Sunday, February 16, 2014

Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 1 (Life in the Cooler) Upon Arrival to Rehab Everyone Must Detox in the Feared Cooler

Today's blog post is the first in a series of articles about events that happened over 20 years ago; my time in drug rehabilitation in Japan. Today will be my first day - well, first few days. I want to write down my experiences for the five weeks total I was in rehab. 

Tokyo Skyline (photo by James F. Setz)

I entered rehab because of a serious addiction to speed. My daughter had just recovered from a two year + fight against cancer and it was a victory for me. During that time, not only was I paying well over $5000 a month for hospital bills (private hospital and my insurance company wouldn't pay for that), I had to support two other daughters by holding down several jobs at once. I look back now and do not know how I managed it all. I certainly could not do it again. The hardest part to admit about all this is that I was a speed addict. People think that speed addicts do that drug for fun; well, it may be fun at first but it soon becomes a habit like coffee or cigarettes. Towards the end of my ordeal, I was doing about $2000 a week in speed. 

I didn't do the speed to get high. If I didn't do the speed, I'd fall asleep. I had gotten to the point whereby, if I didn't do any speed, I couldn't just function normally again. What a miserable existence it was. 

Usually, drug rehab in Japan is, at the least, a three to six month ordeal. Many people are there for a year or two. Some people are in there for many years. There were two guys in the hospital that I was in that had been there since they were 16. They were 66 when I was there. Why they were there for so long is that, in Japan, if someone won't agree to be your guarantor and look  out for you after your release, then the state won't let you go. These guys had probably caused their families so much misery that no one wanted to see them again. They were guests of the state for more than 50 years. If they haven't died, they are still there.

There were many other people who had been in an out several times. One guy, who I called, "Mister Cool," told me that he had been admitted, released and readmitted a total of nine times. I'm sure he isn't the record holder either. Mister Cool was very cool, calm and collected. Everyone else was going crazy and climbing the walls to get out of that place, but not Mister Cool. He took it all in stride. I asked him if he wasn't anxious to get out of the hospital. He told me that he was. But he also added, "What's the point of rushing to get out of here? In no time, you're just going to wind up back inside."

I was in and out in five weeks. That seems short but when I was in, it seemed like an eternity. That I got in and out so quickly was because the doctors deemed that I wasn't so bad (I thought I was and I thought they were crazy) and, the longer one stays in rehab, the more difficult it is to return to society as a productive member. So the doctors wanted me out of there as soon as possible. Once in, I wanted out of there immediately and wondered why in the hell I ever volunteered to go in in the first place.  

I would have written down my experiences at that time but I was too messed up and couldn't see any future past the end of my nose. The only future I was looking forward to was my wife visiting in the hospital and bringing me chocolates everyday (former drug abusers usually get addicted to chocolate as chocolate gives a Dopamine rush like drugs do); eating food at the hospital cafeteria everyday and getting the hell outta that place. 

At that time, I was a proud new student of life in the most famous drug rehab hospital in all of Japan: Matsuzawa Hospital. In fact, Matsuzawa Hospital was the most famous drug rehab center in all of Asia. It was said that if you went to Matsuzawa and "graduated" (meaning were released back into society - never to return) that was the same and just as difficult as getting into Japan's prestigious Tokyo University and graduating.

There are lots of "funny" things about Matsuzawa. To me, the funniest part of Matsuzawa Hospital is that they put people who were recovering drug and alcohol patients into the same wards as people who were patients due to having mental disorders such as schizophrenia and the like or being mentally disturbed (uh, everyone is mentally disturbed to a certain level). Me? I was a former druggie about to go straight. I was looking forward to it. Why was I looking forward to it? Because I had voluntarily admitted myself to this madhouse. I was sick of my life. I knew that I only had three choices: Go to prison, die, or go to drug rehab. Being a coward, I took what seemed the easiest route. When I later told the other patients in my ward that I had volunteered to enter drug rehab, they all thought that, surely, I must be the craziest one in the entire insane asylum.

I don't know about today, but in Japan at that time, if you voluntarily entered into drug rehab, unlike the USA, you don't leave until the doctor says it is OK. I didn't really understand that when I went in.

When I was admitted into the hospital, I had no clue as to what to expect. I was asked to lay on a stretcher. The next thing I knew was I was being strapped in. I didn't fight it. I thought strapping people to a stretcher was for safety as, "Maybe they are going to carry me and I don't want them dropping me!" The next thing I knew is the doctor pulled out this massive syringe and was about to give me an injection that looked to be the size of a can of Coke.

The doctor began injecting the liquid into my arm. 

"Ha!" I laughed. I knew I was tougher than this. I was a hard core druggie and I was a foreigner. My body size was much larger than these puny Japanese! "This pharmaceutical grade stuff is for woosies! I've been doing the best!" I thought... 

I said to the doctor with a laugh, "Doc, you're going to need stronger stuff... That's not going to work on me, my friend!" The doctor just smiled at me and nodded in agreement as he continued injecting me....

I was determined to stay conscious. I repeated to the doctor, "I'm............ made of..... much tougher..... stuff...than... ZZZZZZ.... zzzzzzz >snork!<... zzzzzzzz......."

Out like a light. Off to baby bumpy nigh-nigh land....

As I said, I would have written these experiences down on paper and pencil when I was first admitted but I was too screwed up and I think they didn't allow people to have writing materials (for reasons that might become obvious later). Perhaps writing materials were forbidden because people would have figured out a way to stab themselves or someone else with the pencil or maybe they'd commit suicide by hanging with a pad and pencil? Or maybe they would have been slipping notes under the nurses' station window that said stuff like, "Get me outta here!" or "How about calling out for a delivery of a quart of Jack Daniels, eh, sugar tits?"

When one first goes into rehab, they are put into "the cooler." The cooler is like what you see in these World War II movies; Allied soldiers captured by the Germans who make trouble at the prisoner of war camps are sent to detention in "za kooler" by the camp kommandant. People who were in the hospital for drug rehabilitation are put into the cooler because, I was told later, that many of them get really violent and so they are placed there for a few days, under heavy sedation, until they can get some of the chemicals out of their bloodstream and calm down. 

The cooler was a small room not tall enough to stand up straight in and just barely large enough to lay down in. I supposed two or three people - or maybe four could be squeezed into one room. All four walls and ceiling and floor were padded. Of course, like in a movie, the room was completely white. There were no windows and there was a connecting segment that had a toilet in it. There was no door on the toilet nor any way to flush the toilet. It reeked. The door was heavy steel with a small window that had bars on it and there was a slot at the bottom of the door for food to be passed through.

After getting my injection of sedative, I passed out dead to the world. Later, I awoke. I had no idea how long I was out. I had no idea what time of day it was. Was I out a few hours or a few days? I'm still not sure to this very day. I awoke in the cooler. I was laying on my side and, even though I was conscious, I couldn't move. Not just my body, I couldn't move my head, my fingers, anything. I was no longer in a straight jacket, it's just that my motor functions had completely stopped due to the elephant tranquilizer they gave me. By golly those sedatives did work! My faith in big pharma had been restored!

There was a jangling at the door which was above my head and, since I couldn't turn my head, I couldn't see the door. Suddenly I was witness to the black shoes and white pants of 4 or 5 medical doctors and male nurses. They were all mumbling about something. They crouched in front of me and one doctor pried open my eyelids and flashed a flashlight into my eyes. First right, then left. He held the back of my neck. Another doctor was checking my pulse. The doctor said, "Are you okay?"...

I wanted to say, "Yes, doctor. I am fine." But I couldn't. My brain was processing the information but there must have been a problem in the synapse department because when my brain ordered my mouth to say, "I'm ok" all that came out was "Gurglllkkkkdxxx" and a heck of a lot of slobber... I couldn't respond. I had become human jello like the blob in those 1950's science fiction movies.

The main doctor looked at me for a moment and then, with a sigh, said to the other doctors, "Not yet." With that, they all stood up and walked out of the cooler their farewells were the jangling of the keys locking the door behind them.

Slam! Echo. Silence....

My brain was shouting like a lost trapped teenager screaming to his friends who were searching for him yet walking right by as they couldn't hear his cries. "Hey guys! No! Wait! I'm okay! Come back, guys!" I was jumping up and down against the door railing in my mind, but, in all actuality, I was still laying there on my side unable to make even the most basic motor reaction. "Maybe they could read Morse Code if I blink my eyes correctly?" I thought.

Drool... "Come back guys!" But I was tired... So tired... Close my eyes and then back to wonderful sleep...

This situation continued for the next day or two. It got so bad that since I could not move myself, I soiled my clothes. My wife tells me that she came to the hospital and visited the cooler while I was out cold and cleaned and changed me. I guess that is typical and how things are done in Japan. I do know that it is true at Japanese hospitals that family will often come and give invalid family members baths and change clothes. That my wonderful wife did this for me I will always be thankful for even thought I don't remember it at all. My wife would later tell me that I was in the cooler for at least "4 days or so."

The next day, the doctor's came back in. In their previous visit I was so angry at myself because I was still unable to respond coherently to their questions. I promised myself that the next time I saw them, I'd be able to respond and show them that I was okay. I wanted desperately to get out of the cooler as soon as possible. And it was obvious that if you couldn't at least say, "Hi doc!" they weren't going to let you out of the cooler. So I began practicing talking and saying words. Kind of like a self-enforced linguistic rehabilitation.

After a while, I guess a few days, I was finally able to sit up by myself.... Or, at least, what I thought was close to sitting up. I tried to listen to the door so that I could hear the footsteps of the doctors before they came to my door. I figured that this holding area where to cooler was has at least three or four or five other coolers next to mine filled with occupants who, like me, were unable to control any of their motor functions or their bladder. Maybe that's why the place reeked so bad.

At length, the jangling of the keys woke me from my trance. I tried to sit up very straight and I shook my head to try to sober up. The doctors came in and went through their ritual. 

The doctor said, "How are you doing?"

This time I really made the effort to speak clearly but I still even had trouble just lifting my head. I gathered up every bit of strength I had and yet, all I could do was mumble and drool. Again my brain was saying the words but my mouth couldn't do the movements. "Urgh..gxxsnyxxx..." 

The doctor looked at the other doctors and to my horror said, "Not yet" and they all stood up and walked out again. 

In my mind, I panicked, "No! I'll be okay in a minute! Just let me get dressed and splash some water on my face, guys! Come back!" 

Slam. Jangle. Clink. Jangle. They were gone in a flash. I was alone again in hell. Still, exhausted. Once again, I fell to sleep.

After a while I was awoken again by noise at the door. "The doctors!" I thought, "They've changed their minds and have come back to let me out!" I was so happy! But it wasn't the doctors. It was the sound of food being pushed through the slot under my door. I grew angry at this. I went over to look at the food they had given me. It was some sort of rice gruel. In Japan and China, rice gruel is often given to sick people as it is easily quite digestible. I hated rice gruel. 

That they'd walk off and then serve me rice gruel started me off to getting even more angrier the more I thought about it. I started to work myself into a huff. I think about that now and that was a sure sign that the tranquilizers were wearing off. The more I thought about my situation, the more pissed off I began to get. "Who do they think they are putting me into the cooler like this? What is this rice gruel, crap? Don't they know I hate rice gruel?" I decided that I wanted, no demanded to speak to the doctor. How dare they do this to me! I demanded my rights.

I pulled myself up to the door and tried to peek out through the bars at the top (like Steve McQueen did in Papillon) to see if I could see and doctors or nurses running around. But I couldn't see anyone. I began to loudly proclaim all the typical things you see people in the movies say when they are in incarceration:

"Hello! Hello! Anyone there? Hey! I need to talk to the doctor. There's been some sort of misunderstanding. I shouldn't be in here! Hello!" But I couldn't see anyone and the area outside of my cell was silent. I kept speaking, out, louder and louder, almost shouting for awhile, but it was no avail. I considered really screaming bloody murder at the top of my lungs, but didn't. I thought there was no use. There was no one there. I figured that no one could hear me.  Thank god I didn't throw a temper tantrum and start banging on the bars and doing stupid things like throwing my food around or banging the bars with the food plate like a caged ape. I'd find out the next day that they could hear me but allowed me to say and do as I pleased. I was under observation. 

I gave up and sat back down. I was still mad though. I looked over to the rice gruel and decided then and there that I was going to show them. I was going to turn the tables on these wicked people. I was going to gain my release through the peaceful protest methods of the greats like Mahandas Gandhi: I was going to go on a hunger strike and then, next to death, I'd become a world famous celebrity and they'd have to release me.

Yes. That's the ticket! I'd starve myself out of there. I wouldn't eat anything until those doctors came back and started begging me to eat something... I could see it all. Imagine, me! Me as the serious and devout man with a cause and those stinking doctors begging for mercy! They be begging for me to eat. I'd be on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazine! I'd be the world leader of an entirely new protest movement! (I think about that now and realize that the sedative must have been wearing off because I was back to having crazy thoughts of grandeur and delusion!)

"Hmph! That's fix them!" I thought. So I sat there having decided that I wouldn't touch the food. That warm food that, actually smelled pretty good. I began having conversations in my head. There was an angel of my good conscious on my right shoulder and the devil sitting on my left. The three of us began to argue.

"Come to think of it, I am pretty famished as I hadn't eaten anything in three or four days!"

"No! You coward! You'll never get out of here if you give into their tricks!"

"He's right, you know. For all you know that food is laced with more sedatives and mind control drugs. They want you to eat it. That's part of their 'plan.'"

"But, you know, my wife really likes that rice gruel stuff. I've never really cared for it. But it does smell pretty good."

"What? What kind of thoughts are these? You've just started a hunger strike and you've lasted maybe 15 minutes and you're giving up already? Don't you have any respect for yourself."

"Yeah? Don't you have any respect for yourself?"

I knew it. Those guys were right. So I stuck with the two out of three guy's opinion and decided to stick it out with my hunger strike. For one, I wanted out of there. For two, I hated rice gruel. If it had been something like fried chicken I think I might have listened to whoever it was who wanted food (I think the wimpy one was me).

So I gave up again and, determined to go on hunger strike, at least until the doctors came the next day, I laid back down in an attempt to sleep and forget about my troubles and the food. When the doctors came in the next day and saw that I hadn't touched my food, they'd become alarmed and, I figured, then we could negotiate on even terms.

I tried to sleep but damn if my stomach didn't stop growling. I was starving. I went back and forth with myself trying to fight the urge to eat, but, after several hours I was so famished I couldn't stand it no more. I had to eat.

I felt like that guy in Midnight Express who was so hungry that he ate a cockroach to survive. I was so hungry that I could do the same! ER, not eat a cockroach, but to eat rice gruel which was almost as bad (at least in my book!)

I jumped to the door and grabbed the spoon and wolfed down a huge bite of gruel. "Yeech! This stuff is cold!" I thought. But it tasted pretty good! "Dammit! I thought, "Why didn't I eat this when it was hot?"

Within a few seconds I had downed the food. I even licked the plate. I put the plate back at the door and tried to peer through. "Thank you! Anyone! That was delicious! Hello! That was delicious!" There was no one there.

A stomach half full and nothing to do, I fell back asleep. I don't remember how much time passed but I do remember later thinking that there might have been sedatives in the food, but, no! That would be a quite inefficient way to administer drugs. They had me locked up. I wasn't going nowhere. They could come in and give me pills or injections and there'd be nothing I could do about it. Why would they lace the food with drugs?

After a while I had to go to the toilet so I saw the spartan settings for the first time. There was only a wash basin and toilet. As I mentioned, after using the toilet, I had no way to flush it so the room stank even more. I tried to yell for someone to flush the toilet out through the bars in my door, but there was no one to hear my cries. Again, I fell asleep.

The next day, the doctors came back. This time I was determined to shape up so that I could ship out. 

The doctor looked at me and said, "You look better today. How are you doing?"

I sat up as straight as I could and drooled out a weak but recognizable, "Fine, doctor.... Thanks to you!" 

I thought I needed to add a, "Thanks to you" to show that I was coherent enough to know that I needed to show some appreciation to get myself outta that place. I figured I'd do some a*s kissing now and play my aces when the time was right. I was satisfied that I was able to give the answer I had planned. 

The doctor then said to me, "Mike. We are going to take you out of here today and put you in a ward with other patients, But if you get violent, you're coming right back in here, do you understand?" 

"Oh stay my beating heart!" I thought but "Yes, doctor." I answered. "I won't be violent."

"We are sending you to unit D-40 where there are other patients. You'll be able to take a shower, shave and have your own room that you will share with other patients. If there is any trouble at all you will be brought back here. You'll be able to eat in the cafeteria and if you have any questions, the nurses will help you. Okay?"

"Okay. Thanks." I said.

"We will give the order to bring you out of here to the male nurses and they will take you out before lunch time. Please immediately wash and get ready for lunch."

"Yes. Thank you."

The doctors got up and walked out. I was so happy! Freedom! I was going to be free from this wretched place! But I wondered what kind of place D-40 was? Was it like a regular hospital where I could walk in and out as I pleased? Or was it more of a military style place much like the World War II prisoner of war camps that things like the cooler were known to accompany?

I grew a bit anxious. Suddenly D-40, while sounding better than the cooler, struck fear in my heart. What if it were like a prison where the inmates have their own pecking order and boss? What if I were thrown into a place with a bunch of drug addicts and former Yakuza who didn't like foreigners?

Was I about to become the whipping boy and someone's bitch in D-40? Was I going to be waking up every morning with an empty bottle of baby oil knocked over near my head, a sore a*shole and an ashtray on my back? What horrors were awaiting me? 

I had a few hours to find out. 

It was in D-40 and my next experiences that I was to find out that my next ward was not so much like a prison in the movies or like a gestapo prisoner of war camp, but much more like an insane asylum ala the classic film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Why? Because in Japan, drug addicts and mental patients are co-mingled in the same hospitals and in the same wards.

I didn't know that when I checked in. I was about to go from the frying pan into the fire.


Andrew Joseph said...

I do think you a wee bit of preamble as to what sort of drugs you were doing and how much would be good. As well as your real reasons for wanting to volunteer.
And, while I know what you mean, volunteering to go into rehab versus prison or death is NOT the coward's way out. It's the opposite. It's some one being brave enough to realize there is a problem and then trying to do something positive about it.
Your choice of photos was hilarious. It underscored the drama of the situation to perfection. A serious look at a serious problem but all screwed up thanks to a screwy mind, body and institution.

mikeintokyorogers said...

Oh yeah, that's a hard part to admit. I was a speed addict. Towards the end, I was doing about $2000 a week in speed. What a miserable existence. I didn't do the speed to get high. I had to do it just to become normal.

Andrew Joseph said...

I understand. I have a couple of friends who need to do weed just to be normal now. Seeing them without being high is scary.
Two grand! A Week! How much money were you making?!
Doing drugs... was it part of the punk lifestyle you felt you needed to embrace - screw society?

mikeintokyorogers said...

No not at all. When I first did speed, I didn't even know what it was. Then I suspected but it didn't matter, I could do the work of three people on it (I could do the work of 5 people without it) so doing it made me superman.

Anonymous said...


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Why do people want to drink alcohol?
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