FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

111chap.IIFukushima Medical University Record of Activities [Notes and Messages]FUKUSHIMA: Lives on the LineThe lack of gasoline supply posed an obstacle for employees wanting to commute. Nonetheless, all of the staff banded together to overcome the situation. Many employees either carpooled, keeping an eye on the fuel gauges of their personal cars, or spent the nights at the hospital to conserve resources. Ten days after the earthquake, I was finally able to refuel my car after waiting for five hours at the gas station.Because the hospital’s communications systems had broken down immediately after the earthquake, patients were unable to check on the safety of their families and homes. Their concerns and anxiety grew along with their fear of aftershocks and they suffered significant psychological burden. Patients whose treatments had been temporarily suspended expressed their frustration to the nurses, who could do nothing but lend an ear. But we must not forget that these nurses were also among the many who suffered significant losses in the disaster.(3) Effects of the Fukushima Nuclear AccidentFukushima was not only affected by the natural disasters but also the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 12. The latter mandated an evacuation zone with a radius of 20 kilometers, and thus began the large-scale transportation of patients and citizens requiring care. We measured the radiation of those coming from the evacuation zone at the hospital’s entrance.At first, there was a flood of information about the effects of radiation exposure, which caused a spread of anxiety among not only community members but also the nurses. In addition to constant news updates, which only deepened speculations, our hospital provided information about radiation exposure and received clarifications from radiation experts during the plenary meetings. We also set up a consultation desk. But in all honesty, we nurses remained nervous about the unprecedented co-occurrence of the earthquake and potential radiation contamination; we were both physically strained and mentally insecure. I felt self-condemnation, powerlessness, and frustration in the voices saying “With so many people in worse conditions, how did I get away so easy?” “Isn’t there something more I could do?” or “I cannot do this by myself.” Having left a small child at home and thinking of the safety of my family members in areas seriously damaged by the disaster, I could empathize with nurses who had to continue with their work. The leaders in my ward sought to relieve our anxieties and prevent the staff from falling into depression by creating opportunities for us to vent our fears and worries and an atmosphere with signs of normal life, such as the much-valued laughter. Under these conditions, the fact that we could calmly and energetically care for patients is a testament to our sense of responsibility, mission as specialists, and mental strength. It was extremely encouraging to have the help and cooperation of the university’s liaison nurses who cared for us when we were close to our limit. It was truly invaluable to have these nurses, also affected by the disaster, realize their role of providing psychiatric care at the right time.(4) Looking Back on the Disaster As a trained oncology nurse, although I did not perform specialized oncology nursing care during the disaster, it was a good opportunity for me to rethink caring for cancer patients, particularly in times of disaster. As a disaster response nurse, it is essential to have requisite knowledge about cancer patients. This would allow me to help those living in my community as well; however, I regret that I was not well prepared at the time.In panic after the earthquake struck, I searched the website “Information Base for Disaster Nursing Knowledge and Skills to Protect Lives (University of Hyogo College of Nursing Art and Science, 21st Century Center of Excellence Program),” where anybody can obtain information about disaster nursing, and both community members and experts can access an information network to prepare for disasters. Helpful manuals about disasters, the elderly, children, cancer patients, psychiatric health, and other topics are posted on the website. I was able to use these as guidelines while providing nursing care during the disaster. We must now review our experiences caring for cancer patients during this disaster and build systems that can disseminate new information.Even today, Fukushima is dealing with the repercussions of the earthquake and radiation, and the path to recovery is a long one. The situations in which the two disasters took place were different; however, I believe we should look back on the strength, resolution, and perseverance of the victims of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Just as these victims have, we must also carry the belief that one day the people of Fukushima will overcome the problems caused by the earthquake and nuclear accident. I hope that nursing can fulfill the role of bringing us closer to that day.Activity Records of the Fukushima Medical University Hospital