ph_010_01.jpgMieko held her patient and a computer with both hands. The shake didn't stop for such a long time.
She was in the hospital, working as a nurse in obstetrics and gynecology department.
"We would die if this shake goes on. Nat-chan! " she thought of her daughter who was at the primary school.

In the gym of Nat-chan's school, graduation ceremony was being held. Nat-chan was one of the graduates and her 6 years in a primary school was just near to end.
Her mother was working at the hospital, and her father was in Kobe (West Japan) on his business. They couldn't attend the ceremony but they planned a family celebration for Nat-chan instead. All the family members really looked forward to having that event during the spring holiday.
Memorial photos were projected on the screen one by one. "Oh, I remember that!" All the 6th grade students enjoyed watching the slide together. Then suddenly, the gym began to shake.
Children hid their bodies under the chair, then after a while, they rushed out from the gym one after another.
They gathered and hugged each other in the playground. Everyone cried fearfully during the terrible shake. Their families hurried to school to pick them up. However, nobody came for Nat-chan. Tears ran down her cheeks.
"Ah, I have a mobile phone at home! My mom bought it for me as a gift for starting junior high school." Nat-chan ran to her home and run back to her school with her new mobile phone. She tried to call her mother so many times, but couldn't get through. Nat-chan sent her mother a text message. "I'm so scared, freezing cold, mom."

The hospital was also in an emergency. The building was in danger of collapsing. "We must protect our patients. Get all the patients out of the hospital immediately."
Doctors, nurses and administration staffs, all of them devoted themselves as a rescue team. They moved beds and carried their patients on stretchers. Both men and women staffs of the hospital ran down the stairs from the eighth floor to the ground, then ran up again. They carried out all the blankets and gave them to their patients who were in the cold.
Mieko tried to send a text message to her family in her spare time, but in vain. After a while, she got a message from Nat-chan and she finally knew that her daughter was safe. "I'm sorry, Nat-chan. I am so sorry to leave you alone."
Mieko and other staffs sent back some patients to their home and carried others into the hospital again. Exhaustion made their legs tremble.

"Stay safe?" Mieko also got a message from her husband, Kuniaki in Kobe. It was much easier to get through to Kobe as it is far away from Iwaki. Somebody had to get Nat-chan from school. Unfortunately, Kuniaki's mother evacuated to Toyoma because of the Tsunami. Mieko's mother was in bed and her father couldn't leave her. In the end, Mieko asked her elder sister to go to Nat-chan's school.

Nat-chan was the last student waiting for her family in the playground. It was already 8:00 at
night; finally she went home with her aunt.

At 10:00 p.m., Mieko came back from the hospital. She hugged her daughter so tightly. Nat-chan fell asleep in her mother's arms.
"I wanted to protect my child. But I couldn't be with her at that moment. Thank God, she was safe." Mieko felt regret at her occupation for the very first time.

Kuniaki drove his car from Kobe to Iwaki, about 600 km away long, over night. It took the entire day, and was able to pick his mother up in Toyoma. Damage of the Tsunami was extremely huge there. Some of his relatives were killed. Kuniaki totally lost his words. But he decided to take some photos to show Mieko and Nat-chan.
"We should know and remember what exactly happened here. I have to record and tell the reality to the next generation who will live here from now on." He thought.

Mieko had to go back to work the very next morning. Kuniaki said to her, "Just go. Many patients are waiting for you. Don't worry. I'll take care of Nat-chan." Mieko felt strong support from her family. "OK. I'll go and do my best."

The hospital was full of patients who got injured by the earthquake and Tsunami. Most of the staffs needed to work for emergency patients. The hospital accepted patients for 24 hours and the doctors continued to treat them without sleep. Some nurses worked as usual even after losing their houses. Many doctors came from outside Fukushima. Mieko made rice balls and brought them to the hospital every day. In obstetrics and gynecology department, pregnant women in emergency were sent to other hospitals by helicopter. There were some women who moved from other hospitals as well. Then, when the issue of radioactivity got more and more serious, the hospital got hundreds of calls from pregnant women. Doctors told them, "Escape from Fukushima right away. Just as far as possible. And call us when you find another hospital out there."

"What about my daughter, Nat-chan? What should we do for her?" Mieko also faced the same issue as a mother. "We want to stay together as one family. I don't want to leave my daughter alone anymore."
Mieko and Kuniaki discussed over and over based on the information from TV and the internet. Then they finally made a decision.
"It would be so stressful for a child to go to an unfamiliar place alone and stay away from her family. We, as a family, need to stay together. We'll just try hard to avoid the radioactivity."
Mieko and Kuniaki also have their parents in Iwaki. Because of their mother's health condition, their father cannot move away easily. Mieko and Kuniaki never can leave them. There are many patients who need Mieko's help at the hospital as well.
Every morning, they checked the information about earthquake and radioactivity. They carefully clean their shoes before entering their house and shut out any dust from their house. When they go out, they never forget their masks and Nat-chan just stays inside the car. They set a nylon bag at the entrance hall of their house so that they can throw the used masks right after they come back from outside. They dust off their bodies carefully at the hall and immediately change their clothes. They just stay at home as much as possible.
"All the Fukushima people must be victims of this disaster." Mieko thinks of her days with the danger of radioactivity and put her head down.

"We still think whether we should evacuate our daughter from Fukushima or not as the situation gets worse," said Mieko. "We, adults are OK, but what about our child? We can understand the difficult situation in our government somehow. But do they really care about the future of Fukushima people? The doctors of our hospital say that we don't need to worry about radioactive iodine since it has already been decreased in its 8 day -half life. Doctors advised us just checking our thyroid gland regularly. On the other hand, radioactive cesium could be dangerous as one of the carcinogens. The government should continue doing research on radioactivity for 20 - 30 years or more."

One day, Mieko got a questionnaire from Nat-chan's junior high school. It said, "Would you mind if we let your children go outside?" If parents answer "Yes", their children can go outside and run around the playground at school. If parents say "No", children will just stay inside and play in their classrooms or gym.
Nat-chan got to stay inside all day at school.
"I'm afraid of radioactivity. Some students wear masks and others don't. Most of my friends are saying that I don't need to care too much. But I worry about my friends running around the playground."

Since March 11, Mieko stopped going out for having fun. It was only for the prevention of radioactivity at first, however, as time passed, she gradually lost her joyful feelings, smiles and postiveness to go for the next goal. She knows that she needs to "change." But it is not easy.

"After the nuclear incident," said Mieko, "We said to ourselves that we should never waste our days because nobody knows tomorrow. At the same time, we also feel like "Ah, we just don't care whatever happens tomorrow". We always have both of those feelings in our minds. And we are questioning why we are here. Why in Fukushima? Why in Iwaki?

About food, I know it's better to buy local products for Iwaki, but I cannot be 100 percent sure to give them to my daughter. Well, we used to eat local products, however, the more information we get, the more hard we eat our local foods with relief. Now I always check the producing districts before I buy. The products at the supermarkets might be safe, but I'm still afraid to buy and eat them.

Then we come to think, "Should we evacuate?" However, to change the environment would not be the best for our child. I have my parents here in Iwaki and my husband's mother as well. I cannot leave them. Moreover, what about our job and living cost if we move into another place? It's not easy unless the government moves all of the people out.

Yet, we are not sure whether we chose the right way or not.
Staying here in Iwaki could possibly influence on our children's future. My husband says "Nat-chan has to find her marriage partner from only among the Fukushima people. Radioactivity is not a usual matter, so we have to see the things like that."
Though we would face some severe problems, this is our choice to stay here. We'll just keep watching the situation without turning our eyes away."

Nat-chan sitting beside her mother also struggles with her mixed feelings.
"I've heard about bullying against children who evacuated from Fukushima to the other place. I don't want to leave my hometown. I want to be with my friends here. But at the same time, I worry about my future. I'm afraid that my future will be ruined because of radioactivity. I want to live long, too. I just can't tell what the best is for me."

Some doctors recommend us to evacuate if we feel strong anxiety in our daily life. The worry would go on and give us huge mental stress.
However, evacuation brings us lots of issues as well. Can we raise our children for long in a new place? Can we manage our lives economically? Or can we keep our double-life in both Iwaki and another place? There are many people who have no choice except to stay in Iwaki. In fact, most of mothers who had evacuated once already returned here for giving birth or taking care of their children with their families.

"Ordinary life isn't ordinary any more. Things, people...everything just changed. Some people lost their houses. Others got washed away by Tsunami with their unborn babies. In such a situation, I was strongly encouraged by the bond between local people and many hearty words from my patients. We've been helping and cooperating with each other. We've overcome many troubles with our strong bond. We need to unite now to make the things better even little by little. We, the people living in Iwaki have to handle this. So I'll just start doing anything whatever I can. Living in this town where I love so much, as a professional nurse, I'll keep encouraging my patients with hearty words. I'll listen to them carefully so that they can feel relieved even a little. I also want to protect my child as a mother. Well, our life is really tough, isn't it?"

Information is given little by little. Situation has been changed day by day. People don't know what to believe. However, they need to trust the announced information to some extent to live in Iwaki.

"It would be the best way to pick and choose the right information for our self-defense. Neither over information nor scary one can be quite enough. I, as a mother need to tell my daughter "how to protect herself"."

Nat-chan said,
"This is a trial to be stronger, I think. Then the next time is going to be my turn to help somebody."
Nat-chan grows up while looking at her mother working as a professional nurse. Her smile was gentle and warm just like a sunflower.

(Translated by Shizuka Hayashi)