I have for all my years working here in Tokyo avoided the company health check. I have always been a bit of a hypochondriac, so although a free comprehensive health workup is shiny to my magpie eyes, the thought of my results being known to anyone outside the doctor’s office is an abhorrent prospect. Where the results go is not entirely clear, something about a “person in charge of company health.” I place too much value on my own privacy to allow for any sliver of a lack of patient-doctor confidentiality. What the fuck, Japan. I don’t know where this comes from, but it’s not a socialized medicine thing: see other countries with similar systems. There is not only the bigger issue of whose hands your results could float into, but the lack of privacy starts from the office visit itself.
I will begin with the caveat that I’ve been to a few clinics (the breast clinic in Aoyama being my favourite all around) where things are modern, nice and neat. For the most part, however, the places I have gone don’t leave a lot to the imagination. From having to explain what ails you to the receptionist in front of the whole waiting room, to the nurse discussing the prescribed medications with you in front of the whole waiting room, to the curtain or flimsy divider that allows others to hear your consult with the doctor. I’ve grown fairly accustomed to it now, although that is more likely because I haven’t (thank god) had anything too graphic to discuss (see: me puking in an echo chamber of a bathroom off the waiting room), not because I am suddenly down with strangers hearing all my biz. I realize I have privileged, Western expectations when it comes to medicine, but there you have it.
So what has changed, you ask. I must have been to a company health check if I am writing you this postcard. Last summer one of my favourite coworkers died very suddenly and I spent the following months wondering if the same thing was going to happen to me. I also discovered what an anxiety attack was like. Cue the company health check.
As I write this, I’ve gone through two annual checks now. Companies pick and choose the full menu that employees are subjected to and while I am thankful to not have had my stomach filled with barium, I am less than thrilled that lady part checks are not included, because unless you say you are exhibiting symptoms, it can be expensive to have your cervix scraped and your ta-tas smooshed around. Even with universal insurance, you have to pay 30% out of pocket. So, instead of covering some really useful tests, the Kaisha chooses some useful ones and then some I’ve never heard of that are in the WTF-are-you-testing-for-this category. I won’t go into all the different implications of this kind of annual testing in Japan; I am not knowledgeable enough and I doubt I can articulate what I do know. It can be very good but also not so good for hypochondriacs (I never knew I should be worried about this!).
This year, I went to the clinic on the last day of the exam period, so I was lucky enough to be surrounded by 20 or so of my not-so-closest Japanese colleagues. There I was, perched on a chair thigh-to-thigh with two male Professionals, pretending we don’t know each other. For the purposes of the Kaisha’s health check menu, we are not required to wear one of those fabulous cotton gowns, but some of the Professionals got to catch a glimpse of me in a hot little beige number as I moved rooms for a chest x-ray in full view. It’s bad enough being put through the health check mill with your coworkers under florescent lighting, but add to that the awkwardness of being the only whitie, known to some only by name and seen for the first time on your way to giving a urine sample.
Speaking of which, the urine sample takes the award as the most egregious manifestation of the lack of privacy. To say nothing of the fact that I watched the nurse hand empty PAPER cups to patients that her fingers had been inside (the cup, not the person), after filling to the line, I placed my cup in the two-door cupboard to be secreted away by a nurse only to see the cupboard was full. Full of five other OPEN PAPER cups of urine the names on some of which were entirely visible to me. Well at least I know what Tanaka-san’s piss looks like for the next time he asks me to do work for him!!! Let’s just pause here to ponder the cray-fuckedness of this.
I suppose I should look at this as some kind of group-building exercise. After all, so much of society is group-focused, why not all hold hands, do a health check together, and share the results later! While grateful for (70%) universal health care and a company that pays for my prodding, the exercise of going through the annual exam in front of coworkers who may or may not be able to hear what is being said behind the closed door and may or may not have seen my fucking urine, will not be one of my most cherished memories.