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Hibakusha: Despite dementia, A-bomb microcephaly patient remains full of memories

"Right now, I'm somewhere other than my house. Where is this? I want to go home."

    Kimie Kishi, 69, who is from the city of Miyoshi in Hiroshima Prefecture and lives with a condition known as A-bomb microcephaly, suddenly telephoned me last summer after being admitted to an elderly care facility following a diagnosis of suspected dementia.

    Kishi spoke in an agitated and tearful-sounding voice, and when I interjected to ask her questions, she just kept on going without answering them. Finally, she hung up.

    For many years, Kishi had been living on her own. Her weight dropped from more than 40 kilograms down to 36, however, and she became unable to recall whether or not she had eaten. She repeatedly shopped for the same foods, which began piling up in her refrigerator.

    Finally, a care manager who regularly visited Kishi's home recognized that something was off. Determining that it was dangerous for her to continue living alone, paperwork was filled out for her to enter the care facility.

    Unable to understand what was happening, Kishi became consumed with anxiety.

    On the bright side, an examination conducted in March this year did not reveal any brain atrophy. Her weight returned to what it had been before, and she appeared healthier-looking overall. Because of her exposure to the atomic bomb, she had always been prone to illness. The number of pills that she takes daily is being gradually reduced, because of the possibility that the large number that she's been taking was causing negative effects.

    Kishi walked using a cane when living at home, but now she depends on a wheelchair at the care facility. While she sometimes appears upbeat, a sad expression will suddenly cloud her face.

    "Even though I'm surrounded by people, I am alone," she says. "When I feel lonely, I remember things from the past."

    Kishi has become unable to express herself the way she wants to, and often struggles for words while speaking. While her recent memories are somewhat fuzzy, she remains able to discuss with clarity the story that she recounts having heard from her now deceased mother regarding her hibakusha experience. "I was exposed to the atomic bomb while I was still in my mother's womb," she explains.

    She also has additional memories that will likely never fade: being bullied as a result of the leg disability with which she was born due to her exposure to radiation in utero; and the grief she experienced as an adult when others told her that her head was too small.

    This year marks 70 years since the atomic bombing -- and 10 years since I first began interviewing Kishi. "You've certainly done your full share of speaking up and bearing witness, haven't you?" I ask her, in response to which her feeble-sounding voice suddenly perks up.

    "No, I haven't spoken up enough," she replies. "I was born with microcephaly as a result of the atomic bombing -- and I am not the only one."

    Kishi used to attend gatherings of a group called The Mushroom Club for people with A-bomb microcephaly, but she's lost touch with the other members. She is unable to get back in contact with them since she has forgotten how to use a mobile phone.

    "I wonder how everyone is doing?" she muses. "I want to see them, but I'm not doing so well these days."

    As she speaks these words, tears glisten in her eyes. (By Hiroko Tanaka, Osaka Cultural News Department)

    (This is Part 2 of a new Hibakusha series)

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