Photo/IllutrationBooklets based on interviews with patients about their lives (Mitsuru Fujii)

  • Photo/Illustraion

TONAMI, Toyama Prefecture--Patients with little time left to live at a hospital here say having staff transcribe their stories and comments has helped them make the most of what might otherwise be an exceedingly grim period.

Eight years ago, the municipal Tonami General Hospital started putting leaflets in its ward that asked patients, “Can you tell us about your life?”

Since then, nurses and volunteers have been interviewing patients to get to know them on a more personal level and to leave records of their lives and thoughts for their families.

They say doing the interviews breaks the ice with those they care for and helps them speak more often with patients.

In autumn 2009, when she took a training program, Naomi Matsubara, 61, the hospital's head nurse, heard of an activity where elderly patients and others with diseases were interviewed and had their replies printed in booklets.

She decided to start something similar with volunteers at her own hospital as she felt strongly that “nurses working at the ward were too busy to figure out what patients actually see as important.”

With her colleagues, Matsubara did 10- to 30-minute interviews with patients willing to join the project in their hospital rooms. After four or five rounds of interviewing each patient, they compiled their results into booklets.


One interviewee, a man in his 80s with cancer given six months to live, said he couldn't stop thinking about what he should tell his family in his last words.

However, after speaking with the interviewer about his love for his wife and his time working in a district forest office, he appeared to be coming to terms with his life as a whole in a positive manner.

Afterward, the man, who regularly visited the hospital for chemotherapy, organized a philosophy study session at his home, hospital officials said.

Despite his six-month diagnosis, the man continued living for eight years.

“Cancer enabled me to live ‘the fourth movement’ of life,” he told Matsubara just before he died in March. “Living is tough but great.”

Yukio Fujitsuka, an 88-year-old former elementary school teacher who is one of the volunteers in the project, has interviewed 30 patients.

Around the time he began volunteering, his wife, Miyoe, was diagnosed with cancer and told she had a year and a half to live.

Miyoe, who had written about 300 letters to the editor for newspapers, asked Fujitsuka to publish a book featuring her compositions.

Determined to record her words as well, Fujitsuka told a nurse to “take notes of her muttering and anything else she says.”

Miyoe died in December 2012. Her nurse's notes show her words, uttered just before her death: “The nurse loves hide-and-seek. Quickly hides when found. Stay with me more, stay with me more. You really love hide-and-seek.”

Fujitsuka made booklets detailing Miyoe's words and how he took care of his wife, and distributed them to relatives.

“Our loved ones continue living even after their death,” Fujitsuka said. “This booklet embodies what my wife was about.”


Six booklets are made in the project with five given to the patient and one kept at the hospital. Booklets for 40 patients have been created to date, which nurses can read.

“Finding out the ways our different patients live makes us reflect on our attitude toward them,” said Noriko Ando, 52, a nurse in charge of the interview project.

According to Ando, since the introduction of the program, nurses have been spending more of their time talking with patients in their rooms.

This type of interview project is said to have been effective at medical and care-giving facilities and elsewhere not only in helping interviewees recover emotionally but in helping the interviewers grow more mature as individuals.

Ryohei Amano, a professor emeritus of health science at Kanazawa University, who teaches the interview activity to nurses and others, showed staff at Tonami General Hospital how to interview patients and write down their words.

“They (at the hospital) showed that if just one person changes and feels better because of the interviews, the effects spread among others and brighten up the overall atmosphere,” Amano said.