I had my annual health check today at work.
By Japanese labor law, all businesses employing more than a few people are required to provide annual health checkups to all employees. So at my job, for a few days each year, a team of doctors and nurses take over the large conference room we normally use for training exercises, new hire orientation and the weekly Monday morning sales meeting, and turn it into a small clinic. They set up stations around the room, each staffed by a doctor, with one or two of the stations with curtains drawn around them to provide some privacy.
The time slots are set up in advance; you get a few options to choose from, and then you get a mail a week beforehand telling you when to show up. I was swamped with work this week but it was easier to simply comply and go rather than try and reschedule it. So at the appointed time, I dropped what I was doing and walked in. The attitude was relaxed, but with the pace of one of those old WWII films when they’re giving assembly-line styled physicals to new draftees. The entire process takes no more than 30 minutes.
My first stop was at the reception desk, where an elderly nurse found my name on the list for that day and waited for me to hand over my two stool samples (prepared over the weekend as per the instructions), one urine sample (fresh from this morning), and my intake sheet. I had already filled out the standard questions (“Are you taking any medication?” “Are you pregnant?”), so she just took the sheet and told me to look into the eye test machine to my right on the table.
Awaiting me were a bunch of small numbered circles. The nurse asks you which direction the gap in each of the cycles is facing. For me the toughest part is that they ask you to move from one circle to another in rapid succession and I tend to get my left and right mixed up in Japanese if I have to think about the words too quickly. So occasionally I will blurt out, “Mmmm, left. No, RIGHT!” It’s tricky, even when they let me keep my glasses on, but I somehow manage to get through it.
Next I move to the ear station, which is usually a snap for me. I put in the headphones, listen to the tones and tell the man whether I hear the sound in one ear or the other. In this case it’s okay to indicate which ear by simply placing my hand on the appropriate headphone, so there’s no repeat of the embarrassment I go through during the eye test. The same guy also checks my blood pressure, with one of those automated machines that squeezes a band around your forearm and makes it feel like the blood vessels are going to pop. But it’s over in seconds and he motions me to move on.
The blood sample comes next. I do this every year and to this day I have never watched the nurse stick the needle into my arm. As they always say, there is a slight prickling sensation, and the needle is in. Once this part is done I can finally look and see the vial attached to the needle, sitting there as my blood squirts out and fills it. Then she removes the vial and attaches another one to the needle and takes more. It always amazes me how the blood stops flowing so quickly once the nurse removes the needle at the end. But it’s always over before I know it and I’m left wondering what the big deal was.
Height and weight are next, and since I weigh myself each morning after my shower, no surprises here. I know I’m a few kilos heaver than last year from the weight I gained over Christmas. I took some of it off, but I still have a couple of kilos to go.
And then next is the electro-cardiogram, with those cold cold rubber stops! It’s over in seconds, but I keep remembering when they found an aberration years ago and I had to go to get a second opinion. As it turned out, it was a false positive. Thankfully I notice a check mark on my intake sheet which I assume means all is normal.
I check my watch and realize that all this activity has only taken 15 minutes. Next, I wait in the chairs to have my moment of consultation with the head doctor, a chance I ask any private questions or address any concerns. It’s over in seconds. Do I have any questions, she asks? No, I reply. Then she asks me to lift my shirt so she can listen to my heartbeat, checks my lymph nodes, and I’m done.
Last stop: chest x-ray. This is a trailer parked right outside of our building. I go downstairs, walk out the building, then take off my shoes and climb up into the small trailer. Then I remove my shirt and stand in front of the x-ray machine while the technical fiddles with a few dials, and takes the picture. The whole process is over in 15 seconds.
And with that done. I immediately head to the convenience store on the first floor to buy a snack since I wasn’t allowed to eat anything since 11:30 but had a call around that time so couldn’t eat at all. Another checkup is behind me, and now I just have to wait for the results.