Magazine article The American Enterprise

Long Live the Japanese

Magazine article The American Enterprise

Long Live the Japanese

Article excerpt

In Western countries we hear constantly about the longevity of the Japanese, and therefore assume that the quality of Japanese health care is very high. Living in Japan for more than 12 years brought me up close and personal with that system. And I found it to be a disconcerting experience.

For starters, hospitalization in Japan can be a bit frightening. You are required to bring your own bedding, towels, and soap. It falls on a family member or friend to bring clean bed linens and towels and wash the used ones. There are hardly any private or semi-private bathrooms. Eight beds to a room is not uncommon. Often, you must brush your teeth at a common "trough" where several patients do the same.

Nurses are instructed that they must always ask the sensei (doctors) before undertaking any procedure. Initially, this seems proper. But the same deference applies even when emergencies happen. One friend told me of his wife receiving an IV to ease labor, and watching her go into convulsions because she was allergic to the drug. The attending nurse refused to disconnect the IV "until sensei doctor authorized it." Terrified of losing her, he finally pulled it out himself.

Procedures done on an out-patient basis are no less daunting. Sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies are routinely done without any kind of anesthetic. One friend, wracked with pain from such a procedure, was exhorted by the attending nurse to grit his teeth and hang on. Enduring pain and suffering without complaint is a hallmark of Japanese culture, even during routine medical procedures. …

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