We emptied our COVID ward two days ago.
Trusting the world’s incompetence at learning and planning, I am fully aware we will have to reopen it in some time. Still, an empty ward is a sight I never imagined could be this pacifying.
The Covid Ward in Shaheed Hospital, Dalli Rajhara, Chhattisgarh saw an overwhelming number of stories with all possible outcomes during the last two and a half months. The stories are not different from what you saw on TV and lived too because I am sure someone from your family also struggled for breaths. Their scripts though, have more content than stories elsewhere.
The number of patients we lost in April-May exceeded twice of what we lose in an entire year. The number of people we had to turn away exceeded the numbers we treated. What made it worse was knowing that the person I am denying admission was not going to get admission elsewhere too. The injustice that laughed at a patient dying inside the ward due to delayed admission and no vaccination, laughed harder at the patient who was turned away from the hospital’s gate.
There was less time to treat, even lesser to mourn and literally no time to let it all sink in.
In a short period of time, I have moved from being terrified to be numbed by the flow of patients in and out of the mortuary.
On one such night of numbness, standing outside the mortuary and gazing at the corpses through a narrow window, I happened to realize there were few additional chambers.
The lowermost chamber was for the corpse of Humanitarian Politics. She had died well before the pandemic set in but I saw her ready for the last rites for the first time. She was all bones and no skin and it looked like vultures have had their fun with her. She had a heart which was cut open from the middle and eyes that were left untouched.
The chamber adjacent to it was for Global Solidarity. He was kept suited up in Armani, for his last wish was to look good at the outset even after death. A thousand pages of conspiracy theories kept bundled near his head, he had shoes brought from UN’s office. The suit covered the cracks he had in his skin, the shoes covered gangrenous feets. People whisper it was a suicide.
The chamber above had Scientific Temperament lying in a rugged coat. He lived a secret life in India, kept working silently and the moment he tried to come out, he was lynched to death. Witnesses say he screamed a lot. But no one came to help. Sad.
The chamber next to it had Social Solidarity. She had clothes of all colors. All blood stained. She was stabbed multiple times on news channels for days and ultimately died of shock. No method of resuscitation worked.
The smallest chamber in the corner had no corpse but a hefty bunch of papers. They were the political commitments of health. They were very neat and beautiful. I hope they get mummified and discovered later sometime in future.
Above that, was Privilege. He helped people reach faster than anyone else to the ERs, move to multiple ERs too. He did his best to cover political goof ups and inequities. But he died too, for he was very fragile in his making and there is a limit to stealing someone else’s oxygen. To be honest I wasn’t much sad about this chamber.
One of the chambers at the top had Trust. He gave a long fight. A tough fight. But succumbed to internal injuries. He tried to keep the doctors and patients together. He tried to make people believe that healing is a process of equal participation. But he suffered progressive ischaemia and gave up.
Besides these, there is a heap of corpses lying behind the mortuary. Difficult to identify, it has all the dreams of equities in healthcare lying dead. Poisoned, perhaps. Not sure whether they will find a space inside the mortuary or not. Will see in sometime.
Do these corpses let other ones lie peacefully even in a mortuary? This whole sight, will surely take some time to settle in my head and heart.
In a rural-tribal area like ours, mortuaries do always have these extra chambers. Its just that they almost never make it to a national register. The moment a patient is received in the ER or OPD, his/her chances of survival become a function of all the factors that contributed to the death of above deceased entities. Every step of the treatment then, becomes a fight with injustice that has been done and being done to the patient. In a privileged urban setting where all the demigods of healthcare and politics visit so often, these fights find no space.
The struggle to provide quality care in difficult areas goes on in its traditional way, only this time the pandemic catalyzed the rate at which it consumes it participants.
This makes me mention another chamber in the mortuary. The topmost one. Its still empty. It is reserved for my Faith and few other silly things. My faith that all this, is meant for something better in future. My faith, that those who died were not all sinners and the people who lost someone have something good coming there way. That universe will compensate for this in some way. My belief that all the efforts, regardless of the outcomes will make society learn something.
A hope that this last chamber remains empty just like our Covid Ward.