I hesitated to post this, but after speaking with my friends they convinced me that I should share our experience to help others who might find themselves in the same situation.
Based on feedback from my friends, there is a lot of confusion about when to call an ambulance if their child is sick or has an injury.
- Is my child sick enough to call an ambulance?
- Is my child’s injury serious enough to call an ambulance? Or should I just take him to the hospital directly?
- If I take my child to the hospital by car/taxi, will they accept me or turn me away?
These are some of the questions that many parents are faced with when their child is sick or injured in Japan. It can be extremely stressful, and if your child IS sick or injured, it can be very serious. You may not have time to think about this or to call around the hospitals to see which hospital will accept your child.
I can’t answer these questions directly, but I can explain two experiences where I have had to call an ambulance for my son.
The first experience was when my son had a febrile seizure from high fever. You can read about this experience here, where my neighbour helped me to call an ambulance and they came straight away.
The second experience happened a few weeks ago…
A few weeks ago during the rainy season in Tokyo, I was walking home with my son after picking him up from nursery school. I had my newborn baby in the pram and my son was walking with an umbrella in his hand. We were walking down a steep slope, and at the bottom of the hill I suddenly heard him slip and start crying – he had slipped on a metal drain on the corner. I quickly put the lock on my stroller and picked him up.
As soon as I picked him up, I suddenly saw blood come streaming out of the back of his head. I was shocked to see so much blood come out so quickly – I quickly put my hand on it to apply pressure to try and stop the bleeding. He was crying loudly, in pain and shock too.
As I had my hands on his head to stop the bleeding, I didn’t know what to do. I was sitting in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill in a residential area, in the rain, with a pram.
I knew I needed help. I wasn’t far from my son’s nursery school, so I quickly got my phone and called them. I was talking in Japanese and at first they didn’t understand what I was saying. I had to repeat myself a few times, that my son had fallen over and blood was coming out and asking them if they can come and help me. With each time I explained the situation, the urgency in my voice grew, to the point that I think they could sense my panic and the urgency in my voice. Finally they understood and within a few minutes they came running down the hill to help me.
It was a relief when I saw them. They took control of the situation so that I could focus on my son. I remember being so thankful that my newborn baby was fast sleep in her pram. I don’t know what I would have done if she was crying.
The owner of the nursery school quickly assessed the situation and called the ambulance. He had to explain the situation to the phone operator, and within 10 minutes the ambulance had arrived.
The ambulance drivers immediately asked me what had happened. They treated the situation as serious as my son had hit his head and could have concussion. They explained that they weren’t too worried about the blood, as it is normal for head wounds to bleed, but they were worried if he had any internal brain damage from the fall. They called a couple of hospitals in the area and quickly confirmed one that would accept my son.
They bandaged my son’s head and put me, my son, my baby, my stroller and all our bags in the back of the ambulance, and took us to the hospital.
At the hospital the doctor asked me the following questions:
- Did he black out (lose consciousness) when he hit his head, or did he cry straight away?
- Is he walking straight?
- Can he do “bonzai” and lift his hands above his head (without feeling dizzy or falling over)?
- Is he talking/acting normally?
They did an X-ray just to make sure there was no fractures and confirm everything was okay.
He had a big cut on the back of his head though.
The wound was about 2cm, so they put a staple in it to seal the wound (literally a staple! With a staple gun!). I had to take him back to hospital the next day for a checkup (to check again that he didn’t have any internal damage, and that he was behaving normally). Then they took the staple out one week later.
Based on my two experiences of calling an ambulance in Japan, I would recommend the following:
- Call the ambulance if you think your child’s sickness/accident is serious
In my two experiences of calling an ambulance, both times the ambulance came straight away and the ambulance driver called the hospitals to check which one would accept my son. I think all parents have a keen sense when a sickness or injury is really serious, so I recommend following your instincts and don’t hesitate to call the ambulance for help. The ambulance driver will call the hospitals and find one that will accept your child, so you don’t have to worry about calling the hospitals yourself.
- Ask someone for help
I urge anyone in Japan, whether you can speak Japanese or not, to ask someone for help. This person could be anyone – your neighbour, a nearby shop owner, someone walking on the street. I think it is important to ask for help and have a Japanese person call the ambulance for you. This ensures you can focus on your children, and I also think a Japanese native speaker can help explain the seriousness of the situation, to ensure the details and the seriousness of the situation is understood.
I hope nobody has to experience calling an ambulance, but if you do, I hope this post will help.