Thursday, October 19, 2006

Insurance and MRIs

The FS Benefit Plan works like this: you pay for healthcare out of pocket, then present the receipts and receive reimbursement. One small wrinkle -- you can only exchange $2000 worth of cash in a single week through the mission. I'd already written a check for $500 worth of yen on Monday to supplement what little I had left after the weekend, $300 of which immediately went to pay Sara for our trip to CostCo. $50 to a train fare card, $25 or so to an unplanned dinner, $120 to vitamin fees, leaving me with $130 worth of yen, and the ability to withdraw only $1500 worth more. Or at least leaving me with the theoretical ability to do so -- I'd left my checkbook at home, so had no access to cash whatsoever. $130 worth of yen won't even cover the one way train fare to Tokyo, much less the fees for two MRIs. I don't know what you're supposed to do if your health care bill comes to more than $2000; I'm sure there's some contingency. It's not like japanese hospitals take credit cards or foreign checks.

Sara loaned me back $100, so I could at least get to Tokyo. I called my friend Catherine, who offered me use of her spare room at the embassy compound. Catherine is one of the kindest people I know. When I arrived at 11:30 at night, I found the door unlocked and $800 worth of yen lying on the guest bed. Apparently, there was some question about the embassy's cashiering hours due to the SecState's visit, and she wanted to make sure I was covered. The best I could do to repay her in the immediate sense was to try and not wake her up while I got ready for bed.

This morning, the physicians' assistant at the health unit poked at my hands and feet with a bent paperclip. I couldn't distinguish between one prong and two at 4mm, which is not normal. But at least my back and shoulders had stopped tingling like I was about to sprout wings. Trying to fill out the forms he gave me, the pen flipped out of my hand. Chopsticks at lunch also proved a slight challenge. I couldn't tell if this was due to figurative nerves, or literal ones. Maybe a little of both.

Luckily, the cashier at the embassy was open, so I'm able to pay Catherine back in full. $1500 comes out to 178,455 yen. Is there any other country in the world where I'd feel this comfortable carrying around $1500 worth of cash? Is there any other country where I'd need to?

The MRI itself was interesting. Like being in your own personal rave, complete with bad techno music in the form of noisy beeps and strumming robot sounds. I tried to lie still, but could feel my feet twitching. The PA had said my foot reflections were 'hypersenstive'*. I'm not sure how this squares with lack of actual sensation, but I felt like a fish on a hook, my head trapped inside the MRI torpedo tube with my feet jerking and flopping about. It took 20 minutes. At Catherine's suggestion, I kept my eyes shut. I'm not claustrophobic, and have no wish to become so.

Prior to the event, I made sure to inform them that I have a tattoo; apparently, an MRI can wreak havoc on tattoo ink. Low-key panic ensued among the staff. This was ultimately resolved by having me translate a statement from Japanese to English releasing the hospital from any culpability in the event of tattoo damage, then signing this statement myself. A nurse dictated:
"If my tattoo changes shape or color, or begins to yakudo..."
"Sorry?" I stopped her. "'Yakudo'?"
"Yes, yakudo..." she searched for an explanation. "Uh, in English maybe... 'burn'."
"Burn?!" I can't tell you what sort of horrible imagery this conjured up; naturally, my tattoo would be on the one area of my body where I have full feeling.
"Do you still want to do this?" asked the nurse.
I looked up at them from the waiting room chair. No, of course I didn't want to do this. 'Shikata ga nai,' I said. 'It can't be helped.'

Tattoo pulled through fine.

*in retrospect, perhaps he said 'hyposensitive'.