It all started when Gabe came over on Sunday. Well, I guess it all started when I was born into this clearly inferior body. Growing up, I mocked my younger brother for having allergies to grass, dust, cats, and I would often frolic just outside his window, rolling in the yard while petting dusty cats, just to make him mad. When I moved to Tennessee, however, all that changed, and I realized that there are many types of grass in the world, and the particular type in Nashville was trying to kill me.
Perhaps I’m being melodramatic, but anyone who knows the pain of hay fever knows that it’s nothing to sneeze at. (Rimshot.) When I got to Japan in late summer, I informed my teachers that I didn’t *usually* have allergies, having experienced them in only 1 of the 5 states in which I spent the majority of my childhood.
I even survived cherry blossom season here in Japan, and while my Japanese co-workers wore those creepy Michael Jackson masks to protect themselves from intrusive pollen, I stayed relatively comfortable. I had itchy eyes occasionally, but only when I was outside or someone was rubbing a flower directly in them. But something bloomed in the past week that absolutely floored me.
See, last Sunday, Gabe visited my apartment. He is a free spirit with a very strong presence — just the type of person I always get along with. The type of person who will find a baby wild asparagus growing in the parking lot outside my house, and unsheathe it from his pocket with a flourish as he enters my house. That’s the free spirit part. The strong presence part comes in when, apparently upset with my lackluster appreciation for his grimy Parking Lot Salad, he grabs my face and shoves the asparagus in my mouth. And you know what? It was delicious.
Anyway, on this particular trip, he also brought me a branch of a beautiful flowering dogwood that mysteriously looked like one that used to be attached to my neighbor’s tree. It looked really nice on my table, though, and I went with it. Then the sneezing began.
The next day, I described the tree to a Japanese friend who informed me that it was called “Hanamizuki.” Now, I later googled to find that she was spot on, but at the time, I thought she was just yanking my chain. You see, I recently learned the Japanese Going To The Doctor Words in my class, and Hanamizuki also translates directly to “Runny Nose Tree.” Japan is really a laugh riot.
Well, I suffered through it for a few days, telling myself it wasn’t hay fever. It was a cold. And it would go away on its own. Every morning, I would emerge from the shower feeling reborn and miraculously cured, only to step out into the harsh light of day and be suddenly able to feel individual pollen molecules striking my eyeballs with all their flowery might.
I finally grew tired of coming to school looking like I’d just watched the final scene in “Old Yeller,” but I couldn’t justify missing any classes. I found a free spot at the end of my workday, and asked if I could leave school to get this taken care of.
This set off a flurry of activity akin to what I think would happen if I just casually mentioned I’d recently lost my foot — like literally lost — and could I get some help looking for it in the parking lot. Supervisors running past, saying they thought I said I *didn’t* have allergies. Teachers wringing their hands at who had the free time to escort me. Maps were printed; translations of my symptoms were written on memos. A teacher I’d never spoken to before shoved two pills in my hands and made me promise to take them with lunch.
I hate making a big deal. One of the things I definitely won’t miss about Japan is being able to be a Big Girl and taking care of things all by myself. I really just wanted one person to tell me where the place was, and I’d wing it the rest of the way.
Well, so fast forward to 30 papers being signed and stamped to get permission to leave campus during school hours without taking a paid-vacation day (ridonkulous), and I’m out biking around town, looking for the Ear, Nose, and Throat Guy. Tears are running down my face (from the Killer Death Pollen), and I end up driving past the nondescript doctor’s office 3 times — even after stopping for directions FROM SOMEONE ON THEIR WAY INSIDE who sent me in a different direction.
Somewhere along my travels, however, I start experiencing dry mouth. I also start getting a weird dry sensation in my nose. It then occurs to me that I have broken the cardinal rule of going to the doctor. Don’t take medication for the symptoms you’re about to try and show the man! Within minutes, my nose has transformed from running like a faucet to being so painfully dry, I consider drowning myself in a nearby drainage canal to get some relief. I stop at a vending machine for some water for my Sahara mouth. I feel pitiful. How am I going to convince this guy to give me some real medicine?
I get to the office finally, fill out some paperwork, probably incorrectly, and settle into the corner. I pass the lady who told me to go 3 blocks over. I try to smile and act like I was the one who made the mistake. I take one of the only open seats next to a man and his son. Not 30 seconds later, I am overcome with another delightful side effect of the mystery meds some teacher gave me. I am sleepier than I’ve ever been, unable to keep my eyes open. I hold a book open in front of me, and try to angle hunch over like I’m reading it, as I try to take a nap. But instead of the nice, restful nap of babies, I fall into the endless loop of being just about to fall asleep, jerking awake, flailing all my limbs out, straightening up, and turning to the nice man beside me, trying to smile in a way that suggests I am not really a lunatic. Then doze off slowly and repeat.
At some point in my 2 1/2 hour wait, they turned the air conditioning off. Not because it was cold, but because this is Japan, and if the emperor tells you to stop circulating the stagnant air in a stifling room filled to the brim with sick people, by gosh, you do it. So now I’m sweating, which I didn’t think was possible after taking those insta-dehydration pills, but I’m able to nap for 30 second intervals, so whatever.
I somehow hear my name called, and drowsily shuffle into the next room, hair matted, and probably with a huge red spot on my face where I held my head up with my hand. Now I see why the place is packed. Beyond the waiting room is…one chair. One doctor, a few nurses, and a rainbow of scary equipment.
The doctor reads my note, asks me a few things, and I try to answer. He asks me how often I sneeze. I think and say, “About 10 times a day.” He furrows his brow and says, “That’s not very much.” I wonder if he thought I said “10 times in my whole life,” because, um, 10 times a day indicates some type of problem to me. But, hey, I’m a Drugs-Cure-All Westerner, so what do I know, right?
He lunges towards me with some object, and I instinctively open my mouth, but he goes for my nose. It hurts. He squints inside. He’s not happy with what he sees. Probably because it’s still excruciatingly dry. I take the medicine wrapper out of my pocket and show it to him, as if it might explain something. Then…he does the worst thing ever.
Now, I recently read a friend’s blog entry where a doctor (you may want to back away from the screen, boys) shoved a Q-tip up his, er, special parts. Now, I myself possess a completely different and diametrically opposed set of reproductive organs, so I won’t insult all men by saying I empathize with that kind of discomfort, but I think I can sympathize.
You see, this doctor apparently feels it necessary to shove a contraption so far inside my nose, I am at risk of forgetting math. And then he turns it on. Its purpose seems to be to blow air, but I can’t stress enough how much my nose did not need air blown into it. I grip the handles on my chair and try to writhe quietly. Perhaps this is an integral part of the diagnosis. Perhaps he is simply trying to dry my nose to such a point where it would crack and fall off, and he could prescribe me a new one. How I wish to be back in the waiting room, falling asleep on the shoulder of the poor person next to me.
At some point, I guess he figures it won’t get any drier, and he prescribes me a few pills, eye drops, and heavenly nasal spray. But my adventure isn’t over yet.
No, he leads me over to a sort of trough with strange contraptions and tubes, and hands me one. Now…this contraption looks suspiciously like a pipe. And not the kind Sherlock Holmes uses, either. The glass kind that smells like Otto’s jacket from the Simpsons, if you catch my drift. It has a little reservoir thing connected to all these tubes, and on one end are two prongs with holes. I am hesitant to do anything with it, for fear that I would stick it in my ear or something, only to discover it was actually his bong collection that he just wanted to show to me for Westerner street cred. But he quickly answers my wonderment by, guess what, shoving it into my nose.
Now I am confused. Is this…giving me medicine? By now, the pills I’d taken were wearing off, and my nose is returning to its normal, runny state. And, unless I am mistaken…it seems to now be pooling up in the reservoir? I think of that quote from the Ghostbuster’s movie that Peter Venkman says: “Somebody blows their nose, and you want to keep it?”
The doctor comes over to me to explain my eye drop and pill dosage. I realize I don’t know the proper social graces in this situation. Is it impolite to talk to someone while holding a glass pipe inside your nose? Should I take it away while he’s here, or am I being given some necessary medication? Should I try to answer, even though my voice will be really nasal?
I leave it in, and he wanders off. Soon, a woman sits next to me and expertly inserts another bong into her nose. I wonder how many noses this thing has been shoved into today. I wonder about their cleaning methods. I wonder, again, what the hell it’s actually doing for me…or to me.
I finally leave the clinic, medicine in tow, and bike back towards the safety of my pollenless home. When I reach my neighborhood, my eyes are watering so badly, I can only steer with one hand, while I rub them furiously with the other. But there’s a good song on my iPod, and I’m happy I’ve finally gotten my hay fever taken care of. I bike dance around the last few corners. Hey, I may be listening to loud music and unable to see, but that doesn’t mean I have to practice bike safety.


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