A Friday I won’t forget

My sister has a brain tumour.

It has its own blood supply, it’s on her left cerebrum and it’s in a hard to get at place.

I don’t even know if I want to be talking about this shit on here. I don’t even know what I feel except completely over-whelmed…

I found out on Friday when I was at work and I held it together during the day. Fortunately, there was enough inane stuff to keep me occupied and it wasn’t until I was on the bus coming home and I was alone with my thoughts that it all came crashing down. I totally lost it on the bus and arrived home a sobbing, snotty-nosed mess.

Then I spoke to her on the phone and I was trying to sound funny and matter-of-fact while we discussed what the doctor had said and what is going to happen now. But then I said I loved her and I lost it again.

She was actually holding it together much, much better than me. She’s actually more concerned about her ex finding out and him causing problems with the kids than her own health at the moment.

I’ve had a few stiff drinks over the past couple of days and I even cracked the seal on the bottle of Japanese plum liquor I bought back last year and was saving for something…I don’t know what though.

She’s going back to work on Monday because she doesn’t want to be sitting around the house with her thoughts and because she’s able to function at a reasonably normal level. She’ll be seeing a specialist and talking about attack plans soon. Until then, we don’t really know much more than what I’ve said.

Not yielding to the rain

There comes beauty

The news from Japan changes almost as quickly as I can write it, so I’ll stop doing updates of doom and gloom.

Instead I’ll talk about the good things that have come out of the darkness.

Japan is country that has had more than its fair share of disasters – both natural and man-made. It has had earthquakes, typhoons, war, tsunami, landslides, avalanches, volcanic eruptions, flood…repeatedly, ever since people have lived on that string of 6,852 islands that make up Japan.

In many ways, people are used to it. People have had to pick up the pieces again and again and they do it quietly and with the pride of having lived through yet another trial of faith.

Earthquakes have hit this area before – repeatedly. In fact, they generally happen every 30-40 years in a cycle. The last big one was in 1978. Before that it was 1936. Before that was 1897….and so on. Miyagi prefecture should be earthquake-free now at least until 2040.

I think it’s the geography of the land that encourages close-knit communities. Many towns and villages huddle together in the very limited land that can be built on. Large mountains separate these communities, giving different weather, different dialects, different food culture on either side. Yes, a lot of the time people are living in each other’s pockets, but when you need to depend on each other for daily life, such as now, that’s not such a bad thing.

I’ve had customers calling from unaffected areas of Japan wanting to offer help to those in affected areas. They don’t know each other and in many cases they are competitor companies, but they’re ready to offer anything they can.

Looting is also unheard of. People wait patiently in line for hours and hours for simple things. People share blankets, space in front of the stoves, anything they have.

I don’t think any other country would handle disaster with such grace.

And that’s reason #999 why I love Japan.

A clinical Japan update

The first Fukushima Nuclear Plant has four reactors. At the moment, 181 workers are at the plant trying to control the situation despite the high levels of radiation being emitted.  There are normally 800 people who work at the plant and all but 73 people were evacuated on the morning of March 15th. Since then, 108 workers have returned, knowing the risks, to try to contain the situation.

The level around reactors 1-3 was measured at 400 millisieverts/hour on March 15th. It has stayed at about that level since then.

In the number 4 reactor, the water level in the storage tank for the used fuel rods has fallen and radiation levels are so high that people cannot safely get near it. At the moment, workers are observing it using a monitor.

3rd reactor in foreground and smouldering 4th reactor in background

Workers wear a radiation suit, gas mask, helmet and a gieger counter and are limited to 37 minutes of exposure near the reactors. They have connected a fire extinguishing hose to the central storage unit and are pumping seawater in. When the engine runs out of fuel or there is some trouble with the pump, someone has to go and fix it.

Workers are unable to stay in the two control rooms nearest to the reactors as the radiation levels are so high. When they need to check the temperature or water levels, they have to suit up and go and check and then retreat to a safe distance once their 37 minutes are up.

The rubble from the explosion of the outer concrete buildings has also made things difficult. Some of the rubble has been moved from around the 2 – 4th reactors using a bulldozer to workers can gain access, but this rubble also contains radiative particles and so they do not want to move it more than necessary.

At 10:20am on March 16th, they measured 2399 millisieverts the front gate of the power plant. By 10:30am this had dropped to 1361 millisieverts.

8 train lines in the affected area, covering about 450km are totally out of operation and there is no estimate when they will become operational again. 150 sections of platforms are damaged, 100 sections of track have been raised or twisted and 3 whole stations have been washed away. The bullet train has resumed previously resumed operations to Nagano and to Nasushiobara from Tokyo.

3676 bodies have been found and 7845 people are still missing. Several local councils are looking at burying the bodies instead of cremating them due to short supplies of fuel.

Cars lining up for fuel several hours before the petrol station even opens

Good to see god has a sense of humour

In my inbox today:

Mail from the Multiple Sclerosis Society inquiring whether I’d like to part with $100 for a good cause.

How ironic.

Thanks for all the comments about my sister. The reasons I’m so concerned about her are:

(a) My father’s brother had MS and lived his life in a wheelchair in a high-care facility

(b) My sister is 37

(c) She is a single mum with two kids with special needs and a psycho ex-husband

(d) She’s my sister and I love her dearly

I think those are sufficient reasons, don’t you?

I’ve spent my last two days at work lugging furniture and crap from one side of the office to the other and getting slightly high from carpet glue fumes. Unfortunately, the fumes weren’t strong enough to make me happy about lugging furniture and crap around the place.

In between the lugging I’ve been talking with clients in Japan and finding out bits and pieces about the situation there and in between the lugging and the talking I’ve been covering for the chick who usually does the export shipping documents as she has a bun in the oven and didn’t want to be anywhere near glue fumes.

In between the lugging, talking and covering I’ve been worrying about my sister. Fortunately or unfortunately I’ve been too busy to dwell in those nasty little ‘what if?‘ corners of my mind.

She has been put on aspirin in case there are clots that didn’t show up on the CT and she is spending her days trying to learn how to write again. What really makes me angry though, is that there is a FOUR-FUCKING-MONTH wait to get an appointment to see a neurologist – and that is with private health care cover. I’d hate to see what the wait is without it…. It kind of does make me want to suck it up and find the $240 a month in the budget for private health cover for M and me though…

M had a lovely roast pork dinner waiting for me when I finally got home at 7:30pm tonight. He usually has a lovely dinner of something waiting for me every night and I feel totally spoiled.


So four days, numerous emails and phone calls later, I finally heard from my ex-hubby. He’s alive and well and somewhere far from home. Oh and he’s Japanese – just in case you forgot. He drives long-distance buses the length and breadth of Japan and I had all sorts of bad feelings when I first heard of the earthquake. Him having a dead battery on his mobile phone and no internet access did nothing to alleviate my anxiety.

I came home to an email from him today, sent from his recently charged mobile phone,

“I thought you might be wondering how I was…” it began. If it was any other situation I would have laughed, but as it was, I was just relieved.

“I was in Fukushima at the time of the first quake. Then I was on my way to Fukui prefecture and while passing through Nagano I got caught in the quake they had there. I thought the bus was going to tip over, it shook that much.”

So I immediately sent a text to my mum and sister as they’d been equally worried about him.

“You might want to call your sister, she’s not well,” came the reply from my mum.

Thinking it was a cold/flu/stress-related thing that she normally had, I sent my sister a text and asked her what was wrong.

“Had blood test, ct san, all neg. I have slurred speech, can’t write, coordination probs on left-hand-side.”


And WTF?

Turns out she can’t write and so can’t work. She is bumping into things and has lost her sense of balance. She is having trouble brushing her hair, holding a knife and fork, doing all the stuff that normal people are supposed to be able to do. She went to sleep normal on Saturday night and woke up Sunday broken.

My mum is looking after her kids while she stays with my grandmother. Since they’ve just about ruled out tumors with the CT scan (yes, you must say, ‘It’s not a tumor!’ in your best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression) now they’re giving her an MRI and testing for MULTIPLE FUCKING SCLEROSIS.

Does anyone know if it’s genetic? Because if it is, I’m so going to order those ten inch nails for the voodoo doll of my father.

Not happy Jan. Not happy.

Japan sadness continues…

The Prime Minister has just announced that the explosion at the power plant has only affected the outer structure – not the inner reactor itself – and was caused by oxygen mixing with hydrogen in the outer shell. At this stage, there is no immediate risk of radiation leaking out. They are still looking for a way to get the cooling systems working.

One reason there has been so much destruction in the worst-affected areas is due to the geography:

Kessennuma, the town at the bottom of the map above, used to look like this:

Today it looked like this:

The only thing that looks the same are the mountains in the background.

The idyllic village of Minamisanriku, just to the south of Kessennuma, looks like this in summer:

After the tsunami it looked like this:

You can see what used to be the river with the train tracks crossing over it. Of the 20,000 or so people who lived here, 10,000 are missing.

Around the Sendai city area, the geography is slightly different with large sections of re-claimed land that are used for farming and housing:

The affected areas actually stretch for several hundred kilometres down the coast and there has been a lot of damage from other earthquakes in the Niigata and Nagano prefectures.

Roads into all the affected areas have been severely damaged. 620 sections of road are impassable. Train tracks have been uprooted. The only way in and out of many areas is with helicopters that have a very difficult time finding a place to land.

Here on the ground of a school where 1000 people have taken refuge, they’re asking for food, water and blankets.

50,000 members of the self-defence force have been despatched to help with the recovery efforts. Phone lines are still cut and actually it’s very difficult to get through to anyone in Japan with the flood of calls on the phone network.

I’ve been able to touch base with most of my friends by email. Fortunately, I don’t have friends living in the worst-affected areas, but watching the destruction of places I’ve visited is heart-breaking. I’ve been anxious and teary since it happened and can’t seem to settle down or concentrate on anything.

My poor Japan…

As everyone who isn’t a shag on a rock should be aware by now, there has been a series of rather large (i.e. massive) earthquakes in the Tohoku region of Japan. I’ve spent most of yesterday and this morning checking on friends & clients and trying to get some decent information. As usual, the media circus is nauseating and English news sources aren’t being particularly accurate or useful.

The epicentre was 120kms east of Sendai city in the Pacific ocean – about 300 kms northeast of Tokyo. Areas worst affected in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures are circled in red.

I lived in the neighbouring prefecture, Tochigi for a total of 3 years, and of those three years in a small mountain village very near the prefecture border for 12 months. I often visited Fukushima & Miyagi and caught several ferries from their now washed-away harbours.

The airport being shown on the news is quite close to the coast and just south of Sendai city. You can just see the edge of the tarmac in the lower right-hand corner of the pic below:

There doesn’t appear to be a huge amount of damage in central Sendai city itself- with some damage to buildings and some fires caused by ruptured gas lines. The damage is concentrated in the smaller fishing villages and factories along the coast. The initial wave hit 15mins after the earthquake and was travelling at 40km/hr as it washed over the lower-laying areas.

Tokyo recorded level “5-strong” on the Japanese magnitude scale. The Japanese magnitude scale ranges from levels 1-7 and reflects how the earthquake felt & what happens to buildings and furniture. Miyagi prefecture was rated level 7 and surrounding prefectures 6 & 5. In Tokyo there was some damage to buildings and several people were injured from falling debris and furniture. All trains in the greater Tokyo metro area were stopped due to the continuing aftershocks and people were encouraged to spend the night in their offices or designated evacuation areas.

Many people chose to walk home or line up for hours for buses and taxis. I had an email from a friend in the early hours of this morning saying she’d just arrived home after her four-hour walk to her house on the eastern-side of Tokyo.

Several of the train lines in Tokyo have since re-opened, but many are still stopped.

It was the largest earthquake felt in Tokyo for quite some time. Although Japan experiences quakes on a daily basis, most are small and short and go relatively un-noticed. Anything level 3 and 4  is generally felt and people will stop and say, “Oh, it’s an earthquake” and carry on their daily business. Level 5 and ‘5-strong’ makes building sway quite dramatically and will knock things off shelves and walls, put cracks in walls, occasionally collapse ceilings and cause a variety of ‘low-level’ damage in buildings that are built with earthquakes in mind. If a level 5-strong earthquake happened in Perth I would imagine there would be huge damage as the building code is quite different.

This earthquake also continued for a very long 3 minutes making it very noticeable to people over a wide area.

Japan has a very good tsunami warning system with loud-speakers along the coast warning people to get to high ground as soon as seismic activity is registered. Messages are also flashed on the tv on all stations and radio announcements are made. However, people had only 15 minutes to get away from the coast before the tsunami hit, so it’s unlikely they had sufficient time.

The Sendai area is most famous for Matsushima, a very scenic area just off the coast that is dotted with 260 pine-tree covered islands and is designated as one the three most scenic spots in Japan along with Miyajima shrine and Amanohashidate land-bridge. Taking a cruise around the islands and then feasting on oysters is (was) a popular past-time for ten of thousands of visitors a year.

I can’t get any information about the damage here, but I would imagine that this area has been devastated by the tsunami.

An evacuation area of 10kms has been created around the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear power plant as the cooling mechanisms have failed and a back-up generator has been unable to be connected. They have released a pressure valve that has released steam containing small amounts of radioactivity. They’re working on connecting the generator to contain the situation.

Power and gas supplies are still cut off for 4.5 millions homes across Japan. There is snow falling in parts of the northern areas as it is still very much winter there. Water and sewerage have also been cut in the region.

The death toll as of 11:40 am Perth time stands at 1400 across six prefectures. Three whole trains travelling along coastal rail lines are still unable to be located/contacted. A boat washed out to sea with 110 people on board was found and all people aboard brought to safety. The number of missing people is still unconfirmed.

My prayers go out to all affected.