An ambulance is seen at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama to transfer patients from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to St. Marianna University Hospital on Feb. 6. (Photo: AFP)
A Catholic hospital in a working-class suburb of Japan's capital stands out for its exemplary service during the Covid-19 crisis.
St. Marianna University Hospital in the south of Tokyo willingly threw open its doors while other healthcare institutions refused to treat coronavirus patients.
Three months since treating the first batch of sick passengers from the cruise ship Diamond Princess, the hospital has extended medical assistance to 40 severe pandemic cases, according to a report by wire agency Reuters.
By mid-April, new cases in Japan had fallen and the East Asian nation had reached a comfortable position in facing the global pandemic. The country has confirmed 16,251 infections and 777 deaths.
When St. Marianna was treating a large number of patients in the early days of the crisis in February, hospitals — both private and public — faced problems including capacity constraints and a lack of specialized staff and protective gear.
Yasuhiko Taira, a medical school professor, told Reuters that the hospital was sticking to its “obligation to take in coronavirus patients who had nowhere else to go.”
“We told them [staff], yes, there’s a high chance you may get the virus, and since we’re doctors, we can’t do much about that,” 66-year-old Taira said. “If we ran away from this, who’s going to do it?”
In 2021, the hospital will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding.
St. Marianna's intensive care unit (ICU) currently has 11 patients. Their medical records are made up of an array of numbers and acronyms. Staff are briefed while changing shifts.
Dressed like astronauts, the staff attend to green, yellow and red zone wards, while relatives wearing surgical masks wait in allotted spaces in the hospital.
“It’s common to see no change for weeks and then for the patient not to make it,” said Shigeki Fujitani, the 54-year-old director of the ICU
According to hospital staff, 80 percent of intubated patients fail to recover.
A slow recovery rate is always a concern for doctors, Fujitani said, while recalling the incident of an ICU doctor who committed suicide in New York after seeing dozens of deaths in her hospital.
The staff wear two layers of gloves, a face shield, a respirator mask and multiple plastic gowns. An iPad is used by doctors to write official death certificates.
On the notice board inside the St. Marianna hospital, consent forms to trial experimental drug Avigan are displayed. Next to them is a handwritten letter from a bereaved family member.
“For all of you who worked under the risk of infection, with your own fear and worries, our entire extended family would like to express our gratitude for all that you have done,” the letter said.
Yasunobu Tsuda, a critical care nurse whose wife is preparing to resume duty as a midwife after maternity leave, said that “work takes its toll.”
“You go home, and the first thing you want to do is hug your child at the door, but you can’t,” he says.
Tsuda wears a mask at home these days. “I don’t think my child even knows my face yet.”