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Saturday, May 10, 2008

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Cure for what ails you


My hair is rife with dandruff.

There. How's that for a lead? Forget sex scandals and ax murderers. This is the kind of start that will yank a reader's eyes.

Dandruff — the great crippler of young adults! The scourge of the 21st century! And I have it. On my head. Right now, even as I type.

I know I have it because my new Japanese dermatologist told me so. Only he didn't say, "dandruff." I doubt he even knows the word. No, he said, "flakus horribilis."

Or maybe it was, "pityriasis capitis." Anyway, he was so proud to have spoken a real live foreign expression that he was crestfallen when it didn't communicate.

In the end, he had to point things out in a dictionary, all the time perhaps thinking, "What kind of a gaijin is this? Not to know a perfectly good term like, "pityriasis capitis?"

And there it was in shocking black and white: dandruff. The stuff of snowy legend. Only now it wasn't happening to some dumb sap in a TV commercial. It was happening to me.

The doc patted my hand and told me not to worry. Things could be worse. I could have bad breath. Or zits. This would be much easier to live with, he promised.

I swallowed. "Tell me, Doc, how could this have happened?"

He leaned back and his next word communicated fine in no matter what the language.

"Stress," he intoned. "Yes, there are other contributing factors. But mostly it's stress."

Now I hear doctors say "stress" all the time. Sometimes I think half of medical school must focus on just that word. With the other half aimed at more specialized expressions, like "pityriasis capitis."

Still, when your dermatologist mentions "stress," I suggest you listen. For in truth this young fellow was my second such doctor. The first guy, whom I had gone to for years, dropped dead from a heart attack. Why had I gone to him? Well, for dandruff, what else? What had killed him at age 40? Stress, what else? The truer crippler of young adults.

My new doctor mooned at me with bedside-manner eyes. Perhaps he had heard foreign patients like that, that they enjoy being talked to and consoled. "Do you have stress?" he asked.

Ha, ha. I felt like grabbing the stamp off his desk — you know, the one of the human body that he presses on the pad so he can draw in your various warts and moles — and whacking a line of little people across his forehead. Too bad his ink pad was black. I could tell his color was red.

"Stress? Me? Why no? Ha, ha. Why would I?"

After all, what is stressful about struggling to communicate in a language not my own? And then having my doctor address me in Latin? Or riding a commuter train creaking apart with people the same way a fishing trawler bursts with fish? All the while, with dandruff thicker than the Antarctic ice shelf? And wondering if anyone will notice the source of snow flurries?

"There, there." He pats my hand again. "It will be all right. I will give you a lotion."

"And will that do it?"

He bends to his desk to write the form. "Yes, but the pityriasis capitis will return. That's its character."

"And you're going to give me some tiny vials of lotion which will soon run dry, necessitating that I return as well — just like the dandruff."

He looks up and eyes me suspiciously. I smile back.

"I like making predictions. It's my character."

"What you really need," he says, "Is a way to combat stress. Have you tried karaoke?"

I jump in my chair. He might as well have said, "seppuku." I hate karaoke.

"You mean I can sing my way to a flake-free scalp?"

"Well, no, but that's the way I handle stress."

Wonderful, I have a singing dermatologist.

"Doc, I'm tone deaf. When I sing, windows break, eardrums pop, nations declare war."

"It was a suggestion, that's all."

"If you have a lotion for tone deafness, I'll consider it."

He smiles. "No, but you know what they say: 'Practice makes perfect. ' "

"They also say, 'One man's meat is another man's poison. ' "

"They do?"

"Yes. But maybe you've heard it as, "Willamakeme throwupus."

"No. I don't know that either. But you have to fight stress. It can kill."

"And dandruff won't?"

"No, of course not."

"I know another guy who used to say that and he had a heart attack."

"Because of pityriasis capitis?"

"Indirectly, yes."

Again he pats my hand. "Don't worry."

I tell him it's not me I'm concerned about. It's him.

After all, I only have dandruff. What he has is much worse.

That being: He has me as a new dandruff patient.

Talk about some stress.



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