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In which I briefly (?) talk about my tinnitus and Japan's healthcare system.
So yeah, tinnitus. It's been with me for a while now. It started, very occasionally and at random times in my youth. My oldest memory of that tiny ringing in my head must have been when I was around eight or nine. I remember that it was about the time I started reading Marvel comics and I kinda wondered if maybe, somehow, it was some sort of superpower, a bit like Spider-man’s spider-sense or something.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a superpower.
It never lasted more than a few seconds back then if I remember correctly.
In my twenties, it mostly showed up after concerts and nightclubbing. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
I don't remember it coming to visit me much in my thirties nor in my early years in Japan, except for Saturday evenings, after excruciating days at the private language school where I used to work. Imagine eight hours of teaching, eight classes of about 10 kids each, pretty much no pause, and barely time to eat lunch before the next kids arrive early, all of that after four other work days that were barely less busy. I still remember these days with horror - and getting home at the end of the day, with my ears ringing and not being able to deal with any sort of sound or light for a good 30 minutes or more, and my poor two years old daughter who wanted to play with her dad whom she had waited all day long, and she couldn’t understand why I’d reject her until I got to spend that time in sensory isolation.
Don’t worry, I quit that job almost seven years ago. It would probably have killed me (I miss the kids sometimes, that’s all I miss from it). My current job is awesome and I’ll keep it as long as possible.
After quitting this insane job, tinnitus was a rare encounter. Except that it came back a few months ago with a vengeance.
Why? Not sure. General fatigue, stress, anxiety, and more: life + the neverending pandemic that fewer and fewer people seem to care about + the climate crisis that not enough people seem to care about either, and more. They will do that to you I guess.
At first, tinnitus was just “back.” However, it started to return more and more frequently - until it overstayed its welcome. Last Spring, it remained there, in my ears, for days, weeks probably.
I told my otolaryngologist about it. He tested my ears as they’ve never been tested before. He found nothing except a small hearing loss for some frequencies. A totally normal thing for people approaching their 50s according to him… OMG, I just remembered that I’ll be 50 in five months. I am not ready for this.
This summer was a bit better. The tinnitus, I mean, not the “OMG, I’ll be 50 soon.”
Well, now it is not. For the past two weeks, tinnitus has been ringing me up non-stop. As soon as I’m tired or stressed it gets louder, as in “pretty loud.” And it’s a self-sustaining thing. The louder it gets, the more tired or stressed I get from it, and the more tired or stressed I get, the louder it gets.
These past few days have been bad. I’ve even had tinnitus-induced insomnia. That’s how bad it got. Twice now, I woke up in the middle of the night for reasons, and then couldn’t fall back to sleep for hours because of that ringing in my head.
So, if it’s not the ears, it can be many other things. Probably in the brain. Some can be bad. I went to see another doctor yesterday. A general practitioner.
It went like this.
“Are you hurting?”
“No, just that near constant sound.”
“I see. OK, let’s get an MRI of your head.”
And there I went to another part of the building and into the MRI machine. I had one done in the past, only once, a long time ago, and I had forgotten how scary those things are. Even more so when five minutes earlier you had no idea that you were going to get one and had no time to get mentally ready for it. I always thought that you had to make appointments for these, probably weeks in advance. I literally just walked into the clinic and 15 minutes later, I was in the machine.
If you’ve never had an MRI before, imagine being strapped on some sort of gurney that is then pushed into a tiny tunnel, and then a bunch of magnets will rotate very loudly around you for a good 15 minutes. Even if you’re not claustrophobic, you will get claustrophobic. And the loud noises change, so as you’re not familiar with the process, you wonder why the noise is changing, is the machine breaking down or something? And as it’s a giant magnet (or many magnets, not sure, but they’re extremely powerful), there must not be a single iron-based thing in the room. What if I had something inside of me made of iron and I was not aware of it? Will it rip through my internal organs and my skin? Probably. Oh and as we’re in Japan, what if there was a major earthquake right there and then while I’m in the machine? I’d probably be stuck in it, and I’d just die. It’d take days as no one would think about getting me out. Yes, I ask myself strange questions at times, I know. Don’t judge me.
Well. I survived. There was no unknown piece of metal in my body. The machine worked the way it was supposed to work. And there was no earthquake while I was in the machine.
What about my brain?
The good news is that according to the doctor (who spoke English with me, it’s rare enough that it should be mentioned) my brain is fine: no tumor, no risk of an aneurysm or stroke in the foreseeable future. All is well.
The bad news? Well, tinnitus is basically one of the side effects of aging, and there isn’t much I can do about it, except learn to live with it.
Yes, I have already googled ways to make it more manageable. Now, I need to sort through all the results to see the ones that are more trustworthy and actually efficient.
Finally, I need to mention one last thing. The bill. Yes, the goal is to once again show my American readers a concrete example of what a country with a real universal healthcare system is like. The bill was a grand total of 7,000 yen. With the current exchange rate, it means less than $50 (but the yen is too low right now, let’s say less than $70 on a “normal” exchange rate).
Yes, I just went to the doctor’s office, no appointment. He just said “OK, let’s do an MRI” and I was in the machine minutes later. And in the end, I paid less than $70.
No, my health insurance is not special. Everyone with a regular job has more or less the same. And everyone has one. The differences between the different kinds are minimal.
I hope my American friends and all their compatriots can get that one day too (don’t you have important elections coming soon?)
Alright, I guess that’s all for today.
See you soon with something most likely completely different.
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