1. Things smell differently in hospital

Hospitals are not known for smelling nice. Smells are definitively not the top priority; rather the elimination of them. Cleaning staff roam the rooms and the corridors in white masks, and aprons, mopping, wiping down and spraying. Surfaces are bleached, disinfected.

Due to this constantly cleaned, and unvaryingly blanded, out aroma; your gradual habituation to the nulled, daily aromascape of your own room, all other extraneous smells that come from outside, particularly perfumes, begin to loom large so full of life and colour, so pregnant with sensuality, they feel like alien invasions.

I soon began to be able to quite easily recognize which nurses were on the ward at any given time, without even seeing them, by the scent trail of their individual deodorants, washing powders or fabric conditioners – fascinating how long the smells of other people take to fully dissipate from my room: a gradual descrescendo of scent molecules slowly detaching themselves stubbornly from the air, as the ambience returns to its former state, although the majority of the staff, as you would probably expect, are scentless, or try to be ( with the very notable exception of one maturer nurse, more glamorous, always fully made-up,who is drenched in Opium every shift she works: you can smell her in every corner of the building, and it lingers, either vintage YSL, or a Japanese derivative ( but not Cinnabar, I’m still not quite sure quite what it is ) ……..I finally asked her yesterday and she said ‘Coco: Chanel ” but it still strikes me as quite unsuitable; such a heavy, vellutinous tigress prowling round the walls of the corridors at night.

I am surprised that Head Matron Number One, that most irritating of women – snooty, fastidious, who talks down to all the patients, especially me, as though we were three year olds, and regularly is returned with very barbed comments from yours truly ( my Japanese has really improved since being here), hasn’t chastised her for her spiced, balsamic crime already. She certainly has reprimanded me on several occasions (she was very alarmed by my frankincense; my ‘aromas’), and always talks to me, when she dares to enter my room, eyes averted, as if wasn’t there.


Everything comes across larger than life in a hospital. As though entering from another, more multilayered dimension (as I was going along in my wheelchair just now, someone unexpectedly just walked by me reeking of pure patchouli oil, clouds of it : astonishing, like a fabulous vision of my past).


Even perfume aside, though,  when a visitor enters my room, I can immediately can smell them, sense, the ozone: the hubbub and pheromones and certainties of life out there in the real world; the worries, the traffic, the distance and physical exertion of real, daily life, the sheer exhaustion of the surging day to day, and it sometimes almost makes me instantaneously feel anxious and aware of my coddling; of being ensconced and cocooned in my room for too long in my cotton, pale green pyjamas, and pillows and tepid soups and drinks ; an intimidated, semi-infantilized Andy Pandy who has to have everything given to him by nurses, at specified intervals, on a tray.


In here, all perfume smells Big, and Adult. Sexed.Impressive. My old friend Justin came with his wife to see me on a number of occasions and the Nuit De L’Homme that he wears, an Yves Saint Laurent perfume that I was not overly familiar with, was seductive. Sprayed just twice on his stomach before leaving their apartment, it was just the right amount of scent, just enough to give a present, sexual sway of scent without hammering it home. Another day, some younger, more recent American friends of friends who came to visit, went for a walk with me around the hospital and they just smelled delightfully, put-your-mind-at-rest clean, in a good way, as Americans usually do; of fabric softeners, body cremes, and sweet smelling citrus. I followed their soft sillage in my wheelchair, as we went up to the sea view seventh floor tea lounge, smiling.


Then there is Duncan.
Whenever he enters the room (and he has been here so much, weighed down with things that I need, tired from the long trip by bus, carrying fruit and pastries and all manner of things) he always comes, unconsciously on his part, roundedly redolent of the house; all residual patchouli and Japanese O-Koh : memories of perfume; the incense which must have penetrated the walls of our house; our rooms; and all our clothes, our lives even, more than I ever realized.



2. A drop of frankincense oil on the tongue makes me sleep


Although dosed with painkillers and a single sleeping tablet each night, plus earplugs just for good measure due to my extreme sound sensitivity ( and hypersensitivity to all sensorial stimuli in general), I still quite often wake up in the middle of the night because of the to-ing and froing; the clinical clatter, the loud-voiced old dears suffering from dementia who need to be taken to the toilet by the incredibly hardworking nurses working the night shift.


My dreamlife is now boring: attenuated and mundane – nothing ever gets to actually happen, that part of my brain switched down;  so I don’t mind being woken up from one of them. But glancing at my phone, usually at two hourly intervals or so, I think to myself: oh how am I ever going to get back to sleep?


A tiny dab from my frankincense bottle, placed next to my bed on the nightstand, put directly onto the tongue, is the answer.
Within minutes, seconds even, I find myself drifting off back to sleep.


Frankincense has also been amazingly effective for healing my scars. Although probably not allowed to by the doctors (we were told not to put anything on our legs), once the surgical wounds had closed over, I didn’t hesitate in applying some arnica tincture and oil of frankincense, each night, on the areas of my legs in closet proximity to the cuts; then, when they were healed and dry, directly onto them.


As I expected, the cicatrizing properties of these oils were very apparent : the wounds were paler, tighter, more healed. All of the doctors and nurses have commented on how ‘kirei’ my scars are: I have told no one the actual reason.



3. Japan has a really excellent healthcare system


I don’t personally believe that there is any contradiction in believing in a love of life and liberty, and the simultaneous existence of a social security system: one that cares for its citizens, and allows for basic necessary protections such as healthcare.

Freud said that the basic struggle for the human organism, and I feel this keenly myself as a very independent and rebellious individual, is the psychologically damaging clash between the desire for personal expression and the frustrating, but quite essential – to prevent total anarchy and chaos – repressions of society. Like a toddler, we want what we want, when we want it. We hate restrictions, we hate conventions ( at least I do ); we cannot tolerate having reins put on our intentions.


But no one can live without others, and surely this is one of the blessings as well as the curses of being a human being. We are sociable animals, for better or for worse; we are born into a society, a county, a city, a community, and so we cannot just say to hell with everybody else I am out for what’s mine, and let me leave bootmarks on your forehead while I am clawing up the  ‘ladder of success’in the process.


I am no communist, nor even a committed socialist, but I despise ruthless capitalism far, far more for its essential heartlessness and exploitative, money grubbing amorality. The divide of humanity into the Ultrarich, and the rest of us. The sickening, endless lust for money, and power.


And That Creature who is mystifyingly perched like a fat, grotesque parakeet somewhere in the environs of The White House embodies everything that disgusts me about that system the most.


For me, he is a paragon, an exemplar, of What Not To Be. That see-through selfishness. The thorough, and absolute, lack of true compassion.


And the ‘healthcare’ plans that those soulless, besuited antichrists want to bestow upon America, are so beyond contempt for me morally ( let’s just pray that the British Conservatives never succeed in aping the proposterously unfair US ‘model’ ) that I can’t quite find the right words to even address them.


But here I am, being treated properly, fairly, and kindly, in a real hospital. In Yokusuka, a city in Eastern Japan. A place to treat illness. Where every citizen in the country is entitled to be treated, by law, as the nation has mandatory 100% % coverage, insurance that is taken directly from your salary, or paid by the government if you don’t have one, and the individual is expected to pay around 30% percentage of the total cost for examinations and medicines upon presenting their national health card.


It is a system that works. I can’t find anything to object to in such a set up (those red faced, evil ‘Christians’ apoplectically screaming HEALTHCARE IS NOT A RIGHT !! at the top of their neighbour-hating lungs are so utterly beneath my ethical contempt that I have no words ):it’s just a deductible tax; everybody pays it, and then, as almost all humans do, when the day comes that they have a health problem, they have the reassurance that they will not just be abandoned to die just because they happened to have the misfortune to have been born into the wrong economic bracket.



The last time I was hospitalized was fifteen years ago, in London, for pneumonia. I checked myself in at the Royal Free in Hampstead, North London, and had excellent care for the eight days I stayed there. When I was discharged I didn’t have to pay a penny. The National Health Service is a source of great pride to many people, even if it is a huge, lumbering ship with many leaks that need fixing. Most British people can’t imagine life without it.


However, If I had needed this surgery in the U.K, I wouldn’t have been able to, as I am disenfranchised now from having been away so many years in a foreign country, and no longer entitled to claim the benefits of the free health care, but even if I had been living there as a tax-paying, regular Brit, there are waiting lists so extensive for this type of operation, that it could have taken years for me to ever get treated. I could have been really seriously crippled by the time I saw a surgeon.


Even then, even if I had been lucky enough to book the surgery, the procedure in the U.K. (and I think America as well, is really quite different.) At most, even for a double osteotomy, you would be in hospital for a week and then forced to just fend for yourself.


Hospital appointed physiotherapists would be sent to your living place twice weekly, but other than that it would just be painkillers and crutches, complete immobility, and painstaking efforts to avoid getting the scar tissue infected (GOD knows what happens in America to the poor and disadvantaged – do they just have to accept their disability and never walk again? Is that just their ‘lot’ in life, because they were too ‘lazy’ to sort out their own coverage? God, it really is a cruel and callous society sometimes). I cannot even imagine how I would have dealt with all this at home by myself when Duncan was at work.


Here, when you sign up for this surgery with the hospital, you sign up for the entire package; sign a declaration that you will entrust yourself to the care of the hospital, and will make proper efforts in the physiotherapy, and the hospital in turn promises to do their absolute best for you back in return.


And that is then what happens.


The British NHS website I looked at said that for the bi-lateral closed wedge high tibial osteotomies I had, the most complicated and painful of all the knee surgeries, apparently, because both legs are broken, cut, and rearranged, the patient could expect to start putting full weight on the knees at around 8 weeks after the operation and begin walking at around 12. Alone at home, I think this would have been quite nightmarish. With those bruises, bloodied, swollen legs that I could barely even move?


Here, once I was out of post-operative care and moved to the rehabilitation ward, there has been round the clock care, with all the necessary painkillers, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and Chinese herbal remedies ( considered essential – and I love that ) administered at the required intervals, daily examination by the doctors, advice by the nurses on what exercises to do and encouragement when exercising, and of course daily afternoon sessions and follow up with your physiotherapist, in the room just down the hallway.


With meals brought to you also (nutritious, well-balanced, if not to my taste, but more on that later ), and enough bed rest to let the bones and tissue heal between activity, the patient is in a position to relax and recuperate, while alternating between quite rigorous physiotherapy and individual exercise under the observance of the nurses. It’s no wonder, then, that I was not only just starting to put weight on my knees quite soon after the operation (that started quite early, if gradually, under guided supervision), but also walking freely, with a walking stick, at six to seven weeks. It is an excellent system: perfectly organized, well thought out, effective, and it doesn’t have to bankrupt the patients having it. The state covers the majority, the patient pays the rest, and everyone is happy.


I ask you : what’s not to like?


Filed under Flowers


  1. I love reading your thoughts on your hospital experience — so glad you have healed well and can go home to your devoted Duncan. Thank you for your comments on the healthcare debates raging here in the US and on our so-called President! I couldn’t agree more. It is tragic that so many of his supporters have absolutely no clue that most other rich countries treat their citizens so much better; and they are manipulated into turning against other Americans.

  2. I was overjoyed to see that you had so many posts for me to read this morning! Then I started tearing up reading this first one. When you mentioned the awful dictator who is disassembling all the good things America is going to lose because of his greed, ego, and full stupidity. We are anguished watching the clean air act, wildlife preservation, public education systems, healthcare for the sick and poor and even middle class, and transparency in government be destroyed systematically. He is worse than the evilest character in a fairy tale. And there you are in a country far away, and foreign to me, being treated so humanely, and with such precise, and thoughtful, meticulous care. My whole 63-year-old life, I have been infinitely proud to be an American, and despite the Vietnam War, Reagan, Nixon, and the two Bush presidents, I remained a big fan. Now I truly fear for our country, and your story made me realize what we are losing, day by day to this monster. I am consoled to know how well you have been taken care of and prepared to get back into the real world. I look forward to reading the rest of these stories, Neil.

  3. I will save all of your “Seventeen Things I Have Realized” like I would a good book I treasure.

  4. Tara C

    I am happy to read that you were treated so well by the Japanese health care system, it’s good to know such a thing still exists in the world. The Americans are not so lucky. It pains me to see what is going on there but I also feel immensely grateful not to be subject to that barbarian system.

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