Just this past long weekend, I had the misfortune of having to call an ambulance in Japan for my girlfriend, who began writhing in pain and clutching her abdomen – all the while letting rip some of the most blood-curdling screams I had ever heard. After 2 minutes of this I made the decision to phone an ambulance for the first time since coming to Japan – Anyway, I got the number wrong…
After ringing 110, the policewoman answering kindly told me to hang up and dial the number for the ambulance and fire service. Slightly panicked, I hung up without asking for the magical ambulance number. But I had been here for 12 years and I, of course, know everything about Japan. So I went ahead and called 116, trying to block out the screams coming from across the room. Now, the ladies answering the phones at the 116 NTT call centre are usually quite nice and don’t really deserve a lot of the crap they get from random guys ringing up. They certainly didn’t deserve the stream of abuse they got from me, especially since their job description probably has very little to do with dispatching ambulances!
Right then, my girlfriend managed to whimper through her agony the number “nine” – “Kyu! kyu dayo!”. The incredulous look of disbelief on her face said it all. So I quickly dialed 119 and got an operator who asked if I needed an ambulance or fire truck. I was assured they were on their way and that the ambulance driver would call me when they were about to arrive. I had given my mobile number, so was anxiously waiting for the driver to call with my phone clutched to my chest.
Little did I know that the call I would receive would be from a PHS. Now, everyone knows PHS phones are notorious for cutting out when in moving vehicles. And this time was no exception, not that I could hear the guy that well over the siren anyway. But after receiving four calls and having as many cutting out, I realized he wanted me to stand outside my building to guide the ambulance in. I was about to grab my florescent ping-pong bats to wave but decided humour was not a priority at this time.
The ambulance arrived. To their credit, they got to my place within 10 minutes. A better time than most major cities including London and New York. A souped-up Toyota Hiace van was sitting in front of my place, lights all flickering. One problem though, no one was getting out. I banged on the window and beckoned the helmet-clad passenger to get out. It was then I realized he had been filling out some paper work. Yep, this is definitely Japan. I resigned myself to the fact that they would help my girlfriend once the forms had been filled out in triplicate.
Presently, they saw my girlfriend, barked loud aggressive questions at her then latched her into a stretcher. We were then in the ambulance together and my girlfriend had started to feel better. The aspirin had started to kick in. It was a good thing she was feeling better, because what happened next was just ridiculous. They asked me which hospital to go to. I told the driver the name of the nearest hospital. He rang it and was promptly turned down, told to try somewhere else. The next five hospitals he rang refused to treat my girlfriend, saying they were too busy. Finally, over 30 minutes later, we were on our way to a university hospital half way across town.
The drive there was something quite spiritual. In the middle of Tokyo, I was amazed how drivers refuse to make way for an ambulance. We had to wait a good five minutes at the traffic lights while cars sped across the intersection blocking our path. But once moving, gee, did we get some speed! I never thought ambulances in Japan went all that fast, so I secretly thought we were lucky enough to get a real special driver. That was until we were overtaken by a delivery truck speeding past us, and then a scooter. Still, it was a buzz when we switched over to the other lane and barged our way through opposing traffic.
We arrived at the hospital safely and my girlfriend was OK. The ambulance guys gave me a curt nod and walked off, ready to save more lives…
Has anybody else had a bad experience with something like this in Japan? Any comments are most welcome!
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