Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Week From Swine Flu

Now for the story of how I caught the swine flu and the miserable week it impressed upon me! OK, it wasn`t that bad…most of the time. First, I want to show you this group shot of all the English teachers we took that week. Even though I wasn`t feeling great, I still looked “genki.” (Genki is the catch-all Japanese word for healthy, energetic, happy, etc. They use it all the time.)

I will list the teachers, starting from the front row on your right with the pregnant teacher. “Year” refers to the grade they teach. Hayashi (head of English club who is currently on maternity leave), Fujio (1st year teacher I teach with every week) Horinouchi (3urd year teacher I help with correcting college English entrance practice exams), temporary teacher I don`t know, Ota (3rd year teacher I teach with occasionally), Ikuta, and a temporary teacher I don`t know. On the second row is me, my supervisor (1st year teacher I teach with every week), the nurse’s assistant, Morikawa (3rd year teacher I teach with sometimes), Ozawa sensei (1st year teacher I teach with every week), and Atsuta sensei (3rd year teacher I grade papers for).

So, the whole swine flu business started with that darn business trip to Tsu…

That`s what did me in. If I had been able to take the whole day off after that crazy, long, busy weekend and just rest, I would have been fine. But after getting home at 8:30am, I left at 11:00am for a totally pointless, stressful business trip to Tsu, walking a lot on almost no sleep (thanks to the night bus) and found out that I was to be the moderator for a session at the mid year conference in January. That was the whole point. Just to tell us who would be a speaker and who would be a moderator. They could have emailed us that information.

I started feeling sick about halfway through the meeting. Stuffy nose, headache, soar throat, a little dizzy and queasy. The others wanted to go out for dinner and drinks, but I just slunk back home. I went to bed, and in the morning took an Excedrin and went to school. I didn`t feel great, but I was OK. I did the same thing the next day, but about noon I felt really weak. I broke out in a really weird sweat, but couldn`t stop shivering. My first instinct was just to tough it out, then sleep it off, but I remembered when I did that last time, and then couldn`t find anyone to take me to the doctor. About 3:30, I went to my supervisor.

“I`m not feeling well. I think I need to go to the doctor.”

She gave me one of her tight smiles. “Well, you know where it is.”

“Yes, but…the doctor dosn`t speak English.”

“When the doctor asks to see you, call me and I will translate.”

“O…kay.” I glanced outside. It was very, very cold that day, close to freezing with a dizzily rain and harsh wind. “How do I get there?”

“You have a bike, right?” And she promptly went back to her work.

Well, that`s not going to happen, I thought. Maybe I can just go to the school nurse and she can give me some over the counter stuff, or some herbs.

When I came into her office, she wasn`t terribly concerned; like I said, I`m a pretty “genki” person even when I`m not feeling great. But then she took my temperature. She gasped, dropped the thermometer, shouted something in Japanese, and ran out the door.

I turned to the nurse`s assistant who speaks English pretty well (in fact, I think she`s an English teacher who also helps out the nurse). “Mind translating that for me?”

She glanced at the thermometer and her eyes bugged out. “You have a temperature of 39.2.”

Not being a person who uses Celsius, that meant absolutely nothing to me. I stared at her blankly.

“You need to go to the hospital,” she explained.

“Hospital? Isn`t that a bit…drastic? Besides, I don`t have any way to get there.”

“The nurse just went to find someone to take you.”

“Oh. I should probably tell my supervisor.”

“That`s okay! I`ll tell her.”

She left, and I felt a little weird just sitting there, so I went back to the teacher`s room and looked up a Celsius/Fahrenheit converter and found out my temperature was 103. That may not seem too bad, but I can count the number of times I`ve had a fever on one hand, and a fever of more than 101 on maybe three fingers. My natural body temperature rests around 98.0 or a hair lower, colder than most folks, but I suppose that`s why people always tell me I have such a cold face and hands and everything else. I`ve always had a hard time retaining body heat.

So all that to say my condition was pretty bad. I went back to the nurse`s room and laid down for an hour. The only person who could take me to the doctor was my supervisor, and she took her sweet time in getting back to me. On the way there, she insisted on keeping the windows down so I wouldn`t infect her and that I keep my face pointed toward the window (despite the fact that I was wearing a mask). It was freezing cold, and by the time we arrived at the doctor`s, I was shivering like a rattle-snake`s tail.

“You know, I think you could have done this yourself,” she kept saying. “Next time maybe you could avoid bothering the nurse or anyone else. After all, I gave you the address of this clinic last week.” Then we found out that the clinic was closed.

“Boy, am I glad you`re with me,” I said in as Japanese-a-fashion as I could. “I don`t know what I would have done if I`d come all this way on my bike only to find out the clinic was closed.”

She didn`t reply to that. I was trying to sound sincerely grateful, but I think she thought I was being sarcastic.

We went to another clinic. It too was closed. “Most clinics are closed on Thursdays,” she admitted reluctantly.

Geeze, I wish you had told me that before! I thought. How else would I know? To think you would have just left me to go wandering around the city myself!

But aloud, I tried to thank her again. “Thanks so much for helping me with this. I don`t know what I would have done without you.”

“You know, maybe you could have told me you weren`t feeling well yesterday,” she replied. “Or maybe waited until Friday. I am very busy, you know, and can`t do everything for you. Next time, please do this yourself.”

While she says all this in the soft, hesitant voice only the Japanese have mastered, she`s the most un-Japanese Japanese person I`ve ever met. I think she spent too much time in America. Or maybe she`s irritated because she just got married, just moved, has to drive an hour to school everyday and she`s head of the department and didn`t ask to be my supervisor. Maybe I`m just one thing too many. She`s always comparing me to the Assistant Language Teacher she worked with in America, how organized she was and how good her Japanese was and how helpful she was. It`s all very subtle, but I get the idea. Why can`t I be more like HER. At least she dosn`t compare me to Lauren, my predecessor. I get called by her name on accident enough times, but I can understand that. She worked here three years, we look kind of similar and our names are almost the same.

Anyway, she finally took me a stomach clinic, the only doctor`s office open in all of Nabari. They saw me pretty quickly, and much to my relief, the doctor did speak a small amount of English, and his Japanese was slow and clear enough that I could understand him when he wasn`t speaking English. I wrote down all his information for the future, which seemed to please my supervisor, but honestly it`s pretty far from my house. I do plan on going there if I get sick again, but I`m calling a friend to give me a ride.

The doctor did a “nose swab” instead of the American throat swab, which is about equal in discomfort but still effective. When the test results came back in a few minutes, he frowned, shock his head, and said, “Eh…toe…you have enfluenza. New kind. From pig.”

He showed me the indicator line, which was barely showing up. Apparently that meant I just got it. There were more dark lines too, indicating other kinds of flu, but I couldn`t find out from him or my supervisor if that meant I had more than one kind of flu, but, after further evidence, I`m assuming I did. (More on that later.) He gave me some medicine and told me to take five days off.

“Is that nenque or sick days?” I asked my supervisor.

“Ninque,” she said. (Ninque is vacation days; I only have twenty for the year.)

“Sick days,” a nurse replied, and added something in Japanese. The doctor nodded, and handed my supervisor a note that I`m assuming was a “doctor`s note” ordering the rest.

My supervisor looked sulky. “Sick days,” she muttered.

When we got back out to the car, my supervisor got a call from the school nurse. “She wants you to come back to school. She`s worried that you might not be able to take care of yourself while you`re sick. She wants to take you to her house.”

“Oh, I don`t think that`s necessary,” I assured her. “I don`t want to be a burden on anyone.”

“That`s what I told her, but she was insistent. Don`t worry, we`ll explain the situation and she`ll let you go. Then everyone will feel better. The principle and vice principle are worried too. There was an ALT who got swine flu last year. Very healthy, no sickness before that. They let her go home but after her sick days she didn`t go to school. They called her home, but no answer. They finally went there and found her dead.”

“Oh.” Well, that`s not going to happen to me, I thought. I have to prove to my supervisor that I can take care of myself. I`ll refuse her help, no matter what.

“The school is very concerned for you,” my supervisor continued. “You are an American. You are new to this country. If something happened to you, we could be in trouble. You are our…our…”

“Responsibility?” I asked, and wanted to kick myself as soon as I said it.

“Yes, that`s right, responsibility. We are responsible for you. Even though you are an adult, you are like a child. We have to be extra careful with you.”

Oh, great, now I`m a child, I thought. Though, honestly, I feel like one at times. Everything is new. I have to learn to talk, read, and write all over again. And it`s not just verbal communication. I have to learn a whole new way of interacting with people, customs, culture, unspoken taboos, body language, how to read people`s minds (the Japanese are notorious for leaving things unsaid and expecting you to read between the lines; just check any cultural guide and they`ll tell you this). I thought after five months I would be a pro, but I`m not. It really is like being on another planet. These people think differently and have a different upbringing and a whole different way of expressing themselves and looking at the world. Not to mention this is my first time living on my own. Even in college, I had a roommate, and my parents were only twenty miles away. If I got sick or needed something, I could always go to them. It would be foolish to say I have “no one” in Japan, for I do have a lot of friends and my church family and many people I can call on if I need to, but it`s not quite the same as being close to family.

Which is why I honestly didn`t need much pressing from the nurse when I got to school. When my supervisor and I arrived, we were immediately surrounded by the principle and vice principle and other teachers who were worried about me. As soon as they found out I had swine flu, they took me straight to the nurse. They all insisted I had to go into quarantine at her house, both to protect myself and others. Even my supervisor changed her mind and said it would be for the best, repeating the story of the ALT who died. By this time I was feeling quite miserable (physically speaking), and it really touched me that the nurse would care so much, and I really did want someone to look after me (and figured I might regret it later if I didn`t), so I accepted her offer.

I spent the next two days shut up in her house. It was wonderful. I stayed in a warm room with a humidifier, had my meals and medicine brought to me, and slept the days away. In the middle of the day when the virus was at its weakest, I did a little writing on my laptop and read Lord of the Rings. The nurse had a daughter who spoke fluent English, so in the evenings and mornings she would talk to me. And there was a little Shih Tzu dog to keep me company while they were gone. His name was Sora. Here`s a picture:

Though honestly, they warned me not to let him in the room with me, but I did anyway. He went crazy, rifling through the trash can and tearing a hole in the rice-paper wall. Oops. Though honestly, the tear may have been there before. When I showed it to the nurse and apologized profusely, she didn`t seem concerned. People have been asking me what a “rice paper wall” looks like, so here`s a picture…with a tear in it:

They were very kind and sweet, and they even went grocery shopping for me. The daughter, Asahi, is now in my Thursday night English class. It is way below her level, but I think she is enjoying it anyway.

On Sunday I called my Mom and stayed home from church. I tried to sleep most of that day and Monday, eating food that a friend brought me. But sleeping, especially in the evening, was nearly impossible. A deep, racking chest cough kept me up through the night, and no amount of cough drops of tea with honey and lemon could make it go away. I was getting more and more exhausted, worse, not better. Monday evening I coughed up blood. Afraid that I`d gotten pneumonia, I decided it was time to go back to the doctor.

Tuesday morning I called a friend and he took me to the same clinic I had gone to before. It was a different doctor this time, and he said I had gotten an “opportunistic” infection on top of the flu. He didn`t even test me to see what it was. He just prescribed a bunch of wide-spectrum antibiotics. I bought them at the pharmacy there so as not to cause a fuss, but at home I refused to take them. The last thing I need is to go through what I did as a kid, weakening my immune system with nuclear ballistic missiles that destroy my digestion by obliterating all the bad AND good bacteria. (That story is all part of my testimony; I`ll include more details next week.) Instead I drank lots of Echinacea and vitamin rich tea with honey and lemon and ate lots of raw garlic and ginger. I healed on my own in a few more days, but the important thing was that I got another doctor`s note. He ordered me to stay home until Saturday, and honestly, my supervisor was pretty understanding when I called her. Yea.

For the rest of the day I ran much-needed errands with my friend. He suggested that maybe one reason I was coughing so bad was because of allergies. I performed an experiment, moving a mat into the living room and sleeping on that. I slept much better. So on Wednesday thanks to regained rest my condition began to improve, and I called Pastor Toshi to ask about the Thanksgiving dinner we were planning for Friday.

“Eh…toe…several members have gotten sick with the flu,” he said. “And one of the members has died, the lady who had cancer.” This was not a terrible shock; she had been very sick for a long time. He said she died exactly one year after she was baptized, so I told him she died on her birthday. They had already had the funeral. I was sad that they hadn`t invited me, but I realized that in my condition, I would have coughed through the whole service, and that would have been disrespectful. Japanese funerals are very somber, and last about two days. There are many ancient customs, such as passing the bones of the departed from person to person with chop sticks (one reason why you NEVER pass food to someone using your chopsticks), in addition to the Christian rituals the church performed. There were many people there who were not Christian. The lady`s husband is Christian, but her two daughters are not. It is our prayer that as the church seeks to reach out to them in their grief, they will want to find meaning, hope, and be moved to faith.

So, suffice it to say, the Friday Thanksgiving dinner was canceled, and I suppose that`s for the best. I was planning on doing most of the cooking, and I don`t think I could have managed it. And Pastor Toshi hadn`t been able to find a turkey. But he has now! So we`re going to have a Christmas dinner instead on December 25th. I hope it goes well!

As Wednesday wore on so did the illness, and I canceled my adult class for both that night and the next night. Many folks in the Wednesday class are elderly and I knew I shouldn`t expose them to so many germs, but still, I felt really guilty about it; we only meets twice a month and I`ve already canceled once on them. Even though they don`t really pay me, they have to pay a monthly fee to use the community center and its resources. I will try to make it up to them by scheduling a make-up class.

Thursday, after finishing the second Lord of the Rings book and Orsen Scott Card`s Shadow Puppets, I was bored out of my mind but still feeling too sick to really do anything productive. I had taken my broken PlayStation disks to the repair shop on Tuesday when I did my errands, but they hadn`t been able to fix them. So I finally gave into the temptation and downloaded several Super Nintendo games from the internet, and played them for the rest of the day and Friday. I don`t know what it is with video games, but they always make me feel better when I`m sick. They give me a sense of forward movement, adventure, and false power. Whatever. Mostly they`re just a waste of time, so I tucked them away somewhere on my computer where I can`t have easy access to them, only to be brought out at the next severe illness. Hopefully, that won`t be happening any time soon.

Oh, about the above mentioned books, I don`t know if I`ve said this before, but I inherited an excellent library from my predecessor, at least one hundred volumes. And most of them are right up my alley; lots of science fiction, fantasy, and historical stuff. I`ve already plowed my way through about a dozen of them.

When I consider my lifestyle here, it really can`t be beat. I have a really good job that pays me good money for doing very little, so I spend my days writing, my evenings reading, and my weekends traveling. I`ve published more things here in the last five months than I have in my entire life (newspaper articles and other short things). I have almost everything I need within biking distance of my apartment (and everything else I can get to by train), lots of wonderful international friends, and a loving, supportive church family. I have a writers` critique group and everything I need to advance my career here in Japan. So what am I griping about? I`m going to stay another year, I think.

Now all I need to do is learn Japanese. That would make life so much easier! I study thirty minutes a day, but perhaps I should crank it up to an hour. But there`s so much else I want to do, and honestly, I don`t see how or when I will ever use Japanese when I leave. That`s no excuse! Either spend the extra time studying or quit complaining! Most of all, I should just be patient with myself and others.

On Saturday, I went to the store with a friend and bought an air filter for my apartment. Wow, what a difference! The room smells so much better, and I can breathe without coughing. I think my apartment had a mold problem, but that got rid of it. I think another big problem was that my apartment was so cold. There are two walls made entirely of glass facing the outside, and the rest are made of rice paper. There is no central heat, just a small air conditioning unit in the living room. Another reason for moving into the living room was so I could sleep directly underneath it. But with the air filter, I figured out how to circulate the heat into my room, so I moved from the hard mattress back to my nice, soft, comfy Western style bed (that I also inherited from my predecessor for a small fee). My dad asked me why I didn`t just move my bed into the living room. You can`t side stuff on tatami (straw mat flooring). You would destroy it. That is why Japanese furniture is usually light, capable of being moved by simply lifting and setting down again. I don`t know where the bed came from, but it definitely wasn`t made in Japan.

One lesson God is teaching me in Japan, as I`ve said before, is patience. Rather than being an obnoxious American and feeling I have to adapt everything to suit my own whims or plow through obstacles, I`m learning to adapt to what I`m given or what I have to work with. The ridged structure of society and daily life is not so much inflexible as…a way of promoting harmony and opportunities for creative solutions. I give the Japanese a lot of credit, in that they seem to be able to do this without thought. It`s so engrained in their nature.

Saturday afternoon, I tried to get my Chinese visa in Osaka, but the office was closed. How silly of me; of course it`s closed on a weekend! Turns out they`re only open 9-12 and 1:30-2:30 on weekdays. And won`t received mailed applications and won`t mail the finished visa.

Fortunately, that wasn`t the only reason I went to Osaka. While I was there, I got to go to my critique group meeting. We discussed the revisions to my story “Tapestry of Time.” They were very pleased with the corrections I`d made, especially to the characters, and only found a few small errors. Carl, who submitted to the Writers of the Future Contest before, said it looked like something custom-fit for them. That was extremely encouraging, so I hope to send it off before the January 1st deadline, after I return from China.

Sunday, after three week`s absence, (two being due to conferences), I was finally able to go back to church. I just love being with them! I love singing to God with other voices and hearing the Word preached. Afterward, we had lunch together, and decorated the church for Christmas. I`m so glad, because that`s one of my favorite traditions of the season, and I was already missing the fact that I couldn`t do it with my family. The man who`s wife passed away was there, and far from being sad, he kept saying his wife was in heaven, that she was in no more pain, and that in another ten years or so, he would see her again. That was really encouraging to see.

I was still pretty tired on Sunday from the illness, but I knew it was my last chance to see the autumn leaves at Akame taki (waterfalls), and I`d been making plans to see them for weeks and they had always fallen through. So, stubborn goat that I am, I went. I was just in time to catch the bus. I flagged it down as it was driving off, and spent an hour walking along the river and falls. Unfortunately, most of the leaves were already spent, but it was still beautiful. Here are some pictures:

And here`s a pair of "shrine guardians" leading up to the inner sanctuary of a Shinto/Buddhist Shrine. They looked pretty cool and scary, so I took a pic:

This is probably the strangest one. Someone wrapped all the Buddha statues in red sweaters. I assume this is an ancient tradition, because I`ve seen it in other places too, some remnant of thinking the statue houses a real spirit. No one believes that anymore, yet they still do it. They probably just consider it a “festive decoration.” Interesting.

I think that about covers the whole week. I`m feeling much better now, though I`m still sneezing and coughing a little and tire easily. I think I`ll stay home this weekend, get some work done around the house, and get ready for my trip to China! I was able to apply for my visa in Osaka just fine, thankfully, after taking a half day off of work. I`ll have to take another half day off to go down and fetch it. Oh, well. At least I got it. I only found out I needed one last week, and was worried I wouldn`t be able to make it in time!

Prayer Requests for this week: Praise that there were four people at my English class yesterday (Thursday)! It`s growing. After the English lesson and during tea time, I was able to share the Christian story of Creation, and compare it to the Japanese story of creation found in their oldest document, the Kojiki. (In that account there are three gods, one ultimate creator and two others that pour from his essence, one with characteristics of Christ, and one with characteristics of the Holy Spirit. Coincidence, or was God speaking to the writer?) They were very surprised to hear this, and equally shocked to hear the similarities between communion and the tea ceremony, how the latter’s greatest innovations were created shortly after the coming of Christianity, by Christian Japanese. Many of the gestures and symbols are exactly the same, such as the movements used to clean the utensils before and after, the lifting of the cup, and a small wafer eaten after the drink. When Christianity was banned from Japan, many secret Christians continued to celebrate communion, disguised as the tea ceremony. That got the class thinking. One lady said, “Ah, I see. Christianity is not foreign to Japan.” Yes, bingo! That was the whole point of the lesson. Just to open them up to the idea that they can be Christian and still be Japanese. So praise God for that revelation. Next week we are covering Christmas. I hope there will be more “Aha!” moments, and that each one leads them closer to salvation.

Also, praise for healing! Thank you all for praying for that. Please pray for the family and friends of the woman who died, especially her husband and two daughters.

Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,


Mistress of the Manse said...

Oh, my goodness, Laura, what a horrible experience!

Our supervisor at the English school was very similar, it sounds like, to yours - and as you said, "very unjapanese" in a strange way. There was that one person who made us feel like no matter what we did, it was the wrong thing, made us feel like idiots and a burden.

I'm praying for you with sympathy right now!

Also, as you said, "everybody knows" the Japanese are the most difficult culture in the world to get along with -- even THEY can't readjust to the culture after living abroad. They can't fit it. Did you know that? They call them "returnees", and just like they say, "What can you expect, she's an American"... they say, "We have to make allowances, she's a returnee..." like it is a disgraceful thing.

Which also gives a bit more insight on why a "returnee" teacher might be grouchy! The other teachers who haven't studied English abroad often treat a "returnee" like a "show-off", making them not want to associate with other people who draw attention to the differences.

It sounds like you are doing great understanding what is going on, and trying to get along, which is all anyone can ask of you. Hope things smooth out soon!

(And I checked with Bethany, and she says that, indeed, it is likely that the class you have the most trouble with is the equivalent of a remedial kid's class here. High school isn't compulsory, but some families still push their underachieving kids to go... and the school then puts them all together in one class. Poor Homeroom teacher! And no one would tell you, because it would be shameful to say the truth!)

Rich said...

Quite the downer for Thanksgiving it sounds like, but it also sounds like Christmas might be very good. I will be excited to hear. I personally wonder if the Japanese have adopted the Western pseudo-Christian traditions of, say, Santa Claus and shopping madness.

Something that caught my attention was the library you inherited from your predecessor. Perhaps you're spoken about it before in another blog, but I was wondering what else you "inherited"?