Emergency Services... Don’t Panic!
A cautionary tale of when that one thing you hope never happens, happens! After an exciting day picking up our car (that's another story of trials and tribulations but one worth doing) I drop off my husband, Chris, to ride his bike home from the station. Something he has done so many times before. When he arrives home about ten minutes after me clutching his swollen, mis-shapen wrist calmly saying, "don't panic but I've fallen off my bike and I've broken my wrist", I automatically run around in circles panicking that I don't even know the Emergency services number.
Get a pen and paper, or for the techno heads grab your smartphone/tablet and put the numbers in now. It is so important.
Emergency services for Ambulance and Fire is 119
Emergency number for police is 110
And a few really useful words are: Ambulance - Kyukyusha; Police - Keisatsu; Fire - Kaji; Hospital - Byoin
The operator will need the following information but be warned, they may not have English so try and stay calm and give them as much clear information as you can and don't get too frustrated. After all, we are in Japan!
Your name and age.
I was lucky enough to have the help of some teachers at the local kindergarten who all came and looked at Chris' wrist, poked it, made strange Japanese noises and then called for an ambulance for us. The Ambulance with a crew of four, arrived in about five minutes. So far so good. But it very quickly became evident that the lack of language was going to be a problem. 45 minutes and 6 rejections from hospitals later because of a "communication issue" with us not speaking Japanese and we finally had somewhere to go. I was feeling the most vulnerable I had felt in the nine months I had been in Japan. There was a big realisation of how alone you actually are and how different the culture can be. It was incredibly scary. But a small selection of sympathetic and incredibly generous neighbours had congregated around the ambulance making offerings of food and money so we could get home from the hospital, so not quite as alone as it first felt. We eventually managed to get hold of a friend who speaks excellent Japanese and she met us at the hospital.
Let me explain a little about the Accident and Emergency procedure here in Hiroshima. There isn't one. Each hospital, which in England we would refer to as a clinic, has a service it offers. So there's orthopaedic, paediatric, gastro etc. They are not open 24 hours a day so the ambulance has to call around and find a clinic for your complaint and one that will open up and accept you. One of the first things they will ask for is your health insurance card. If you are living in Japan and have your Gaijin card take this to your local City Hall and they will help with the paperwork for the National Health Insurance. This covers 70% of the costs for medical treatment, you have to pay the other 30% when you receive the treatment.
Another point worth noting, I also checked to see if we were covered on our travel insurance, which we had from our backpacking before stopping in Japan, and as a resident here it does not cover us. So make sure you have the correct form of cover for living or travelling here.
The doctor we saw late on that Friday night had some English, a dislike of pain relief and a knack for repositioning a dislocated and broken bone with pure brute force and three words of English, "hold here please" in reference to the bar on the side of the bed, while he pulled with all his might. Which did the trick!
Another warning....pain relief in general is very very minimal here in Japan. You cannot even buy Paracetamol. But the doctor strapped up Chris' arm with a half cast and gave us a referral to a surgeon for three days time, after the weekend. The referred hospital was located in Saijo, about an hours drive East of Hiroshima city on the Expressway. No problem for us, remember, we had our new car! The Hospital was a complete juxtaposition to the emergency clinic of three days before, beautiful new, modern building with fantastic facilities and we were lucky enough to see one of Japan's leading wrist and hand surgeons there. He had exceptionally good English and was very accommodating, in fact he kept Chris there and ran their tests before operating the next day. All the staff were amazing. They knew we only had a smattering of Japanese and so they all carried with them lists of words in English that might be useful and even a smiley face chart for the pain. I think that came from the children's ward! They did everything they could to make Chris feel comfortable, calm and a little in control of what was a very stressful, intimidating situation.
The end result was several further visits with the surgeon and the house doctor for check ups and exercises. No appointments are given for these. You just turn up on a given day of the week, take your number and wait. But most times we would be in by 9am and out by 12pm.
Final words on costs. The Ambulance is free for anyone. The initial visit for the doctor called out on Friday evening was just over 10,000 yen. The three night stay in hospital with constant monitoring and all the pain relief necessary, the surgery which consisted of a reposition of one bone and a plate and pins for the other and all the ancillaries cost us approx. 150,000 yen. There was a small charge for outpatient visits for X-Rays but these were less than a 1,000 yen. So healthcare is not completely free like the NHS in England but it's not as expensive as America where you hear horror stories of ambulances not taking you without proof of insurance.
So, don't panic but be prepared and all will be ok.