FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

196Words to the Worldgood manners and cooperation that make living and working here worthwhile. March 14, 2011. Being a specialist with an interest in disaster response is not quite the same as being a disaster specialist. Maybe my biggest contribution to the effort on Sunday was tracking down some bakery rolls, and then catching up with a surgeon who had been on overnight duty and still hadn’t eaten by mid-afternoon.Being human, he promptly inhaled two rolls. Being a surgeon, he washed them down with some strong coffee. Being Japanese, he put the rest away, for others, and went back to work.March 15, 2011.Yesterday afternoon, I was among those in the lab from whom Dr. Takahiro Kanno got consent and drew screening samples, in case we have to donate blood, especially platelets, in the hospital. The Japanese Red Cross and its donors are able and willing, but contingency planning is essential when transportation infrastructure and access to petrol is compromised.Fukushima Medical University is still outside the radiation evacuation area, but some incoming patients are being wanded with a Geiger counter, in much the same way as some people are wanded with a magnetometer at airport security.Dr. Ohto mentioned that kelp is a source of iodine, and I had some in my freezer from a summer trip to the now devastated coast. So today I took a lunch of kelp and brown rice to work, but proper iodine tablets are also available. Of course it is sad to think that the person who harvested my radiation antidote was probably among those taken suddenly from this world.Patients are the priority of our hospital cooking staff, so the employee cafeteria is only preparing and serving rice balls.March 16, 2011.Yesterday I came to work with a headband headlight draped around my neck, to use as needed in dark hallways and staircases. We still have electricity, but are redoubling efforts to conserve. During the day, 9:00 am and 3:00 pm briefings were scheduled, for representatives of all departments. The afternoon briefing included a chart with background radiation measurements recorded on campus since 10:00 am March 13. There is a mild elevation compared with average natural background radiation, but accompanying examples show that a chest CT, and the barium Tilt-a-Whirl that I am offered every year for stomach cancer screening, each give more than a year’s worth of natural radiation exposure in one test. Afternoon TV news showed other cities in the prefecture, like Koriyama, with higher levels than Fukushima City.Shortly after 7 pm Tuesday, another briefing was announced for 8 pm, at which we had a radiation specialist brief us on age-based risks, countermeasures, and Fukushima’s nuclear reactor situation. Concern is highest for infants and children. There is an age-based protocol for iodine prophylaxis.This morning’s conference announced a “code red” protocol in case a significant amount of airborne radiation comes our way. Glad email is still intact. I found a note taped over the snail mail receptacle at our hospital’s post office: closed, for want of gasoline. I think they are considering not only postal vehicles, but commuting employees. Our lab is operating on a skeleton crew, as employee gas tanks run low and public transportation is being cut back.Making up for the hard realities of retail distribution, somehow rice balls are being made and delivered to hospital staff. These are better than what the name implies; they are generally decorated with one of the following: seaweed, thin strips of pickled vegetable, sesame seeds, or a salt-cured plum. At this morning’s emergency preparedness conference, there was also some white bread for department reps to take back to their staffs. Typical for Japan, each “loaf” of white bread was 5 slices in a plastic wrapper. Lots of things here get wrapped in plastic, but households and communities are diligent about recycling. This and other good behaviors are holding up during the crisis.March 17, 2011.This morning’s news, and an email from the US Embassy, recommended, “as a precaution, that American citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the