Friday, February 3, 2012

Everyone is Your Teacher: Out of the Mouths of Babes Comes Great Wisdom - Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 5

(Part four of this series is here: (Mr. Cool, Chocolate Addictions and a Paradox of Insanity in Today's World - Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 4)

"He who doesn't know says he does; he who does know says he doesn't." - Zen Buddhist saying 

Arguably, the origin of the title of this post, "Out of the mouths of babes comes great wisdom," can be traced back to the bible in Matthew 21:16: "God ordains strength out of the mouths of babes and sucklings." There are several old sayings that are similar to this one. My favorite - that is also quite well known - probably is, "Fools and madmen speak the truth." 

This old proverb implies that since it is "Fools and madmen" speaking the truth, then most ordinary folks don't. I'd agree. In spite of it not seeming that way, the people inside of Matsuzawa hospital were forced to see and live the truth. 
On the outside world, people can hide their true feelings and live behinds masks in plastic houses in plastic neighborhoods going to plastic jobs and it is even considered "normal" to act like the plastic person you are not.  
This is what amuses, frustrates and causes me great wonderment about most people; it seems to me that most people live a life behind all these perceptions that they want to create for other people (most of whom they don't care about nor will ever meet); they live such a display of masks that they rarely ever show others their true self. (I think this is one reason why divorce is so prevalent today, but that is a topic for another post.)

This topic is so wide and vast that I could write for weeks on it, but that is not my purpose here today. Today, I'd like to teach you about lessons I learned in the most unexpected places and from the most unexpected people.
I had written a long dissertation about debates I often see that are tossed my way from people who are totally confused and continually asking the wrong questions. It seems to me that a terrible symptom of our current economic, social and political problems is that far too many people have an opinion on something that they haven't a clue as to what they are talking about. God gave us two ears and one mouth, but too many will gladly use that mouth at 50 times the rate of the use of ears. Oh, if just more people would study and read books! 
In my time at Matsuzawa hospital, there were all sorts of people who were patients in D-41. I suppose you could call them patients or you could call them "inmates." I figured the ones who were suffering from some kind of psychosis were patients, the ones suffering from some kind of addiction were inmates... But, I guess that's arguable since everyone, inside or outside of the hospital is suffering from some degree of psychosis. It's just that some people are able to hide or control theirs better than others. As psychologist Dr. C. George Boeree wrote in "Personality Disorders":
"Personality disorders are great examples of how mental illness is usually a matter of degree, rather than an either/or situation. At what point, for example, do you go from saying someone is creative to saying they are eccentric to saying they are "crazy?"  The line is really impossible to draw."
There isn't a person that you or I know who isn't mentioned in the above list of Personality Disorders.
All of these people, with all of their disorders... Call them patients, inmates, normal people or whatever the term, they are all teachers of a sort....

Even though the days went by at an excruciatingly slow pace, there was a wide variety of all sorts of extremely interesting people at D-41. Besides the already mentioned, Mr. Halloween and Mr. Cool, some notables was my room-mate (whose name escapes me) who seemed like your ordinary everyday average 30-some-year-old Japanese guy. I couldn't see anything wrong with him in the least and expected, at any moment, for him to get up and walk out of the hospital forever. The only thing he did do that I thought was a waste of time was that he slept just about all day... But, then again, most everyday average 30-some-year-old Japanese guys that I know would do the same the first chance they got.

There was also a Buddhist priest in the hospital who seemed to have nothing in the world wrong with him either. He often spent time by himself deep in reading and his studies. Sometimes I'd talk with him and ask for his advice and wisdom of which he was always kind enough to dispense to me. Sometimes we even played Shogi together (Japanese Chess). Not wanting to be impudent nor to seem disrespectful, I never inquired the reason for his being there, but did ask the doctor once. The doctor said, "Even if he seems to have no problems at all... He has a very serious one that he cannot seem to control, Mike." And that was all the explanation I was to receive. The priest seemed like a very nice man to me but the other patients seemed like they didn't like him or want to associate with him at all. That struck me as strange. "Perhaps, since he was a man of the cloth, the other patients were ashamed of themselves?" I wondered.
On the other end of the religious spectrum was a Japanese Catholic guy who became my friend. His name was Maki. Maki always carried his rosary beads and prayed constantly. That didn't bother me because people practicing their religions, whatever they may be, have never really bothered me. Of course, if they start sacrificing cattle that might be another story (if they sacrifice naked young virgins, I might hang out to watch the show - as long as it is just really "a show.") Maki was a nice guy but had to be one of the most nervous and incessantly fidgety people I have ever seen. He could not sit for more than a few minutes in one place before he'd have to get up and move somewhere else. It got irritating after a while when he'd ask that we sit in the lounge then a minute later want to go sit in the cafeteria (for no apparent reason) then want to go sit in a different place or in his room to study the bible.
I'd find out later that Maki was a hard core abuser of pain killers which, while not usually reported in the mainstream media, is one of the most abused class of drugs in the world. Not only that, they are over the counter medications! Pain killer dependence and pain killer addiction. How many people are abusing pain killers? Well, you definitely know someone who is. In the USA today, pain killer abuse is second only to marijuana use for illicit drugs. So, in Maki's case, if he wasn't mollified on pain killers he was like the lit fuse on a firecracker: sparking every which way about to go off.
Generally, though, for me, whenever I would be biting my nails in frustration and climbing the walls (which was all the time); when my entire being was focused on one thing: Freedom! That's when I'd search out the priest. I'd often ask him for some wisdom about finding some peace and how to relax more in that place that I was beginning to consider more like a prison than a hospital. 

One day, the priest and I sat together at the window looking out over the enclosed grounds. I came to ask for help in controlling the monster that was exploding for release inside of me. He looked at me and asked me why I was there at D-41.
"Because I was a drug addict, that's why!" I answered.

"No. Not that" He said, "I mean in this place, with these people. Why are you here with these people?"

"I don't know! That's why I'm asking you! Why am I here? How did I get here?" I pleaded in frustration. We went around in this line of questioning but when it became apparent to him that I wasn't the brightest bulb in the place, he volunteered the answers.
"You are here to learn. You are here because all of these people are your teachers," He calmly said.
"These people!? These people are my teachers!?" I protested. I thought that was absurd! "These people are all crazy. They have nothing to teach me! What could I possibly have to learn from a room full of crazy people?" I insisted in a not too subtle, yet extremely derogatory-towards-my-peers manner. I was beginning to think this priest was just as nutty as the rest of them were.

Just then, as if on cue for a TV drama, one of the other patients, who was in the hospital for some sort of substance abuse, started raising a commotion and arguing loudly and quite abusively with one of the kindly older lady nurses. This particular patient was a guy who I thought was rather distasteful and was quite disliked by all the other patients. I never really got close too to him because he was loud and rude to everyone he spoke to and, when he talked, he seemed to intentionally spit on people at the same time. Yuck! I didn't need that! 
He was arguing with the nurse. He was saying, "I'm not going to do it! I'm not going to do it!" Over and over this went. What had transpired was that the nurse was trying to get him to brush his teeth. She was telling him that he had to brush his teeth because he hadn't brushed his teeth "in two weeks!" It was probably true. It was the nurses job to keep track of what people were doing and keep a log on their behavior. I'm sure if one patient was uncooperative and failed to do something like brushing teeth, they'd know all about it... They'd write it down and, if the situation continued without respite, they do something to rectify it. In spite of the nurse insisting that he brush his teeth, he insisted that he wouldn't and started cursing her so loudly and waving his arms like he was going to strike her and making such a commotion that everyone in D-41 could hear. 
That was mistake.

Soon several of the male nurses came running along as backup to the woman nurse. I could see the patient's face clearly from where I was sitting because they were just about 10 meters away from me. He had glasses on that were as thick as Coca-Cola bottles and he looked a horrendous mess. His hair was everywhere and even his clothes looked like he hadn't changed in weeks. His mouth was so overloaded with debris it looked like it was a backed up garbage disposal! His mouth looked like the mouth of that monster from the movie, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," you know, moss and weeds hanging out if it? It looked so bad in there that if he didn't do something about cleaning that sewage area, life would have probably started evolving out of there.
Well, this little "Battle of Wills" kept going back and forth; the nurse insisting that he brush his teeth and the patient becoming even more obstinate in his refusal to do so; especially since he was being ordered to do so! Finally, with heavy reinforcements to back her up, the lady nurse said, "If you don't brush your teeth by yourself, we are going to brush them for you!" (Or she might have said, "We'll make you brush them" but that doesn't seem like something a Japanese would say so my memory fails me here.) That made the man angry and suddenly he started throwing punches at the nurses and kicking and fighting with them.

Oh, no! Not a good way to make friends and influence people!

Next thing you know there was a massive commotion! The man was screaming and trying to break free as four male nurses were doing their best to restrain him without hurting him (it wouldn't do to injure the patients). A second later there were two more nurses running up. If this guy kept it up at that rate, he was "...heading for a nice long restful vacation at the cooler!" I thought to myself. After much rigmarole and screaming, kicking and slapping, the nurses wrestled him to the ground. There they began to forcefully brush his teeth all the while he was screaming bloody murder through a mouth full of Crest toothpaste. The kindly old lady nurse stood there smiling and watching over the entire episode with a "Serves you right, Mr. Whatever-his-name-was!" smug look on her face.
Soon enough, the man's teeth were brushed and dental plaque had been dealt a devastating blow for another day.

A soon as "Mr. Act Like a 5-Year-Old Brat" realized he was beaten, he relented and stopped fighting back against the onslaught of males nurses. Then the rest of the chimpanzees in the zoo all soon began to lose interest in the show. Soon, we all returned back to whatever it was that we were doing to pass the time away before the fight had started. Our moment of entertainment over.
The priest and I stopped looking too. I took this little vignette as proof that what I was saying was gospel truth and that what the priest was saying was just some platonic feel-good nonsense that is neither here nor there and isn't relevant to the situation at hand. I smirked to the priest. "See? I told you. What could I possibly have to learn from these people?"

The priest shook his head and repeated; "Whether you wish to see it or not, everyone here has something important to teach you."

This time I scoffed and pointed to the guy getting his teeth brushed, "What could that stupid fool possibly have to teach me?" I triumphantly questioned.

The priest said, "There are those here who are teaching you how to be patient. There are those here teaching you how to better yourself. There are those here teaching you how to make friends... Him? He is one of the most excellent teachers of all. For he is teaching you the best way how not to get out of here!"

It was like I had been stuck by a bolt of lightening right between the eyes! That crazy old guy who wouldn't brush his teeth was teaching everyone the best way not to get out of that place. I couldn't believe it. The guy I thought who was the most useless and inept excuse for humanity at all of D-41; the guy who I held in total disdain and had zero respect for; the guy everyone hated - was the best teacher there! He taught me one of the greatest lessons in life: That everyone can teach you something! And he did it all within a few minutes.

It was an epiphany for me; "Out of the mouths of babes..." I thought. 

The priest was completely and totally right.

After that lesson with the priest, I don't really remember seeing him too much. And I did, of course, look for him. It seemed he wanted time alone, though. I did see him twice in the cafeteria off by himself reading some religious books but he seemed deep into study so I didn't want to disturb him. I'd never see him again after that and don't know what happened to him.

Even though I never saw him again, I heard about him... 

One day, a week or two later, there was a ruckus in the cafeteria area. Several of the patients were upset and they had demanded a meeting with the doctors. It seems that these sorts of meetings are a sort of "group style consulting" meeting so I was also summoned to attend. I figured that it might be a good chance for me to show the doctors that I could hold a conversation and a logical train of thought and that, maybe, one of them would hear my brilliant repartee and think to himself, "Wait a minute! That Rogers guy shouldn't even be in here!" and I'd be out the door quicker than you could say "Express ticket to Siam!"

At the meeting, there were several extremely pissed off patients who were angry that someone had been sneaking into the cafeteria at night and stealing other people's natto (fermented beans) and eating them.


Now, if you've never been to Japan, you won't know what natto is. But, for 99.9% of all westerners, it is disgustingly putrefied fermented soy beans. It smells bad and it is all gooey like phlegm. I think a close approximation for most westerners is that natto looks, smells and tastes like baby sh*t....Even lots of Japanese people won't eat the stuff. I know few foreigners who will. I like it but it took me years to finally acquire a taste for it. Most people from the west will experience a pleasant gagging reflex when tasting natto for the first time. Japanese almost always eat natto with rice (this is an important point). As I said, natto is sticky, stinky and gooey so you definitely need chopsticks to tackle this stuff. Handle with care.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Someone had been waking up in the middle of the night and sneaking into the cafeteria area and raiding the communal refrigerator and stealing other people's natto. From the sound of it, this has been going on a long time and the patients wanted action to be taken. 

The leaders of the vigilante patients group seemed like they'd probably prefer a hanging or a severe beating for the perpetrator of this heinous crime, but their demands had been softened to sending the culprit into the cooler for a week or two.

It was like a scene from Munity on the Bounty meets the doctor Quincy show! One one hand, a ragged group of rabblerousers were demanding the head of the scoundrel who was stealing their booty, on the other hand, the men in the white suits were observing and jotting down notes about the demands (and I imagine behavior) of the protesters.

Suddenly, out of the blue, one of the doctors stood up, pointed to me and said, "Why don't we ask Rogers san what he thinks?"

I froze. "Me? Surely they don't suspect that I was the one stealing the natto!... Of course, not!" I thought. "Maybe they do know about the spoons!?"... I regained my composure and tried to do my best courtroom lawyer imitation. I wasn't even sure if I understood the entire story as the whole thing seemed just too bizarre to me. I started asking questions. At first I thought that the patients didn't know who the culprit was and wanted the doctors to do a gestapo style search (ala what I feared they were going to do with the missing spoons that I had returned. Whew!) But then the angry patients told me that they knew who the culprit was. They knew exactly who it was! And they said that it had been going on a very long time.

I tried to gage the mood of the doctors and was relieved that I could see that they weren't too keen on metting out punishment to anyone for stealing natto. I mean, we're already in a hospital for crazy people! What are they going to do that's worse to the guy? I asked the patients how it was possible that they knew who the culprit was? They grew angry with me and said,

"We know. Everyone knows! The doctors and the nurses know! He has to go by the nurses station every night to get to the cafeteria." The leader shouted.

I thought, "Whew! At least they didn't suspect me!" (Nah, I have no paranoia!)

He continued, "The doctors and nurses all know!" With that at least a dozen of them started shouting things like, "We know!" "Send him to the cooler!" "It's not the first time!" "He's a crook!"

That I was asking these guys lots of questions was not gaining me any popularity points with them, I could tell, but I wasn't concerned with what the "peanut gallery" thought. I was only concerned with what the doctors thought. I said,

"So, this guy wakes in the middle of the night and sneaks into the cafeteria and opens the fridge and eats someone's natto, right?"

"Yes!" Angrily came the answer from the group's leader.

"But, the cafeteria is closed at night. There is no rice. There's no soy sauce, no chopsticks or anything. How does he eat it?"

"Straight from the container with his fingers!" Came the reply with an exasperated ("you dumb foreigner!" tone added for effect). The rabble began grumbling loudly again.

"Aha!" I had them there. The way I see it is that anyone who wakes up in the middle of the night, sneaks past the nurses station in their pajamas to steal someone else's natto, then eats that natto straight from the container with their fingers must be nuts! (Ice cream? Yes. Natto? No!) I almost wanted to say, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury...." but I didn't. I said to them and the doctors, "So this guy wakes up in the middle of the night and sneaks into the cafeteria and, without any rice or soy sauce, no bowl or no chopsticks, he shovels natto (a bunch of gooey slime) into his mouth and then goes back to bed..."

Suddenly they interrupted me, "And he's been doing it almost every night for over two months now!" 

I continued, "...Okay, and he's been doing this for over two months now and you guys want the doctors to put him in the cooler for this?"

"Yes!" Came the screams and shouts. It was almost like a scene from a movie about the Salem Witch Trials; the case would be going on and the peasants are yelling, "Burn her!" "She's a witch burn her!"

They quieted down and I said, 

"Look, this is a hospital. This guy is sick. I'm sick. You're sick. We're all sick here. That's why we're here. I don't think that it is good to give such punishment out like the cooler for something like this. The cooler is for violence or really bad things and breaking the rules. That a guy is a thief and has kleptomania that he cannot control is no reason to throw him in the cooler." I continued, "...For all we know, the reason he is in the hospital in the first place is this sort of thing."

The other patients got angry at me for saying this and then one of the doctors interrupted. He said,

"Rogers san is right. We cannot be putting patients into the cooler for such minor infractions. You patients just have to be more careful with your items from now on."

I was glad the doctor agreed with me. Of course, I think it makes complete sense that I was right. There's a big difference between justice and revenge. I think these gentlemen were out for revenge. And, I wonder just how sure they could be that the person they suspected really did steal all the natto.

A few days later, I would talk to the doctor again and tell him that, once again, I thought that I had demonstrated that I should not be in that hospital. Actually, he said he already knew that but there was paperwork to do and that he wanted to release me as soon as possible and he asked me to be patient.

I also asked him, "Doc, by the way, the other patients said they thought you doctors and nurses knew for sure who was stealing the natto. Is that true?"

He responded in the affirmative.

"Who?" I asked.

"The priest," he said.

(The next part to this series is here: Teenage Jesus Pours Vodka on Cornflakes & Listens to Metallica! He Really Does! - Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 6 

1 comment:

Andrew Joseph said...

The priest. Ha! That's beautiful.
Look, Mike... I am one of those rare foreigners who can not only eat natto, but thinks it's pretty damn tasty. I even buy it here in Toronto to eat over a bed of rice with some soy and mustard. Oishi desu!
Dajobu-da! Watashi-wa chotto baka desu.
Nuts even, eh?
Look... the best way to tell if someone has eaten natto is to smell their breath. Rotting fermented soybeans. Even brushing the teeth may not get rid if the smell. I have to gargle with mouth wash if I ever want to get any lady action later that month.
Still... the prist. Bwa-ha-ha-ha! He helped you get out one way or the other.