Tohoku Pacific Earthquake: Report 11 on Medical Activities on the ground

Taking Part in the Ohtsuchi Emotional and Psychological Care Team

©Eric Rechsteiner/MdM

I took part in the Care Teams activities just around three months after the disaster. I am from the Kansai region of Japan, where I normally work as a nurse and even now, 16 years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, I meet people who are still suffering from the burden of that awful experience. Thanks to what was learned in Kobe, we now know that it is important to provide long-term psychological care as well emergency medical treatment after such a huge disaster. Even though I personally have no experience or training in the field of psychiatry, I wanted to help in any way I could, which is why I decided to take part in the volunteer activities.

My main duties were made up of accompanying the team’s psychologists and psychotherapists as they went around the areas and evacuation shelters designated to the emotional and psychological care team by the Healthcare Center and providing medical examinations and counseling when needed. The Doctors of the World team stays almost one hour and a half by car from Ohtsuchi. Driving through the beautiful Tohoku mountains and drawing near to the coast, you can see the scenes of devastation unfold before your eyes that have become familiar viewing on the television. Even though most of the rubble has been cleared away and the roads have been repaired, the downtown area is still a wasteland, dozens of upside down cars are poking out of roofs, only the stumps of once tall pine trees that were planted as windbreakers remain. Yet when I look out at the sea, I see the beautiful and gentle waters of Sanriku and realize that it is impossible for me to comprehend what happened here. What’s more, the majority of those living in the evacuation shelters lost their friends, families and homes to this tsunami, which is why I was surprised at how well-organized they all are in dividing up and performing necessary tasks. As I watched them look forward to meals being delivered by various relief agencies, relax for a while and laugh thanks to the visits of celebrities and help each other to overcome their difficulties one at a time, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the strength and resilience of the people of Tohoku. Nevertheless, I have also met many who suffer from insomnia, depression and flashbacks, as well as others who experience feelings of guilt toward lost loved ones as they begin to come to terms with what happened. There are others still, who desperately look for even just the remains of their family members, and are bewildered by blind frustration. People who work at places like the hospital, town hall and other municipal facilities have worked tirelessly without any days off despite the fact that they are also victims of this disaster. I was almost overcome with tears many times when I spoke with them and heard what they have been going through.

As people now begin to move from the evacuation shelters into the temporary housing, we can expect to see various new problems appear. I am absolutely certain that emotional, psychological and grief care will be greatly needed in the long-term. Once more I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to all those who were victims of this tragedy, and pledge my support to the ongoing recovery effort.

Nurse Ayumi Amada

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