The (Un)Luckiest Guy on the Planet

24 Aug

I am indebted for the following to Sam Kean’s book THE VIOLINIST’S THUMB, an examination of DNA.

An August day in Japan. 1945. Mr. Yamaguchi, an engineer working for Mitsubishi, realizes he has forgotten something he needs for the office. So he heads home to retrieve it. On his way back he sees a plane high in the sky and a speck falling from it. He senses it is a bomb and drops to the ground. Seconds later the Atomic Age goes public. Amazingly Mr. Yamaguchi survives though his forearms are blistered where he has rolled up his sleeves. And he has suffered other damage, much of which has not manifested itself yet. He manages to get some minimal treatment at a clinic. But his chief concern is to leave Hiroshima and get to his home city to see if his wife is okay.

He tries to get to the train station across the river but the bridges are down. He makes his way over corpses and twisted girders and – again amazingly – finds a train which is going in the right direction. His wife, on seeing him, thinks he might be a ghost. But he convinces her it is really him. He spends the day resting up but the next day he reports to the main Mitsubishi office. He recounts to a supervisor what has happened in Hiroshima. He is scoffed at and disbelieved.

“You’re an engineer,” the supervisor says. “You know what you are describing is not physically possible.” Just at that moment the world starts to go white with a dazzling light. And Yamaguchi is first to the floor. Practise makes perfect. But he has taken even more damage. His hair falls out. He erupts in boils. We won’t catalog the rest. But think of what the unseen radiation is doing to him.

Yamaguchi is the only man officially recognized by the Japanese Government as having suffered and survived the double blast of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It takes years for him to recover properly. He and his wife take the risk of having two daughters, both of whom live fairly lengthy lives. And Yamaguchi? He dies at the age of 93 in the year 2010, surviving sixty five years of post atomic life. I wonder if Ripley ever got to hear about him.

On a different note – this blog will have to halt for the next month, it looks like. I have family affairs to attend to in the old country. And I won’t have much access to the internet. So, temporarily, things must pend (is that allowable?) until I get back and normal service renews. I hope you might care to browse amongst the archives of back posts….

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