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Feb 23

Worst Vacation So Far – Part 1 – “Right in the Hole”

We’ve just passed Kyoto again, our original destination, on our way back from Okayama to Yokohama.

Our plan was a one-week western Japan baby-tour. We wanted to bring young Hammy to meet various relatives and friends who hadn’t seen him yet. Sadly, that was not to be.Forest Hammy

Pre-Trip Blues

Those of you following my facebook posts over the past couple of days know part of the story, but it actually begins last Monday or Tuesday, when the whole family got sick. Hammy had been doing double-barrelled snotting around, and it was on the Tuesday that he a) managed to drool straight into my mouth, and b) started running a slight fever.

By that evening, I had a raging sore throat which carried over into the next morning. We would have all done very well by staying in bed that day, but due to deadlines imposed on us by the city of Yokohama, we had to go and file our taxes. The copies of the filings would be used on our application forms for a daycare subsidy. Those forms needed to arrive at the right office by February 28, only one day after our return from our planned vacation.

The taxes were complicated by the fact that due to a clerical mistake, I was missing an important piece of paperwork and had to travel into downtown Tokyo before heading back out to the boonies for a long walk to the tax office to meet my wife with tax filings already in progress.

Getting Away

We’d planned to leave Thursday around 11:30 and have a leisurely Shinkansen ride to Okayama to visit relatives on Friday and Saturday.

Sunday was for visiting friends in Osaka, and Saturday to Wednesday was for hanging out with friends in Kyoto, including our the family of the woman who introduced my wife and myself to each other in Toronto.

I woke up with a 39 degree fever, a hacking cough, an aching body, no appetite, and a pounding headache. My wife dispatched me to the local clinic to get tested for influenza, which would scupper the trip, since we wouldn’t want to go spreading it around wherever we went. So off I went. Except the clinic was close on Thursdays. I was in no physical shape to go to my usual doctor near Motomachi, so I was re-routed, after an excruciating 15 minutes with the chills in –2 degree weather, to another clinic.

So there I was, in the waiting area, or rather, a separate waiting area for those people considered very infectious (me), waiting for my influenza test. The nurse tells me it will hurt a little. Sure, whatever, I can take a little needle in the arm.

It isn’t until I see the plastic tube coming for my nose that I realize what is going to happen. It makes a 4-vial blood extraction with 10-minutes of vein hunting, seem like a walk in the park by comparison. Afterwards, I was shocked to find that cranial fluid was not indeed leaking from my brainpan via my left nostril, because as far as I could that, that was where the nurse had punctured me.

The test came back negative (on so many levels), so after a two-hour nap, we decided to start moving to Okayama.

Day 0 and Day 1

The shinkansen was great, as always. A bit busy, but once we hit Nagoya, we got seats together, so we were happy.

We crashed that night at the hotel, and I slept fitfully as my fever jumped up and down, alternating me between the sweats and the chills.

The next day, my wife and Hammy went on their own to hang out with my father-in-law and his mother while I spent the day lying in bed, taking Advil, and trying to catch up on sleep. My father-in-law dropped them off around 17:00, brought me some convenience store energy drinks, and broke the solid safety latch off the door on the way out (his parting words as he handed the broken piece to my wife: “Oh, this just fell off.”). My appetite finally returned in time for dinner, when, just as we were deciding where to go, Hammy knocked over the room’s electric kettle and put his hand in the spilled, 98 degree water.

Okay, this probably makes us somewhat bad parents, but to put this in perspective, the kettle had a lid that was not supposed to release liquid unless a button was held down. I later discovered that this button was broken, which explains why the liquid was able to get out and scald my son’s hands. Regardless, we will be much more safety conscious in the future—we were lucky the damage was as limited as it was.

Once I realized why he was screaming (it took me three or four seconds to piece the scene together when I looked up), I picked him up, ran to the shower, and held the burned hand under the cold water. (The sink design was too weird to hold him comfortably, hand outstretched, for any period of time.)IMG_4248

We decided to head to the hospital.

Okayama city has only one large, 24-hour hospital with an emergency room.

Before I go on, let me tell you the positive things about the emergency room service:

1. The area was modern and pristine.

2. We were moved through quickly. In Canada, I’m always impressed by the quality of most of the medical staff, and frustrated by four to five hour waits to see one of those staff members.

Okay, that’s it.

The clerks at the desk informed us that the skin specialists wasn’t in and that they’d much rather us delay our emergency until the next morning when he’d be back. We told them that we had a nine-month old with burns on his hand that were now blistering, and that we’d like to see a doctor, please. The man on the desk also sent for a bag of ice and told us to hold it (DIRECTLY!) against his hand. I made sure we wrapped it in a towel first.

When we got to see the doctor, maybe 15 minutes later, he appeared to be in his early twenties, sporting a chin beard and Crocs. He and the four or six nurses hovering around huddled and hemmed and hawed about what to do.

“Just put it on ice,” they chorused, “and come back tomorrow to see the specialist.”

The doctor told my wife a story about having a serious burn on three of his fingers. “I just kept it cool,” he said, keeping it cool. I almost punched him in his chin beard. Did this guy graduate from Phys Ed teacher college and get his paperwork swapped with some poor med school student? Wait, no, I’m pretty sure my Phys Ed teachers in high school, loathsome human beings as they were, knew not to put ice on a fucking burn. I seriously began to think that this guy might wear Crocs because he couldn’t figure out how to tie his shoelaces.

It was at this point that the group of (and I use the term loosely) medical professionals, crowed, confidently, that my son’s burn, which consisted of:

a) index finger, underside, burned and blistered up to twice its normal thickness
b) middle finger, top joint, underside, burned and blistered
c) ring finger, half of the top joint, left side, burned and blistered

was a “first degree burn”.

Deciding that a battle of wits with six unarmed foes wearing the kevlar of stupid was essentially an eternal stalemate and a waste of time, I kept a smile on my face and started to insist on a wound dressing. “We can’t keep Hammy’s hand cooled all night and keep him from sticking it in his (decidedly non-sterile mouth). You’ve got to dress the wound to protect it until we come back tomorrow morning.”

The doctor fucked off, presumably to be cool somewhere else, and one of the nurses set to being helpful with us. This woman meant well, I’m sure, and she was kind and helpful. But she put an adhesive bandage on Hammy’s index finger (burned and blistered along its whole length on the underside). At the time, I’d assumed it was some kind of special burn dressing. It was not. I insisted that she wrap Hammy’s hand in gauze to stop him from pulling off the bandage she’d applied, and she did. She tied it so expertly, that Hammy pulled it off in one clean motion not 5 minutes later. She did not offer to tie it again.IMG_4154

Finally, as we were in the waiting area, I insisted that my wife request a painkiller again, though her initial request had been turned down. I was worried about my son being in too much pain to sleep, which would only hurt his ability to heal, and our ability to keep his hand cool, as per Doctor Chinbeard’s orders.

We prevailed, or rather, they relented, and they issued a painkiller dose based on Hammy’s body weight. We accepted it gratefully and headed home.

Throughout all of this, I need to restate, that one particular nurse was very kind and understanding with us. I should also be clear that, although sorely tempted, I did not have to resort to stereotypical white-man-loud-voice-bullying that I’m sure you are all imagining me doing. Gentle insistence through my wife, who could cut my tone and word choice into something pleasant and polite, was enough. These people were there to help, and they did their best. But they were thoroughly unequipped, in training or in intellectual flexibility to deal with an injury that must be the bread-and-butter of most emergency rooms. (Also, it was interesting that none of them even bothered to check a manual or anything, they just clucked about in their ignorance.)

We’re almost back in Yokohama, so this is going to have to be a two-parter. Allow me to just add that Hammy slept soundly after returning to the hotel and receiving his painkiller. At the very least, my wife and I had the novel experience of administering our first suppository.

As my friend David Montero liked to say: “right in the hole.”

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