When I arrived in early August, I spent my first week at an orientation class that the Navy requires for all new personnel. One of the speakers showed a dated but sobering movie about American sailors serving time in Yokosuka prison, with its forced labor, unheated cells with glass-less windows, and so on. The film producers even interviewed American prisoners to emphasize the grim reality of life behind Japanese bars. “Don’t drink and drive, don’t shoplift, don’t get drunk and stupid and assault someone,” the speaker cautioned. Normal people react with horror. Can you imagine, they ask. But not me! All I could think was “But I bet their Japanese language skills are AMAZING.” Totally, absolutely *not* the point of the movie, but I can’t help it.
Similarly, when normal people hear that a friend is moving overseas their first thought are likely The exotic places you will see! The food! But not me. I immediately start wondering about mundane, day-to-day issues. How often will you cook, and where will you buy groceries? What will you for medical and dental care?
So what do we do for our medical care?
Mark works for the Navy as a civilian, not an active duty service member. Back in the States only active duty military get medical care covered at military hospitals; government employees like Mark have private health insurance and see doctors on the open market, like most of you in the States do. However, Navy civilians get to use Navy hospitals when stationed overseas. Before our arrival I assumed that we would use the Navy hospital on base. Until recently, the hospital would see patients like us and bill our insurance company directly. The process was streamlined and uneventful for the patient.
Unfortunately, that all changed this summer. As of July, the process became a nightmare: go to your appointment, return to the hospital seventeen days later for the bill, submit to insurance via email, then hope that insurance pays on time because the hospital sends your bill to a collection agency on Day 60. Awesome. Add to this the commute of 40 minutes each way, the early appointment times that would mean pulling both kids early from school–and suddenly Navy medicine does not look so good.
Enter The Bluff Clinic.
The Bluff Clinic sits right next door to the kids’ school in the part of Yokohama referred to as–surprise!–The Bluff. Yokohama was the first port in Japan opened to foreigners in the nineteenth century, and the clinic has been caring for expat patients ever since. The clinic is small with only one physician and one dentist. We heard of the clinic from other school families, so I made an appointment for Cy’s annual physical exam. A French mom at school described the physician as nice but extremely reserved and not terribly warm. She wasn’t kidding.
We arrive for our appointment and the doctor starts asking Cy questions about school, his eating habits, and so on. After a few minutes of this, the nurse takes Cy from the room “for some quick measurements.” I assume that this meant his height and weight, and that he will return shortly. So after Cy leaves the room, the doctor starts with some minor chit chat. The weather! Pause. How do I like Japan. Pause. Cy is gone a long time.
Normally whenever someone asks me questions I answer them, fully. I’m a talker, like many of you. Ask me a question, and I go on. And on. Sometimes I detach from my talking self and think STOP TALKING. Which of course makes me talk even more, and faster, and louder.
So for once I give concise, disciplined answers. And the doctor pauses. Then pauses again. Then he asks, “So have you joined any….gyms?”. I suddenly realize that the poor man has simply run out of material. So I start talking, at length. I give the wordiest, most insanely boring answer imaginable. But it isn’t merely an answer, but a gift–the gift of the doctor not having to think of another question to ask.
Cy returns and we both sign in relief. Healthy boy, all looks good! It turns out the nurse also checked his hearing, vision, and stripped him down for a quick once over. I would have given longer small talk answers from the start had I known!
The bill for this visit came in at 6400 yen, or about $53. And that’s the full price of the visit, not just the co-pay. It’s safe to say that The Bluff Clinic will see us again. And I’ll give longer answers next time.