Staying healthy in Japan

Features Health - June 21st, 1985

by Elyse M. Rogers

On Things Medical

Every so often I get a back­log of little tidbits of informa­tion, programs of interest, or requests for action. Today I’d like to share some of them.

SIDS

(Sudden Infant Death Synd­rome)

Many of you have probably read about SIDS, which is just what it says — “Sudden Infant Death.” For some unknown reason, an apparently normal baby dies in its sleep at about three months of age. Certainly a terrible blow to any parent, and all the worse because no problem is ever suspected.

There are some major theo­ries on SIDS, but so far no really plausible theory has been found. Currently the only helpful device for this condi­tion is what’s called an “apnea monitor.” Apnea is the word used for “stopping of breath­ing,” so an “apnea monitor” is a monitoring device that is attached to the child’s chest and, if the regular respirations cease, a buzzer goes off. This is helpful only if you suspect the child has a problem, since ob­viously it is not feasible lo use such a device on every single newborn. The device is perhaps most helpful for parents who have had a SIDS death and are naturally worried with the next baby, so would like some aid to help warn them of that condition.

Even if the next baby has ab­solutely no difficulties, the de­vice is certainly reassuring to the parents, a very significant contribution. Several years ago I talked with a mother whose first baby was a SIDS victim and she confessed that with her next two children she hardly slept a night until they were over six months old.

“I used lo go in and check the baby at least two or three times a night,” she told me. And who can blame her? That was before the monitors were available and I often think of the fact that, perhaps she would have gotten a few good nights’ sleep if the monitor had been available.

A couple who will be moving to Japan short­ly had a baby die of SIDS last year and are still reeling from the blow. They have asked me if there are any SIDS support groups in the Western community here. They also wish to know if there is “apnea monitoring” available here.

So far my cursory research has been negative on both ques­tions. I’ll do additional re­search on this matter and plan to write about SIDS in more detail for a later column.

JAPANESE ENGLISH MEDI­CAL POCKET THESAURUS

Several weeks ago I got a letter from the International Medical Service with a copy of a small book called “Japanese English Medical Pocket Thesa­urus.” It’s about the size of your alien registration, (or your gaikokujin toroku shomeisho, if you want to be technical) and contains medical words and phrases in English, romanized Japanese and kanji.

It covers various areas of medical complaints, such as circulatory problems, digestive disturbances, obstetrics and gynecology — and even denti­stry. And you can learn how to describe pain in almost every area of your body, from “I have a headache” (Atama ga itai desu) to “I have lower abdominal pain” (Kafukuhu ga itai desu). If you haven’t already figured it out, itai is the word for pain. That’s a word that’s not only helpful in medicine, but also if you flick on Japanese TV dramas there’s a lot of itai-ing going on.

There’s also a short section on tests and a very brief section on calling the ambulance. I only wish they’d made the am­bulance section a little more detailed as it would be handy to have in this little booklet for easy reference. But the few lines they do have are a help.

Although the book is too small to be as complete as you might like, it does have the benefit of being small enough to fit into a purse or a vest pocket should you need to run to the doctor. And those who arc using the Japanese medical system on an on-going basis might find the information of special help.

The price is very moderate, so almost everyone can afford it—only ¥350.

PHYSICAL EXAMINATIONS

Many of the wards in Tokyo provide some medical services for the residents. A friend was kind enough to pass along the word that Minato-ku, for ex­ample, where many of our fore­igners live, sponsors a very good free physical examination program for residents, partic­ularly those over 40 years of age. The physical exam is rather complete and includes: height and weight measurements, taking blood pressure, glaucoma testing (eyes), electro­cardiogram (to record the heart’s rhythm), chest X-ray, urine tests, blood tests, etc.

In addition to the tests and checks, they give you a book­let kenko techo that includes a record of all the results. When you go the following year (or perhaps more frequently if you have a problem) they record the new test results next to the original. Since there’s space for five such recordings, it’s a good at-a-glance record for both the patient and the doctor.

There’s also a section for a special cancer check and a tooth check, but according to my researcher (who called the ku in Japanese), these tests are scheduled on special days and you must sign up for them in advance. This is a bit com­plicated because the notification of these programs (and indeed of the entire physical examin­ation program) is listed in the Minato ward’s newsletter which is distributed in the Japanese newspapers to ward residents. Since it is only printed in Ja­panese, it does not come to those who subscribe to English-language newspapers.

Foreigners are eligible to participate in the free physical examination program, but there is very little English spoken. The suggestion was that you either brush up on your Japa­nese before using the service or take a Japanese friend (or Japanese-speaking friend) with you when you go for the ap­pointment. You’ll probably need your Japanese-speaking friend before that, too, since you must find out the dates that the examinations will be conducted, and reserve a time. Call the Minato Ward office (in Japanese) at 432-4151.

You might be interested what else this little booklet (kenko techo) contains. I had it translated and found it con­tains the following sections:

  1. How to Conduct a Breast Self Examination.
  2. Cancer Prevention List.
  3. Tips on Staying Healthy.
  4. Checkpoints for People Over 40.
  5. What to Do When You’re Sick.
  6. How to Consult the Doc­tor.
  7. Good Nutrition.
  8. Special Warnings on Al­cohol, Smoking and Blood Pressure.
  9. Tooth Care and Proper Brushing Techniques.

It’s all fascinating, but I don’t have time in this column to write the items in detail— do that in another column. But I can’t leave you without a lit­tle tidbit since it shows a little of the differences in cross-cultural medical approaches.

For example, in the area under “Cancer Prevention” I expected to find the famous seven warning signals for can­cer, but rather found general health habits that sound a bit strange by Western standards for inclusion under the heading of “Cancer Prevention.” The last of the 12 hints listed are “Avoid overwork” and “Keep oneself clean.” Hmmm. Can’t remember ever reading any data about overwork causing cancer, or that being dirty would make one more susceptible to malignant neoplasma but then nowadays, with every­thing suspect, who knows? And it’s certainly good advice.

For those interested in the physical examination program who live in other wards, call your particular ward office. There’s a complete listing of all ward offices in the English-language Yellow Pages Tele­phone Directory, available at local bookstores.