experience I’ve ever had. The only thing that has ever hurt more was last week after I got a titanium plate drilled into my jawbone; my painkillers wore off after the surgery, and I could feel the screws in my mandible, unable to touch them, unable to escape the pain. Local anesthetic shots to the face don’t hurt quite as bad as that, but they’re a close second.
It was the first time in my life I’ve writhed in pain. And in that blur of invasive, unbearable feeling, the nurse saying 頑張って、頑張って (ganbatte, ganbatte), I was strangely happy. Euphoric almost. I had this feeling like, These people are helping me. I am so grateful for their concern, their care. I was fighting to lie still, fighting to keep from moaning in pain, fighting to keep breathing until it was over, but really I just wanted to look those people in the eyes and say Thank you. Thank you so much.
A couple of hours later, I was finally home, bandages all over my face. I texted my mom, trying to tell her what had happened without her panicking. I texted my manager, apologizing that I had to miss work that day. Then, there was peace. And at last, I slept.
Whiplash & Falling On My Face
Apparently in falling on my face, I had also jerked my head back at an unhealthy speed, because the next morning I could hardly move from the whiplash. Trying to explain this to a Japanese friend, I soon learned that the word for whiplash was ムチウチ (muchiuchi). It hurts like a bitch.
I later learned that the reason I tend to blackout after a few too many alcoholic beverages is that I have super low blood pressure, 低血圧 (teiketsuatsu), or something.
This, in itself, would not be such a problem. The problem is that I fall on my face. (Yeah, I’m embarrassed to admit that almost the same exact thing happened earlier this month in Vietnam. I suddenly blacked out, and I fell right on my face, breaking my jaw and getting a boss-level gash in my chin.)
I was listening to Rei talk to her mom on the phone a few days ago, explaining what was wrong with me, and I noticed her using a phrase that I almost certainly would have messed up in Japanese: “The problem is that he always falls on his face.”
Specifically, she said:
teiketsuatsu de taoreru made wa ii n da kedo, nazeka maikai kao kara taoreru n da yo ne.
Passing out from low blood pressure wouldn’t be such a big deal. The problem is that he always falls on his face.
Before hearing her say this, I almost certainly would have said 顔に倒れる (kao ni taoreru) for “falls on (his) face.” The problem, however, is using the particle に (ni). Saying 顔に倒れる (kao ni taoreru) implies falling on someone else’s face. Like there is a face on the ground, and I fell on it.
Saying から in 顔から倒れる (kao kara taoreru) has the nuance of falling on my own face. I suppose a direct translation would be something like “He always falls from the face.”
Maybe someday I’ll master these Japanese particles. Who knows ^_^
Prickling and Stinging
The other day, I was talking to Rei, and I wanted to say “My eyes sting.” At the time, I think I said just 目痛い (me itai), literally,”Eyes hurt.” I asked her how to say “My eyes sting,” and this is what she first thought:
me ga chikuchiku suru
My eyes sting.
Only, we weren’t really happy with this translation either, for a few reasons. For one thing, in my personal experience チクチク (chikuchiku) is not necessarily a painful feeling. Less like “stinging” and more like “prickling.”
I developed a sense for this word, because a few days after my hospital visit in Tokyo, I went back to get my stitches removed, and just before the super-friendly, female doctor took them out, she casually told me:
chikuchiku shimasu yo
This is going to prickle a bit.
It certainly did not sting. It did prickle. It didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t exactly a pleasant feeling, either. The reason I mention this is…
The Power of Experience
One really awesome thing about sustaining a hospital-level injury in a foreign country is that it creates some seriously vivid memories.
All the words and phrases that I’ve mentioned in this article are pretty much engraved into my brain, because the memories stand out so much. I guess this is what people are talking about when they say that “full immersion” helps people learn languages.
Yeah, we can use systems to learn Japanese without ever stepping foot in Japan, but if you do make it there, I hope you too can make some awesome memories that burn all kinds of cool Japanese phrases into your brain… hopefully without any hospital visits.
Anyways, yeah. I’m still alive! So much to be thankful for.
Good luck in your studies everyone!
p.s. Get you some Japanese, homie: