The moment he laid eyes on Shinzo Abe’s ashen face, Shingo Nakaoka knew that any attempt to revive the former Japanese premier was likely to be in vain.
By the time the 64-year-old doctor had rushed to the scene from his nearby clinic within minutes of Abe’s shooting on July 8, the stricken lawmaker’s face was bloodless from deep gunshot wounds to the neck.
“What struck me immediately was just how pallid his face was,” Nakaoka told Reuters by phone days after the assassination. “When we massaged his heart, his body didn’t twitch. He was barely conscious and he was just so pale, I knew immediately he was in critical danger.”
A physician at his namesake clinic, Nakaoka said he sprang into action when a patient who had been present when Abe was shot rushed in, panicked, shouting for him to come and help.
With his nurses, Nakaoka ran down the three flights of stairs and short distance to the scene. Someone who appeared to be from Abe’s entourage immediately handed him an automated external defibrillator (AED), but it did not turn on, he said.
One of his three nurses ran back to the clinic to fetch another machine.
When he hooked it up to Abe, a voice message from the AED said “not applicable”, Nakaoka said. That can happen when the heart is beating normally, or not at all.
The local fire department’s log released last week showed that first responders supposed Abe was in cardiac arrest within minutes of the shooting.
With no other recourse, Nakaoka took turns with his nurses to pump Abe’s chest manually.
With too much blood lost, there was little chance of resuscitation on the spot, he said.
“At the time, I was just so desperate,” Nakaoka said.
The 67-year-old Abe, who had been giving a pre-election campaign speech to support a fellow party member, was unresponsive throughout, Nakaoka said.
An ambulance arrived at 11.41 am., about 11 minutes after Abe went down, a Nara city fire department spokesperson said.
“It felt extremely long,” Nakaoka said. “He needed to get to a major medical centre fast, to stop the bleeding.”
The helicopter carrying Abe’s clinically dead body arrived at Nara Medical University Hospital – about 20 km (12 miles) away – at 12.20 pm.
“When I think back now, there are moments when I have no idea what my body was doing,” Nakaoka said. “What I remember very clearly is frantically praying for a miracle so that somehow, this man – who was irreplaceable for Japan, and the world – could be saved.”
Japan’s longest-serving prime minister was declared dead at 5.03 pm.