Got spare change? See a doctor in Japan

(Note: The whole point of this post begins in the third paragraph, so if you`re looking to just get to the point, that`s where it starts. Otherwise, please enjoy the other paragraphs.)

It has been a little over two years since my mother was first diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. This morning was her appointment with her oncologist, so my sister and I accompanied her to the hospital (where she also had her surgery). I guess we tagged along for support –or that maybe mom just didn`t trust our being at the house by ourselves… This was the first time I`ve been to this hospital because I did not come back to Japan when she had her surgery. At the time, I had a full-time job and was taking classes at a local arts college and didn`t think I could leave. But looking back, another part of my not coming back had to do with the fact that I didn`t know how to deal with the news of my mother`s cancer. I was so scared to the point that I seemed callous and unaffected than anything else. Such a stupid move on my part to care more about my feelings than to be there for my mother. I sat in the waiting area and felt bad that I did that to my family back then.

This hospital where her appointment was is very nice. It was built around ten years ago so it doesn`t seem so sterile –well, I`m sure the place is sterile but I should say, not sterile-looking. I don`t know why, but I imagined hospitals in Japan to feel more morose, kind of like the way mental hospitals are depicted. But instead, various waiting areas had TVs set up either with the regular tv programming or some stuff about simple exercises you can do in your home. Though the surroundings certainly look different from the hospitals in the US (e.g. the chairs are arranged in more rigid formation), the general mood that exists among the people in the waiting room is similar. Underneath all the calm, there must be some fear inside as people wait their turn.

But the big difference? When my mother went to the payment window, her total came up as 210 yen. That`s about 2 dollars!! What? I knew that health care was cheaper in Japan but for less than a cost of cup of coffee at Starbucks, you can have an appointment with a doctor. And this price is for everyone, not just the people who can get or afford health insurance…because everyone has health insurance here. Mom mentioned that the reason for such low prices on health care is so that everybody can get the care they need when they need it. Wow, what a concept. Of course, this sounds too much like socialism in America, nevermind the fact that in the United States, about half of the bankruptcies are filed because of health-care costs. In Japan? Zero. I guess we would rather that some people go without health care than become like all the other `socialist, fascist` nations, like Japan.

I certainly learned that medicine does not have to be accompanied by a big bill in order to be effective. But what I realized more than anything was that I can`t take my actions back from two years ago, but what I can do is to be present from now on.


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