FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

98Friday, March 11 was a surgery day. We had finished operating on a patient with proliferative diabetic retinopathy and were returning the patient to the ward. The earth rumbled as we were shaken by upthrusting quakes. We could not stand up, so the staff and I leaned on walls and columns. We turned toward the windows to try to find an evacuation route, but we could not walk with all the shaking. Ten seconds, thirty seconds, one minute…the quakes did not stop.It must have lasted for five minutes. Once the tremors died down, I went to the outer hallway, which was hazy as if yellow dust had just blown in from China. All twelve operating room doors were wide open. I could see a charge nurse staggering to check inside each operating room through the haze. Looking into the Surgery Department’s operating room, I saw a blue tarp covering the patient for protection against the dust. I was greatly relieved to see that there was no damage inside the operating room.Leaving the operating room, I saw patients who should have returned to the ward unable to move past the entrance. I climbed the dust-filled emergency stairwell, from the operating rooms on the third floor to the sixth floor. All the emergency exits and windows on the sixth floor ward were open, and a cold breeze blew through. Thankfully, there were no major injuries to the hospitalized patients. However, post-operative patients could not return to the ward because the elevators were broken, so they were moved to the School of Nursing rooms on the same floor. In multi-story hospitals, though it may be possible to descend from the emergency stairwell while transferring patients, it is difficult to climb the stairs with them.The university buildings did not collapse, but there were several long cracks along the walls, and a portion of the connecting corridor was displaced. Going up and down the stairs, I tried to return to the doctor’s offices, but I could not get in because books, magazines, copy machines, computers, and clocks had fallen to the floor. Three large freezers that had been against the wall in the laboratory had moved to the center of the room. Objects with casters in the outpatient area and hospital wards moved around but did not fall down. On the other hand, bookcases and other objects secured with quakeproof stoppers had all broken down.We were able to verify the safety of physicians within the university at once, but it took longer for those physicians dispatched to other hospitals. We were able to verify the safety of the entire doctor’s offices staff only three days after the earthquake.The university held a meeting to address the disaster. Lector Minoru Furuta and others began to address the effects of the disaster on the hospital. We learned that although there was no problem with the provision of electricity, there was no running water. Large cities within the prefecture, such as Fukushima City, Koriyama, and Iwaki, had also lost water supply. The university had some water stored in water supply tanks, but the use of water for surgeries was limited. This made me realize that tertiary emergency medical facilities should have backup delivery systems for their main utilities.The accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant also happened after the earthquake, so the entire hospital was in a state of emergency readiness. Commutes could not go as planned because roads were cut off and there was no gasoline, and landlines and cell phones were not working. Thus, we were faced with the need to take emergency measures. The doctor’s office’s mailing list was a great help during these times. It included the email addresses and cell phone numbers of all staff related to the office, and we were able to contact them. Professor Tomohiro Iida was in America at the time of the disaster because of his participation in the Macula Society; Ginkai No. 215 “Notes from the Disaster: One Month After the Earthquake off the Pacific Coast of Tohoku”Mailing Lists Useful for Emergency ReadinessGratitude to the Families who Supported Efforts During the Earthquake, Power Outage, and Water Supply Cut OffTetsuju SekiryuAssociate Professor, Fukushima Medical University