A personal account of the painful and gruesome story about life in Hiroshima after the bombing, Michihiko Hachiya kept a diary containing his experience of nearly dying. He recounts his story of being a doctor in Hiroshima, and how he worked as a doctor to save his friends and peers after the bomb was dropped.
I was overcome by profound weakness, so I paused to get my strength back. I was shocked to discover that I was completely naked. What a strange thing! What happened to my drawers and undershirt?
I gradually became aware of what was going on around me. Some of the shadowy figures looked like walking ghosts. Some moved as though in pain, holding out their arms with their hands and forearms dangling from their bodies. I was baffled until suddenly it occurred to me that they had been burned and had their arms extended to avoid painful rubbing of raw surfaces against one another. A naked woman was carrying a naked baby, and I averted my gaze and surmised that they had been in the bath. However, after seeing a naked man, I realized that, like myself, something strange had stripped them of their clothes. I saw an old woman lying beside me with a look of suffering on her face, yet she made no sound. Everyone I saw had one thing in common-complete silence.
As Miss Kado finished the exam, it felt like my chest was on fire. Despite my entreaty, she continued to apply iodine to my wounds. After being faced with no alternative but to endure the iodine, I looked out the window for a distraction.
Hiroshima had become a burnt-over prairie instead of a city. Everything was flattened to the east and west. I had never seen the mountains so close before.The destruction of Hiroshima’s houses made the city seem so small.
There were no friends or relatives to provide them with nourishment, no one to cook for them. Chaos reigned everywhere, and vomiting and diarrhea made matters worse. Patients who couldn’t walk peed and urinated where they lay. People who can walk found the exits and relieved themselves there. It was impossible to avoid stepping in the filth since it was spread so closely. Throughout the night, the front entrance was covered in feces. Nobody could do anything because bedpans were not available and, even if they were, no one was available to carry them.
“It was a horrifying sight,” Dr. Tabuchi said. Many of the injured people trying to flee went past our home. It was almost unbearable to see them. They were burned and swollen, and bands of skin had fallen from their bodies to dangle downward like torn clothes on a scarecrow, they appeared to crawl along like ants. Through the night, they passed by, but this morning they stopped. There were so many of them laying on both sides of the road, I couldn’t move without stepping on them."
“The Prefectural First Middle School swimming pool is filled with dead people. They must have suffocated while trying to evade the fire because they weren’t burned.”
Patients were reported to have no appetite and began to vomit and experienced diarrhea one by one. Has the new weapon I’ve heard about produced a poison gas or perhaps some deadly bacteria? I asked Dr. Hanaoka if he could report vomiting and diarrhea, as well as whether any patients appeared to be infected. According to him, there were many who not only had diarrhea, but also bloody stools, and some of them had as many as forty to fifty stools the previous night. Based on this, I became convinced we had bacillary dysentery and that we had no choice other than to isolate those affected. After two days, I had adapted to this chaos and despair.
“O-tōsan, there were so many people in the hall that I couldn’t walk anywhere without disturbing someone,” she answered, trying to suppress her agitation. “Every step I took, I had to excuse myself, it was terrible. I stepped on someone’s foot, and when I asked to be excused, there was no response. I looked down to see what I had done, “I stepped on a dead man’s foot,” she said, and moved closer.
As a result of the speed at which people died, I had become accustomed to death’s unavoidable presence and had stopped respecting it. If a family had not lost more than two members, I considered them to be lucky. As a citizen of Hiroshima, how could I keep my head high when I had thoughts like that?
Since the burned-out second floor seemed less appealing than the first floor, despite the crowding, it provoked a lively debate as to which patients should be moved upstairs. In the end, the decision was made that the staff will go up first and leave the ground floor available for patients from the outside. I was the first to be moved, and when my stretcher cleared the landing, I looked down to see the stark twisted forms of thirty-odd iron bed frames, underneath which was the white ash residue of the straw mattresses they once held. After lying on the concrete floor for two days, the sight of these beds was magnificent. I found a bed that was not too badly twisted near Yaeko-san. We immediately placed our mats over the frames, and without further ado, we were able to move into our new accommodations. Then Dr. Sasada, Miss Susukida, and Miss Omoto came and one by one, other members of the staff joined us until the whole room came alive with activity. There might have been complaints about soot and ashes, pipes and curtains dangling crazily from the ceiling, but patients had never lived in a hospital ward that was so nearly free of bacteria as this one.
For acres and acres, the city was like a desert, except for random piles of bricks and roof tiles. The word destruction had to be redefined or another word had to be chosen to describe what I saw. Devastation may be a more accurate word, but there is no other word that can describe the view from my twisted iron bed in the fire-gutted ward of the Communications Hospital.
In the evening, a southerly wind blew across the city wafting an odor reminiscent of burning sardines. When I noticed the smell, someone else informed me that sanitation teams were cremating the remains of people who had died.
While talking with Mr. Okamoto, I sat up without thinking, owing to my respect for him. It was only after he left that I realized sitting up wasn’t painful. Can I stand if I can sit without pain? When I tried again after waiting until nobody was looking, the stitches in my hip pulled, so I was forced to lie down. However, this experiment inspired me with confidence. After the stitches were removed, I felt I could get back to my normal activities.
Dr. Hanaoka discussed the patients' condition in greater detail today. I was particularly impressed by one observation. The symptoms were nearly identical regardless of the type of injury. All the patients had a poor appetite, the majority had nausea and gaseous indigestion, and over half had vomiting. One man complained yesterday of a sore mouth. Today, multiple small hemorrhages started appearing in his mouth. This patient’s symptoms were more puzzling since he came to the hospital complaining of weakness and nausea but did not appear to have been injured at all. Patients began to show small subcutaneous hemorrhages this morning, and quite a few coughed and vomited blood in addition to passing it in their stools. An unfortunate woman was bleeding from her privates. None of these patients had symptoms we would expect, except for those who developed severe brain disease before death.
Then how could one account for my failure to hear an explosion, as well as the failure of others to hear an explosion, unless one assumed that a sudden change in atmospheric pressure rendered those nearby temporarily deaf? Could the bleeding that we observed be explained in the same way?
There was one last question I was almost afraid to ask. Rumors were circulating that Russia was entering the war against Japan and was invading Manchuria like a flood. The Lieutenant confirmed the rumor without going into further detail.
Later in the day news came out that Nagasaki had also been blasted in the same way as Hiroshima using the same weapon. Similarly, it had produced a bright flash and an audible noise as well. Pikadon was used as a new word in our vocabulary, although some people, like old Mrs. Saeki, who had been in the city at the time of the bombing, continued to use pika. Those who were traveling outside the city continued to call it pikadon. Ultimately, the latter won out. In the days following the bombing of Nagasaki, a man from Fuchu came in with the incredible story that Japan possessed a similar weapon, but it had been kept secret and had not been used because it was too horrific to mention. The man continued that the bomb had now been used by a Navy special attack squad on the mainland of America and that his information had come from no less a source than General Headquarters.
Imagine the chaos that would ensue if Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego were hit like Hiroshima! Japan has finally retaliated! Suddenly, everyone became cheerful and bright in the ward for the first time since Hiroshima was bombed. The people who had been hurt the most were the happiest. Some made jokes, while others sang the victory song. There were prayers for the soldiers. At this point, everyone was convinced the tide of the war had turned.
“It’s a miracle you’re alive. After all, an atom bomb explosion is a terrible thing.
“An atom bomb! Sitting up in bed, I shouted. There is a bomb I’ve heard could blow up Saipan, and it uses just ten grams of hydrogen.”
“That is true,” Ichiro replied. “I got my information from the naval hospital in Iwakuni where they are studying and treating Hiroshima victims who have some horrible disease.”
A second voice said, “Sunday isn’t the only reason so few people are around today. I was told that the people who have been coming to Hiroshima since the pika have fallen ill. Some have even lost their lives!”
“Yes, I heard rumors that a gas is loose in Hiroshima that will kill anyone who breathes it,” said another.
Pedaling in that direction, I was surprised to find the torii still standing, since the bomb was supposed to have exploded near the torii. All that remained was the medallion, but everything else in the area had either been destroyed or damaged badly.
I’m sure that you’ve heard about Hiroshima being hit by an atomic bomb?” Dr. Kitajima replied.
No one will be able to live in Hiroshima for the next 75 years.
There is nothing so unstable as a man’s mind, especially when he is fatigued. It doesn’t matter what direction one’s thoughts take, the mind is always active, always moving, sometimes slowly, sometimes lightning quick. Sometimes fused, sometimes separated, my mind was a mess of strength and weakness.
It took me a few moments to regain my bearings and I ran to the basement where others were congregating. As there were no hospital staff on sight, I realized I was setting a bad example and bringing shame to the hospital if I stayed. If death were to return to this hospital, I would be found in a ward. After regaining my composure, I left the basement and told everyone I found to get down there as quickly as possible and carry all those who could be moved. Then I took a station in the middle of the hospital. Those who remained looked out of their windows at the terrifying sounds of aircraft flying over the city.
Furthermore, we had no radio. For me, this was a blessing, because being without some of the so-called benefits of civilization, such as telephones, radios, newspapers, gave me a certain amount of freedom of spirit and action. Having lost everything in the fire and now being empty-handed wasn’t entirely without advantage. For the first time in a long time, I felt light-hearted.
After a moment, I thought the officer had lost his mind, but after I realized he had done the right thing and was incredibly brave and wise. Doctor, you are aware that the river at that point is deep and the current is swift. Many people drown each year trying to cross this river. Apparently, the officer tried to keep people from jumping into the river at that dangerous point.
“Even though the river is more than 100 meters wide on the bank of the park, fireballs were flying into the air from the opposite shore, and soon all the pine trees in the park were aflame. A fire would devour them if they stayed in the park, and a watery grave would await them if they jumped into the river. In a few minutes, they began to tumble into the river like dominoes. A large number of people jumped or were pushed into the river at this deep and treacherous point, and most drowned. I was astonished by the sight. As for me, I lay down in the river and sprayed water over my head when the heat from the licking fires became unbearable.”
I expected the broadcast to tell us to fight to the end, but this unexpected message left me shocked. This had been the Emperor’s voice reading the Imperial Proclamation of Surrender! Both my psychic apparatus and tear glands ceased to function. At the mention of the Emperor’s voice, I had come to attention, as had others in the room, and for a moment, we all remained silent and at attention. Suddenly, my eyes grew cloudy, my teeth chattered, and I began to sweat heavily. A chaotic scene suddenly broke out in the hospital, and nothing could be done. Many who were in favor of peace and others who lost interest in war after the pika were now shouting for war to continue. With the surrender now irrefutable and final, there was no soothing the people who had heard the news. When all was lost and there was no fear of further loss, they became desperate. I also felt the same way, fight to the bloody end and die. Is it worth living with a scarred body? If the choice was between living in shame and disgrace and dying for our country, wouldn’t it make more sense to die for one’s country? Surrender had caused a greater shock than the bombing of our city. Whenever I thought about it, the worse I felt.
As night fell, the “Double Zero” air force detachment of Hiro 1 passed out handbills that read, “Continue the war!” “Don’t surrender! When these tokens of resistance were brought in, news spread of an Imperial Fleet attack on the Shikoku Sea. This was considered good news by some, but I thought it was a show of bravado to satisfy a grudge by some of the younger officers. While many patients shouted joyously, I felt sorrow for those who chose death.
As I soon discovered, those who had been near the center of the ‘Never surrender’ explosion were at the highest risk of subcutaneous hemorrhaging, as were many of those who appeared to be healthy now showing petechiae. Due to the absence of itching or discomfort, I was baffled as to how the spots appeared.
In addition, I learned that people were looting and scavenging in Hiroshima.
My rounds began early. Despite significant decreases in deaths, one or two patients die each day, and in each instance, developed petechiae before death. Several outpatients were developing petechiae, and today, a new symptom presented itself. Losing hair was becoming common among many patients. My first thought was that if we had a microscope, we could examine their blood and find out what was causing their bad color.
The microscope was set up quickly and preparations for blood counts were made without delay. In our room, six of the six people had white blood counts of less than 3,000, which is about half of a normal count of 6,000 to 8,000.
There were some patients with a count of only 500-600, but the majority had around 2,000. A critically ill patient with a blood count of 200 soon passed away after his blood was drawn. Very quickly, it became evident that patients with low blood counts had the worst prognosis.
Our manager, Mr. Shiota, has been working at his post for the past few days. When he was able to walk, he showed up with two bags, each containing fifty packages of cigarettes. You can imagine our surprise and delight when he showed them to us – I don’t know where or how he got them. It never occurred to me that so much tobacco could be seen outside of a tobacco store, or that could get so many cigarettes. The packages remained on display for a while so we could enjoy the unexpected gifts. Smokers throughout the hospital breathed a sigh of relief. With a pack of cigarettes, a good, strong, working man can accomplish more. Our students' efficiency could be significantly increased as well. As long as we had cigarettes in abundance, we could do anything. In Hiroshima, this luxury was in high demand due to its barter value. Mr. Shiota’s abilities amazed us. A pack of Kinshi cigarettes cost 8 sen before the war, but during the war, an extra tax of 7 sen was added, bringing up the price to 15 sen. It later rose to 23 sen, and before the war was over, it cost 37 sen.
Since cigarettes were now worth more than money, I wasn’t the only one who took a few puffs and put them away before smoking again. Hiroshima’s ruins made money worthless, and cigarettes became a means of exchange. In Hiroshima, these 35-sen cigarettes will now bring between 300 and 500 sen.
I watched the people pick over the goods from my window. I learned there were many ways to take things. Some people glance furtively before taking something, whereas others take an article and look around afterward. A few would come up shouting and rummaging through the goods with an air of contempt and disdain, grabbing everything they touched and fleeing in haste. Human dramas like these seem to reflect the characteristics and training of people. Many people inquired about the goods after seeing them. I made a mental note to take care of how I behaved since these people made me feel there were still good people left in the world.
As if in answer to my silent prayers, military supplies arrived this morning. In addition to mosquito nets and blankets, it contained slippers and barrack shoes. I ensured the women received the latter. Not enough blankets were available for everyone, so I ordered them for the hospital and sent them to patients.
The 210th day was fast approaching, so a rainy spell was likely. The building quickly became thoroughly wet since there was no glass in the windows. Filthy water puddled on the floor, and bedding became humid and smelly. Mosquitoes and flies made us uncomfortable. As a result of my wounds, I had not bathed since I was attacked by the pika. My thigh wound still looked like the flesh had been scraped off like paper from a shōji. The accumulated sweat and fat on my arms and knees had an offensive smell, and I found myself despising myself every time they approached my nose. This morning was extremely humid and I was sweating profusely. After breakfast, I asked old Mrs. Saeki to help me sponge off the filth with hot water. Despite not having soap, I was able to remove dirt and filth stuck to my skin with just a little rubbing. I felt much better after the sponge bath. As I sat alone, I contemplated many things.
While I was on rounds yesterday, I realized that there had been no tetanus among those whose wounds were filthy. How could that have happened? Could we have missed tetanus because everything had been confusing and chaotic? Or had the pika destroyed the tetanus germs? I realized that I must try to answer this question.
Patients who passed away within the last two or three days all had been within less than a thousand meters of the hypocenter at the time the bomb exploded. Thus, it became evident to me that the closer one was to the hypocenter, the greater his chances of dying were.
In the middle of the night, Dr. Tamagawa interrupted my sleep to say he had found changes in every organ of the body he had autopsied.
Up until now, we had interpreted the low white count as characteristic of the disease, but it soon became apparent that it was only one feature of an illness involving both white blood cells and platelets. The absence of platelets caused hemorrhage, which was the immediate cause of death.
Since I hadn’t used this toilet for a few days, I was shocked to see how filthy it was. The toilet could scarcely be called one since it consisted of loose boards thrown across a long hole hewn in the ground. Half of this hole contained undigested feces, pieces of account books and medical journals, and even some pages of Krumpel’s Diagnostics, as well as dirty water from surface drainage caused by the heavy rain. One corner of the room was filled with a little frog perched under a large mass of straw matting, highlighting the total filth of the place.
Seeing that there was no one to talk to, I then went to bed, but the dampness of the bed made it impossible for me to sleep. Aside from that, I could not stop thinking about Mrs. Chodo’s baby. When I thought of her, I was reminded of other orphans left behind by the bombings. A girl aged eight now has the hospital as her only home because her only relative, her grandmother, had died. Two children, a thirteen-year-old and a seven-year-old had come to the hospital looking for their parents. Sadly, both their mother and elder brother were killed, leaving these children to live in the world alone. Mr. Mizoguchi took them in pretty much as his own. All of the doctors, nurses, and staff adored these children, who were pleasant, well-behaved, and intelligent.
A few old friends came by twos and threes, and we congratulated each other on surviving the blast.
We received the good news that Mrs. Okura was alive! The blast pinned Mr. Okura and his wife beneath the foundation of their house. After he had managed to extricate himself from the house, he heard Mrs. Okura scream for help, but before he could reach her, the house had become a blazing inferno, and he was forced to abandon his attempts to save her. Mr. Okura returned to his charred house after the fire subsided and found some charred bones near the spot where he had heard his wife’s voice. The bones were brought back by Mr. Okura, believing they were those of his wife, laid them upon the altar at the hospital in his wife’s honor. Mr. Okura brought the bones to the family home of his wife, where he found her unharmed and safe. A passing army truck picked her up and carried her to safety after she had escaped the burning house.
During the morning, I spent most of my time arranging papers and gathering statistical data to report our results. Unfortunately, I became confused again. In my eagerness to see the work finished, I neglected the actual work.
Now, this sounds like nonsense, but when the bomb exploded, I saw two parachutes falling. Twenty or thirty soldiers also watched in glee as they thought the B-29 had been shot down and the pilots were escaping. Several people had mentioned the beauty of the sky, including those as far away as Fuchu and Furuichi, but it was now that I could see the cloud clearly against a pristine blue sky. As this cloud formed, with its ever-changing color, Hiroshima was utterly destroyed. At this moment, Hiroshima city, the culmination of years of work, disappeared with her good citizens into the beautiful sky.
The closer to the hypocenter one is, the more severe the symptoms, and the farther away one is, the milder the symptoms. However, there were a few exceptions. Many of the patients in areas of the hypocenter were symptom-free, and their white counts were almost normal. I discovered the reason for each case by studying it individually. A reinforced concrete building, a large tree, or some other barrier had shielded these patients.
There was a term for the ruins in the city, people called them “the mines,” referring to articles of value buried in them. Some made a regular business of digging in “the mines of the town.” At first, I thought it was beneath a person’s dignity, but my interest grew as I thought about it.
During my rounds today, I heard two new rumors. In one, it was stated that people who came to Hiroshima after the bombing now developed radiation sickness. According to the other rumor, those who stayed in Hiroshima would become bald and die within a year. Although the population of patients continued to decline, the number that remained was either stable or improving.
The nostalgia of remembering how our incomes were taxed up to 80 percent in order to purchase these supplies for the military made us giddy. Perhaps taxes will not be so high now that the war is over. Neither of us thought about reconstruction. During our conversation, we became increasingly philosophic and optimistic. The thought of a better life in a peaceful country, with easier taxes, and without hard military police to lord it over us, made us happy late at night.
You needn’t worry about getting ill if you eat well. A patient whose appetite is good is less likely to die. Don’t forget that the best medicines are still rest and nourishment. Education cannot improve character. In the absence of law enforcement, it manifests itself. Education is a veneer, a plating. No matter how educated a person is, a man exposes his true character during times of stress. Inversion of the proverbs makes strength, justice, and birth more important than character. As a result, force rules the country.
I recovered from my stomach problems and my weakness so much lessened that I went to the mess room to get a pencil and some paper for myself. I intended to bring my diary up to date because, after perusing Mr. Yamashita’s writings, I hoped to avoid that confusion of thoughts with my prose and poetry that occurs when one doesn’t write down one’s thoughts often enough.
I mustered my courage and asked them in English: “How are you?” He offered me a cigarette as a response. After accepting it cautiously, he lit one for me before lighting one for himself. I was impressed by the cigarette’s appealing smell, as well as the pack’s red circle. Despite my weakness, I tried to show them as much of the hospital as I could. As we returned to the entrance of the hospital after looking around, they shook hands with me and, by way of parting. Those who were standing around laughed because “konnichiwa” is a Japanese greeting which roughly translates to “Good Afternoon” in English. As I laughed, the young officers did too. With big smiles on their faces, they got into their truck and waved until they disappeared.
When the Americans arrived today, I greeted them with a “good-bye” instead of a “how are you”. The joke was on me!
“I am a Buddhist,' I said, explaining that I had been taught to be resigned in the face of adversity since childhood. Although I have lost my home and my wealth, and I have been wounded, I consider it a blessing that my wife and I are still alive. I am grateful for this even though there was someone who died in every home in my neighborhood.” “I can’t share your feelings,” the officer replied, sternly. “If I were you, I’d sue the country.” He stared out the window for a while. Eventually, he and his party left. I told my friends what he said after he left. “Sue the country! Sue the country!" I repeated to myself over and over. However, no matter how many times I repeated it or how hard I tried, the statement was completely incomprehensible.
Thoughts of revenge can be overlooked and forgotten with the memory of these kind people, and there are moments that when I think of them, their still kindness warms my heart.