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Medical Emergencies

Sunday night we are at a hotel near Tokyo's international airport. It's not too important how or why we came to be here but in any case I was flying out to Hong Kong on business and the girls wanted to see me off. Hotels and kids do not mix but kids think they do. It's an adventure, an adult sized playhouse and a reason to be wired without caffeine or sugar. To a certain extent, bad parents that we are, this is tolerated. I am in the shower and hear laughing, running and then a loud bang and silence. Then the inevitable scolding by Christine as her threshold of tolerance is instantly exceeded. It seems like a normal Iijima pattern until Christine abruptly switches from scolding to panic. "Call an ambulance quick!" she shrieks. Stepping into the room, I see her holding Sofia with a white towel, fast turning red, to her head. Sofia is weeping softly. Grace, sitting nearby, looks shocked with eyes the size of saucers. Still, highly reluctant to go through this particular door, I ask if Christine if she is sure we can't handle this one ourselves. As an answer, she lifts the towel and I see Sofia's forehead gashed wide open.

I call up the front desk and instantly my Japanese abandons me. How do you say injury? Forehead? Blood? Near Death?? I turn to Grace and ask her. She shakes her head. They get the message and tell me to go downstairs to meet the ambulance. It's a blur but I don't recall saying that my daughter can walk. What's the point of an ambulance? Whatever the case, I sweep up Sofia (in her pink Snow White jammies) and run downstairs. By the time I'm there, the ambulance is waiting. Japanese efficiency. We get in and they look her over and wrap her head up like a mummy. However, before we can head out, they need to find a hospital that will take her. This is something I have never understood in Japan. Women have given birth and people have died in ambulances as they sit, calling around to find a receptive hospital. Later, Christine tells me that outside the ambulance is a Delta Airlines crew from Portland. Having witnessed the drama, they are worried about Sofia and keep wondering why the ambulance is sitting there while a little girl bleeds inside.

Finally we head off. I calm Sofia and tell her that this is an adventure. I point out that we are going through red lights (Christine would say that isn't so special.. I do it all the time over here..). But Sofia perks up a bit and helps me count the lights we zip through. We pull into the hospital and they wheel her directly in to get a..CAT scan? MRI?? I don't know; it looks huge and expensive and dwarfs Sofia. This is my first time dealing with a medical emergency of any kind so I'm no expert but it seems a bit over the top to be throwing this much hardware at a little girl with a gash in the head and no other symptoms. How about stopping the bleeding? Still, she lets them do their thing and then, clothes, hands and gauze still red, we sit and wait. By now it is clear that Sofia will survive. Christine has text'd me saying that Grace is very worried. I call her up and she puts Grace on to talk to Sofia. This is the first time the two girls have talked on the phone to each other and it is so sweet. Hi Sofia. Hi Gwace. You ok? Wel, I sink so. (that little girl lisp will go away someday but right now it is really cute)

Finally, the nurse takes us to the emergency room. The doctor gives me a long lecture explaining that he will look at her injury and then will decide whether he needs to stitch her up. He doesn't know yet if he needs to stitch but if he does, I need to understand that she may need plastic surgery some day to make it look ok. But for now, all he can do is what he can do and he is going to do just exactly that. I'm thinking, ok already, too much talk, not enough action. He finally finishes his monologue, unwraps the bandages and, holy cow is it a sight; I can't hardly see the gash but for all the blood. He looks at me and says the Japanese equivalent of, "uh, yeah, we need to stitch."

Sofia lies down on the table and he asks me if she can understand Japanese (she can) and then asks if I want to stay in the room. I'm looking at her, torn. I don't think I can handle it. I ask her if she is okay and she says, "that's 'k daddy. I'll be bwave." Grateful for my daughter's permission, I slink over like a coward to the other side of the divider, expecting to hear screams but I hear nothing. Eventually they summon me back where I find her cleaned up and with three Frankenstein stitches seemingly tenuously holding together the wound right smack dab in the middle of her forehead. "You'll want to see a doctor tomorrow," the doctor says.

They tell her she is done and, as she is getting down, there is a collective gasp of horror as we see that she is barefoot. When it comes to social faux pas in Japan, failure to abide by rules governing proper footwear ranks up close to eating rice with one's hands. We all realize at the same terrible moment that Sofia was on the hospital operating table with dirty feet! The nurse rushes off and comes back with some very sad but appropriately pink plastic sandals 5 sizes too big. I'm sure that they spent the night disinfecting the table or, possibly, ordering a new one. (perhaps I exaggerate..)

The doctor then asks me how much she weighs. I have no idea. He explains that he needs her weight so he can write a prescription. I tell him that my wife would know but, glancing at all the electronic equipment and remembering too late that you're not supposed to use a cell phone in a hospital, I ask if I can call her. Sure! He says. I call up Christine and she asks me why they don't just weigh her with one of the dozen scales that must be within arm's reach at a hospital.. I don't care to be argumentative on this point, valid as it may be. Sighing, she gives me the weight. The doctor writes out a prescription.

And then we are done. With Sofia struggling to walk in her sandals, we go out to the lobby and to the payment window. Who would have thought this morning that we needed to carry Sofia's health insurance card? But without it, I am stuck and on the hook. The guy tells me that I have to pay at least $250 and then they will bill the rest later, after which I can fight with the national health care bureaucracy over repayment. I look in my wallet, pull out the money I have ($100) and say, "but, this is all I got.." He grabs it and says, "thanks."

It isn't until I go outside that I realize we are in a deserted city. In Tokyo, you can't throw a 100 yen coin without hitting one taxi and having it bounce off a second one. But at 10pm there isn't anything around this hospital. I walk out to an intersection. Sofia says worriedly, "uh, daddy, should I be walking awound in my jammies?" She holds my hand tight. We walk a block further. Then I realize that even if I find a taxi, the guy at the window took my money. I scrounge around and come up with some change. But still no taxis. The evening collapses. It's 10pm. I'm headed off to Hong Kong tomorrow, I'm in a deserted city with no money and a daughter in her pink Disney jammies, scuffling around in pink adult sized sandals. In the middle of the road, I call up Christine and scream, WHERE ARE YOU?? She says, not unreasonably, I'm at the hotel where we agreed I would watch Grace. Where are you?" I have no idea. Some random, dark, intersection next to a dark hospital in a deserted city. I hang up, go back to the hospital, call a cab from there and go outside. Now, there are 5 taxis lined up. Go figure.

Back at the hotel, all is well. Sofia is stitched and everyone is relieved. Good bonding experience for everyone. I head off to HK, the girls go home and we resume our life with a shared experience and not too much regret.

June 2010