For the first few weeks of the new year, Sadako feels strong and healthy. One cold February day, though, as Sadako practices in the schoolyard, everything whirls around her, and she falls to the ground. Sadako tries to stand up, but she cannot. Her teacher sends her younger sister Mitsue home to fetch Mr. Sasaki.
Sadako has, for a time, been able to forget her worries in the happy light of the new year. However, just as it is not so easy for those around her to run away from the pain of the atom bomb, it is not so easy for Sadako to run away from the truth: something is wrong.
Mr. Sasaki leaves work and takes Sadako to the Red Cross Hospital. As they enter the building, Sadako is full of fear—there is a wing of the hospital, she knows, devoted entirely to patients sick with the atom bomb illness. A nurse x-rays Sadako’s chest and takes her blood. A doctor named Dr. Numata comes into the room and asks Sadako a lot of questions. The rest of the Sasakis join Sadako and her father at the hospital, and as Sadako overhears her mother talking to one of the doctors, she realizes the awful truth: she has leukemia.
Sadako is afraid, but just as she was fearful at the race and then found comfort in her parents’ reassurance, here she goes with her father and submits to many tests at the hospital to determine what is wrong. Her diagnosis—leukemia—is a symbolic reflection of the lingering effects of the atom bomb attack on Hiroshima, both on a practical, physical level and an emotional one.
A nurse named Nurse Yasunaga takes Sadako to a private hospital room and gives her a cotton hospital gown to wear. Sadako climbs into bed, and her family comes into the room to tell her that she must stay in the hospital for a little while. They all promise to visit her every day. Sadako, troubled, asks her family if she really has the atom bomb disease. Her father looks troubled and tells her that the doctors are still completing their tests, and need to keep her in the hospital for a few weeks. Sadako is sad, knowing she will miss her graduation into junior high school and will not be able to join the racing team.
Sadako meets Nurse Yasunaga, the first really comforting figure she’s met at the hospital. As Sadako is forced to settle into life there, Nurse Yasunaga will become a friend and confidante, helping Sadako as she comes to terms with the reality of her illness. For now, Sadako still seeks comfort from her family, who—though they love her deeply—are themselves so wracked with despair that they are unable to offer her true comfort.
Sadako’s parents fluff her pillows and offer to bring her anything she needs, but all she wants is to go home. She worries, knowing that many people who come into this hospital never come out. Nurse Yasunaga returns and sends Sadako’s family away so that she can rest. Once she is alone in the room, Sadako buries her face in her pillow and cries.
Sadako, who has grown up in a busy, loving household within a supportive community bound together by grief and responsibility, finds herself alone for the first time in her life—not just physically, but isolated emotionally and psychologically by her illness.