Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Meetings, Matsuri Festivals and the Future - Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 8

About once a week every patient had meetings with the doctors. I never could figure out, really, what the purpose of my meetings were. There would usually be about 4 or 5 doctors sitting in a room and they would call you in. It was always a cordial affair for me but I can imagine that some of the other patients would make the meetings antagonistic.

In my case, it was always questions about how I felt and how I was doing. My answers were nearly always the same: I'm fine coupled with; when do you think I can I go home?

Sometimes they'd sit me down and ask me all sorts of questions that seemed to have nothing at all to do with my current situation. The questions were frustrating and, I realized later, that generating frustration might have the purpose of the entire line of questioning. I think, perhaps, the doctors wanted to see if you could keep your cool or how fidgety or irritable you'd get.

I could never figure out why, for example, they'd want to know if I had ever been to Italy before or if I liked pizza better than spaghetti... Who knows? Maybe it was all just small talk after all.

Besides these meetings, as I mentioned before, sometimes one or two of the doctors would sit in upon my visits with my wife. Of course, not the entire visit, just for a while and with our permission.

At the very last of these meetings, soon after they requested that my wife curtail her visits, the top doctor of the entire rehabilitation ward showed up. His name was Doctor Tanaka. I heard that he was (and probably still is) one of the most famous doctors for this sort of thing in all of Japan. Doctor Tanaka was there along with my regular doctor and a a male nurse and one of the kindly old female nurses. 

Not my doctor... But all doctors look alike.

Forgive me for not introducing my regular doctor to you until now. His name didn't seem important then, but his name was Doctor Watanabe. Doctor Watanabe was a very good doctor and a nice guy. It was his shoes that I saw the first time when I was in the cooler. It was him who was the one who first asked me if I was alright. 

It was my final meeting with the doctors, I didn't know it at the time, my wife was also was present. So, in total, there were doctors Watanabe and Tanaka, and one of the kindly old lady nurses and a male nurse sitting in as observers and my wife.

Of course, since I did not know that this was my final meeting, I didn't expect anything different from the few times we had such meetings before. I'd find out much later, long after this meeting was over, that it was very much dependent upon my wife's opinion if I were to be released or not. As I mentioned before, the doctors wanted me out of there as soon as possible. The reason being that, from their experience, they knew that the longer a person was inside of Matsuzawa hospital, the harder it was for them to reintegrate to society and become a productive member again. 

The doctors wanted me out. I think my wife wasn't too sure. Perhaps this meeting was for her more than me.

But, isn't that an amazing contradiction? You have to go to the hospital to do something about a chemical or alcohol addiction, but the longer you are there, the worse off you will be. I'm sure this created a huge dilemma for the doctors and the people who would be the guarantors for the people who were released. I mean, just how long is "long enough?"

The guarantors of patients to be released were usually spouses or parents or relatives who promised to look after the recovering addict and guaranteed to look after them and provide them with food, support and a place to sleep. It wouldn't do at all for the government to help someone through rehabilitation and spend all that public monies only to have that patient leave the hospital and become homeless or an extra burden on society. What would the purpose of the the entire affair have been for if that were the result? It was a government run institution so they had a system whereby they had a very high percentage of success... Or they had a good reason to believe that releasing you was a safe bet. Otherwise, why take the chance? You won't be raising hell and bothering society in D-41. 

The final meeting for me was a group discussion about whether to or not release me from the hospital's care and into my wife's care. My wife sat silent throughout most of the meeting. The doctor's kept asking me what I wanted and my answers were predictable; and stupid. I kept pleading for release like a little kid. I should have known that I needed to keep a level head and, whether I was or not, act competent enough to be released.

Finally, after going around for an hour, the head doctor, Doctor Tanaka seemed like he had heard enough. With an extremely serious scowl he pointed his finger straight at me and said, 

"Rogers san, if I order your release today, do you promise me that you will never, ever do any drugs again as long as you live?" 

The question caught me off guard. I wanted to jump out of my seat and yell, "Of course! Never again! You kidding me?" But, I sank back, instead, towards the back of my chair. Everyone in the room was staring right at me. I looked at them all. In my paranoia, I thought, "Is that a trick question?" From trading stocks and financial instruments, as well as being an avid reader of Hemingway and the likes, I knew that no one can predict the future. I was sure that this was, indeed, a trick question. I gathered my thoughts and slowly replied,

"Do I promise to never do drugs again?..." I stalled to find the correct answer... And the room grew dead silent. You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone stared at me. "Well," I continued, "No one knows what the future holds so I cannot say for sure. I cannot say exactly... I want to be happy though. I want to try to return to enjoying life and being with my family and loved ones again...." I paused...

In my mind and in my heart, I know that I am an excellent public speaker, but this time, I couldn't find the right words exactly. I knew that I had to show the frailty of humanity to these people or I couldn't garner their sympathy. Perhaps I wasn't ready for discharge, my head wasn't clear. I continued, repeating my last sentence...

"I want to try to return to enjoying life and being with my family and loved ones again.... But, like I said, no one knows the future. I think that if my entire family were killed in an accident tomorrow that I probably would be so depressed that I'd want to die and I'd probably start doing drugs and drinking and who knows what else? So, I'm sorry to say that, Doctor Tanaka, since no one knows what the future holds, I cannot honestly promise you that I will never do drugs again. I'm sorry." And I bowed as humbly as I could.

There was a pause and suddenly, Doctor Tanaka slapped his palm on the desk and stood up and pointed to me and said, "Release him!" and he grabbed his papers and books under his arm and then just walked out of the room without saying another word. Just like that, he was gone.

....by reason of insanity.

Inside my head, it was like one of those courtroom TV shows where everyone anxiously awaits the jury's verdict... The entire room holds their breath. When the jury stands up and announces the decision, "Not guilty!" the entire room erupts into chatter and the movement of chairs and smiles and handshakes. Only this time it wasn't a courtroom and I wasn't expecting any sort of decision like that at all. In my heart, I never expected that these sorts of decisions were even made in such a way at all. Doctor Tanaka's reaction came as a total surprise.

When Doctor Tanaka left the room, Doctor Watanabe came up to me and smiled and patted me on the shoulder. He said, "We'll get all the paperwork necessary for your wife and you will be home day after tomorrow." I couldn't believe my good fortune.

Inside myself I was jumping and screaming for joy like I had just won the lottery but on the outside I tried to act cool and not overjoyed. Nevertheless, I'm sure the happiness showed on my face. I'm also sure if I did jump up and down like an over-joyed eight year old, that might have been greatly frowned upon. I knew that I had to act like an adult and not my normal immature self.

My wife smiled at me and we hugged. She had to go meet the doctors to discuss some matters and sign some documents. She said that she'd leave money for me and that the first things she wanted me to do was buy some shoelaces and get my hair cut before I came home. I asked if I could buy some sushi and eat it on the way home and she laughed.

Later on, still a bit shell-shocked by what had transpired, I saw the kindly old woman nurse and asked her if she would talk to me for a few minutes. She agreed and I asked her why, all of a sudden, Doctor Tanaka agreed to release me at the meeting a few hours before. She told me,

"I have seen Doctor Tanaka ask that very same question to over one thousand patients before you, Rogers san, and you are only one of about two or three who ever gave the correct answer. Most times the doctor will ask that question and nearly everyone answers like a ten-year-old boy; they all swear to god that they will never ever do drugs again. But, when you stop to think about it, it is as you answered, Rogers san, no one knows what the future holds. To make a promise that you will never ever do something again is foolish and immature. Only a child would make such a promise. So many before have made that promise and they all wind up staying for another month or two or even more..." She smiled at me. 

"Thank you," I said to her. In my mind I thought about how she always did extra things for the patients like bring flowers to the ward and tend to the garden in her break time. "What a kind person this woman is..." I thought.  

The next morning, my final day at D-41 was the day of the "Matsuri" (festival). There were several young college student interns who were volunteering to help at D-41 over the time I was there and it was their duty to help out where ever possible and to make life a bit more enjoyable for the patients. 

They had received permission from the doctors to hold a small Matusuri in the fenced off D-41 garden area. I wasn't so enthused about this event because I was counting the seconds towards my discharge and that completely occupied my entire mind. Even so, each patient, yours truly included, was assigned a job. There was duties that involved making Yakitori (chicken on a stick), cooking  other sorts of festival delights, manning booths, and cooking Yakisoba. It wasn't a large affair, but just a nice time for the patients to go outside, sit under a tree, enjoy the grass and the birds singing and spend a short time remembering the wonders of freedom and how much they are missing. 

I was to help with decorations, which I did, and also to help with cooking Yakisoba. Yakisoba is noodles, mixed with vegetables and friend on a flat pan. It is a staple at all festivals all over Japan.

I've never liked it particularly. In fact, I could say that I had always hated it.

I have never cooked Yakisoba before so was very hesitant to do so. I thought it would never do for me to muck up such an important part of the festivities. I protested a bit, but when I went to the Yakisoba booth and saw two of the old timers cooking up Yakisoba, they so touched my heart. Here they were patients of this hospital with nowhere to go and no future, but they were eagerly and enthusiastically cooking the Yakisoba for everyone. I could tell by the expression on their face that they were thinking, "This is going to be the best Yakisoba ever made!"

It was the closest they could get to going to a real matsuri at a shrine....

They seemed so very happy to have, if even for a few minutes, a useful purpose in life. One of the gruffy old guys who had never even seemed to notice me before looked right at me and smiling said, "Welcome! Delicious Yakisoba! Won't you try some?" as if he were really in a real Matsuri in a real Yakisoba stand. I smiled and said, "One please!" I threw them a ¥100 coin and had some Yakisoba. It was the best Yakisoba I had ever eaten in my life.

Since that day, I have come to enjoy Yakisoba. I will never forget the face of that old guy giving his all for that one moment of enjoyment for everyone. I hope he is doing well.    

I would be out of D-41 the next morning. I could hardly wait. Oddly enough, though, I wasn't even out of D-41 and was already beginning to miss the place.

(Part 8 of this series is here: Discharge and Becoming Like Keith Richards - Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 9  http://bit.ly/ytIi68)


Anonymous said...

i'm kinda surprised that they didn't drill that into all patients; once an addict, always an addict. relapse will follow you to the day you die.

Anonymous said...

WOW! Is there an epilogue to this story a la Animal House? What ever happened to...?

mikeintokyorogers said...

Anonymous 2... Yes, but, I fear that it is not a happy ending for everyone excepting me...

Andrew Joseph said...

Honesty is the best policy. Strange that the doctor would believe that. Admirable, but strange.
Dude... yakisoba is awesome! What are you crazy? I mean, you have to go to a nuthouse to start liking it? I mean, I only had to go to Japan.... ohhhhh....