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Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007

JAPAN LITE

Livng 'E.R.' on Japan's northern island


My current job as medical translator at a ski resort in Hokkaido means that most of my job takes part in the emergency room. I am living my own "E.R."

News photo
THE EMERGENCY ENTRANCE leads into the main hospital reception room, not the emergency room. AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO

It's an interesting place, this emergency room. I've always thought the emergency room would be more like a body toolshed, outfitted with everything you could ever need in an emergency.

When you see ambulances arrive at hospitals, they pull up to the hospital and wheel the victim straight in through the emergency entrance.

I've always imagined the emergency room to have oxygen masks that drop down from the ceiling, I.V.s lined up in rows, prosthetic legs displayed on the wall, pink and purple-striped heart monitors pulsing nearby, and teams of doctors and nurses ready to descend on the unfortunate victim as soon as he is wheeled in by the paramedics.

But in this hospital in Hokkaido, the emergency room is just a room with lots of curtains and no facilities.

"Why did this happen to me? I've always tried to be a good person," says a woman looking down at her arm in a sling.

She has come to Japan for a two-week ski holiday from Australia and had only been here two hours when she slipped and fell on some ice while walking around town.

Now we're in the emergency room waiting to see a Japanese doctor who will X-ray her wrist. With a distal radius fracture, she will not be able to ski for the next two weeks.

But the great thing about the hospital is that no matter what happens to you, you are bound to meet someone who has a, well you know, "better" story to tell.

"I'm lucky to be alive," says Adam, who we meet the next day while waiting to see the orthopedic surgeon. He is in a wheelchair and has been for a week now. He wrapped himself around a tree while snowboarding in the backcountry.

"I broke my lower leg in several places and got hypothermia while waiting to get hauled out of the woods."

My patient looked down at her wrist realizing for the first time that hers was just a minor blip in life.

"Don't you feel strange coming into this room after you saw someone die in here last night?" says Gerald, who has a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

I had brought Gerald to the emergency room the night before, and the night took a turn for the worse when a 40-year-old foreigner was brought in who had been snowboarding in the trees. I had to translate between an 18-year-old and a Japanese doctor concerning this kid's father, who was being kept alive by CPR on what was supposed to be their Japan holiday.

But even though this is a resort town, it is fundamentally just like any other town with its own lifecycle, just like towns all around the world.

It's just that here, when people pass away, they're having fun when it happens. I could recommend that people take up something safer, such as pachinko, or just stay home and not take any risks, but the truth is that just living is dangerous.

Whether your accident happens in the car or on the slopes, is in no way predictable.

Besides, statistics show that most people die in their beds, so that's the last place you want to be.

It's true that people die in hospitals every day but plenty of miracles occur here as well. Diseases are cured and bones are mended. Even the ultimate miracle -- life -- begins in a hospital.

And, mind you, it is no small wonder that we are born and die in a hospital. As one person dies, another is born, in a symbiotic relationship. We are all merely swapping lives and it makes God's job a lot easier if we come to a central place to do it.

It makes the soul transfers easier. How? You see, God plays American Football. Just as the soul leaves the body, God comes in for the tackle, cradles the soul for a few yards, and then passes it to a player waiting in the wing, usually a newborn baby. And such, life is passed on from one generation to the next.

The souls that don't get passed on, for one reason or another, need not fret. They become music, which is where Soul comes from.

So, if you're in Japan on vacation, enjoy your holidays! And I hope we never have to meet.



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