My Asthma Story Part 1: Moving to Japan

Image credit: Mother Jones

I’ve had asthma since I was a child, and so when I moved to Japan in 2000, I needed to make some special arrangements to get my asthma medicine. For a few years, my doctor in the US would write a prescription for me, then my pharmacy in the US would mail the medicine to me in Japan. However, after some time, I realized that my condition was worsening and that I needed to have my medicine adjusted. It was too expensive to travel back to the US to change my asthma medicine, but fortunately my wife is a nurse, and so she knew a number of different doctors where we lived in Nagano. She recommended a pulmonologist to me and so I started seeing my new doctor in Japan. He adjusted my asthma medicine and my condition improved.

After about a year of seeing my new doctor, my condition had stabilized as far as my asthma was concerned, and he decided he wanted to check my cholesterol. He scheduled the blood test and the results came back: amazingly high. So high, in fact, that they couldn’t distinguish between the LDL and HDL cholesterol, which I’m told happens with numbers higher than 500. He was pretty upset and told me I had to change my lifestyle.

Up until that point, I had been driving a 50cc scooter to my various English lessons around Nagano City, and I resolved to switch from driving my scooter to riding my bicycle. That switch meant I started cycling 20km or more each day to and from work. Six months later my doctor said he wanted to check my cholesterol again, and when he did, the levels came back almost half of what they had been. He said that was a good start, but that I needed to keep working to reduce them.

Up until that point, I had mainly been cycling within Nagano City, which is relatively flat, and so I decided that to get more exercise I would start cycling up into the mountains that surround Nagano. At first it was really tough going, and I would cycle for just a little bit before giving up and turning around, but eventually I became able to cycle quite long distances into the mountains.

Me cycling with my son
Me cycling with my son

A year later my doctor scheduled another cholesterol check for a Wednesday morning. The weekend before my check I planned a long ride through the mountains, from Nagano, up to Togakushi, from there to Kinasa and then finally over a pass into Hakuba. It was about a 100km trip, and the change in overall elevation was likely close to if not more than one kilometer of vertical climbing. At the end of the ride I was tired, but I was also proud that I had been able to do it.

My Wednesday appointment came and my blood results came back that my cholesterol was still a bit high. I forget the exact number, but it was in the low 200s. My doctor said that since my cholesterol was still a bit high, he wanted me to take some medicine for it. He wrote out the prescription and then I took it to the hospital pharmacy, who gave me the new medicine. I said it was my first time to take the cholesterol medicine and so wanted to know a bit more about it. Their reply was to take it once a day.

So I did. I took the medicine that night, Thursday night, and Friday night. Then on Saturday morning something happened.

This is the end of Part 1 of this story. Here’s Part 2. Before you read it, why don’t you try to guess the ending to my story in the comments?