Apr 27, 2019
Japan's relationship with women's health has gotten a lot better in recent years. However, there is still a stigma around certain things and problems that I hope will be cleared up as time passes.
When I was studying abroad in Japan years ago, a lot of the resources available online now weren't around. There was no easy pocket wifi rentals or even Amazon Prime, and there wasn't the kind of information online for how to do things back then, that there is now.
Shortly after arriving in the countryside for my study abroad program, I got a urinary tract infection (UTI). They're quite common, especially in females, and are caused by infections and usually treated with antibiotics. I had had a UTI before, so I more or less knew the drill: go to the doctor, answer a few questions, and get my antibiotics prescription. I had no reason to think it would be any different in Japan.
Because my Japan university was extremely rural and isolated, I didn't have the option of visiting a regular doctor. (As a student, I wasn't sure of my insurance policy status either, so it wasn't a huge loss.) So, instead, I paid a visit to the nurse's office on campus.
Despite this university being highly ranked in English and conducting all the classes in it, the staff's English was very poor. (I suppose it was difficult to find an entire faculty of English-speakers in the rural parts of Japan.) So, I enlisted the help of one of my Japanese friends to act as a translator.
She came with me to the nurse's office and sat in with me during the nurse's visit. When the nurse asked what was wrong, I said that I already knew what the problem was. I had a urinary tract infection. Unfortunately for me, my translator friend didn't know what that was and had no way of relaying the official name to the nurse. (My friend was a freshman at the time, so I really don't blame her.)
Since just telling the nurse what it was seemed to be out of the question, I decided to describe the symptoms. Basically, I said that even when I used the bathroom and emptied my bladder, it still felt like I needed to go. The nurse seemed to be following so far. I added that it also stung when I was peeing. My friend translated, and the nurse snorted and started laughing almost hysterically.
Now, I don't know what exactly was translated, but I don't think anything warranted that kind of laughter. Even if my friend translated it in a childish way, or if the nurse was laughing because it was such a simple problem, I don't think that anyone should be laughed at in the doctor's office.
I felt myself getting hostile towards the nurse, but I kept my calm. The nurse said there was nothing she could do and sent me and my friend on our way without any antibiotics or anything. Honestly, this experience is what had me distrusting the medical system in Japan for a very long time, even after I moved back to live here.
I told my other friend about what happened, and thankfully she had some antibiotics that she brought from her home country that she shared with me. That, along with some cranberry juice, and I was good to go. But, even to this day, the feeling of confusion and shame at being laughed at by a medical professional for a medical problem stuck.
The nurse was a female, so she could very well have experienced this as well. She was also a trained professional (I would hope... she was working at a university and not a hospital) so she should be more sensitive about these kinds of things. Besides, it's a common affliction that is as prevalent in Japan as it is around the world. Why there was that level of laughter, I have no idea.
Now that there are a lot more resources available online, I know how to treat a UTI with over the counter medications in Japan. If you're wondering, you can look for Bo-koren (ボーコレン) at any drug store and it'll help to alleviate a lot of the pain and symptoms. And, in case you're wondering, UTI is 尿路感染症 in Japanese.
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