serious illness in Japan

Due to what I think might be some possible confusion or misunderstanding from my previous post, I thought I would explain the entire process of my serious illness. Though, my intent with the post was humor and slight satire and I hope it was not misconstrued. I am certainly not the kind of person who would demean anyone nor rant about things that simply are what they are. I also never assume that everyone should speak English; actually, the opposite, as I do try very hard to learn and understand Japanese and achieve fluency. My six-month illness was enough to try anyone's patience and three months of no diagnosis, not being able to work, and trying to deal with proving to my employer that I couldn't work (nearly impossible without a diagnosis) was trying.

During this process, my husband primarily helped me, as he is fluent in Japanese, and sometimes the doctors spoke English as well. My Japanese was still pretty basic, at least at the speaking/listening level (reading has always come easier to me). Sometimes a native speaker or fluent speaker who had been living in Japan a while accompanied me when my husband could not get off work (as he had to take paid leave whenever he took me to the doctor). Most of the time I felt so sick that I would not have been able to do anything on my own, even if I wanted to.

So. Shall we begin?

Mid-October: I nearly fainted at work. It happened randomly; I felt fine before it happened. All of the sudden my vision started blurring and I had to lower myself to the floor before I collapsed. I had started feeling a little light-headed and getting slight motion sickness around this time, but it wasn't severe enough to be very noticeable or affect my day-to-day activities.

I went back to work the following Monday, feeling fine, albeit a little light-headed. The next Friday, I was so weak and dizzy when I woke up that I couldn't move. My husband and I went to the doctor that afternoon, who told us I was fine and it would go away eventually.

In a sense he was right, as I felt better over the weekend, and went to work Monday. My nose, however, thought it was time to kick in with the allergies. So my nose ran continuously the entire day as I sneezed and my eyes watered constantly - as you can imagine, I couldn't wait to get home to take some allergy medicine.

That night, everything stopped up as my nose became stuffed. Perhaps it's a cold and not allergies, I thought. The next day I went to work, only to find myself feeling extremely weak again. This was during the whole influenza scare Japan had last fall, so of course, I was sent home. My temperature suddenly soared up to 100 degrees F, and we went to the doctor again to have a flu test done, just in case. The test came back negative and they sent me home, though the doctor suggested seeing a cardiologist to make sure my heart was ok. The fever gradually went down that night.

November: The following few days I just felt sick, as if a cold, so I stayed home to rest and try to recover. I went to work for a day, feeling only a little light-headed, but then the next morning I woke up and couldn't move again. My husband and I went to the hospital this time so I could have heart tests done, which included an electrocardiogram, ultrasound, and x-ray. All tests came back normal, and the cardiologist suggested that it might be stress. This was the first in a long line of stress suggestions, and my husband and I were absolutely convinced it was not stress. We had just gotten married earlier that year, had moved to a new place, and had no other obligations than work, which wasn't stressful at all. We had a great vacation for our honeymoon, and suddenly I was feeling better than I had felt the three year duration prior to that point (that's an entirely different story). I had energy again, before this illness, and felt back to my normal self. I felt happy and content, before I got sick.

The next day after seeing a cardiologist, we went to an ENT.  He did a few tests, including testing my hearing and giving me special goggles to wear to watch my eyes while they moved me around on a table. After all of his tests, he concluded nothing was wrong and that I should see a psychiatrist. Now, I had been wondering if perhaps my allergies had something to do with all this, up to the point, and was hoping the ENT would check my nasal passages and ears, but he didn't. We didn't want to cause problems, so we just left after that and decided to see another ENT.

The second ENT checked my ears, nose and throat (haha... a pun?) but he told us nothing was wrong. He also suggested stress.

A few days later, after staying at home continuously, and doing some research on doctors in the area, I went to a respiratory specialist who speaks English. After some prodding on my part, I convinced him to check my nasal passages, and he said he was surprised to see how inflamed they were. So, I was sent away, a bit happier this time, with a prescription for a anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine.  I took the medicine for four days and returned, feeling a lot better. He said to continue to allergy medication, and that the light-headedness should go away soon. (He also suggested wearing a mask to keep my nasal passages moist).

A week or so later, I still felt bad, and was on a leave of absence at this point. We returned to the first doctor, who ran a blood test and found nothing but slightly low blood sugar. (I have to eat every three hours or so, or else I get a little weak, but I still felt bad even though I was eating regularly).

That weekend, we went to visit some friends. This was a trip we had planned before I became ill and couldn't really cancel it. This was the first time I noticed a severe motion sickness. Whether in a car or train, I felt like vomiting or fainting, or both at the same time. I've never had problems with motion sickness before this illness, ever, so it was quite surprising.

December: Upon returning, I went to a new ENT (#3) who ran some tests (and seemed to have the best technology out of the three). He came highly recommended by someone who had previously worked with him in a hospital. And he was quite helpful, as he found that I had severe balance problems (done by an electronic test where I stood on a base with sensors - one minute with my eyes open and one minute with my eyes shut). From this he derived that the problem was most likely my inner ear. He prescribed a medication for vertigo (though I wasn't having vertigo symptoms at all), Vitamin B-12, and another drug that increases circulation in the body.

Unfortunately, the medicine made me every more nauseous, as by this point I became nauseous on a regular basis. After five days I felt so sick to my stomach that I stopped taking the medicine. I returned to the doctor and explained how I had felt, and he insisted that none of the medication should make me nauseous. He finally also suggested stress, and when I insisted it wasn't stress, he referred me to a neurologist at the hospital for an MRI.

I had to wait at the hospital for four hours to schedule an MRI for the following Monday. On Monday, after the MRI, the neurologist went through the scan with me and a friend. He explained (in English) that nothing was wrong with my brain or nerves or anything that was visible on the scan. I told him that my husband and I were visiting the U.S. in a few days (a trip also planned long before I became ill, and thus we had to go or else forfeit the money we paid - but we also figured I could visit my doctor). The neurologist was quite nice and helpful, and never once suggested stress. He was very supportive of me seeing my doctor in the States.

So after seeing my doctor in the States, it only took her a few minutes to figure out what was wrong. I had sent her a letter with all of the information of the previous three months so she knew what was going on and all the tests I had done. Fortunately for me, her husband had the same problem in the past, and she diagnosed me with labrynthitis. She also reassured me that it can be a serious illness, caused by a virus, and complicated by allergies. There is no way to treat it, since it is a virus, and that it can take weeks or months to completely heal and recover. She did request a blood test and a few other things to ensure it was nothing else serious. She gave me more allergy medicine to help clear up my sinuses and also prescribed me with medicine for my stomach, as apparently the constant motion sickness caused perpetual nausea or an ulcer.

Needless to say, I thanked her profusely and was so ecstatic to finally have a diagnosis. Upon returning to Japan, it took another four months to recover completely. I started feeling a little better in March, but didn't feel back to my normal self until April.

So there you have it, my story of a serious illness in Japan. Take what you will from it, but this is how it all happened for me, and someone else with a similar problem may have a very different experience. I don't think my experience was the standard, but simply believe it varies.

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