So, I know this is coming a bit late, but lacking the perspective of distance that I have now, I was not very much in the mood to relive the events of last Friday before this. Last Friday was unquestionably the worst day of work I’ve had to date. Now Fridays at my job are only half days (8:30-noon) so how bad could it be? How much could happen in three and a half hours? The answer turns out to be a whole fucking lot. But to be fair, my shitty Friday didn’t actually start on Friday but the night before.
In Japan there appears to be a rule that every year public servants must have a health check-up in order to receive benefits from the health insurance program. This wouldn’t be so strange except for the fact that it is not done, as one might expect, with a private doctor, but is rather held during work hours. This means that one room of your school or office or what-have-you is suddenly one day transformed into a less interesting triage center and you and the rest of your coworkers get run through a series of tests like products on an assembly line. Even this, while uncomfortable to my American cultural education which demands that healthcare be done in private, was nothing compared to the discomfort I developed on being told that not only would I be run through this medical marathon in my office, but that I would also be required to take a stool sample and have it ready for the day of.
Now, I have done a pee test before coming to Japan for a job (and that was bad enough), but never have I ever had to do something so abhorrent to the mind as this. The idea disturbed me so greatly that I created a reason to put it off: the earlier I did it, the more time it would be sitting in my freezer and the more I’d have to think about it. This seemed to make perfect sense at the time until suddenly it’s Thursday night and I’ve got nothing. So there I am, panicking, thinking about how I’m going to be fired tomorrow if I can’t take a shit tonight. I sit there for a solid hour until I am finally, shall we say, successful and do the terrible terrible thing I was made to do with a little plastic stick. Having conquered this atrocious feet was apparently not enough though, and I lay in bed worrying that it would show something was wrong because I forced it and more similar violations of dignity would have to take place. Clearly not an expert on this kind of thing. Anyway, I get to sleep eventually, not knowing that things were only going to get worse.
Waking up on Friday I wasn’t particularly hungry. At least not until I remembered that I wasn’t allowed to eat before my blood draw at the office. Then I was ravenous. On top of that, no coffee either so I was groggy and cranky when the CIR came to pick me up and drive me to the office. Fairly or not, I blame this state of mind for why, as I was gathering my things to go out into the approaching typhoons, I forgot to bring the all-important all-shameful poo-stick in my freezer. A fact I neglected to notice until the moment we parked at the office. I went into the building, punched in, started to work, and then was almost immediately told that I needed to get in line for the health check soon. So after 20 minutes or so of work, I headed back out to my apartment to collect this terrible artifact. I decided that if the town of Taki was going to require me to produce such a terrible thing, then collecting it from home counted as “town business” and thus qualified me to take one of the town cars in the “interest of the town.” I walked out the door and to the car before noticing that I didn’t have my driver’s license on me. Queue quick internal debate over whether or not to go back for it. Finally caution won out and after jogging back to the office I was off. The route I took was slightly longer than what the CIR usually takes, but it avoids perhaps the thinnest road in a town of absurdly thin roads; roads that would have been one-way in any other decent country. Playing it safe, I made it to my apartment without incident and collected my poo-stick. Getting back in the car, I begin to return to the office when as I’m driving a large truck turns onto my street, coming the opposite direction. This particular street is only extremely narrow (rather than absurdly so) but is flanked - as so many roads in rural Japan are – by large deep above-ground sewers/ irrigation channels that help deal with the torrential rain from the seasonal typhoons. Did I mention the Typhoons? I expected the driver of said truck to simply back up, allow me to pass at the intersection, and go along his merry way. He had other plans. He merely stopped, placing the onus on me to navigate my little car past his truck (massive in terms of Japanese cars, so about the size of a Hummer). I was not thrilled by the idea but he had clearly been driving these narrow lanes longer than me and I trusted his ability to judge this kind of thing. In other words, I fucked up. Big time. I slowly approached his truck and began to edge by it when suddenly the world tilts, there’s a loud scraping sound, and my car is half-way in the irrigation ditch. I look at him. He looks at me. He stomps the gas and is gone before I have time to even realize what’s happened.
Now I’m sitting there in a cloud of emotions: confusion at what just happened , anger with myself for fucking up so bad, and relief that I had played it safe and gone back for the driver’s license. Still, I eventually realize that I have to do something and it’s starting to rain in the run up to the double-typhoon storm that was slowly eclipsing Japan on all those fancy satellite photos. After a pathetic and doomed attempt at pushing the car wheels out of the ditch on my own (the cars here are light but not that light…) I do the only thing I can and call the CIR for assistance. He told me not to worry and that he’d tell my supervisor and they’d figure out what to do.
So I sit there, banging my head on the steering wheel in frustration at my own stupidity, until to my surprise the entire male population of my office shows up in a caravan of cars. Even more to my surprise, they have no tools, no towing equipment, and no plans of calling a professional. Instead, they do what men have done for centuries; they tried to fix with brute force and when that failed they stood around in a circle, looking at the problem, and saying to each other in sage voices, “Yup, it’s really in there, huh.” Meanwhile, I still haven’t eaten or had caffeine yet, it’s pouring rain, and my poo-stick is sitting shotgun in plain sight. Even worse, for the first attempt at pushing it out by force they brought gloves for everyone but me, making me feel impotent and useless as they pushed and pulled to no avail.
Finally, it was decided that (seeing as calling a professional was out of the question from the start) they would have to rig some kind of McGyver solution (or redneck, depending on how generous you want to be about it). Using cinder-blocks and planks of wood from the abandoned lot behind my apartment (which gives you a sense of the kind of view I have), they assembled a make shift ramp for the front tire and then with the help of another Taki public servant (who just so happened to be doing some kind of construction work nearby) they put a cable between my car and a truck to half pull and half drive the car out of the rut.
When finally we succeeded, I was unsure of whether they were ok with me driving the car back to the office and in my hesitation an older gentleman from the office got into the driver seat. So I got in the passenger side and endured the drive of shame home. I made a pathetic attempt at explaining that in America we rarely have enormous drainage ditches along the side of the road, and that when we do they are separated from the road by these things called “shoulders.” If I’m being honest, what I said probably translated to something like, “There aren’t riverbeds on the sides of road in America,” but I think he got what I meant. Not that I think it helped improve his image of me much though.
Back at the office, I began to wait to get in line to wait to be poked and prodded and all the while my poo-stick is sitting on my desk, proud and prominent. The person who thought-out this whole process was clearly concerned with the dignity of those involved, as they had decided that said sample should be returned in a bright (nearly neon) green plastic bag which was both absurdly noticeable and unmistakable for anything else. So not only am I wet and disgraced from my car incident, but I’m also painfully aware that everyone knows what is in that green bag, poorly hidden from sight under a few pages.
Finally I get called in to wait in line and am given two forms about my health history (all in Japanese of course) that I painfully fill out with the help of the CIR, who now knows as much about my medical history as I do. Even worse, there are questions that even he doesn’t understand (which we safely assumed we should answer in the negative) and questions that I simply don’t know the answers to. For example, I’m relatively certain all American toddlers are inoculated against the mumps when they are 1 or so but I have no memory of that shot, nor any evidence to back up this fuzzy conception I have about American medical practices. As I’m sitting there struggling through a process that is hardly intelligible in English, a group of teachers from one of my school comes in to wait in line as well. We have a nice chat and get along well but they know I have a little green bag and I know they have one just like it and there’s really no getting past that is there?
For the exam itself I was x-rayed, made to pee in a cup (which unlike in the US was an over-sized Dixie cup with no top ), poked, prodded, drained of a gratuitous amount of blood, hooked up to electrodes, and finally set free. Or at least, sent back to work.
I was predictably in a fairly bad mood and the last hour and a half of work was a real struggle but I pushed through and was dropped off back home by the CIR around noon. Having little food in the house and thinking I would treat myself to a pre-made bento from the grocery store, I set off to the local shop. After lunch, I was picked up and driven to the garbage center to dispose of my waste since it doesn’t get picked up from your apartment this far out in the boonies (the farmers here just burn it in the fields, giving Taki a very special scent when the wind comes in from the West). It was there, that after thoroughly searching my pockets, I realized that my wallet was missing. Too ashamed to say anything more to defame myself in the CIR’s eyes I kept silent and bottled up my panic. Driving back to my apartment, looking out the window I glanced something resembling my wallet, but determined to hide my most recent act of shame in a truly terrible day, I said nothing, electing to walk back in the pre-typhoon wind and rain to collect my lost property and setting it to dry.