Immunizations

November 25, 2006

A confession: I mistrust doctors in Japan. It’s nothing against them personally – most have been nice. But, they’re rushed and, in my opinion, unthorough and prescription-happy. Example: I once had an earache and, without even looking in my ear, a doctor prescribed me antibiotics. Another example: I’ve been charged 3000 yen ($25) for an “examination” where the doctor came out into the waiting area, asked me if I felt better, and then told the receptionist to give me a refill of XYZ medicine, in front of all of the other patients no less.

Nevertheless, these doctors have been kind, at least. I’d managed to avoid the ones with God-complexes, the ones who make proclamations and expect them to go unquestioned, the ones who think themselves all-knowing and me one step up from an ameoba.

I’ve been lucky, but not lucky enough. Today, I got my rabies immunization from the director of the Sakabe International Clinic in Kyoto, and it was not pleasent.

The shot didn’t hurt at all. The guy is skilled. But, he’s a jerk.

Background information: a rabies vaccine is given in a multiple-part series, depending on the standards of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevetion (American) or World Health Organization (International.) A full rabies vaccine takes about a month to complete and does not give full immunity, but rather buys you more time after you’ve been bit by a rabid animal. Once bitten, you still need more shots, but not as many and not as urgently. Still with me?

Good. On the other hand, in Japan, a rabies vaccine is a 3-shot series administrered over 6 months to a year – the first shot at 0 days, the next shot at 4 weeks, and the next shot at 6-12 months. In a previous appointment, the doctor said I could take the first 2 shots and save the 3rd for after my return from SE Asia.

And this is when it got ugly.

I broke the first rule of the Japanese medical system: don’t ask questions. I doubted the venerable sensei and hurt his wittle feewings. The conversation went something like:

Me: Japan administers the shots differently from America so I just wanted to know-
Him: Who said America’s system is any good?
Me: Yes, that’s true. But I just wanted confirm one thing. In other places, you get the full vaccine series before travel. But, since I won’t have time for that, what happens if I get bitten without getting the last shot?
Him: You need to receive immediate treatment if you’re bitten by a rabid animal.
Me: Yes, of course. (Thinking: duh)
Him: So what else do you want to know?
Me: What I’m asking is: is treatment the same if I haven’t gotten the whole series?
Him: (getting annoyed) You just need to get treatment if you’ve come into contact with a rabid animal.
Me: I understand. But what kind of treatment?
Him: (very annoyed by now) It’s the same treatment as if you’ve had all of the shots. Getting all 3 shots doesn’t mean you’ll have 100% immunity anyway. Is that it?

I had done some reading on the internet and his explanation resembled the information that I had read. Okay, I felt comfortable with his explanation now (if a bit peeved with the ‘tude) and I was ready to get my shot. I opted only for rabies because I plan on getting Hepatits A and Tetanus in America with the doctor I’ve been seeing since I was a kid and who is also a good friend. My doctor in America doesn’t have access to the rabbies vaccine, that’s why I’m getting it in Japan. So. While I’m waiting after my shot, another doctor who’s overheard this altercation comes in, looks at my chart, and asks my doctor: “What’s all the commotion here?”

Doc #1: She doesn’t trust the Japanese medical system. She wants to get the Hep A and Tetanus vaccines in America.
Doc #2: Well, if she doesn’t trust the Japanese system, why doesn’t she just get all of her immunizations in America?
Me: :?
Doc #2: You should just get Hepatits A and B in Japan. America’s no good. Too expensive.
Me: >:(

Perhaps I shouldn’t have even mentioned the word “America.” The “America” part wasn’t even important. I just wanted to know if I would go rabid without the whole %#@!*ing vaccine series.

If you want to trash-talk me, by all means, go ahead. Just not when I’m a paying customer who’s still in the room, thanks. The guy was a jerk. He didn’t listen, he kept interrupting my boyfriend when he tried to ask a question, and he just sat there the whole time with a look of disdain on his face.

After everything was over, I left his office without a “Thank you” or “Excuse me.” Apparently, it’s a capital offence to leave a sensei’s office without saying one or both. On the way out, the receptionist apologized: “He talks like that to all of the patients.” Really? Sad, seeing as how the waiting room was packed.

Thank God I’m getting parts 2 and 3 in Nagoya. Two more times in that man’s office might turn me rabid, vaccine or no.

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