The Miracle of Loving Care

Etsuko Fujimura

ON AUGUST 9, 1945, I was at my desk on the second floor of the Mitsubishi Arms Plant at Ohashi, in Nagasaki. I worked there as a clerk. We had just returned from the air-raid shelters to which we had gone when an alarm had been sounded shortly before eleven. The alert had been lifted, and I had just sat down to work on some blueprints. My back was toward the window.

Suddenly, I heard a tremendous explosion. I covered my eyes and ears as we were taught to do in air-raid training. But the blast hurled me from my place. When I came to, I was sprawled on the landing at the head of the stairway. Others had been blown out the windows of the second story and had been killed in their fall. I lay stock still, paralyzed with fear for about ten minutes. Then I shouted for help.

The old man who was in charge of machinery and materials storage in the basement heard my call and came to me. Since I was unable to walk, he carried me on his back. We escaped the ruined and burning building.

I had been badly hurt. The part of my face that I had covered with my hands had been spared to an extent, but my forehead was mangled and bleeding. When I lowered my head, the skin of my forehead hung down in front of my eyes like a piece of tattered cloth. Part of my clothing had been blown off, and my back was brutally wounded. Ashamed of my nakedness, after we had gone a little way I asked the old man to put me down in a paddy. Since he was returning to the factory, I asked him to tell my father, who was the director of the propulsion department, where to find me. Before long, I heard someone call my name. To my intense happiness, it was my father, who had happened to meet the old man. Because of my serious condition he insisted that I go at once to the safety of the country. My mother, sister, and younger brother had evacuated to Yue; but ironically they had all three returned on an errand to our home in the Iwakawa-machi district of Nagasaki. My father intended to go to look for them. I was frightened and did not want to part from him, but at about three in the afternoon it became necessary for us to go our separate ways. He promised to join me in the country as soon as he had found the others.

On my way to Michino, where I wanted to take a freight train, I happened to meet a close friend who had worked at the same factory. She begged me to take her with me. We started off together, only to find our path blocked by the carcass of a dead horse. Though terrified, we decided that we had to pull ourselves together and survive somehow.

Just then, a weak but frenzied voice called our names and pleaded for help. We rushed to the place from which the voice came and found another friend, dying from a ghastly rip in the chest. There was nothing we could do for her. Though it tormented us, we had to abandon her with nothing but the faint hope that someone would come soon and take her to a hospital.

American planes circling overhead were dropping incendiary bombs. Our progress was so slow that it was about seven in the evening when we finally reached the station and got on the freight train, filled with horribly wounded people. Some of them had attacks of diarrhea in the car.

My friend got off at Isahaya, but I went on to Omura, where there was a hospital. I realized that I required medical attention fast and hoped to be treated before continuing to the country. A member of a relief team took me to the Kyosai Hospital in Omura, where I was bandaged from head to foot and ordered to remain absolutely still.

But the next day, the city of Omura underwent another of the bomb raids that I was told had become daily. Buildings near the hospital were in flames. Not knowing when our turn might come and not wanting to be killed there, I decided to go on to the country, where others of my brothers and sisters were living. As luck would have it, I met an acquaintance from the country who wanted to leave the hospital too. Covered with bandages, the two of us sneaked out of the ward and went to the station. Since we had no money, we resolved to walk. But before long this became too tiring; and we returned to the station, where the officials took pity on our condition and gave us a free ride.

At about ten in the evening, I reached Yue and went to the house where my sisters lived. At first appalled by my appearance, they soon wept for joy that I was alive. They had heard about the bombing of Nagasaki.

Presently my father returned, alone. He had gone to the place where our house had stood and had found nothing but rubble. He looked for a while but found nothing. About to leave, he ran into a neighbor who said she had seen mother the minute before the blast. The neighbor had been entering the air-raid shelter when mother said she and the children would be along at once. Feeling that mother could not have gone far, father began to dig in the smoldering ruins of our house. He found mother, one of my sisters, and my brother dead, buried under the wreckage. He had the bodies cremated and brought the remains, including mother's false teeth, back with him in a rice cooker that we had used for many years.

From that day, my temperature shot up to between forty and forty-two degrees centigrade. I was in a delirium for days. Having heard from someone that falling hair and purple spots on the skin were major symptoms of the dreaded atomic disease, my sisters felt reassured. I had neither of the symptoms. But in a few days they developed. My hair fell, and purple spots appeared on several parts of my body.

The first hospital I visited said that there was nothing to be done, implying that I was doomed to die. But I went to another hospital, where a woman doctor named Ushijima examined me. Looking intently into my face, she said that I had the atomic disease and that she could make no promises. But she added that she had no intention of remaining idle while young people like me were suffering from this horrible sickness. Insisting that I remain quiet and follow her instructions, she initiated treatment.

But my fever did not go down, my gums bled, and my hair continued to fall. I had no appetite and ate virtually nothing. Dr. Ushijima, who was so attentive that she would come even at midnight if I showed signs of getting worse, gave me frequent dextrose injections and performed operations on festering sores on my neck. I drank a concoction made of boiled persimmon leaves and ate ground radish without any signs of improvement in my condition.

At one juncture, death seemed very close. My father asked if there was anything I would like to eat, and I replied that I would be able to die content if they would give me a pear. Two of my sisters immediately went out to purchase the fruit and on the way met a nun who seemed to know a great deal about radiation sickness. Apparently she had taken care of many atomic-bomb victims. When my sisters told her about me, she said there was a remedy that would work in my case.

"I think I can save your sister. Victims of the atomic sickness die because their stomachs and intestines are filled with poisonous gas. The most important thing is to get the gas out of their systems. Go to a village about two miles from here. At the drugstore specializing in Chinese remedies there ask for Tentokosan. If your sister's stool is bloody after taking this medicine, she will survive. If not, there is no hope for her."

My sisters bought the medicine at once. I took it and almost immediately felt my bowels become loose. Getting out of bed and starting for the toilet, I fainted. My sisters, who heard my fall, rushed from the kitchen to help me. I was later told that I passed two bucketfuls of bloody fecal matter.

Then, fifty days after the bombing, I experienced my second major crisis. I lost consciousness and once again lingered on the brink of death. My father and sisters and Dr. Ushijima gathered at my bedside. Before long, however, I regained consciousness and could see blurred faces around me. I had apparently pulled through. Dr. Ushijima examined me and said that I would live.

My condition improved rapidly. In a few days, my temerature fell; and ten days later the purple spots were completely gone. Miraculously, I was cured and I have never suffered a relapse or any aftereffects. Doctors and experts on the subject tell me that I am one of the few people who were within a radius of one and a half kilometers of the hypocenter who are still alive and healthy today. Nonetheless, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission sends officials to examine me regularly twice a year; and all my records are kept at the Nagasaki University Hospital.

Perhaps the Chinese herbal medicine helped cure me; I cannot say. But I am certain that the patient and loving care of my family and of Dr. Ushijima are largely responsible for the good health I enjoy today.

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