Nephritis confined me in the hospital during the summer break when I was in the fourth grade living in Kyoto, Japan. Although I didn’t feel so sick, the doctor ordered me to be inactive all the time. Inside a six-bed pediatric ward and a hallway between the nurse station and the hospital kitchen was the allowed portion for me to move around. When I needed to go beyond it, a nurse put me in a wheelchair. Within a couple of days, I thought I would be bored to death, not from nephritis. I walked back and forth along my restricted stretch on the hallway many times a day, which also bored me quickly. One of my daily routines was to go take a tray meal of an unseasoned diet three times a day from the hospital kitchen on the furthest end of the allowed stretch. Next to the kitchen was a small recreation room that was carpeted and had a television. Watching TV was banned for some reason, and I used the room to blow bubbles. My mother brought me a bubble blower on one of her visits and I played with it out of the ward window. One day, I found out that bubbles remained for some time on the carpeted surface and that fascinated me. I blew as many bubbles as I could on the carpet in the recreation room and got me surrounded by glittering bubbles. I was obsessed with it as the room looked like a dreamland or heaven. That became my main pastime during my lockup and made the carpet so soggy and drenched that nobody could sit on it anymore.
One night in those hospital days, I woke up to the disturbing noise in the small hours. Doctors and nurses were hastily coming in and going out of my ward. They gathered around a girl whose bed was right across mine. She uttered in a faint voice, “It hurts, it hurts.” repeatedly. The curtains had been drawn around her bed and I had no idea what was going on, but at least I sensed something bad was happening to the girl. Next morning, I found her and her bed gone somewhere. I asked a nurse where she went, and she told me that the girl moved to a two-bed ward on the same floor. I understood that the number of beds in a ward corresponded with the patient’s condition. The fewer the beds were, the worse the condition was. A chart was made in my head. If a patient in a six-bed ward recovered, the one would be released from the hospital. But if a patient got worse, the one would be sent to a two-bed ward. And if a patient moved to a private room, the one would be close to death.
Out of boredom and curiosity, I decided to explore the further back of the pediatric floor. I sneaked into the banned area beyond my allowed stretch of the hallway. I turned the corner over the hospital kitchen for the first time. There was also a long hallway with wards on both sides, but it was a lot different from the one in front of my ward. Probably because it was far from the nurse station or the kitchen, this hallway was oddly quiet. It was completely empty with nobody walking and as still as a picture. Tense air filled the stretch like down the hallway in that hotel in ‘The Shining’. A room number and the name of the occupant were put up beside each ward door. I slowly walked along the two-bed wards and further down to the section with the private rooms. Although I was just walking down the hallway, a strange fear had gradually grown inside me that I was walking toward death, closer and closer. Then, a name tag on one private room caught my eyes and I froze on the spot. It was my name written on it. I gasped with surprise, confusion, and horror. I couldn’t grasp what it was. Had my private room been already prepared secretly? Was I being moved here soon? Had my condition turned so bad? I peered at the name tag with my heart thumping hard, and noticed one of the Chinese characters used for the name was different from mine while the pronunciation was the same. The patient had the same name as mine with one different Chinese character. Instead of relief though, I felt I saw what I shouldn’t have seen. I turned back hurriedly, almost running, feeling dreadfully scared of being chased by death. Back on my bed in my ward, I tried to figure out what it meant. Could it be a sign that my condition would worsen and I would die? Could it be a punishment for my exploration of the banned area? Could it be a warning that I would end up there unless I stayed inactive? Or would the person with the same name die in place of me? For a child, it was an uncomprehending, frightening, shocking experience.
A few weeks later, at the end of the summer break, the doctor decided my release from the hospital, possibly because of my shift to a more obedient, inactive patient. On the day of release, my mother brought me a pink summer dress into which I finally got rid of pajamas. The nurses told me about a hospital’s custom. A patient should visit a shrine on the rooftop of the hospital to thank for the release. I didn’t know there was a shrine in the hospital and felt strange. It didn’t make sense to me. At the center of medical science like a hospital, a place to count on unseen power existed. I wondered if the hospital conceded that everything here depended on God in the end. The hospital was big with many tall buildings, one of which had a shrine on the rooftop. It was far from my ward but now I walked throughout not in a wheelchair. Opening the door to the roof top, I went outside. The sunshine, the sky, the breeze, all of those things outside looked new to me. Numerous washed bandages that were hung from the rods to be dried outside were swayed by the gentle breeze like some sort of festive decorations. I plowed through the long pieces of white bandages and the small orange gateway to the shrine appeared on the back. From up there, I saw the building in which my ward was across the courtyard. I counted the floors and windows and spotted my ward. My ward mate’s mother was sitting by the window as usual. She had been staying at the hospital with her daughter because she was little and the hospital was too far from her home to visit, which made my hospital days as if living with her as well. I waved at her for a long time until she noticed me. Finally she waved me back. We waved at each other frantically for a while. Then I put my hands together to pray at the small shrine that was visited only by those who survived, thinking that it was God who decided life and death after all and what the hospital could do was limited compared to that.
That long summer in my childhood is unforgettable to me. And I can tell, it must have a great influence on my life thereafter.
As my condition got better in the hospital, I went through a thorough examination to be determined whether I could be released from the hospital. For the examination, I was required not to eat anything but water for 24 hours. As a child, I had hardly skipped a meal before and I felt dizzy from hunger less than six hours into a fast. A girl whose bed was next to mine had put up a drawing above her bed. There was a shining sun in it, and it looked a sunny-side up egg to me. Because it was a full examination, it was going to take long in several different rooms. Although I asked my mother to accompany me during the whole process, she didn’t make it, again, as usual. I gave up after waiting for her as long as a nurse let me, and went for the examination with the nurse. The building where it took place was far from my hospital room and I needed to be in a wheelchair because my illness had required me to be inactive and quiet. All those things made me very nervous, so lonely and extremely hungry. The result was good and finally, my hospital life in the summer at the age of nine ended after one month. I survived nephritis but almost died from hunger on the day of the examination…
Since I was in the hospital for nephritis, I needed a special diet. I wasn’t allowed to take in salt. Each meal for me was salt-free and it tasted horrible. My mother felt pity for me and brought salty snacks every time she visited me. She encouraged me to eat them under my bed lest anyone see that. One day, I was caught by the other kid’s mother. She asked me where I got the toxic foods. She was astounded to hear that my own mother had brought them to me. After three weeks in the hospital, my condition got better and I was allowed to take a bath. My mother unusually came to see me early on that day to accompany me in the bathroom. Back in my hospital room, she bound my hair with ribbons without drying it. A nurse saw it and sharply scolded us because I might catch a cold. My mother was smiling, embarrassed, but wouldn’t redo, as it was too tiresome for her to dry and bind my hair all over again. I admit I was a bad patient, but my mother was the worst mother of a patient…
Back in my hospital life of my childhood, the next room to mine was a room for six boys. One of them was a five-year-old boy with leukemia. He often hung around my room and we got along well. I taught him how to fold origami. Because he was little, his mother stayed at the hospital with him. She frequently yelled at him, hit him and even kicked him. I was terrified of her. One day, my mother came to see me and went to take some tea for me from the free tea stand near my room. There, I saw her talking with the boy’s mother and learned that he had only a few months to live. His mother sounded so gentle and so sad. I understood why she treated him like that. For the first time in my life, I realized that sorrow and desperation led to unreasonable anger. Although I was only nine years old, I had never felt mortality so closely and strongly while playing with him…
When I was in the hospital with nephritis, I shared the room with five
other girl patients. Except for a very small or very sick child, parents
weren’t permitted to stay overnight with the patients. They came during
the visiting hours. I was nine years old and had never stayed outside
home such a long time before. I suffered from homesickness rather than
from nephritis. My parents were too busy working seven days a week as
farmers and only my mother visited me everyday. But she only made it
less than one hour before the visiting hour ended although I was waiting
for her all day long. No matter how desperately I begged her to come
earlier, she prioritized her work and I got to see her merely forty
minutes or so a day. Sometimes my father also came to see me, taking my
younger sister with him. In that case, when the visiting hour was over, I
would see my parents and my sister off. They went into the elevator
together and the door shut before me, excluding me alone. That was the
thickest door I’d ever felt it was. I went back to my bed and lay down
hiding tears from other girls and nurses. Maybe it hinted my future
relationship with my family. The three of them still live together in
our old house that I left after I struggled and couldn’t quite fit in…
This time in my fourth grade, I was in the hospital. It started as
cold-like symptoms with a high fever. But I was left unattended because
summer was the peak season for farming and my parents were extremely
busy as farmers. To make things worse, my family had been rebuilding our
house at the time and extra attention of my parents was paid to that. A
week or so later, I vomited blood and fainted. That at last captured my
parents’ attention and they realized the seriousness. When I became
conscious, they had called a nurse who lived in the neighborhood and she
was attending me. She suggested taking me to a hospital. After
examination, I was diagnosed with nephritis. As the summer break for
school was just around the corner, I was admitted to the hospital on the
day the break began. Although I had been longing for the summer break
as the precious time of my freedom, I was locked up in the hospital