True Life: I spent the night in the ER in Tokyo, Japan

It is 8:30 PM, on our last night in Japan. We decided to spend it by easting our hearts out... Well, actually, a chicken heart on a stick at this amazing Yakitori restaurant down the street from our hotel, in the Asakusa Neighborhood. All of the sudden, the restaurant felt super smoky, so I decided to get some fresh air outside. But when I walked back in, I didn’t feel any better, and that’s when my partner noticed the hives all over my face and neck...dun dun dun - Anaphylaxis!

We tried to explain to the chef/owner that I needed to go to the hospital, but with his very limited English and our non-existent Japanese, all he could see was two Americans frantically trying to ditch their second skewer, out of seven. He had us pay the full-price of the meal, not understanding what was going on as I held my throat. We didn’t think or have time to argue, or use Google Translate. So we paid up and ran as quickly as possible back to the hotel, which was luckily only a few blocks away. By the time we got in, my throat was terribly constricted, and we stabbed my leg with the EpiPen just in time.

We headed downstairs once I was able to catch my breath, and the concierge staff was quite concerned. They originally had recommended the yakitori restaurant and felt like it was their fault. I assured them it wasn't. The food was delicious, and this is an unfortunate byproduct of my various food allergies and MCAS. We asked where the nearest hospital was, and were told just five minutes away… the problem is that hospital only takes Japanese nationals, and no foreigners. Weeellllp. I almost wish they hadn’t told us about that hospital, because the next nearest hospital that would admit foreigners was 45 minutes away... by taxi. The concierge called us a taxi and we hopped in right away and headed there. En route, I was trying to research what the process might look like ('Going to the ER in Japan as an American'). What will the hospital be like, and how much it might cost?  There was nothing. Guess I was figuring it out IRL. What fun!

Turns out, the hospitals in Japan are SUPER nice, and a lot cleaner than they are in the USA (no surprise). When we signed in, the guy working behind the registration desk was half Japanese, and grew up in the USA. He happily translated for me. He mentioned that US insurance isn’t accepted, and I would have to pay cash or credit card (wish I had purchased travel insurance). We waited for about half-an-hour before I was triaged, and another hour-and-a-half before I was taken in to be seen by the doctor. The doctor was sweet, but appeared to be quite anxious, visibly shaking. Presumably because English isn’t his first language. At least he wasn’t my surgeon! Sorry. You got to find humor in everything. He gave me IV fluids and antihistamines. They observed me for another two hours to ensure I didn’t have any more attacks. The doctor then recommended that I change my flight, as you should wait 24 hours after anaphylaxis before traveling on plane. I explained it wasn’t an option, so he gave me another prescription for two EpiPens and sent me on my way.

Upon discharge, we paid $250 for the services rendered and I picked up my medication from the pharmacy in the hospital (also $250), which took us another half hour. The total cost (not including the taxi rides… woof) for the ER and my new prescriptions, without medical insurance was only a whopping $500. Being an American, this is RIDICULOUSLY cheap. I once had to pay $5,000 for an ER visit in the USA, because I hadn’t reached my deductible yet. An added bonus? My US insurance later reimbursed me part of the visit. What caused the fiasco? Probably the shishieto pepper that came with our first set of skewers, but who knows.

Point is. It’s not the end of the world if you end up in the ER in Japan. In fact, I am thankful their health care system is so well structured, even for foreigners.

Be safe, and as always,

Buen Camino! 


P.S. Even EpiPens in Japan are kawaii