I have been in Japan for over two decades now and have sought the care or advice of a Japanese doctor or other medical personnel probably about twice a year every year to date. My first visit was shortly after I got to Japan, when I was learning the ancient Japanese sword art of iaido. I had been practicing with an unsharpened sword for months, and then the very first time my sensei gave me a real katana to practice with, I immediately sliced the base of my index finger with it and was rushed to hospital for stitches.
Japan has no shortage of doctors or hospitals. Clinics and hospitals are everywhere, and a visit to one rarely involves a walk or cycle ride of any more than ten minutes. Unlike New Zealand, where I am originally from, a visit to the hospital to see a doctor as an outpatient is quite the norm in Japan, even if you just suffering from a cold (which is also popularly considered a reason to seek medical attention in Japan).
I have never been admitted to a Japanese hospital. I have ever only been an outpatient. Visits subsequent to getting my sliced hand repaired include getting infections seen to, including an infection around my ass, in my ears, and, most recently, on one of my ankles. I have had a swollen prostate gland seen to, the middle of my right index finger stitched when I sliced it with a cup that suddenly broke, a verruca on my heel looked at, a case of kidney stones inspected, one or two dental cavities treated, an ankle sprain tended to, a slightly arthritic knee x-rayed, and sleep apnea analyzed.
The only excellent care I have ever received in Japan has been from female medical personnel, most notably the ear, nose, and throat specialist who has a clinic not far from where I live. She was professional in her manner, clearly well-balanced in terms of personality, eminently knowledgeable, very good at explaining the problem concisely and lucidly, and provided me with treatment that cleared up the infection almost immediately and for good. My encounters with other female medical staff have been limited mainly to nurses drawing blood, or the like, but they have all been consistently positive.
Japanese male doctors are a different story. The middle-aged doctor who I went to for the infection on my ass was at first very reluctant to even look at it. I can understand that. I would have been probably even more reluctant to look at his ass if he had asked me too, but then I’m not a doctor, and I’m not getting paid to look at people’s bodies. He eventually did, "tsked-tsked" at it, gave me some a prescription, and the next time I encountered him out in the neighborhood, the to-date polite enough old fellow averted his eyes with a look of clear disgust. The -again - middle-aged doctor at the Nakano General Hospital in Tokyo who treated me when I was taken to hospital in an ambulance beside myself with pain clearly saw something in me that he personally hated - whether my non-Japaneseness or not I will never know - and was surly, borderline violent in his physical handling of me, and sarcastic: a right bastard.
And yet perhaps the most memorable example of terrible Japanese doctors was that of the young doctor I went to, again at Nakano General Hospital, to get a painful little lump on my heel looked at. He looked at it, got a needle,warned me that “pus would come out” and stabbed it, only to find to his bewilderment that nothing but blood came out, with no sign of any pus. It was still as sore as ever after that and didn't go away, but I happened to be back in New Zealand a week later on a visit home and visited a local community clinic in Wellington that didn't have a doctor, just a couple of nurses. One of the nurses took a look at it, prodded it, and said right away, "That’s a verruca." I said, "Oh, OK, the doctor in Japan didn’t know what it was." She looked at me with a very doubtful face and said matter-of-factly "Well, he can’t have been a doctor then," and it took quite a bit of effort to convince her that actually, officially, he was.
Those are just three experiences of awful male Japanese doctors, but there are many more: typically tales of arrogance and ineptitude - and sometimes personal weirdness, none of them good qualities on their own, but often encountered in a single practitioner and exacerbated by each other.
Finally, and significantly, when I used to be a university teacher in Japan, the only student in the twelve years I taught who was so irredeemably lazy, complacent and dishonest that I felt I had no choice but to fail him was … a male medical student.
Guide Books on Tokyo & Japan
Wednesday, November 21, 2012