I woke up, and a beautiful geisha was serving me tea. Ah, every day should be like this.
“Here is tea,” she said in a dream-like Japanese voice.
“Here is Ken Seeroi,” I replied, “nice to meet you.
“You’ll like it. Just try a little.
“Think I’ll just go back to sleep now, thanks.
“How about a few sips?” she continued, gazing at me with big, doe-like eyes.
For a geisha, she sure was annoying. I briefly pondered the correlation between attractiveness and irritation before everything went dark and I passed out cold.
Inside a Japanese Hospital
When I woke up, I was in a room of pink curtains and gurneys, with a beautiful nurse handing me a paper cup half-full of green liquid.
“Have a little more, she said, with her breasts leaning over me.
I had no idea where I was, or how I got there, but I didn’t want to let on, so I drank a bit and pretended like everything was cool.
“So,” I said nonchalantly, “my…condition…has it, um, stabilized?
“Let’s walk to the bathroom now,” she said.
“Oh no,” I replied.
That was completely the last thing I wanted to do. I had no desire to move, as something seemed to be terribly wrong downstairs. But eventually, through a combination of tea and annoyance, I was forced up, and noticed I was attached to an IV pole, which I clutched to shuffle down the hall in yellow slippers. They didn’t match my pastel blue smock at all, and I began to realize I was trapped in a dingy Japanese hospital with a horrible 1970’s design scheme. If the Japanese ever had any aesthetic sensibilities, they clearly ended in the Meiji era.
I briefly recalled something about a hernia operation and being told that I might experience “some slight discomfort” afterward. They probably should’ve said, Look, we’re gonna cut you open then stitch you up like a pair of boots, so expect it to feel like that. Guess that’s one of those read-between-the-lines things about speaking Japanese. Such a mysterious language.
Pretty Japanese Nurses
After the bathroom, I reshuffled down the hall and climbed back into bed, but a bevy of pretty nurses were having none of it.
“Oh, Mr. Seeroi,” they giggled, “you have to go to your room now.
“But I like this room.
“Let’s walk down the hall,” one said, sternly.
“I just did that,” I protested.
Walking. If there’s one thing a guy who’s just been on the losing end of ritual seppuku does not want, it’s to walk. Then again, I know there’s no sense arguing with Japanese women. They’re cute as cats, but rub them the wrong way and…well, ever heard about somebody who had a bunch of cats and then died? The cats freaking eat them. Really, true story. The small critters spend their whole lives pretending to be soft and cuddly, until one day you die and they freaking eat you. Just saying. Four of them stood over me, smiling, staring, and blinking their dark cat eyes, just waiting. So we took a little stroll.
Still, whoever the hospital administrator was, I’d like to shake his hand, because all of the nurses were incredibly beautiful and completely stacked. Two walked on either side of me, and with my pastel robe and slippers, I had a brief Hugh Hefner moment.
“How’s my hair?” I asked.
“Oh, Mr. Seeroi,” they giggled.
“No really,” I said. I have a thing about my hair.
“You look like you just had an operation,” one said, still laughing. Oh, they’re very subtle, the Japanese.
In the Japanese Cancer Ward
After about an hour-long march involving two elevator rides with apparently dead people on gurneys, we reached a small, slightly dirty room of eight beds and seven old Japanese men. There was a tiny jail-cell window at one end. I lay on my side and tried not to move. A guy who looked older than Yoda came and stood at the foot of my bed.
“Konnichiwa,” I mumbled.
“Oh, you speak Japanese,” he said with great relief. “We were worried when we saw your name.
“What’re you in for?” I asked.
And that was it. He spent the next ten minutes in a rapid monologue of medical terminology, detailing operations and procedures involving organs and body parts I didn’t even know existed. In short, he had cancer. They all had cancer. They were in the room for months, occasionally left, then eventually came back.
“Do you like fish?” he said, finally. “Cause we’re having fish.” I think maybe I drifted off somewhere about the time he was describing his spleen.
“I like it,” I replied.
“Today is white fish with mustard sauce,” he said with apparent pride, and suddenly a pair of beautiful nurses breezed in with trays full of miso soup, rice, seaweed, salad, and the fabled mustard-sauce fish.
“Want some tea?” a nurse asked. Jesus, she was stacked.
“Do I ever,” I replied.
But if I really didn’t want tea, I really, really didn’t want to eat, my plan being to avoid going number two for several months until my groinal region had completely healed. Still, it seemed rude to waste a meal, so I tried a bite.
You know how food in American hospitals is consistently bland and awful? Yeah well, apparently the Japanese never got that memo, because the food was fantastic. The green salad was topped with little cherry tomatoes and a delightful sesame dressing. The mustard sauce on the fish, a stroke of genius. I devoured everything.
“Food’s pretty good, huh,” said Yoda.
“It’s like an izakaya in here,” I replied.
“Yeah, and the nurses aren’t too bad either.
“I’m thinking sponge bath.
“We’ve been working on that for months,” he said.
The slight possibility of living out an internet porn fantasy was, however, offset by the miserable TV situation. Why does the universe always have to be so balanced? Ah, physics, how you beguile me. Anyway, what I mean is that the hospital had generously placed a vintage TV with earbuds beside each bed, and then in a moment of supreme miserliness, decided to charge for viewing by the minute.
“How does the TV work?” I asked the next busty nurse who came by.
“You have to walk to the end of the hall and buy a 1000-yen card from the vending machine,” she said.
“Walk?” I replied in horror. “How about if I give you 1000 yen—-could you do the walking?
“I’m going to check your heart now,” she said, and began hooking me up to prehistoric PC, from an era when computers came in beige. Jeez, what a color that was.
“So I suppose a sponge bath’s out of the question?”
To my great disappointment, it was, along with buying the damn TV card. To which I’ll just note that, for a nation with such tiny rooms, they sure make some powerfully long hallways. My gut felt like it was going to explode, and it took a good half hour to crawl to the vending machine and back. I kept envisioning my stitches bursting and me dying in a grimy Japanese hospital while people stood over me trying to speak English. God, that would suck, not to mention that I’d miss dinner. We were having sautéed shrimp, which clearly seemed worth living for. I crawled with extreme caution.
Now, I know some people have a vision of Japan as “high-tech,” and I’ve learned that when people say that, half the time they’re merely referring to the nation’s ability to manufacture really excellent toilet seats in China. As for the hospital, it was decidedly no-tech, with none of your Mayo clinic neurosurgeons doodling on their iPads with laser scalpels. In Japan, it’s like going in for an oil change. The Doctors and nurses have a stolid, workman-like quality about them. They’re capable enough to cut you open and sew you back up, but that’s about it. You get the feeling that if the whole hospital biz didn’t work out, they’d be fine to going back to the sawmill and the garment factory.
I spent one delirious night there. Before the operation, a beautiful and well-endowed nurse asked if I wanted to stay overnight, or just go home afterward, a question that now strikes me as straddling the borderline between absurdity and malpractice. Even after twenty-four hours, I could barely pull myself into a taxi and endure the trip back to my apartment. During the elevator ride to my floor, I hallucinated that I was in a space capsule. When I finally reached orbit, I then I spent two days floating motionless in bed, and on the third, got up and went out to teach English. Hey, nobody’s paying you to stay home and recover in Japan. If the 10 year-olds don’t learn the English words for Eyes, Nose, and Knees, how will they ever pass high-school entrance exams and eventually become little surgeons and nurses? It’s all a big circle, and we’ve got to fulfill our roles in society. So on Monday, I slammed a handful of Advil, limped my way to the station and somehow made it to work. But Seeroi sensei’s not picking up Fat Joe again for a while, I can promise you that. That guy’s like a little lead statue of a Japanese kid, only packed full of donuts.
But in the end, getting an operation in Japan was, eh, all right, I guess. I didn’t die, so I feel pretty good about that. More importantly, the sautéed shrimp was every bit as delicious as I’d hoped, glazed with a sauce of yuzu and mirin, and served atop a bed of shredded cabbage. Could’ve used a hint of red pepper perhaps, but okay, that’s just me. And not to re-overstate the obvious, but the nurses were exceedingly pretty. I came out of the hospital with a bunch of phone numbers. Unfortunately, they were all from the old men in the cancer ward, but hey, who am I to be picky? Foreigners can’t be choosers. Pretty sure that’s a Japanese proverb. Anyway, they were a fine bunch and I plan to keep in touch, if only find out what that sponge bath is really like. Man, I can hardly wait to go back.