In 2001 the same year Stanley Kubrick predicted man would evolve to a higher plain my partner and I were embarking on our own odysseys. We arrived in Kagoshima in Southern Japan. We had decided to take part in an exchange programme.

Not really knowing what to expect we were both excited and nervous upon arrival at the airport on a steamy August afternoon. My partner was greeted by a movie star poster size picture of herself at the airport. I was simply struck by the size of the palm trees and the wall of humidity waiting for us outside the entrance of the airport.

Around an hour and a half after leaving Kagoshima airport travelling in a Tarago (better known as a van used by touring rock bands) we arrived at a small coastal village. After exchanging a mixture of greetings, handshakes, some awkward bows and a negotiation about a television which I didn’t fully understand we said goodbye for the day to our new Japanese workmates.

When my partner and I stepped out onto the balcony on this sweltering 35 degree day we saw a few tanned white singlet wearing old men sitting about. They were probably discussing the day’s fishing catch or catching up with the latest baseball results. But what really excited us at this exact moment was our new 180 degree view of the harbour the water stretching across the bay for well over 10 kilometres. My predecessor had told me about a surprise. It now dawned on me that this was the surprise.

After a few months of travelling to various schools each day and mostly listening to the Japanese English teachers translating for the students our routine took a sudden turn down a less familiar path.

One evening after riding home from a martial arts class I came home to find my partner in bed with a fever and pains in her side. After an hour or so of trying different methods to contain the fever we decided to go to the hospital.

The only problem was we didn’t know where to find one. Our patchy Japanese and lack of knowledge of the local health care system didn’t help either. We decided to try and track down my partner’s supervisor. Luckily after a few moments there was a voice at the other end of the phone.
“Hello its Nishikawa.”
“Mr Nishikawa Jenny’s sick.” I said in a serious tone.
“Sorry,” I heard him reply amongst a sea of voices and music.
“Jenny’s sick.”
“Oh! Really?”
“Yes, she has a really high fever I think she needs to go to hospital”
“Ok, I’ll be over in a few minutes.”
I was surprised by his quick response. Perhaps we’d saved him from an incredibly dull office party. The type where there are long tedious speeches while everyone awaits the first toast so they can get stuck into the free booze.

As promised about five minutes later Mr Nishikawa arrived. He promptly surveyed the situation.
“Let’s go to the hospital.”

The fact that it was about 8 o’clock at night in a small coastal town meant that the hospital’s highly sterilised corridors were quite empty. We waited only four to five minutes before a doctor appeared. A look of surprise met us when the doctor turned to see his next patient. “This way please” he said in soft Japanese.

Mr Nishikawa followed us into the room to act as best he could as our translator. After some prodding and probing the doctor decided. “We’ll do some tests tomorrow. You’ll have to stay overnight.”

I was dropped off at the apartment and told to return to the hospital the following day. Even though we had been given two different places to live in it was the first night alone for either of us since our arrival.

The following morning I called the high school I was supposed to teach at that day. “Mr Ono I won’t be coming to school today my girlfriend is in hospital. I am going to visit her and help translate for her.” Mr Ono agreed but seemed a little puzzled. I later found out that people in Japan often go to the hospital to see a doctor even if they just have a common cold.

I also found out at a much later date that this particular school thought that I’d met Jenny since arriving in Japan. They believed that Jenny was an Indonesian woman who worked in the local strip bar. The rumours must have been flying around the staff room “Did you hear David met his girlfriend at the strip bar?” In the meantime I remained blissfully unaware of my after hours life.

After talking to Mr Ono I headed to the hospital on my bright yellow mountain bike.
“Jenny, how do you feel?” I asked.
“Not to good! They say I may have to stay for five days so they can keep an eye on my temperature.”
“Five days!” I said as a doctor entered the room.
“Time for your tests,” the doctor said gesturing for Jenny to follow him. “You can come in too.” He said nodding in my direction.
I accompanied Jenny into the room to help translate. I was soon rendered unworthy by the doctor and quickly escorted from the room by the nurse. After a tense wait, some tests and an x-ray Jenny was diagnosed with pneumonia and told her horror she would have to spend at least a week in the hospital.
“I might not be able to travel to Thailand for Christmas!”

Jenny’s stay in hospital was often boring and filled with discomfort as she spent around 4-5 hours a day with drips stuck in her arm. The upside was an amazing variety of people came
to visit her and she ended up with enough food (mostly from Japanese friends and colleagues) to feed a family of five for a week. Being in her mid twenties and foreign was a novelty in a hospital where the average age was 65.

One of the biggest reliefs of the whole ordeal was that on leaving hospital Jenny was informed that her insurance would cover about 99% of the costs of her 10 day stay. What an ordeal! What a relief!

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