When you think you’re dying

Faith

As my loyal readers have realized, I’ve been away from this blog for about a month. Sure, there are reasons, but truthfully, the main reasons (getting a new business up and running, and the networking and detail that’s involved behind the scenes) are not why I’m writing this blog today.

Today, I’m finally revealing the details behind the last 30 days and the sad summertime travesty that has befallen your humble blogging superhero.

I decided it would be a great experience to head to Japan to surprise my family for my twin sons’ 2nd birthday on May 24th.  I got a great deal on Air Canada and took the leap on the purchase.

The night before my flight, I had a major problem.  I’d either encountered the fiercest flu I’d ever known, or I had come down with a serious case of food poisoning.  Either way, I was in a world of hurt. Check that.  I was beyond ‘under the weather.’ I was truly toast.

Burnt toast.

I spent the night in the restroom or curled up in the fetal position in my bed.  By the time 3am rolled around, I’d made a number of visits to the restroom and shower.  I figured it was time to just stay out of bed, get my suitcase and boxes out to the van and head to the airport early.  At least this way I would be there…one step closer to my destination and waiting (unbeknownst to them) family.  My stomach was still sour, but I was in that respite where you feel somewhat decent after the last ‘clearing of the stomach.’  Japan, here I come.

At the airport, I felt it might be prudent to drink a lot of water as I had overnight.  I wasn’t having much luck in the ‘keeping it down’ department, but I knew I was dehydrated and wasn’t interested in that party.  I drank a few cups down and picked up some Imodium just in case things got dicey on the plane.

We taxied and took off.  I had a short layover in Vancouver, felt decent and picked up a sandwich.  I actually kept it down, so by now I was thinking things were much better. Last night was already becoming a thankfully distant memory.

Upon boarding the plane, I shared with a few attendants that I had suffered what I believed to be food poisoning the night before…. I guess it was my version of making small talk, but fortunately, the few I shared it with shared it with the rest of the crew. The next thing I knew, I was being coddled like never before.  The crew took amazing care of me, ensuring I had ample room and even brought me extra blankets, pillows, water and food.  In fact, there was no time that I didn’t have at least 2 bottles of water in my lap or tucking into the seat pocket in front of me.  Between the fact that I was feeling better and that the flight had a decent selection of current movies, I was doing so much better.

After a few hours on the plane, I had probably downed 8 cups of water…. maybe more.  I hadn’t really eaten after the sandwich in Vancouver…. I wasn’t really hungry and figured my stomach was still a bit raw.  Not really sour, but certainly not 100%.

Cue about 6 hours into the flight. I’d now downed an easy 12 cups of water and hadn’t used the toilet. Clearly, I was dehydrated.  My skin tone looked okay, but I actually appeared a bit gaunt when I looked at myself in the mirror.  Still, I was on the way to my family and the suspense was a joy to embrace. It was going to be a great week.

Now, about 7 hours into my flight, I decided to watch a movie.  I hadn’t slept and was more than bored, so I turned on “Gone Girl,” the latest from Ben Affleck and  David Fincher (one of my favorite directors). I wasn’t really interested in the movie to be fair, as I’d heard wildly differing opinions, but I still had 3 hours to kill.

At about the 2 hour mark, there is a tremendously violent scene in the movie.  I’m not giving anything away, but I will tell you that it was so violent, sudden, and upsetting, I had a physical reaction.  I had a feeling of extreme queasiness and dizziness, and I shut the movie off as I gasped out loud.  I remember wincing so much and recoiling so hard when that moment happened.  If I had a chance to rewind that moment and watch myself, I probably would have laughed incredibly hard.  I had to look so stupid from above.

As I spent the next few minutes trying to recover from the feeling of nausea (this had only happened one other time in my life while watching a movie), something very scary occurred.  I began sweating profusely.  In fact, so much sweat was pouring out of me, that I felt the water running down my back. It was literally pooling in the seat under my behind.  My left arm started to ache quite a bit and I began to get dizzy.

Not dizzy haha, but dizzy uh oh.

After about a minute of this feeling with no respite, I turned around to signal the attendant that I wasn’t feeling well.  He came over and asked what was going on.  When he saw me, he made that face that says “oh,” all while pretending he hadn’t just made that face.  He signaled to his other staff to join us, and started asking me questions:

What’s wrong?
How do I feel?
What caused this?
Do you want some more water?
Do you feel nauseous?

I told him I wasn’t feeling well at all… that something was more than wrong.  I started to think that perhaps I wasn’t just dehydrated… that maybe I was having a heart attack, or a stroke.

At this point, I started to feel extremely light headed, my heart pounding, my stomach more nauseous than ever.  My hands curled up into little claws, and it was very difficult to speak.  My eyes clouded over. He kept asking me questions, and signaled for another attendant to bring oxygen.  I passed out.

When I awoke, there were a number of passengers and attendants around me.  All asking me what I was feeling and what they could do.  One strapped the oxygen around my head.  Within a few minutes, I felt better.  It’s amazing what oxygen can do for you (temporarily).

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Then, things really started to ramp up.  I closed my eyes because I felt so terrible and was having a very hard time functioning, speaking, and breathing.  The next thing I noticed was that I was “waking up.” Turns out, I had passed out again, for about 10 seconds.  At this time, they had made a call to ground control that I’d need medical assistance.  After a bit of time, the oxygen didn’t have any effect on me, and the nausea returned with a vengeance.

As we were descending into Osaka, I heard the pilot say that after we taxied, we’d be greeted by a medical response team and for everyone to stay in their seats while the “medical emergency” was being tended to.  All I could think was “great…. now the passengers are going to be angry too.”  The next thing I know, I am frantically grabbing the air sickness bag and passing the oxygen mask to the kind attendant who was sitting with me.

As I grabbed the bag, the entire contents of my stomach (what little food I’d had 11 hours back and the liters of water) came out in about 1 minute of perpetual heaving.  My stomach gave it all up. (Just because you asked, I filled 2 sickness bags)  I remember handing the first bag to the attendant as I picked up #2 and watched her gag as the bag slopped all over the seat.  It was a party, I tell ya.

After we landed and the plane stopped at the terminal, they opened the door and more than a dozen medical personnel filed into the plane.  I know I counted over 20, all Japanese (of course) and asking me a ton of questions in their best English accent. They were patient, kind, and (admittedly) overly attentive, almost to the point of frustration. Everyone who asked me a question asked the same question, which resulted in me literally uttering the same “I don’t know” over and over and over and over again.

After they felt reasonably confident I wasn’t going to die the second they moved me, they stood me up to walk me out of the plane, and the entirety of the plane applauded me as if I was a Hall of Fame pitcher being walked off the field.  I almost stopped at the end to tip my ballcap.

I was placed in a waiting ambulance, of which there were two (I’m not sure why, but perhaps they assumed I had been cut in half in the plane?), and bagged on oxygen again.  They kept asking the same questions, and couldn’t understand me, so I had to keep removing the mask, of which they’d tell me to stop doing that, so I got oxygen, yet they kept asking me questions…. the silliness of that situation….love that.

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After they had asked the same impossible questions 230 times or so, we finally embarked towards the hospital, which actually made me ask if they could tell the difference in my ability to speak in Nihongo the word for hospital.  You see, the words for hospital and barber shop share an almost identical (indiscernible to me) sound (they may as well be homophones), so I thought it was funny to ask.  They didn’t get the joke. Anyways, I was alert enough to shoot some video of the ambulance drive over, and I was laughing under my breath about the sound of the ambulance.  Are you sure I wasn’t in England?

After arrival, I was wheeled into the ER, where I was attended to by the nicest group of caregivers and surgeons I’ve ever had.  It was an over the top experience.  Granted, everyone kept asking me what happened and if I had a heart attack, and if I had a stroke, and if I had been sick, and when I last used the toilet, etc. etc. etc.  Of course, with the exception of one (1) person, the English was understandably poor.  They tried, though.

In America, we would just say it louder…. because we’re idiots.

They did every test imaginable.  EKG.  X-ray.  Blood work.  2 bags of fluids to hydrate. Meanwhile, my wife and family had no idea this was going on.  As far as my wife knew, I was in Vancouver on a work trip.  I was just trying to take bikes to my twins for their 2nd birthday, and give everyone a kiss.

Here’s a shot from the bed towards the ceiling of the ER (except the words on the sides of everything was in Japanese).  Just like on TV!

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Eventually, the head surgeon came to me and asked how I was getting home.  I told her the airline liaison had joined me in the ambulance and he’d get me back to the airport, where I’d go through customs. From there, I’d just take the bus, as originally intended to the train station, then another bus, then a short walk of 3 blocks to the house…. you know, like always.  She told me that was unacceptable due to my condition of being dangerously dehydrated, and told me I had to inform my wife I was in Japan and to come pick me up.  After much discussion, I ended up calling the wife.

Here’s how that went, almost word for word.

*ring ring*

Her: Hi Honey, how’s your day?  Are you home from Vancouver yet?
Me: Um…. well….. I’m not in Vancouver.
Her: Oh?
Me: Yeah… Actually, I’m in Japan.
Her: What?  (then, excitedly)…WHAT?
Me: Yeah… it was supposed to be a surprise, but I have an issue.  I need your help.
Her: What?
Me: Yeah… I’m in the hospital in Osaka, and I need you to talk to the head of the ER.

*hands phone to ER surgeon*

As I pass the phone to the doctor, I hear very loudly through the speaker of the phone:

“WHAT??????!!?!?!??!?!?”

After the conversation with the doctor, I get the phone back, and her this sentence from my wife.

“You’re crazy, but ok…. now what?”  I’m not sure what to do, so I tell her I’ll call back and hang up the phone.

Eventually, they decide I’m hydrated enough to get home, so they sit me up and help me get dressed up and all my gear back to head back to the airport and the liaison. Before I go, I ask them to let me take a picture with them.  Of course, there are peace signs flying everywhere… this is Japan.

After many selfies with my Japanese ER crew, they sat me up fully to see if I’d have another episode. Fortunately I didn’t, nor did I get dizzy.  I did feel a bit weak, as they dehydration had clearly taken its toll on my body.  The doctors told me it’d be a few days.  They also suggested that I head to the house and drink a lot of electrolytic fluids…. stuff like Pocari Sweat and Calpis.  You know…. stuff that the very names make you want to vomit.  To be fair, they aren’t bad…. like thicker versions of Gatorade.  Just not my thing.  If you have to ask, I prefer Calpis bigtime over Pocari Sweat… it’s just no contest.As I dressed, my airport liaison came back into the room, and informed me he’d be escorting me back to the airport.

The airline had expedited my luggage through customs and was waiting for me when I got back.  I wouldn’t have to go through customs…. which was kind of odd and made me think I shouldn’t write this, so some would-be terrorist wouldn’t fake a medical emergency in the future.Regardless, the gentleman walked me through the hospital, to what I thought was the waiting car.  Turns out I was wrong.  We turned a few corners, and we stopped at a little nook, where an older man and woman stared at me.  My liaison gestured to me to speak to the older man, while the lady generated some paperwork.  She produced a sheet of paper with a whole bunch of unreadable information on it (to me) and pointed to the bottom.

It was at this moment that I realized what was happening.  They were billing me.  Right here.  Right now. $125647 yen, which translates into approximately $1100 dollars.  Now, I’m not saying that I shouldn’t have to pay for the services, but I was livid because at the airport I had told them over and over again that I was just dehydrated and a hospital visit wasn’t needed.  Granted, looking back, I certainly would done what they did and make me go to the hospital to verify there wasn’t something more nefarious at work in my body.  Either way, they were now expecting payment.  Right now.  Cash money. After me telling them over and over again that they needed to bill me, they would just smile and point to the number at the bottom with the occasional mention of a word I recognized…. mostly “Visa” or “Mastercard.”  Incessantly.

Blah blah blah VISA… blah Mastercard… blah blah blah blah Cash blah VISA.

Finally, I’d had enough and just said take the card.  I had enough on the card.  That wasn’t the point. They were taking all of my travel cash. I know people think it costs a lot to visit Japan, but it doesn’t. Not at all, especially when you have family and know your way around.  In fact, I’ve done 2 weeks in Japan and spent $700 the entire time (flights notwithstanding) and had a blast.  A blast I tell you.  One just needs to know someone there, and the right places to go that aren’t centered around costing tourists a ton. As I handled the payment, the tension in the room seemed to ease a bit.  I’m not sure if they were expecting me to go all “American” on them, but you could tell that they were very cautious in how they treated me until I’d paid.  Hilarious.  Bruce Willis, eat your heart out.

**Something you should know is that most credit/debit cards do NOT work in Japan. Japan is a fierce cash (no such thing as checks, either) society…it’s still very 1990 there in regards to electronic debit systems, so your card has to have the “right” logo on them, and most now (especially the ones with the GPS chips in them) will not work at all.  Not at least until 2040, when it will be 2015 in Japan.  I was more than shocked that they took my card at the hospital, as I cannot buy groceries or rent a car or buy clothing with my card.  I guess the hospital is the one place where they want to make sure they get paid….Maybe it’s a scheme?  Ha.  Craziness.**

As I was exiting the hospital, I bumped into my ER doctor and head nurse, so I snapped a quick shot with them.  More peace signs, of course.

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They were both very cute and very kind.  I have to admit that I’d love to get sick again, just to hang out with them.  No idea who they are, or their names, but they were a lot of fun.  Great personalities, plus the main doctor (on the left) spoke impeccable English, having lived in Boston for years.

When the liaison and I stepped out of the hospital, there was no waiting car.  I asked him how we were getting back.  He says Takushi (Taxi).  So, I’m not sure what kind of help I’m getting now. Either way, he signals the taxi, and tells him we need to go back to Kansai International, which is approximately 2 miles away from us, across a long bridge out to the island airport.  We get in the car, and we find out that he TOO accepts credit cards as payment.  Madness!

What country did I land in, and what did you do with my country Japan?

We drive back to the airport, and the taxi pulls into this hidden area, behind the airport where you can directly enter into the network hub…. basically, a private entrance to the inner workings of the airport, all of which was easily accessed without security or even a drop down car gate.  We simply drove up to the “back” of the airport and got out.

After dropping $4000 yen, which was roughly $34 dollars (for a 2 mile drive… didn’t I say it was cheap to get around Japan?), we walked into the building.  Here I am standing in the nerve center of one of the world’s most complex airports and nobody is checking to see why I’m there.  Granted, I was with the liaison, but soon he’d gone away to get my luggage and not come back for a good 10 minutes….meanwhile about 1000 different airport workers walked by me, all looking at me, but nobody addressing me, or asking questions why I was back there, or anything.

They just passively walked by.  Typical Japan, if you know the culture, but odd in that I was in the middle of a highly secure (yeah, right) area of the airport and nary a question.  (Another concern for future terror activities.  Someone should note this.)

The only thing I could figure is that I’m either deliriously handsome, or they are just outright scared of us giant Americans.  Or both.

Probably both.

The liaison finally comes out with my suitcases, along with his supervisor and greets me.  The supervisor asks if I have a ride home and if I’m ok.  I signal yes, mostly because I didn’t want them to raise a stink and require me to wait for family to drive here to pick me up.  By car, a journey to KIX is right around $80 one way, because of tolls and gas. That, and it would take them hours.  If I took a bus and train, it would be about $40 round trip and get me there in about 75 minutes.  So again… I just agreed. “Yep, the family is coming!”

The walked me out to the terminal center, and thanked me for being so patient, then they wished me good travels, good luck, and safety…. then, they bowed a very kind bow and I was by my lonesome. Now, to find the international cash machine (yes, they actually accept my card and get me yen) or which there are 3 in the entire airport.

I go to the machine, and it won’t take my card.  Seriously.  So, I decide that maybe my pin was entered incorrectly.  So, I try again.  Nope.  Then, I put in the card in every possible configuration.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

I try the non-international machine next door.  Nope.  Now, I’m worried.  I go upstairs (sweating by now) to the information desk (where they actually can speak solid English) and ask for another machine. I head there, and push the card in.  Nope.  I go to the third machine.  Nope.  I go back to the first machine and watch a man from Europe use the machine.  Yep.  I try again.  Nope.  Now, I’m starting to freak out.  I call Tomoko and ask what to do.  She has no idea, but she suggests that maybe the bus ticketing machine has a card slot now.  Heck, it’s 2015…. they should.

I head out to where I need to buy tickets to Nishinomiya, and the machine is typical old school cash only. That’s definitely a big nope.  However, there is a lady standing there, quietly.  I ask her if she speaks English and she says ‘a little.’  I tell her I need to use a VISA to buy tickets to the bus. She motions me over to this hidden stand behind the ticketing area, tells me to wait and disappears.  2 minutes later, the window slides up, the lights come on, and she smiles at me.

“Visa, please.  Round trip?”

Done.  She was a magician.  The bus is literally leaving in 30 seconds.  I race over to the stand, they take my luggage, and I’m on.  I’m finally on the way to the house.  Chaos is over.  Thank the Lord.

My brother in law is waiting at Nishinomiya to escort me to the house and is happy to see me.  He says it’s really cool that I tried to surprise my wife and kids.  He even offers me a chance to stay in a hotel tonight, where the family won’t be crawling all over me, and so I can rest to start fresh tomorrow.  It’s tempting, but not what I want.  I want to see my family, even if I still feel like dog poop.

I finally get to the house after another 90 minutes, greet my wife, see my kids, take a shower and attempt to go to bed.  I couldn’t sleep, no matter what I did.  It wasn’t jet lag. It was the weird feeling in my body and being “so off.”  Lacking water…. lacking food…. lacking energy.  It was so frustrating.

The next few days were a blur, as I still couldn’t keep food down, nor was I desirous of eating.  My only concern was getting my fluids back up.  My mouth was sticky or tacky depending on the moment. Although I had purchased a round trip flight for a week, it actually translates into 6 days on the ground, because of travel time and time zones.  With 3 days down for being sick, I was down to 3 days with my family.  Fortunately, by Sunday (the boys 2nd birthday), I was back on track…. at least for the most part.

Behind the scenes, it was anything but good though.

I learned something new about Japan this trip.  I learned that one never surprises a family or friends. I used to think it was funny watching them kind of complain or maybe even freak out, as ultimately, they’d show how happy they were.  However, this trip I learned they really dislike it.  In fact, to go farther, they loathe it.  Culturally, they want to know a visitor is coming, so they can prepare and so they can be ready themselves, simply because anything else is unfair and knocks them for a loop.  The Japanese are all about being prepared.  To the point that if they’re not, they can’t find their way through it.  They aren’t good at flying by the seat of their pants.

The Japanese are good at being worker bees…. very programmed to do things very specifically.  Making on the fly adjustments isn’t only bad form, but it’s not taught.  It’s just not what they do.  So, to be short, my family (including my wife) was pissed off that I “just showed up.”  They didn’t tell me this until about 2 days before leaving, which is another Japanese characteristic (extreme passivity)…. but when they did, they let me have it.

I felt so guilty and at the same time upset that they didn’t appreciate what I was trying to do.  They just couldn’t wrap their heads around me wanting to be with my wife and kids, no matter what.  They didn’t see it as heroic or kind or genuine.  They only saw it as frustrating, hugely assumptive, and annoyingly AMERICAN.  What a bummer.

As you can imagine, it took every effort to try and explain to them my heart and intentions.  Still, it didn’t matter.  I learned that some things don’t matter in Japan.  You never do them.  Ever.  So, lesson learned.
Don’t surprise family or friends in Japan.

Ever.