"The people around me in Kenya saw it as an event in another world, but for me it was my problem."
April 11, 2011
Interview with Shintaro Hayashi.
Shintaro Hayashi is a general practitioner and a specialist in gastroenterology who recently returned from a two-week mission in the area of northeast Japan that has been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.
His home is Sendai, the main city in Miyagi, one of the prefectures worst-hit by the devastating March 11th earthquake and tsunami. When the disaster struck, he was on his first MSF mission in Kenya.
“On the first day when I heard about the earthquake, I didn’t think it was very serious, but the next day I knew that the damage was extremely severe. My wife was in Sendai City and I was worried about her but was able to get in contact. She told me that she had difficulty getting water and food.
I couldn’t believe what had happened, that my region was so damaged. The people around me in Kenya saw it as an event in another world, but for me it was my problem, my family problem.
I was scared and nervous because I could not contact some friends who were working in the disaster area. I thought some might have died. Initially I just wanted to help my wife, but then because a lot of my friends were working in the disaster area, I started to think that I would join them.
All the MSF team (in Kenya) were very supportive. I talked with my team and many of them told me that I could go back and that MSF will support my emergency leave.
During the emergency mission I worked in four evacuation centres in the Minami Sanriku area where we operated mobile clinics every day. The main part of our job was the follow up of chronic diseases. Actually there are not a lot of very sick people. Most people lost their medicine and prescription so we just prescribed medicine and gave some psychological support. There are a lot of old people, so most of the chronic disease were hypertension, diabetes, common cold.
Lots of people smile and talk a lot, but I think it’s because they are trying their best to survive the situation. The more time passes, if they enter temporary houses on their own, they start to feel depressed or worry about their future.
Psychological needs are getting bigger gradually.
For the moment there are a lot of medical teams in the evacuation sites, but they are working temporarily so in a month or two, most of them will leave. I think in a couple of months, the medical needs could increase. Even before the earthquake there were not so many doctors in the Tokoku area.
There was a bed ridden old lady who was in her house and her daughter in law was taking care of her by herself. There was no electricity, no water, no gas. I visited her house and it was very cold in the house. At first she did not have any medical equipment and supplies to take care of her. We tried to help by supplying medical equipment. She had bed sores which we took care of.
The evacuation sites in which we worked are small communities and the relationships between the people are very strong. Work is assigned for different people, and they are always working, constructing a bath, or clearing broken houses. I think its good for their mental health, but I saw many people just sleeping in large evacuation sites. I think they need more psychological support.
I was surprised by the size of the response. In addition to the Self Defense Forces, the Red Cross and other NGOs have mobilized. The size of the response is very big.
I will continue to work in the region for another few years I think. I want to stay until reconstruction is completed.”