This morning Reiko and I made the short trip to the nearby municipal hospital where I was scheduled to undergo an ultrasound on my liver and kidneys to search for a possible cause for the occasional bit of blood in my urine. This was identified as a possible issue two years ago after an annual physical and it was brought up again this year, albeit with additional asterisks next to the result and a more tersely worded recommendation from the physician. I was to see my family doctor about the blood. Period. Two weeks ago I had the first set of follow-up tests and today's was the more thorough exploration to check for internal issues, such as kidney stones.

Long story short, my kidneys are in perfect health. My liver, while surrounded by perhaps a bit too much fat, is also in perfect health. The final diagnosis put my organs at "better than average" for the time being. The cause of any internal bleeding was likely the result of my horrible sleeping patterns over the last four years. Dr. Yamada, using verbal asterisks of his own, told me that I should get a lot more sleep than is currently afforded.

My first thought was "This will seriously impact the amount of work I can accomplish in a given day."

This is a preposterous notion given what I witnessed at the hospital while waiting to be seen, then again while waiting to pay the bill1. Nested in with all the healthy, able-bodied people at the hospital were others missing limbs, or confined to a wheelchair, or carrying their own oxygen, or in so much pain all they could do was weep silently while waiting their turn. Hundreds of people, each with their own distinct set of strengths and limitations. Each with their own unique, day-to-day challenges that make the asterisks on my most recent physical diagnoses seem moot by comparison.

Fortune favours the foolish, and few are more senseless than I. While a large number of people of all ages and backgrounds invest hours, days, weeks, or months of their lives in search of health, I balk at seeing a doctor and instead busy myself with asinine deadlines for the sake of a fairly good income. "I'm fine," I tell myself, which is true for the most part. I am fine. My physical health today is superior to what it was 15 years ago. But it is not an endowment to be taken lightly. A combination of chance and dumb luck has resulted in a clean bill of health despite all the stupid things I've done over the last four decades. A simple twist of fate could have resulted in signs of impending kidney failure, or a hardening layer of fat surrounding the liver, which can prove fatal. High blood pressure can result in heart attacks, strokes, and other life-altering conditions in the blink of an eye. The near daily headaches -- a result of not moving enough -- can be precursors to other problems as well.

We all have challenges in life. Some far more than others. While the frustrations and inconveniences of the day sometimes seem beyond belief, there's no denying that there are always people who would trade anything to live as we do. With this perspective it's obvious that we should set aside half a day to see a doctor when early warning signs appear. It's also incontrovertible that whatever minor nuisances we must contend with need to be viewed in a greater context. Yes, the problems of the day are nothing to ignore, but they could be worse. They could always be worse.

  1. Japan's health care system is not 100% funded by the government. Depending on what is checked and what category the conditions are in, we will pay more. Today's total bill for three doctors visits, a urine test, a blood test, an X-Ray, and an ultrasound worked out to less than $50, which I can claim back through the day job's health insurance system.