FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

198language interpreters.Mass media has also become a personal medium in this crisis, with considerable airtime devoted to individual health and welfare inquiries. A few touching reunions have been broadcast, but the hard reality is that many “I’m fine, where are you?” messages will go unanswered.March 20, 2011Research by George Bonanno and others confirms that grief-stricken individuals experience not only sadness and anger, but also moments of happiness and mirth. This fits an unwritten protocol for funerals in my clan: Let them cry. Make them laugh. Serve a good lunch. The cry-laugh-eat formula also works at blood donor recognition events.What about Japan, especially now? The resilience of Japanese people in adverse circumstances earns attention and praise around the world. Believe it. But is laughter a coping strategy here? Sometimes it means embarrassment. Before my first professional trip to Japan, in 2004, Dr. Paul Holland told me not to expect laughter from Western jokes inserted into a medical lecture. He was right. Some Westerners mistakenly conclude that Japanese have no sense of humor. Don’t believe it. Our crisis conferences began on a somber note, and we continue to deal with heavy matters every day. But my colleagues find humor in the mild inconveniences endured here as we address the devastating losses endured by our neighbors. Humor is not caloric energy, but it somehow compensates for a shortage of calories.Early on, I questioned my decision to become a prefectural employee. Reassurance came from an unexpected source: Mr. Ohashi, our hospital’s sushi chef. Yes, in good times, the hospital serves sushi. Great sushi. Mr. Ohashi could be a wealthy restaurant owner, but he confided that a prefectural salary was enough if his sushi brought cheer to even a few staff, patients, and family members.Some of today’s laughter came when Q&A about the restoration of essential services provoked a question about when we might expect Mr. Ohashi’s sushi. He, those who fish, and everyone in between work harder for my occasional indulgence than I ever have. Missing meals is nothing compared to losing life or livelihood. We continue at FMU, so that others can begin again.March 21, 2011Today is a Japanese national holiday, prosaically translated as Vernal Equinox Day. I will honor it with brevity, a quality of good writing that my sister Judy practices. Here is her haiku:A small bloom of hope Emerges from the rubbleReaching for the sunMarch 23, 2011Authorities warn that aftershocks may continue for weeks or months, as the tectonic plates and surrounding earth seek a new equilibrium. To us living on the surface, last evening’s and this morning’s prolonged aftershocks were unsettling, but we, too, are seeking equilibrium. Directives from yesterday afternoon’s crisis conference included going home after a day’s work, spending time with family, and (with newfound appreciation for municipal water) having a hot bath. The hospital barbershop is open again; it felt good to stop in, exchange health and welfare reports, and get a haircut. A few students were kicking a ball around on the soccer field, but there are still drums of fuel on the periphery of the field for helicopters.Hospitals are foreign and perhaps foreboding places for new patients. That’s why workers were officially reminded to be attentive to their own states of mind. If patients aren’t sure what to feel, they will likely follow our lead. Of course, states of mind should not be states of denial. Interested readers may continue with the following email, sent last night to an American newspaper’s senior correspondent. People in the news business are also subject to stress and sleep deprivation, and the person to whom I wrote had mistakenly thought that one of our surgeons might be available for an interview in Yamagata, an adjacent prefecture. The email sounds a bit urgent toward the end, but after a rice ball, I was feeling better.Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 6:22 PMDear Mr. H******,Thank you for your concern about our situation in the Tohoku region of Japan. Out of respect for your time, I am writing directly to you instead of advising Dr. Sakuma how to respond. As you can imagine, my colleague and his wife, also a doctor, are pulled in many directions at once these days.I am Kenneth Nollet, an American in the Department of Blood Transfusion and Words to the World