Getting sick and going to the hospital in Japan

I said I wanted to experience many different aspects of Japan and Japanese culture, and that’s just what I got to do, haha. This entry will explain what it was like getting pneumonia while on the JET Program…


I didn’t post a lot in October. I think this is partly because I spent a lot of it sick. The week prior to the weekend of the 13th and 14th, when my friend Kaoru came and visited from Tokyo, I’d been feeling a bit unwell, like with a slight cough and such, but it hadn’t been too bad; and that weekend with my friend, I’d thought I’d be better in a couple of days. Then, in the middle of the next week (I think around Wed 17th or Thurs 18th) I started feeling a lot worse, and my cough was getting really bad. That weekend (20th and 21st), I was pretty miserable–I think I had a fever; I didn’t have a thermometer, but I got chills at least twice and my head was really hot. (I still went to church on Sunday! 0_0 I sat in the back drinking hot hoji-cha tea that my friend had brought for me, and kept sucking on cough drops and concentrating really hard to try not to cough during the sermon. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe I did that.)

I called my supervisor and took Mon 22nd and then Tues 23rd off. With the JET Program, you get 20 sick days off. I was really conscious of the fact that I just started teaching a month and a half ago, and I wanted to get better quickly and not inconvenience the teachers I work with. I’m officially an employee of the Waki Board of Education, and I work at the BoE office during breaks sometimes; as such, the BoE were the ones I went to for help, and someone from there drove me to the doctor’s office on Tuesday, even though it’s really close and I could bike there in about 5-10 minutes. In the US, we don’t go to the doctor for a common cold, and we wait until it gets really bad to make an appointment to see a doctor. In Japan, if you even just start to feel bad, you can go see a doctor right away (I think it’s the same in South Korea, too). I’d sort of known this, but I still waited, because…”if it’s just a cold then I don’t need to see a doctor.” However, my cough wasn’t getting better, and it was to the point where I couldn’t sleep well Monday night.

Although Waki is small, it does have one doctor’s office. In Japan, you don’t make an appointment to see the doctor, you just show up, write your name on a list, and sit down and wait. We had to fill out some preliminary paperwork (do you have allergies, past illnesses, etc), and it was all in Japanese, but T-san from the Board of Education was with me and helped me fill it out while we waited. It wasn’t long before we were able to go see the doctor. He was an older man in his 60’s or 70’s, I think, and the nurse who was there spoke English! The appointment was quick, I got a prescription for some cold meds, and then we walked next door to the pharmacy (which was in a separate building) and paid for them. I don’t have all the prices on me, but trust me when I say it’s not bad–and it’s going to cost less once I get better, because apparently I have insurance in addition to being covered by Japanese national healthcare.

(As a side note, the only “cultural mistake” (?) I can think of during these doctors’ office visits was during one of my visits to the Waki doctor’s office–they handed me a thermometer to take my temperature and I popped it under my tongue without even thinking about it, and they were like, “It goes under your armpit…” ^^; But I was really out of it that day so I don’t really remember anyone’s reaction to it haha. It wasn’t really a big deal. They probably clean those…right?)

However, it not being a regular cold, I wasn’t able to sleep well Tuesday night either. To be honest, on Tuesday I was really upset about being sick for so long, and I was really tired from coughing, and I cried a lot. The walls of this apartment complex are not very thick, and one of my neighbors came by to see if I was okay. I don’t think I gave a very satisfactory answer, but it was nice of him to ask, although it did stress me out that I was worrying my neighbors, even though I was in fact worried myself. Despite all this, I decided that I would be well enough to teach on Wednesday (it seems crazy when I look at it now, but I really didn’t want to take days off), and called my supervisor to say I’d still go to teach at the elementary school on Wednesday, but could I please go see the doctor again because I still couldn’t sleep at night. I taught two classes Wed morning, and they let me leave early after that to go see the doctor again.

This time (Wed afternoon 24th), when I said the meds weren’t working and I still couldn’t sleep, they immediately took an X-ray, and when they looked at it, they said there was something in my left lung and they didn’t know if it was new or had been there, so they asked me to go to Iwakuni (town in the south) to get a CT scan at another hospital/doctors’ office. The same Board of Education member drove me there to get scanned, and when the scan came out they said I had pneumonia. Here, my supervisor came and took the place of T-san. Then, we went back to the first doctors’ office in Waki again, and they called around for us to find a hospital. The first three hospitals were full, but the fourth one had a room open–it was Iwakuni Chuo Byouin. My supervisor drove me back to my apartment, where I quickly cleaned, put all my trash out, got rid of my old flowers, packed, etc; we hurried to an Iwakuni department store so I could buy some necessities before entering the hospital; and then he drove me to the hospital.

Now, if this all sounds stressful, I want to point out that as soon as I realized I had pneumonia and would have to be hospitalized, that the stress lifted considerably. Before I knew I had pneumonia, all I could think about was the fact that I was sick and not getting better, that I was using up sick days but it was up to me to take care of myself and get better. Other JETs had gotten sick too, and they seemed to be getting better but I didn’t, and I felt like it was my fault and didn’t know what to do. Once I realized it was something worse than just a common cold, a lot of pressure was lifted off of me. I would go to a hospital and they would watch over my health. I wouldn’t be solely responsible for determining if I was better or not. Even though I’d taken two days off to rest, I wasn’t able to rest because I’d had a bad cough. I coughed so much it felt like I’d been doing sit-ups and my abdomen was sore. Going to the hospital meant I was able to rest, and it was a huge, huge relief.

So, that’s how I got to the hospital. Now, on to the hospital itself!


Haha, my hospital room got messy, just like my room! And I was only there for a week…

I was at the hospital for about 6 days–Wed night 24, Thurs 25-Mon 29, and left Tues morning 30. I believe this room was about ¥5000 per night, which is around $50 or so. I had this room to myself, along with a bathroom. Here’s the bathroom, if you’re curious. I don’t have anything special to say about it…

Most of the other rooms in the hospital seemed to be “multiples,” like with 3 beds in one room separated by curtains. I think this room was open because it was more expensive than the multiple-people rooms, but I thought this price was plenty reasonable, and since I had a cough I was glad to have a room to myself where other people didn’t have to hear me all night. I think people were a little worried I would think the price was too high^^; Those curtains open all the way, so I had a nice view of the outdoors. All the people who came to visit me commented on how nice the hospital room was, haha. That’s why, even though I’m writing this, I don’t know how much of this is something I can expect of the Japanese health system, and how much is God’s grace. A bit of both, I suppose.

As you can see, I had a fridge and a tv. The bed had a remote control, and I could make the head of the bed go up and down, as well as the foot of the bed, and also control the height of the whole bed. The bed was really comfortable and I slept very well. I was hooked up to an IV drip twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. I was given medicine to take in the form of pills to swallow and little packets of powdery white medicine. Some kinds I took twice or three times a day, and one I just took after dinner. The food was really gross >< I hadn’t had much of an appetite since the Saturday before I was hospitalized, but even after I started getting my appetite back, the hospital food was hard to eat, haha. I stopped taking pictures after a couple of meals because I didn’t really want to remember it, hahaha. It was almost always Japanese-style food, but for breakfasts they let me switch out the rice for bread, which was a lot easier for me to eat for some reason. This breakfast had tamago-yaki (eggs), rice, miso soup, dried seaweed, and milk. The milk was fine, probably because it’s not from the hospital…

I was hospitalized once when I was 6 years old or so for pneumonia, but I don’t remember that experience very well, so I have nothing to compare this to. You probably noticed the cat cup in the first picture. I brought that cat cup to the hospital. I was given a list of things to bring, like a cup, bath towel, hand towel, and hospital slippers (for indoors). “Indoor shoes” seem to be a relaxed requirement at the hospital, because visitors can come in wearing their usual shoes. I’m not sure what the nurses wore. I just used the slippers I brought because they were more comfortable. Even though I brought a bath towel, I actually didn’t use it at all. Since I had a fever, they wouldn’t let me take baths/showers. A nurse would sometimes bring several warm towels that were rolled up and placed in a bag in a small bucket in the morning; I would wipe myself down with those, but I didn’t take a shower the entire time I was hospitalized. I guess it didn’t really matter, though, since I didn’t go anywhere outside the hospital anyway. I pretty much just stayed in my room the whole time, although there was a little area with a table a couple rooms down, and I saw that there was a bookshelf with manga on it.

To amuse myself, I read articles online, played iPhone games, watched TV (in Japanese), checked Facebook a lot, etc. I brought physical books along to read, too, like One Piece manga and a couple books by Mike Bickle, but the only one I read was my Bible. I wasn’t sure, but since I was still sick, I didn’t want to cough all over the comics I’d borrowed and then cause the person who’d lent them to me to get a cold >< I’m not sure if that’s how it works, but that was my train of thought. I had internet via my iPhone, so I sent updates and emails home through that. I bought my laptop, but the hospital didn’t have wireless, so I just used that to listen to a previously downloaded sermon on Sunday.

There are two things about my hospital stay that were kind of funny. One is that the outside of the hospital was under construction while I was there, and there was a framework outside so that the workers could walk around and do stuff, so sometimes I’d be sitting there in bed and a construction worker guy would just walk by, or sit there outside and be fixing something outside my window, haha. However, my friend and I figured out that the semi-transparent curtain that’s between the big thick green curtain and the window is the kind where you can see outside but you can’t really see in–like a shaded window. So it was all good, haha. The other thing is, there’s a big cemetery on the hill and you can see it straight ahead through the window on my end of the hospital. Maybe some people wouldn’t find that funny, hahaha, and it’s not like you can really control where you put the hospital, you’ve got to build where it’s convenient…

Hospital Language (& why it’s good to have an iPhone)

The nurses who came in used mostly Japanese (because I understood what they were saying). I can’t speak for someone who gets hospitalized in Japan and doesn’t speak any Japanese, but I think the nurses would try to explain things in English for someone who couldn’t understand at all. Now, all I know about Japanese healthcare came from this Iwate JET website that I found and read before going to the doctors’ office, and it says that you shouldn’t expect the doctors to speak English, so I didn’t…but in addition to the nurse, the doctors at the next two hospitals I visited in Iwakuni both used English to explain my condition to me. However, most of the things they asked me at the hospital weren’t too difficult for me to understand, and actually were a huge encouragement to me in terms of my Japanese level–I knew what they were telling me about how often to take the medicine and what effects it might have. So, the “being in a hospital speaking a second language” thing was not stressful at all. One of the nurses at the hospital even knew who I was, because her kid attends school in Waki! haha.

The only thing I had to get used to was a difference in language in Yamaguchi for the word “hurt.” Normally, “hurt” or “ouch” is “itai” in Japanese, and the word “erai” means “excellent, admirable.” I kept having people ask me if my cough/lungs/chest felt “erai,” and at first I didn’t get it at all, until I asked a friend and figured out that “erai” is a regional way to say “itai”–so people weren’t saying I was admirable, they were saying it must’ve hurt, haha. That same friend says that in Hokkaido, the word “kowai” (which usually means “scary”) is used to mean “hurt.” That would’ve confused me even more, so hey, it’s great that I ended up in the south! haha.

I want to mention how useful it was to have an iPhone in the hospital. I was able to do so, so many things with that iPhone. If there was a word I didn’t know, I’d just type it into my phone and get the translation right away. The nurses didn’t mind waiting a little, and it was fast. It’s easier to just look up a word like “inflammation” than have the nurse have to try and explain it in simple Japanese for you. I also used my phone to convert the temperatures on the thermometer from Celcius to Fahrenheit so I could tell my own temperature, and the same when my weight was measured and they showed me what it was in kilograms. My phone let me communicate via Facebook and email when I didn’t have internet on my computer, and I was able to read blogs and things and play fun games in the hospital. Honestly, I’d wondered when I got this iPhone if I really, really needed it, but I used it so much in the hospital.

This is a free game for iPhone that just came out this October, called “Kumo Lumo.” You’re a cloud, and you save the earth by raining on stuff and making it grow. Just like in real life, you can rain on little mountains and they’ll grow into big mountains!^^; The little white clouds give you life. When you rain on the mountains, sometimes pigs will come out, and if you strike the pigs with lightning, they turn into bacon, which then in turn attracts the evil pirate foxes with the umbrellas–they gather in droves to feed on the bacon, and then you can take out lots of them at once. You want to kill the foxes because they light your forests and mountains on fire with their little ray guns. (I beat the whole game in like one or two days^^;;)


I had lots of visitors come and see me, too! My supervisor came twice a day almost every single day, and brought water, tea, and snacks (like green tea and red bean ice cream, because he remembered that I love those flavors^^). A couple of teachers that I work with at the elementary school visited and brought flowers;  a lady from the middle school visited and brought snacks. I had visits from people at the Board of Education, as well as from friends from Waki, and everyone brought flowers or snacks. I had so many visitors come see me and bring things that I started to write it down so I could thank everyone properly…it’s really humbling. My friend S-san even made me a warm soup and brought soup for me back when I was feeling really sick but didn’t know I had pneumonia yet.

I feel like the people who helped me out kind of got buried in the massiveness of this post. N-san from the board of education took my bike back to my apartment for me when I was hospitalized, and came and visited in my supervisor’s place the one day he couldn’t make it. My supervisor provided a lot of encouragement to me when I felt so bad about causing people trouble by getting that sick, and I appreciated every single visit so much. I was definitely not “alone” in the hospital. Even when I didn’t have visitors, I had fun talking to the nurses in the hospital, and I was really well taken care of. I hope that gets across in this post. Even before I knew I had pneumonia, my supervisor told me “muri shinaide,” which means to not wear yourself out/do the impossible, and he and the whole Board of Education basically walked through this whole process with me. They’re still helping me. I’m really grateful to them, and to all the teachers I work with and my friends here in Waki.


I left the hospital on Tuesday morning with a doctor’s note asking that I stay home from work until Monday, when I will have another X-ray to determine if I’m all better and decide when I can go back to work. My supervisor comes and checks on me after 5 every evening, and takes me to a bigger supermarket in Otake (because Waki’s supermarket is smaller and doesn’t have a lot of pre-made meals). He even brought Mr. Donut donuts, and later some Starbucks pastries! This made me really happy, because I love Mr. Donut and because we don’t have a Starbucks nearby yet. The head of the Board of Education came to check on me, and brought a bouquet of flowers! I Skyped my parents yesterday, and now that I’m feeling better, I’m trying to get a little done day by day, starting with this massive blog post. I hope I’m not forgetting anything-_-;

This is the kind of thing that I’m eating now^^:

I will conclude by saying that, besides having pneumonia, which was obviously unpleasant, my Japanese hospital experience was extremely positive. I must have the best supervisor and coworkers in the world. I appreciate Japanese national healthcare, and I appreciate the JET Program system for sick ALTs. Please pray that I get completely better by Monday so that I can begin work again. Thank you!!

Song of the Day: U-Kiss, “Stop Girl”

7 thoughts on “Getting sick and going to the hospital in Japan

  1. so glad you’re better. Love the description of the cloud game. Just like real life! Still praying for you, of course, and happy that you have such friends in the JET program. Love you!

  2. So happy you are getting better! Everyone is taking good care of you, that’s wonderful. You are always in our thoughts & prayers. We enjoy
    your blogs so much. Lots of love, Grandpa Chris & Ann

  3. Stephanie,
    Soooo glad you are better, kinda scary being so sick and so far away! I do remember to pray for you when the Holy Spirit brings you to mind!

  4. Dear Stephanie,

    This blog is fabulously informative! I am so very sorry that you were so sick; but, it makes my heart happy to know that you were so well taken care of and that you have such wonderful and caring friends who love you.

    I used to get double pneumonia every year until I began getting a pneumonia shot every five years so now I don’t get it. :)
    Unfortunately, I have been quite sick with a really bad cold and after about four weeks I am beginning to feel a bit better–not so much coughing–yay!

    Tomorrow, Tuesday the 6th, is voting day so I will go out for that and then it’s back home. At least I will be outdoors for a short while. :)

    I pray that you continue to feel better every day and that you enjoy lots of fun times and your teaching life in Japan.

    You are so darling and I love you so much.
    Take good care.
    Love and hugs, Margie :-)

    1. Hi Maxie! Thanks for your comment! I imagine that it is probably difficult going to the doctor without any Japanese at many smaller Japanese clinics around the country. For more serious problems than a common cold, an interpreting service like the ones you offer would be very helpful :)

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