How I manage disaster, face blows up

28 Mar

HOW I MANAGE DISASTER, FACE BLOWS UP  I woke up in the heart of the Japan Alps to realise one of my eyes was slightly puffy. I turned to my partner, Shea, who confirmed it wasn’t normal but I didn’t think much of it until, just ten minutes later, it had tripled in size and was continuing to swell.

I slapped on a pair of big sunglasses and we immediately went to the Information Centre to collect a map and find a pharmacy. The pharmacy wasn’t far away at all. However, the two lovely customer assistants could barely understand english, let alone  speak to me in return. Eventually, one of the women placed a translation brochure in front of me and pointed to a sentence that said, “We cannot sell these medicines here. You need to see a doctor.”

By this stage my eye was almost closed and the other eye had started to swell too. There was so much liquid surrounding my eyes that it looked like my face was just about ready to burst! Shea said, “They’re going to have to cut that open and drain it. There’s so much liquid in there!”

We were in Takayama which is a traditional city that remains fairly isolated though it is increasing in popularity amongst tourists. Lucky for me it is big enough to operate a contemporary hospital.

The first hospital card I received at Takayama in Japan.

There was one english-speaking woman at the hospital who, after a very short wait, assisted me to communicate with a doctor. I used a lot of hand gestures to illustrate how my face was getting bigger. The doctor didn’t understand so I wondered if he thought I was just chubby-faced and ugly! Eventually I asked him to give me antihistamines which he quickly handed over with a bill. It all seemed fairly easy to resolve.

With my big sunglasses firmly in place, I continued to explore Takayama. We completed a couple of talking tours from our trusty Lonely Planet book and sampled local food and crafts at the markets. We went to a temple but I stayed outside because I didn’t want to remove my glasses and risk scaring children.

Refer to Lonely Planet for some gorgeous walks around this beautiful traditional city. I am walking through a large shrine on the edge of the city.

My eyes were growing even more irritating by the afternoon so we decided to take a train to Kyoto for more medical attention. I held ice packs over my eyes for the duration of the trip and received many strange looks. We didn’t arrive at Kyoto until nighttime.

I was the first patient to arrive at the hospital in the morning. Staff asked me to complete a form which included circling body parts on a picture of a person to help them to identify the issue without speaking english. The staff were looking at my form curiously and I could tell they were having difficulty figuring out my problem. So I removed my glasses. I will never forget the look on both of their faces and the way one of the women slowly raised a hand to cover her wide open mouth. I wasn’t pretty.

The first doctor at Kyoto barely spoke a word of english but managed to string the following few words together: “Your eyeball swelling. Not skin. Your eyeball.” If it wasn’t for Shea’s support, I would have gone into a fit of panic at this point. I imagined a group of foreign doctors deciding to take a scalpel to my precious eyes. I could picture them using a spoon to dig my fat eye out of my face before it caused the rest of my head to explode! I have always been quite fond of my eyes, so I shuddered to think about what was happening to them. “Two days ago I was having fun and looking good,” I thought, “and tomorrow I could be known as the woman with the glass eye.” But thankfully things got better from here.

I was referred to an english-speaking eye specialist who examined me closely and diagnosed me with a severe allergy. I received eye drops and within two hours of applying them, I was on the mend! It was amazing to see that a massive amount of liquid in my face could slowly disappear without being cut open and drained as we had originally anticipated. I almost looked normal by the end of the day which was a relief because we were due to go to Osaka to meet friends the next day.

Me (left) and my welcoming committee at Osaka

It was just a 15 minute shinkansen ride from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka – amazing! We were greeted by a friend and some local Japanese girls and I couldn’t have been happier that my face was finally looking fine for the event. I gladly let the girls take lots of photographs during the night and, while I look at them now and realise I have messy hair and no eye make-up, it was good to feel pretty again and it was just in time to have one of the greatest nights I ever had abroad.

By Marissa Toohey


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