There are posts swirling in my head and they’ve been swirling for days. Nakata-san quotes. More mini cultural Japanese lessons. Posts about attending Bob’s wonderful koto and philharmonic concerts, posts about how Sean’s decision to build his IKEA bed at 1 in the morning resulted in a noise complaint addressed to ME, posts about solving a Japanese pop culture mystery that has pestered me for months, even posts about how I’m so “done” with “teaching” that when I get spam emails from “Vinny Barbarino” with the subject heading, “I’vE foUnD U a nEW jOb!” I say, “Tell me more.” I’d have written them all down, except that for the past few days all creative thoughts were eclipsed by my crippling sore throat.
Naturally, I’ve had sore throats before; about once a year since I was a kid, accompanied by a little cold and flu action. I immediately perceived, however, that this sore throat was different. No cold. No flu. Just a fever and pain so intense I actually took the day off from work. I hate taking off work and I especially hate it in Japan, which does not condone paid sick days. Nonetheless, it had to be done. I knew whatever illness I had must have been the fault of the children anyway, with their runny little wet dog noses and 80 year-old man coughs that their mothers never taught them to shield behind their fists. Home, safely away from the germ mongers, I turned to that most respectable source of medical information: WebMD. Sore throat – check. Fever – check. Red/white spots – check. Swollen glands? Check. Pain made worse by eating or drinking? Heck yes, and what a pity it was, too. My mother sent a gorgeous care package chock full of treats but my sore throat was too painful for me to even consider enjoying them; not that I had an appetite anyhow. Loss of appetite? Check. Blinding anger towards the Irish? CHECK, since Sean had taken it upon himself to start on the bags of Jelly Bellies and Sour Skittles. My anger was somewhat sublimated when I surveyed WebMD’s suggestions for what affliction I might have. After Viral Pharyngitis, Strep Throat and Tonsilitis, Scarlet Fever was fourth on the list.
Scarlet Fever: the very name sent a shiver up my spine, conjuring up images of wilting 19th century literary heroines. Beth March died from it. Mary Ingalls went blind from it. How could Scarlet Fever be a possible diagnosis for my symptoms? I clicked, and discovered to my surprise that Scarlet Fever is just strep throat combined with a red (scarlet) rash on the abdomen and chest … curable with plain old antibiotics. What a day and age we live in, folks. What a day and age.
So Scarlet Fever is just strep throat with a rash. The discovery made the disease infinitely less threatening (Beth always was a weakling) but somehow, infinitely more appealing. I’ve always wanted to be a 19 century literary heroine and now that I knew how simple Scarlet Fever is to treat in this day and age, I found myself feverishly hoping it was the cause of my sore throat. I studied my pallid, dewy-eyed reflection in the mirror and was sure I saw the beginnings of a rash on my collarbone. WebMD said the Scarlet Fever rash starts on the chest. This was it: Scarlet Fever. Me. My 19th century literary heroine dreams were coming true at last. I immediately hoisted myself on to my new IKEA bed – with not a little effort – and fanned my burning throat. O, for some of Meg’s cooling Mont Blanc to soothe my pain. O misery. O agony!
Sean came home, and I caught his visible disappointment as soon as he crossed the threshold.
“No dinner?” he queried. “But … you always make dinner.”
“Sean,” I said thinly. “Take pity on me. I’m unwell.”
“You look fine to me,” he said cruelly. “Really? There’s no dinner? I’m so hungry.”
“How dare you!” I ejaculated. “I’m unwell and I suspect it’s Scarlet Fever!”
“Scarlet Fever?” he sneered. “You have a sore throat.”
Impertinent wretch. I’d have boxed his ears, if I had the strength.
Two days later, my sore throat was no better. Scarlet Fever. It was so obvious. No matter that my “rash” hadn’t spread to my abdomen … yet. It was time to find myself an English speaking doctor and get myself some of those fancy Scarlet Fever antibiotics. Luckily, I’ve got the English Speaking Doctor hotline on speed dial.
Finding an English-speaking doctor when you’re living abroad is always interesting. Since I’ve been here, my friends and I have needed various kinds of doctors for various afflictions and the experiences have all been different. Sean sliced open his finger last year while trying to cook and his doctor at the ER didn’t speak any English. Luckily, his injury was open-and-shut enough and his Japanese is good enough that he made do. Last summer, I was experiencing chronic shortness of breath and called the hotline for an English-speaking respiratory specialist. In a foreign country, “I speak English” can mean different things. It can mean you actually speak English or it can mean you know how to say, “My name is” and, “I like you.” My respiratory specialist’s English was more along the latter lines. The minute I stepped into his examination room, the perspiration began to pour down his face. He giggled and fidgeted. I ended up speaking more Japanese to him than he spoke English to me and finally, in what was obviously an effort to get me the heck out of his office, he diagnosed me with “maybe Asthma” and gave me a trial inhaler. The inhaler did nothing for my shortness of breath but 3 weeks of vacation from work certainly did.
My Ear Nose and Throat specialist speaks English – more or less. His office is tucked into a back street, its entrance lined with rows of slippers for the patients to slip on once they deposit their own shoes at the door. The words he doesn’t know in English I happen to know in Japanese. ENTs in Japan don’t use tongue depressors and flashlights, they use laproscopic cameras and instruct you to depress your own tongue by wrapping it in gauze and yanking it out. You say “Aaaay,” not “Ahhh.” The inside of my throat flashed on the computer screen – as red, lumpy and bumpy as any 13 year-old boy’s face.
“Tonsilitis,” said the doctor. It was a disappointment and at the same time, not. Tonsilitis was a serious enough diagnosis to validate my throat pain, even if it meant I wouldn’t be languishing in bed with my damp hair scattered on a silken lavender-scented pillow as my family wept at my bedside. It did mean, however, that I would be hooked up to a “Vapor Inhalation Therapy” machine for about 10 minutes a day for the next 3 days. The machine – box-shaped and outfitted with various plastic tubes – looks like it came straight from the set of an old Get Smart episode. When the nurse flipped the switch, vapor began to pour from its various hook ups and I was instructed to first inhale through my nose and then through my mouth. The nose session resulted in medicine dribbling down my face and onto my jeans and the mouth session resulted in my coughing like an old man … or one of the germy children who most likely got me into this mess. Yes, I’m still blaming the children. In fact, I blame them for every new yet common condition I’ve suffered since moving to Japan. It’s their fault I experienced hay fever for the first time and it’s their fault, too, that I discovered heartburn last year. They were the ones who drove me to visit Pepper in Korea. They were the ones who drove me to eat Korean Barbecue. Every morsel of meat was devoured because of something they’d put me through. Now we’ll just add Tonsilitis to the list. I hope they’re happy.
Two Vapor Inhalation treatments, 4 antibiotic pills and 3 throat anesthetic pills later, I’m a happy camper, even if, as my last throat scan showed, I’m still diseased. It doesn’t matter because I’m strong and so is the anesthetic.
Risotto alla Milanese and Carne alla Pizzaiola tonight. With Sour Skittles for dessert.