Centenarian doctor Shigeaki Hinohara, who passed away on July 18 at age 105, witnessed numerous historical events firsthand.
One of them was the 1970 hijacking of Japan Airline flight 351. Hinohara was on board the hijacked plane. He later said he checked his pulse when one of the hijackers drew out a sword and thought to himself, "I'm a doctor to the bone," though his pulse was fast.
The first experience of suffering for Hinohara at St. Luke's International Hospital was the 1945 bombing of Tokyo. Severely injured people loaded on trucks were carried to the hospital one after another like baggage. Many of the some 1,000 patients could not fit in the building and hospital staff members were unable to perform sufficient treatment. They had no medication, and had to use powder made from burned newspaper to absorb secretions from patients.
Half a century later, Hinohara encountered the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack as the director of the hospital. Behind his decision to suspend regular medical practices that day to accept all patients being carried in from the incident was the memory of the wartime bombing of Tokyo. The hospital, newly built at the time, had oxygen supply equipment in the hallway and other places, as suggested by Hinohara, and was able to accept a large number of patients in case of an emergency.
Still, the biggest historical event Hinohara experienced perhaps was Japan becoming a longevity society. He helped preventive medicine take root in society by establishing thorough physical checkups and advocating the concept of lifestyle diseases. Hinohara presented this cultural revolution of medicine throughout his life.
Hinohara's first patient was a young girl. He had regretted until the very end of his life not being able to sooth her when she said goodbye as she sensed her time was approaching because he was too busy trying to extend her life.
What does patient-centered medicine truly mean? Hinohara's lifelong question has now been posed for the world to answer. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)