Dec 7, 2015

Having Surgery in Japan

Having Surgery in Japan photo

I should state my position: I only had my tonsils out in the States when I was 13, so that’s sort of what I compare my Japanese experience to. I remember a decent amount from then, but I also wasn’t an adult in charge of signing all my own paperwork at the time.

First, there are going to be tests. Depending on how soon your surgery is, the tests might happen the day of your hospitalization, or a week before. For my first surgery they happened the morning of my hospitalization (which ended up being the day before we thought it would be), for my second it was a little over a week before my hospitalization.

Tests include: getting your blood drawn, urine sample, blood pressure check, and an EKG. Because I’m asthmatic, I also had to do a lung strength test. This all takes about three hours and costs a little over 5,000 yen.

After that, you’ll meet with one of the officer workers and fill out paperwork. (They might also ask you to choose your room at this time, or sometime during testing. The standard is a four-person room, though that probably varies from hospital to hospital. At the hospital I was in/am in there are a few different choices of room with varying costs.) You’ll need to have an emergency contact fill out part of the paperwork on their own. Apparently trying to fill in the information yourself is a no-no.

Once the paperwork is taken care of, you are free until you are admitted. My first time, because my surgery was in the morning, I was admitted the night before. This time, because my surgery isn’t until the afternoon, I was admitted the day of.

It’s time to start thinking about what to pack. The hospital should give you a list of what you need, but if you lose it or something, here’s what you will need:

  • Clothes, probably pjs or lounging clothes for the duration of your stay.
  • Basic toiletries for brushing your teeth and showering.
  • A towel, probably a hand towel and a washcloth would be a good idea as well.
  • A cup/mug for the green tea you’re going to get with every meal.
  • A trashcan and trash bag, since they may not be provided for your room.
  • Your own pillow if you aren’t a fan of those bean-filled annoyances.
  • If you are asthmatic, pack any and all inhalers you use.
  • Entertainment of some sort.

Most of the stuff you would probably assume, but some things are easy to forget.

Now, it’s time to be admitted to the hospital. You will probably meet with your doctor one more time, then get your vitals taken again. (Blood pressure, temperature, and, if you’re asthmatic, oxygen saturation.) Then you’ll be shown to your room. Of course, this probably varies from hospital to hospital. For the first night after surgery, you may be put in a room that’s closer to the nurse’s station, then moved to your actual room afterwards. My first surgery, I was put in my actual room right away. (It was also closer to the nurses’ station than my current room.) This time, I think I will be put in a closer room, but it depends if there is a patient who needs more attention than I do.

Given how I was last time, I am thinking I probably won’t have to spend the whole night in that room. I have been trying to do some mental about how long it will take me to shake the effects of the anesthesia. Last time, my surgery was at 10:30 (it was supposed to be earlier but was delayed because of how long it took to place my IV) and my friend says it was finished by around 12. I drifted in and out of consciousness for the next 12 hours or so until I realized I couldn’t get back to sleep around midnight. At that point I called the nurses, asked if they could remove the catheter and if it was ok for me to sit up.

This time, my surgery is at 1:30 and it should be finished by 2pm. I am thinking I will be back to normal levels of alertness by 8pm or 10 at the latest. With any luck, they will let me go back to my room and recover there, where I have videos I can watch and stuff to do. I’m on bed rest for the first 24 hours, but I was told I should be able to walk around after that.

Back to the informative part of the post: about an hour before the surgery, the nurses will come in to get your IV placed. At that time you’ll be expected to change into the hospital gown and get settled on the bed. For me, that was one of the worst parts. It took 20 minutes and 7 tries to get the IV placed IN THE SIDE OF MY HAND. I still have a few scars from that and had a huge bruise on the inside of my forearm from where they nicked me.

Once the IV is in place, you’ll be wheeled down to the OR. If you have asked for general anesthesia (which is not as common as they try to give you only what is the minimal amount of anesthesia that they deem necessary), it will be injected once you’re on the table. It hurts. A lot. They do not put you to sleep before that, which sucks. Thankfully, as intense as the pain is, as soon as it hits your heart you’re out cold.

When you wake up, you’ll probably have compression stockings and some pump machines on your legs. The pumps squeeze (every 12 seconds I think. I know I ended up counting at one point) your legs to reduce the risk of economy class syndrome. You’ll probably have an oxygen mask on for at least a little while and you’ll have a catheter in you. All terribly fun things to think about, I know.

Thankfully, the oxygen mask came off relatively soon. It was so hot in the room that I kept trying to push the mask off even for a few second of non-humid air, but every time I did that, someone immediately pushed it back into place. It was super frustrating. Also frustrating is the fact that I am always immediately lucid after coming out of surgery, but it took me a long time to be able to keep my eyes open. I am now suspecting they gave me some sort of sedative, though who knows. It could have actually been entirely the anesthesia.

So that’s the basics of having surgery in Japan. I have already written a few posts about what it is like to stay in a hospital, so check those out if you are interested. Meanwhile, I’ve been writing this while chilling in my room before my surgery. I’ve got about an hour and a half to go before they start prepping me, so I think I am going to go watch one of the Star Wars movies I rented.



An American woman living in southern Japan.
Check out my main blog at: journeyingjodi.wordpress.com/


  • trekkingbecky

    on Dec 7

    That was really interesting. I hope this one goes well for you. Just out of curiosity, how much did you have to pay when you left the hospital? I wonder how much one day/night in the hospital costs.

  • Jodi

    on Dec 8

    I paid about 120,000 yen after my first hospital stay. That included the surgery, rehabilitation sessions, and the room for 8 days. The second time I paid around 88,000 yen. It was only a 3 day stay, but it was a nicer room.

  • maynestacy

    on Dec 10

    I have also had a couple of surgeries in Japan. I agree with most of what was said here. My first surgery was an emergency c-section. The surgical room was huge and freezing. The second was at a big hospital, scheduled. A line up patients on gurneys' like a factory- there were about 6 glassed surgery rooms, with operations underway simultaneously. I found the heating a bit too much and bought summer PJs to wear, although it was winter. I'll check out your hospital posts and see if there is anything else I can add...