Staying healthy in Japan

Health - May 7th, 1982

by Elyse M. Rogers 

Gossip may be hazardous to your health

In the last column I told the story of a medical emergency in Tokyo that was handled in an unfortunate manner. I will continue to point out any problems with the medical system in Tokyo for foreigners, try to correct any measures that I can and to suggest methods you might take to protect yourself against such occurrences. In addition, I’d appreciate hearing about any unusual medical problems that I can look into to try to find solutions that might benefit all of us.

Mismanaged medical emer­gencies are extremely serious, but today I’d like to discuss serious medical emergencies of another type—those that will have an unfortunate outcome regardless of the skill or prompt­ness of medical treatment. Un­fortunately, unpredictable events such as heart attacks or strokes happen to a certain percentage of the population everywhere on the globe. We should do all we can to prevent these medical emergencies from happening to us prematurely, such as exercising, watching our diets, not smok­ing, being moderate in our alcohol consumption and other life-style measures.

But in the final analysis, man is a mortal being, and all of us are going to die someplace, somehow. What I’m getting at is that not all accidents or injuries are either preventable or curable if they do occur. Even the most skillful doctors and the most complete ambulance equip­ment cannot work miracles. A certain number of medical tragedies are inevitable.

When I first arrived in Tokyo I knew very little about the medical system here, and I found it extremely difficult to get good, factual infor­mation. However, I found no difficulty in obtain­ing bushels of misinformation, or to find people more than willing to pass on the latest “horror story” about a medical problem that the foreign community felt was mismanaged. Some of those situations I heard about I tried to investigate but, of course, it was difficult after the fact.

However, in what little investigation I could do, I found a few situations that might be ques­tionable, but many others appeared to be those inevitable tragedies that would have had the same outcome in Paris or Chicago.

Several years ago, I taught obstetrics and gynecology to student nurses and we had an expression—”bridge table obstetrics”—for the gossip and horror stories that were related to maternity patients. Any woman who has been pregnant knows only too well the advice “over the bridge table” or the grisly tales recounted by Aunt Nellie or other “friends” about being in labor for 72 hours, or almost losing the baby because the doctor “didn’t arrive soon enough.” Not only is that type of information or gossip unnecessarily frightening to a person who must soon go through labor and delivery, but often the facts don’t support the stories. Aunt Nellie may have had a fairly long and hard labor, but I’ll bet that over the years her labor has gotten longer and longer in the retelling. Probably by 1990 we’ll be up to 79 or 80 hours of agony.

I don’t mean to imply that medical topics or even a medical tragedy should not be discussed between friends or even at large gatherings. Certainly we are all interested in other members of our community and wish to share in their tragedies or problems as well as successes. This also allows us to take appropriate action such as sending condolences, or calling to offer help and support. But there is a difference, and I think most of us instinctively sense it, between genuine sharing and gossip-type sensationalizing.

It is natural and important that we are con­cerned with our own health and that of other and about available medical care. But we do disservice to our community, particularly its newer members, when we pass on or embelish stories without knowing the facts. Let’s all work at putting Tokyo medical information on as solid and factual basis as we can, and resist the temptation to concentrate on rumors.