My First Medical Experience – A Real Gift

COne of the very first people I met on my cancer journey was Dr. Irnest Oser.  Dr. Oser is a general practitioner and pulmonologist in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Ellie recommended that I see him and I was able to get an appointment with him for the Monday I came into the U.S. in June – only two days after my arrival.  Meeting Dr. Oser set me on the path of the “right” treatment, and I will always be grateful for the care he showed me.

I had found out about the lymphoma two days before leaving Tokyo.  I hadn’t been feeling well and was having trouble breathing. It didn’t make sense that I was in pretty good shape yet huffing and puffing on a flight of steps. It had been going on for about two weeks so I spoke with my regular physician, Dr. Thomas Lomax, an Australian who practices at our international clinic in Tokyo, who ordered a chest x-ray for me, with the idea of getting me on the right antibiotic for what he saw on the film. Thank goodness he’s thorough, because my left lung was 75% full of fluid. A CT scan just a few hours later showed that I had cancerous lymph nodes leaking fluid into my lungs. (Later Dr. Lomax confessed that he was afraid the fluid had been hiding lung cancer so he was actually pleased with the diagnosis of lymphoma – thank goodness he didn’t share that tidbit with me right away!) Cleared to fly, I barely made it to the States.  I don’t really remember the flights, but somehow the kids and I made it, and muddled through the weekend until I could get to Dr. Oser.

Ellie drove me the 20 minutes into Silver Spring and my mother flew in from Florida to join us there, also.  This was scary stuff.

When Dr. Oser walked into his office to meet me, he found me and TWO anxious mothers. (Ellie and my mom are college sorority sisters, and they joke about being my two moms!)  He sat down behind his desk across from all three of us and verbally poked and prodded me to get a medical history.  I told him everything I could think of with both Mom and Ellie filling in blanks when I faltered.  Then all four of us moved to the exam room.  Dr. Oser listened to my chest and heart and examined my belly (with its ridiculously enlarged spleen readily apparent). He told us that based on the CT report and looking at me, that he agreed I most likely had lymphoma to be confirmed by a surgical biopsy later.  He outlined what my next steps had to be  (biopsy, lung drainage, meeting an oncologist) and promised us a list of doctors to call. He then told us to go back to his office while he looked at the actual CT film, which I was carrying.

Dr. Oser stopped in the door-frame of his office and surveyed the three of us before walking in.  “You know, Aimee,” He said, “I forgot to take your blood pressure.  Why don’t you come back to the exam room for a second.  Moms, you can stay here.”

I heaved myself off of the chair – at that point I was so sick that every movement had a cost – and back across the hall and onto the exam table.  Ellie and my mom stayed put.

In the room, Dr. Oser took my elbow firmly in his hand like he was about to put a blood pressure cuff on it, but instead he leaned forward and put his forehead directly against mine.  “You’re going to be okay,” he said.  “You’re going to stay calm and get through this and everything will be okay.”

His eyes were right up to mine and I nodded.  I had to trust him. Relief suffused my body and I felt my shoulders lower with the released tension. He nodded back at me and pulled back, keeping his eyes on mine.  He did then actually take my blood pressure, which had dropped since the nurse had taken it half an hour earlier.

My first gift with my cancer was Dr. Oser.  He knew that I needed reassurance.  He knew that I needed to be momentarily separated from my two loving mothers who were as anxious as I was.  I didn’t have to say anything aloud; he just knew.  Because of the path on which he sent me that day, my oncologist, only nine days later, as I took my first chemotherapy, commented that I set a land-speed record for the time between diagnosis and treatment.  Once I had that initial appointment with Dr. Oser, everything just fell into place for me – and I started on the path to healing.  I am grateful to him and I will never forget the doctor who took the extra minute for me – forehead to forehead.

The Mani-Pedi Experience

Yesterday I got a mani/pedi (that’s a manicure and pedicure for those of you who don’t speak “girl-talk”).  In and of itself, that’s nothing remarkable, but given the fact that I am in the United States right now and not in Japan, it’s something on which I can comment.  This is just one of the myriad of things that is different between the U.S. and Japan.

Generally I don’t get mani/pedi’s in Tokyo.  There is one reason and one reason only: the cost is prohibitive.  In the past three years, I have gotten perhaps eight, total.  They have only been for special occasions or right before beach trips when I cannot stand my feet.  My saving grace has been Aya, a manicurist who caters to expats and makes house-calls.   In general, Aya charges ¥10,000 for the complete, yet basic manicure and pedicure, which equals about $114 given the exchange rate today.  She also charges about $11 for transportation costs.  This is approximately comparable to any salon cost, and you’re in the comfort of your own home.

My mani-pedi at the small salon in Laurel, Maryland, including callous removal, cost $50 including the tip. (Don’t forget – as I’ve mentioned before, there’s no tipping in Japan.  None.  None at all.)

The time consumption is different, too, though.  I was out of the salon in MD in just about an hour.  That included picking the polish and signing in and getting into the big massage/pedicure chair.  The entire process takes at least 90 minutes in Tokyo, without the time for Aya to get set up in my house.  (As an aside, Aya has been providing this in-home service for ten years at least.  She has it all down to a science, even her compact suitcase with which she travels through the city is neatly packed with her carefully folded and stored essentials.  The rest of what she needs, she borrows from her clients.)  But this is not just Aya – I have been to two different salons for mani-pedi’s.  In Japan, things take longer.  People in Japan are methodical and interested in getting things exactly right and perfect.  The hand massage is an art form, as is the foot massage.  When the manicurist massages, it’s a process that cannot be hurried.  Rapt attention is paid.  It’s a different experience.  I always feel like I’m the only person who has mattered all day, and I’m sure every customer feels that way.

On the quality of the mani-pedi, well, I’m loathe to say.  If I discuss it honestly, people will call me snobby and tell me that I’m never going to be able to move back to the U.S.  I do not get gel-nails or acrylics or silk wraps or any of the extras that can make nails hard and strong.  I just have plain ‘ol nails.  Let’s just put it this way: my polish, which is regular OPI polish, just like in any American salon, lasts up to a week in perfect condition in Japan.  I never get hangnails and I my cuticles shine.  This doesn’t happen in every salon in the U.S.  I hope it happens in yours and I would love to be proven wrong, but I’ve never had a mani/pedi in the U.S. that can rival the ones in Japan for quality and effectiveness.

If I can bear the cost – which I cannot most of the time, then the mani-pedi in Japan is the way to go.  However, that cost thing is a big barrier. Look for me to be writing more about that issue in relation to various things I’m doing while I’m in the U.S. this summer.

Japan and the U.S. are two completely different cultures and those differences are to be celebrated.  I am delighted to be in my native culture for the next two months and I’m sure that when the two months are up, I will be delighted to go home to my adopted culture as well.  Vive la difference.