JQ Magazine: Tale of a Girl, a Taxi Driver, and the Un-Emergency Room He Took Her To

Wendy enjoying the snow (safely) at World Heritage Site Shirakawa-go, Gifu.

By Wendy Ikemoto (Ehime-ken, 2006-2011). Wendy taught at six crazy but lovable high schools and served as a Prefectural Advisor on JET. Now based in the equally crazy New York City, she is looking for her next challenging career opportunity. Wendy is a fan of reading, writing, and cooking as a form of socialization. Visit her LinkedIn profile here.

I learned the hard way that bicycles and snow don’t mix.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have my suspicions about this, but I: a) Needed to get to the train station, and b) was inexperienced with the fluffy stuff (it was only the second time in years that snow in my country town hadn’t immediately melted away, and as a Hawaii girl, the snow seemed more novelty than threat).

So on a January morning in Ehime, I left my apartment to catch a train into town. I followed the same route to the station that I used hundreds of times. I rode past a small temple on the hill. I enjoyed watching the animals in the river along the road. I took the turn by the bridge and in slow motion, my tire slipped out from under me and I crashed. SMACK–I fell on the back of my head.

I couldn’t move for a moment.

Before I could regain composure, I started to get dragged off. A kind Japanese couple had seen the whole thing and sensibly moved me out of the road. I was very grateful, but hugely mortified. After about a minute, I thanked them profusely, assuring them that I was OK, and managed to get back on my bicycle. Slowly and wobbly, I made it to the station.

I met my friend, we bought our train tickets, and through the gate we went to wait for our train. This was my first moment to relax since the accident. Although I felt fine, I decided to inspect the back on my head. Lightly, my fingers caressed where I crashed until they came upon a bump. Not the hard kind that happens when you knock your head against a shelf, but the soft kind that happens when you have a blister. Crap. Well, maybe I can go to the doctor tomorrow, I thought.

When I brought my hand down into my lap, however, I noticed that it looked funny…there was blood all over it.

Hospital, now!

I hurriedly told my friend I had an emergency and rushed out of the station gate into a taxi.

“Hospital, please!” I shouted in Japanese.
“Which hospital?”
The one near the high school. The big one!,” I exclaimed.
“Where?”

Grrrrrr. I was getting upset.To be fair to the driver, there are many small hospitals in that area, but it was Sunday.This meant only the emergency hospital should be open, and there was only one big hospital in this town. As a cab driver, shouldn’t he know this?

”Anywhere’s OK! Anywhere’s OK!” I started shouting in a panic.

“Sldkjflaskdjfoiweljnlkfs,” replied the driver. (I didn’t understand what he said.)

”Yes, yes, OK, OK, let’s go!” I yelled.

And off we went. One hitch: the hospital I was thinking of required a right turn. He turned left. Where the heck was he taking me? Well, it must be some other open hospital, I thought.

As we started down the road, I also realized I didn’t have much money, having spent most of it on my train ticket. I saw an ATM and we stopped by, but it was closed. Apparently 8:30 a.m. is too early for cash to be needed in Japan. Also, the driver thought I wanted end my ride at the ATM. He didn’t have a clue as to my situation and I spent the rest of the ride trying to impart my urgency upon him using broken Japanese.

“Kyukyu!” I randomly blurted out.
“Atama no kega!” (“Head injury!”)
“Chi ga aru!” (“There’s blood!”)

The taxi driver just looked at me suspiciously.

Let’s take a moment to examine what I said. “Kyukyusha” means “emergency vehicle/ambulance,” but “kyukyu” does not necessarily mean “emergency.” And I probably should have said “chi ga dette iru” (“I’m bleeding”) instead of “there’s blood.”

They never taught me this at orientation.

At this point, I had no idea where we were. Instead of the five minute ride to the big, city hospital, it had been 15 minutes down a road going toward the mountains. I thought about asking him to turn around, but since the ATM had been closed, I only had enough for one ride. I was stuck, but not without my trusty cell phone.

I’d furiously been calling Japanese friends one after the other, but all with the same story: sleeping in. It’s nice to know that although Japanese people are workaholics, they get to sleep in one day a week, but why did that day have to be the day I fell? Unable to make contact, the driver eventually pulled into a quiet, small hospital roundabout and dropped me off. With just enough money to pay him, I hopped out and into the building.

It was quiet.There was not a soul except at the reception desk.Great, they can’t help me here, I thought. The kind receptionist came up to me and kindly asked, “Kokoro ga, daijobu desuka?” “Hai,” I replied as I started to cry.

Riiiiiiiiiiing.

I answered my phone and heard my teacher’s voice. I was saved! After getting directions from the receptionist, my teacher hung up to come and pick me up. Now it was just a waiting game.

So many things ran through my mind as I passed the time.One was how welcoming the place seemed.Slowly and quietly, people had started to roam the area, peeking out from the dark corners with a drink in hand or a phone. Wow, I thought, maybe this is a community center.

I also texted and called friends on my phone.

Friend: Are you OK? Do you feel dizzy or nauseous or sleepy?
Me: I found the cut on my head! But I feel fine, so probably no concussion. Also, let’s hope they don’t shave my head!
Friend: Yes. Let’s hope. But if it comes to that you’ll still be cute!

I love my friends.

After about 40 minutes, my teacher finally rescued me. I had never been so happy to see a car before. As we drove off, she said something that brought the whole experience together.

Teacher: “I don’t understand one thing. Why did he (the taxi driver) bring you to a mental hospital?”
Me: “A what?”
Teacher: “Mental hospital.”
Me: “Oooooooooooooooh.”

The miscommunication with the taxi driver, me blurting out “head injury” and “blood”, the receptionist asking if my “kokoro” (sprit/mental health) was OK, and the seemingly physically healthy people lurking around the hospital. Maybe I should also mention that I’m Japanese-American and kind of Nihonjin-looking.

In the end, I made it safely to the emergency room. I got a CAT scan, no stitches, and learned the following lessons:

#1: Kyukyusha are free in Japan, so use them!
#2: NEVER say “doko demo ii” to a cab driver.
#3: Sometimes the seemingly worst situations turn out to be the best stories later.

Visit the Ehime AJET homepage at www.ehimeajet.com.