Thursday, September 29, 2005

Old people's stories

Recently my right ankle hurt, like the tendon had been separated from the bone there or something. It only hurt when I stretch in certain ways. Anyway, it has been a bother, so this morning, after my run around the municipal office building area, a very nice place to run, I decided to soak my feet in a foot hotspring that they have there. The town operates this little foot soaking area near the office building. They have it set up so water from a hotspring flows through a nicely appointed, 20 meter ditch. It's about knee deep.

Lots of older people from the community congregate there in the early hours to soak and talk with their friends. This morning I wished I had a tape recorder, because the conversations were great. There were about nine people there, and two of them, a woman of 95 (it came up in the conversation) and another guy I would guess to be in his 70's were talking about, what else, their health. Here is how the conversation ran.

The guy was saying that the bottoms of his feet hurt, and that he had difficulty walking. The woman said that the tendons on the top of her feet had been causing her some discomfort for some time and that she had gone in to the hospital to check it out. She had a check up and found that the problem with her feet was correctable through surgery. She agreed that she would have it done, and went through the other checkups that are required for the surgery. The day for the operation came, and when she went in, the doctor said that he was concerned that her heart would not be able to take the strain of the procedure, and he refused to do it. End of that story, and she is still in pain.

Then they started to talk about how important it is to stay healthy, but that even healthy people die. The woman mentioned one of her acquaintances, a younger woman in her sixties who was healthy, but died suddenly of some kind of cancer. She said, "There was probably cancer when we were young, but no one knew what it was. People just died, unless they went to the hospital to find out what was ailing them. But no one really did that. The hospital was just too far away. We had to walk. We didn't even have bicycles. If you're sick, you can't walk."

"You could put the old person in a 'rearcar' and take them," said that man. (a rearcar is a contraption that is like a wheelbarrow with two big bicycle tires and a long, u-shaped handle in front that one pulls rather than pushes. From the handle in the front to the end they are about 2.5 meters long. You don't see them much anymore, but I saw people, like junk collectors, use them alot when I first came to Japan. I've always thought it would be cool to travel with one. Load up all your stuff and hit the road, just walking around the country, camping where you want to.)

"Yeah, but we didn't even have a rearcar then. My mother needed treatment for tuberculosis once so we took her to the Hazu Hospital. We walked there, and she got her medicine. That was a long walk." (It sure as heck is! That hospital is not called that now, but it is about 17 kilometers, about 10 miles into Yokkaichi. Imagine walking 17 kilometers for some TB medicine.)

The man said, "People didn't live as long then as they do now. You're 95, but almost no one lived that long. 'Old people' were sixty or seventy. Almost everybody died before they were seventy. My aunt died when she was seventy, and everybody said she was old."

I thought this was a really cool conversation, all in the local dialect.

It reminds me of the 94-year-old midwife, Abo Sensei, who delivered my children. She was on TV the other day. She has seen so much, and is now witnessing a Japan where non-Japanese are becoming more and more of a common occurance . In this TV spot, the clinic got a phone call from a woman who had reached her delivery date, but had not visited a hospital. Maybe I'm wrong, but my guess is that she was an undocumented worker, and she didn't have medical coverage, or even if she did, she could not afford the fees that hospitals charge. Even with insurance, since pregnancy is not an illness, you have to pay for most of the charges, including the delivery. You get about ¥300,000 (about $3,000) of that back from the government after you have paid it once, but many hospitals charge more than that. Some nice places cost ¥500,000 for a normal birth. Abo Sensei had to turn the woman away, because of liability issues. My point is that her experience in delivering babies and dealing with people is more extensive than nearly any other professional working in any field in the world.

It was a nice morning, though I don't know how much good it did for my ankle.

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