My wife and I did our yearly “kenkoshindan” health check via our insurance provider the other day. If you are on the national insurance plan or one of the big alternative providers, you’re supposed to get this kenkoshindan once a year. My wife and my secretary at work badgered me into submission, so I finally took the plunge and got the big one-day “ningen dock” (人間ドック, and kind of like “human dry-dock” in its meaning).
So What’s this Ningen Dock?
Glad you asked. Being over 40 (ok, ok, I’m 43), this time I signed up for the standard ningen dock set, instead of the wimpy blood and urine test only. Once you get to the center, after NOT eating breakfast, they give you a nice top/bottom to change into, so you to to a locker room, strip to your skivvies and put that on. It’s not a paper gown like you might see at an ER, but a proper outfit much like pajamas. The arms were short and the bottoms were held up by a drawstring. They include socks too, in case you wear the ones with the holes (like me!) on the big day.
I wish I could have taken a photo of the waiting room, because it was a trip to see all the men in their green-ish gowns, the ladies in their pinkish gowns, nurses in light blue and docs in white. All organized and color-coded; very efficient and impressive. There were many many magazines in the waiting room, but all were in Japanese, so it might make sense to bring reading materials if you want to read while waiting.
There was not much waiting time, to be frank, and the whole thing was over in 3 hours. Here’s what was included in the tests:
Urine and Stool - they take the urine on the day, 25 mL, but you get to do the stool sample beforehand, refrigerate it, and bring it along! There’s a little sample kit, and the pictured “toreeru” paper poop catcher sheet, onto which you do your business, and then use the included swab set to snag a sample. In the picture, you can see the humorous target con “Mr. Happy Poop” character illustration. Kind of breaks the ice a bit, makes you laugh about having to do the sample, so it works in a perverse way.
Chest X-ray - just a simple X-ray from the front and side.
Blood Test - simple and quick, they took three vials of blood.
Blood Pressure - just a standard BP measurement.
Height, Weight, Bodyfat - after they measure your waist, you stand barefoot on an automated reader, which takes your measurements and spits out a little printout with the vital statistics. Of course, males in Japan are “obese” when they have a waist over 85 cm, so, er, I guess I better keep up the exercising!
Lung Capacity - you “inhale until it hurts” then “exhale with all your might”, and the machine makes a neat little graph. No wonder everyone says I have such a loud mouth!
Vision - this was a glasses-on, look at an eye chart exam, followed by a retinal scan and a glaucoma test.
Hearing - you go into a sound booth, put giant grape-fruit-sized headphones on, and press a button when you hear something, releasing when you don’t. Goes on for quite a while in both ears.
EKG - they hook your limbs and several points on your chest up to a heart monitor, but the probes are not designed for hairy foreigners. The suction cups fall off, which causes laughter, which causes more falling off and struggle. The test itself is only 10 seconds or so of measurement.
Ultrasound - this is an alternatively ticklish and somewhat uncomfortable test where they are taking pictures of your internal organs. They grease you up, and tell you to inhale so that your navel sticks out, and press the ultrasound wand into your torso in various places. It’s not really painful, but it’s not a sensation you get every day where people are pressing a relatively hard object into your liver, kidneys or ribs. It took 30 minutes and I was a little bruised. It must not be easy to do, because they switched operators in the middle, which I think is for training.
Barium Drink - this is so they can see the surfaces of your stomach and esophagus, so they have you drink a carbonate powder which is kind of like ingesting a Coke in 3 seconds because when it hits your stomach it swells it up. You’re supposed to resist the urge to burp! Then you swallow the barium solution, which is a thick white substance, like Pepto Bismol but without the nice taste. Then, following a myriad of rules (no burping, no turning to the left), you hold onto a machine you’re lying on, which tilts this way and that, and you turn yourself according to the directions. Very fast, very uncomfortable, and a lot like being on a roller-coaster. All the while, you’re suppressing that burp, so when they say “ok, you can burp now” you’re ready! After, they give you a laxative, saying that the barium has a tendency to plug you up. You’re supposed to take one now, then take another “if the white barium stool” does not come.
For the big finish, you go downstairs where they give you a warm drink and a cookie, you have an interview to discuss your results with a doc, and then after you return your pastel pajamas, you’re released into the wild to abuse yourself with food, drink and other vices for another year. :-)