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UCLA Pediatrician's Email from the Disaster Area

Kozue Shimabukuro is a UCLA pediatric critical care doctor who grew up in Japan and returned to her home country to help children after the March 11 disasters. She has been working north of Tokyo, in and around Yamada. This is her latest email to her UCLA colleagues, edited for context.

Via UCLA Today. Read more about Shimabukuro's travels in  articles from March 17 and March 22.

By Kozue Shimabukuro

Kozue Shimabukuro

I have been called back to Tokyo for two days. There is an emergency meeting of the Japanese Academy of Pediatrics and the chief secretary asked me to join the debate. They don’t realize that I didn’t bring any formal clothes. I gave all my clothes away to kids (I’m the perfect size for sharing with them. I knew my littleness would come in handy one of these days), so I only have a sweater, jeans and steel toed boots.

I have to buy a business suit and shoes, but Tokyo has a power shortage so all the stores close at 6 p.m. It’s going to be interesting tomorrow if I can’t get it on time. I wish I didn’t have to spend money on stupid suits so I could buy medicine for kids instead.

Members of Shimabukuro's pediatric team care for one of their small patients.

Members of Shimabukuro's pediatric team care for one of their small patients.

Our group (Japanese Academy of Pediatric Critical Care and Emergency Medicine) is one of the only pediatric-dedicated groups. Groups like the Red Cross and the government disaster relief team are mainly for adults. Other academies are starting to send out pediatric groups, though.

If you would like to donate specifically to a pediatric-dedicated group, please help us out. Your help will go towards medicine (like pediatric-specific medicine, liquid Tylenol, steroids, albuterol with spacers [assisted inhalers] … you know the medicine tabs [pills] are as big as their eyes! They can’t swallow that.). Also it will be used to send pediatricians to the disaster area (i.e. me). Please share this site with your friends and family: The Japanese Society of Pediatric Emergency Medicine's Special Committee for the East Japan Earthquake. Also I heard UNICEF had come to help somewhere in my country. Hurray! They are all about children.

Thanks for your help.

It’s freezing here with the temperature -7C, and I’m always so hungry. I had no idea how good I had it in California. I miss eating warm food (even the hospital cafe food sounds good right now). For me this has only been a week, but people in the area have been surviving this for two weeks. They don’t even complain about it. They are so orderly and they don’t ever show tears in public. They are so respectful and thankful to our staff and they bow to us everywhere we go. Their strength and determination keeps me going and make me want to serve more.

Shimabukuro's team, keeping their spirits up and meeting another medical team from the nearby university. Shimabukuro is pictured on the lower right.

Shimabukuro's team, keeping their spirits up and meeting another medical team from the nearby university. Shimabukuro is pictured on the lower right.

When I go to bed, I shed tears almost everyday. I keep thinking about those kids. What’s going to happen to them after we leave? Who is going to take care of them? Disaster relief teams are leaving one by one. They will be all gone by the end of April. Then what? The problems before us is so enormous, I feel so little and helpless. I can’t do anything by myself, but I do have ability to speak up to the world. It’s always been one of my talents to speak in public. I hope I can use everything I have to share what I really saw with everyone. The reality here is so heavy and tragic, but we all are determined to move forward and make our future bright. Hope is the only thing we’ve got right now.

I miss you guys so so much. Thank you for letting me be here. I know the manpower is short in the PICU [pediatric intensive care unit] without me. Thank you to all the fellows for picking up extra work. I’m not a hero as the newspapers make it sound like. I am frightened every time an earthquake hits (there are still so many earthquakes here), every time I have to drive by the ocean, every time I go to bed. But you guys make my work possible. I won’t let you down, I promise. Thank you for letting me focus on my mission. I know this is definitely the one of the biggest burdens I have ever carried on my shoulders. This makes my previous missions look all so easy. Thailand with landmines, Kenyan villages with tribe violence, Malaysian jungles with snakes ... maybe that was all practice for me to be prepared for this one.

Okay, I’m going to go prepare for tomorrow's conference. Wish me luck.