Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Norman I. Hirose Interview
Narrator: Norman I. Hirose
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: July 31, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-hnorman-01-0029

<Begin Segment 29>

TI: And so how did you and the other men pass the time?

NH: Well, I would work. I went to the clinic, and I had a job at the, I got a job at the clinic. And the reason I got a job at the clinic is that they looked at my record and says, "Oh, you used to work in the hospital at Topaz." Said, "Yeah." "Well, we need a clinic, assistant in the clinic." So I said, "Oh, sure. I'll do that." So I'd get up in the morning and get dressed and go, go to the clinic.

TI: So you said the food was, was good.

NH: Yeah.

TI: In terms of medical facilities, how did the medical facilities compare between Santa Fe and Topaz?

NH: Oh, both were good, yeah. When I worked at the hospital -- and I'm going back to Topaz now -- I worked at the hospital right out of high school. Not out of high school, even before I graduated high school, summertime jobs and things like that. And I was working in the hospital warehouse, and the head nurse came down to me and said, "We need an assistant in surgery," and I said, "Sure, I'll go to surgery." So I went to surgery, and I got my friend Howard, he lives in San Mateo. Anyhow, he, I said, "Howard, why don't you go take my job at the, in the warehouse, and I'll go to surgery?" And I worked as a surgical nurse for almost a year, yeah.

TI: That's interesting. So what kind of procedures were done in Topaz that needed surgery?

NH: Oh, in the summertime, I was there two summers, we did tonsillectomy. You get six kids, line 'em up, you know, "Okay, come on," [makes sound effect]. Take 'em back, get another one, we did that. But I wasn't, all I did was hand instruments to the doctor and clean up the mess afterwards. And then we would wash all the instruments and get all the linen cleaned and get it ready for the next whatever it is. Appendectomies, Dr. Goto did a lot of exploratory, you know, mostly cancer patients. And he says, "Well, what can you do? Nothing to do." Let's see, there was one thyroid thing, and oh, there was one girl, hakujin, a white girl, came to visit -- no, she didn't come to visit us. She was riding on a bus outside somewhere, and she stuck her hand out and she smashed her arm against a telephone pole or something like that. Then they didn't know what to do, so they rushed her -- well, no use going to Delta, 'cause there's nobody in Delta could do anything like, there weren't any doctors there that could do that kind of surgery. So they rushed her to our, to Topaz, and the doctor at Topaz, the head doctor was an administrator, he didn't know how to do surgery. But Dr. Goto says, "I'll do it," and he took care of that. That was in the middle of the night. I had to get up and go to, go to the hospital, they came knocking on my door and says, "Come on, you got to go to surgery now." [Laughs] "Okay."

TI: Okay, so you had all this experience in Topaz. And then so in Santa Fe, it was similar types of things? Assisting doctors?

NH: Well, it was the day, every morning he had a clinic. People got, didn't feel good, something or other.

TI: So it wasn't surgery or anything...

NH: Well, he did one appendectomy when I was there, and it was, his procedure was so much more different. This was Dr. Tanaka, and Dr. Tanaka is from Portland, Oregon, and he was an older man. And his procedure was, to me, old fashioned. Dr. Goto is from USC, and he'd just gotten out of USC a couple years ago, before. So his was quick and simple, and the procedure was entirely different. But anyhow, that's, I learned a lot.

TI: But it's interesting how it was, essentially, the inmates who were the doctors.

NH: Oh yeah, yeah.

TI: And so it was whatever he got. So you worked in the clinic...

NH: And then in Santa Fe they found out that I was, worked in the hospital in Topaz, so they said they wanted somebody in to help with the, help the doctor at the clinic. I said, "Sure," and I worked there. So that's what I did all the time while I was there.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.