After my unfortunate accident on a bicycle couple of weeks ago, I had to spend six days in Kyoto Second Red Cross Hospital. I broke my collarbone in a way that required surgery. As a foreigner with limited Japanese, I was naturally concerned how would I be able to communicate with doctors, nurses and other patients during my stay there.
Although my wife is Japanese, I knew that most of the time I would have to deal with hospital staff on my own without her help. She has a full-time job and wasn’t able to be in the hospital every time I was consulting some issues regarding my injury. And in the end, she didn’t have to. Because as I found out, to speak English (with some basic Japanese) in the hospital isn’t a problem at all.
I had to check-in at the hospital one day before my surgery. Check-in went very smoothly. A friendly man behind the desk was helping me filling in the hospital forms. He wasn’t able to put together full English sentences, but he could say ‘key words’ in English hence it was easier to fully understand the forms. After I signed all necessary documents I was told: ‘Please go left, next building’, ‘Elevator, three floor’. Again, simple but clear instructions. So in the next building I took a lift to the third floor where a nurse was already waiting for me.
She was smiling, welcomed me and said that I was the only foreigner staying in the hospital. She said that she is the head nurse and apologized for her English. Mind you that the previous conversation was done entirely in English. I replied to her that her English is great and actually I should be the one apologizing for not speaking well enough in Japanese. After all I’m the one from abroad. She laughed and told me not to worry. I was taken to a large room, which I shared with three other patients. Each bed was separated by thick fabric partitions on all sides so that everybody had their own private room.
In the evening an anesthesiologist came to my room and described the next day’s procedure before my operation, explaining all the side effects of anesthesia. I was given a document about the procedure translated to English. I found out that she translated it by herself. I told her how I appreciated the whole effort she put into it. The translation was perfect and it was comforting to understand all the important issues regarding my health.
During the operation I was fully asleep, so I don’t really know much about it. The only thing I do know is that it took four hours and when I woke up, I was in my room with my doctor and my wife. My doctor told me that the operation was successful without any complications. Great!
In the coming days after the surgery I had to stay in the hospital and was regularly visited by nurses and doctors for different health checks. We soon found out that for the checks some medical terminology had to be used. So the head nurse and I made a list of basic medical procedures and questions in Japanese with English translations (‘Change A Drip Bag’, ‘Do you feel numbness in…?’, ‘Check Blood Pressure’, ‘Do you feel pain in…? etc.), so whoever came to my room could see the list on the table by my bed and ask me straight away.
It was great, because it saved a lot of time for the hospital staff and made me feel more like a regular patient. All nurses and doctors got quickly used to it and sometimes it almost felt like having an English conversation (英会話) lesson. They were mostly concerned about their pronunciation (発音) always checking if they are pronouncing the words on the sheet right and giving me some additional questions in English. That went on for the rest of my stay there and I was also able to practice my Japanese.
Four days after the surgery I was cleared to return home. When I was leaving I couldn’t thank everybody enough for how welcomed they made me feel and how easy it was to stay there with so little Japanese. Most importantly for the great medical care I was given there. My shoulder is much better now and hopefully will soon fully recover.
Now I’m back at Smith’s Kyobashi teaching my regular lessons with my regular students. Nice to be back.
I’d like to give big ‘Thank You!’ to all staff at Smith’s School of English Kyobashi (スミス 英会話 京橋) for finding a replacement while I was absent and to teachers for filling in for me.
And last but not least to Yuka and Mark for all the support. It’s great to be part of this team, where I can count on everybody’s help.