Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The affair of the Paper Cup ...

In April I commence a job as a part-time English instructor at the Matsue Technical College, which is a kind of combined Engineering University and High School. In order to start this job I had to complete a medical assessment, so last week I found myself fronting up to the Kobayashi clinic with a piece of paper and my electronic dictionary, intent on clinical investigation.

After an hours' wait I was shown from the waiting room into the clinic proper, where I was greeted by a cheerful nurse and a strange scene more suited to a movie about the Siege of Stalingrad than modern, peaceful Japan. A single large room lay before me within which all the main activity of the clinic was conducted in, as it were, public. Immediately in front of the entry way a small portion of the room was devoted to benches on which an array of people sat patiently waiting their turn. To my right - facing the waiting patients - was a large desk, behind which stood two more nurses and a massive clutter of books, papers and equipment. Beyond the waiting area were 6 beds, standing isolated in the middle of the room, and separated from each other by only a small mobile curtain stand, perhaps half the length of the beds themselves. Because thse curtain stands did not cover the heads or feet of the beds, i could see their two occupants' feet. Beyond these installations was a bit of empty space and then a wall covered in equipment. Doors leading off of this room led, I presumed, to the private spaces where one would be interviewed about one's private affairs.

Ah, how wrong I was. The nurse who greeted me dragged me to the bathroom area, thankfully separated by a door from the gaggle of waiting patients, handed me a paper cup, and said "stool". Then she pointed me to the men's toilets and walked out. This had me mightily confused, since it seemed a little strange to be crapping in a jar just to get a job; but I figured "when in Rome" and entered the toilet. In the manner of most toilets in small buildings in this country, the men's toilet is not actually the men's; it is the urinal, and men have to use the women's for more serious matters. I only realised halfway through the task of providing my sample that as a consequence of this arrangement there was no toilet paper. Fortunately I am neither a member of the Tory Party, nor a prized show dog, and so am remarkably unable to crap on demand for strange women. After several minutes of (I hope) refined effort, I gave up and emerged a little shamfacedly, holding my empty paper cup as evidence of my failure.

The nurses were now stationed behind their desks on the other side of the room from me, so that between me and them were interposed the (empty) beds. One of the nurses, seeing me emerge with the cup, ventured to inquire after the sucess of my endeavours. However, rather than offer up a tactful question - such as, for example, "did it go okay?" - she asked me "Did it come out?" in a loud voice which everyone in the room could hear. I answered that no, in fact, it "did not come out", thanking my lucky stars that no-one in this country ever actually refers to the subject of the sentence when they speak, but guessing that everyone knew of my situation. The nurse frowned and bustled me off to another room, wherein I was to receive a chest X-ray.

Now, during this procedure I failed to find any kind of rubbish bin, so had to carry the neglected paper cup with me. The X-ray room, unfortunately, was very cluttered and completely lacking in rubbish bins. There were two beds for X-rays to be taken on, but one of these beds was completely covered in books, papers and general stuff, as was every other spare desk in the place. I sat down at a desk next to some eye testing equipment, plonked my paper cup next to it, and proceeded to complete an eye and hearing test. After this the nurse said "wait", and disappeared, frowning at my empty cup as she left.

A minute later the X-ray specialist came in to administer my X-ray. He frowned at me, looked into my paper cup, frowned again, and then busied himself with various arcane matters connected to the X-ray machine. Once this was done he said "Here" and took my photo, then disappeared. Another nurse walked in, looked into my cup, frowned at me, and said "Do you want to have another try?"

Fair enough, I agreed to give it another try. I wandered into the women's toilets (where they have the luxury of toilet paper), spent a moment imagining I was John Major, and set to work. Sadly nothing happened, so after a few more minutes I gave up and emerged, even more shamefaced, contemplating now the prospect of having to take this paper cup home, crap in it later, and then store it in the fridge. The nurse again yelled at me from across the room "Did it come out?" to which I demurred in embarrassment. One of the other nurses asked me if it might help were I to have a drink of water? And then it occurred to me that perhaps, just perhaps, for once someone other than me had screwed up the language. So I walked over to the nurses, hauled out my electronic dictionary, and said to them "Could you write down what I am meant to do? It's a bit embarrassing, but I think I don't have the right idea."

The nurses looked at the dictionary like it was Satan's own stool sample, and refused. They chattered amongst themselves for a moment, and then another of their number wandered over and said to me "Urine".

The mystery solved. Things flowed smoothly from this point, if you will pardon the pun, and there was no more frowning into my cup. I presented the specimen proudly within moments, and was then ushered into the doctor's room where various proddings and pokings were administered. The nurses in this establishment were so innumerable that there was even one on hand to hold up my shirt while the stethoscope was employed. The doctor's room was cluttered with 3 printers, two computers, and a massive scatter of papers and rubbish (in amongst which was buried the latest mp3 player and no less than 3 external hard drives!) The doctor himself could barely see me, crouched as he was behind a pair of 21" LCD monitors while nurses scurried around simultaneously holding my shirt, gesturing to a bed, testing my urine, and standing by looking stern. There is always at least one nurse standing by looking stern.

After this the doctor pronounced me fit to work despite my incompetent sphincter, and sent me about my business. I emerged proudly clutching my certificate of healthiness, blinking in the wan wintery sun, and thinking to myself "My god! I have to go through the whole ordeal again in 2 weeks," because I do - there is another test for my admission to University. I only hope that there are no more mistakes about sample material - there is only one other emission they can mistakenly ask me to give, and it will be even more embarrassing if I am successful in that endeavour!


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