FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

202start of Mayo’s 1997-1998 academic year, Minnesota endured 18 tornadoes in a single day (National Weather Service data for July 1, 1997). Friends and colleagues in Japan - accustomed to earthquakes but not so familiar with tornadoes - were rather worried. On March 29, 1998, another wave of tornadoes - 16 in all - swept across Minnesota and Wisconsin.A new academic year for Fukushima Medical University’s residency training program started this week. Our medical school year will begin next month. The delayed start is explained in a March 21 press release, “FMU School of Medicine will reopen in May.”Educating the next generation of caregivers in the midst of a crisis requires more than just rearranging an academic calendar. It may be time to rethink the academic calendar, and redefine the scope of our campus. Maybe caregivers in Japan don’t need Tetsuya Fujita’s knowledge of North American weather, but the people who respond to tornadoes might have something to teach us, and vice versa.April 8, 2011Four weeks have passed since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake of March 11. In retrospect, a magnitude 7.2 tremor on Wednesday, March 9 was a foreshock. Last night’s 7.1 tremor was declared an aftershock.People continue to send emails of concern, often expressing a heart-felt desire to do or send something. A care package from Wakayama Prefecture delighted our lab staff, and, as usual, they are savoring it with slow deliberation.April 11, 2011Today marks one month since an earthquake changed everything. Or did it?Hourai East Primary School, a block from where I live, resumed classes today. Last night, there were students in the gymnasium, rather than refugees. Tens of thousands are still displaced, and will be for some time. While new accommodations are being built, young doctors unaccustomed to making house calls are calling on the homeless. Earthquakes and tsunamis put every structure to the test, but social order has not collapsed.At 2:46 pm today, FMU observed a minute of silence for those removed from their homes, especially those removed from this world. I chose to observe this silence from the vantage point of a hallway window overlooking our courtyard. Why? First, a small plaque in the courtyard commemorates the life, and the oath, of Hippocrates. Second, it is a dull, overcast day, and the courtyard trees are still bare. But this will change in the next week. Nature has the power to destroy; human artifice adds insult to injury, but nature also manifests creation, and, re-creation.April 13, 2011Our department’s newly minted PhD missed the ad-hoc graduation ceremony held on March 24. Dr. Alain Ngoma and his family were advised by his government to seek refuge away from tsunami disaster and radiation risk areas. Most foreign embassies in Tokyo have been handing out the same advice, and providing assistance to the displaced. The Ngoma family’s pathway to a safe haven engaged the hospitality of Japanese, Congolese, and other nationals. “Alain-Sensei” returned alone to Fukushima on March 30, while his wife and children remain with friends elsewhere in Japan.Dr. Ngoma’s promotion from graduate student to junior faculty did not change his university affiliation. He moved down the hall to the Department of Public Health, where one of his first extra assignments was to translate selected disaster response announcements into French.Another milestone that, thankfully, did not take a valuable employee from FMU was the advanced credentialing of our department’s nurse. Ms. Miyoko Goto is now recognized by JSTMCT (and five other professional societies) as a specialist in both transfusion and apheresis nursing. The accreditation system is new; I think Ms. Goto was actually one of the models on which knowledge and performance criteria were based for formal credentialing. We collect autologous blood and perform apheresis in the same big room as our main laboratory; beyond academic credentials, Ms. Goto has a knack for making patients feel comfortable and relaxed in what might otherwise be an unusual and distressing environment.We haven’t had much to celebrate lately, or for that matter, much to celebrate with. But as community businesses pick themselves up and dust themselves off, Prof. Ohto has decided that we should venture off campus Thursday night to toast the achievements of Ms. Goto and Dr. Ngoma. They are among the Japanese and other nationals who have guided my transition to life and work in Fukushima, so I salute them here as well.Words to the World