Two brothers fighting words and tears over their mother’s post-passage treatment stunned Kashmir at a time when COVID graph is surging and making hospitals jam-pack houses. Amid their torment, a Samaritan’s advent saved the situation for the sorrowing siblings.
By Mir Faizan
AS their departed mother lied unattended and wrapped in a loose sheet, two grieving sons broadcasted their agony on social media through a harrowing video
Decrying the hospital apathy and a ‘new protocol’ denying plywood coffin box to COVID victims, they expressed helplessness over the decent farewell to their mother.
Over the phone, Srinagar magistrate was trying to console the sorrowing siblings, while a police officer on the spot was fighting tears over their plight.
But when everyone seemed helpless, a volunteer from Srinagar’s Bemina stepped forward with the much-needed compassionate support.
By the time Sajad Khan who heads a group volunteers for COVID burial in Kashmir received a call for help, the viral issue had already shocked the valley.
His group of volunteers isn’t unknown to anyone, as since the beginning of COVID health crisis in Kashmir, they’ve been acting on distress calls and helping quarantined families to bury their boxed “martyrs”.
But what happened at SKIMS on July 15 even shocked them.
The dead body was lying in a loose sheet and to carry that, a dirty and dented stretcher was provided.
“These volunteers act promptly on these cases,” said a medico, who previously sought the group’s help in burying a COVID victim.
“Even SKIMS ambulance drivers know these volunteers. If some mindless protocol was indeed making it impossible for them, they could’ve easily averted the crisis by simply dialing the group’s helpline number and come to the rescue of the mourning brothers.”
But as the situation became a distressing crisis, Sajad Khan mounted on his bike and arrived in SKIMS for playing his routine role.
Between his arrival and the siblings’ viral torment, the family’s nine-day long ordeal at SKIMS had already captured the searing struggle for COVID patients and their family members in health centres.
Mourning his beloved mother’s departure, Tanveer Makhdoomi—who was seen in the viral video breaking down over the state of affairs at SKIMS—recalled how his mother’s four-day-long fever and cough sent her to the hospital, where her Chest X-ray showed bilateral Pneumonia.
She was shortly declared as a COVID positive patient.
“My martyr mother was a brave woman,” Tanveer told Kashmir Observer. “She knew the viral infection was a part of life now, but what troubled her was the hostile hospital treatment towards COVID patients at SKIMS.”
On July 8, 2020, she was shifted to COVID clinic managed by junior doctors and nurses. Senior doctors, Tanveer said, were nowhere to be seen.
“Our mother was medically fit with no previous comorbidities,” said Rameez Makhdoomi, Tanveer’s journalist brother.
“Besides our family is well aware that COVID still has no treatment, but from giving Remdesivir, Plasma therapy to Toclizumab, we tried all.”
What shocked the family was the “cluelessness” of the COVID-designated staff in the hospital.
“The junior doctors were consulting us, as if, we were doctors,” Rameez continued. “It looked awkward. They should’ve sought advice from their seniors.”
Amid these twists and turns, their mother kept fighting for her life.
“The abysmal behaviour reached pinnacle after her demise,” Rameez said. “Even after following every SOP and protocol, and waiting for three hours, we were provided half broken dirty stretcher and no coffin.”
Tanveer recalled his visit to SKIMS’ Control Room where, he said, he was treated as some “unwelcomed and unwanted” person.
“I was told by a bunch of giggling boys and girls there that new protocol doesn’t allow coffin, helpers, and ambulance to COVID patients,” he said.
“Although I had already tasked some people to prepare a final resting place for my mother, the hospital wanted me to take my mother in a community casket and thereby exposing the entire neighbourhood to infection! We were also told that no one will aid or guide burial process and that we should do it on our own, with four or five family members. This insensitivity enraged us.”
After that, Tanveer, “for the first time in his life”, was forced to upload a video on social media — wherein he can be seen decrying the apathetic attitude of Kashmir’s tertiary care hospital.
“Sensing trouble, SHO Soura arrived on the scene. He was fighting his tears over our plight. Even he was helpless due to the hospital protocol,” Tanveer said. “I also received a consolation call from DC Srinagar, Shahid Choudhary.”
It was during this distressed hour, Sajad Khan arrived as a helping hand.
Along with brothers and some family friends, Sajad went to the Makhdoom Sahab area — where the family graveyard is nestled on a hillock.
“Sajad came as an angle for us at that moment,” Tanveer recalled. “He accompanied us and ensured the proper burial with full Islamic rituals.”
On his part, Sajad termed the incident as a pressing emergency which needed a prompt response.
“My team of 20 volunteers always remains ready for handling such crisis,” he said.
“We act on a phone call. But the SKIMS incident demanded an immediate response. That’s why I didn’t wait for my team and went myself. But yes, I didn’t do any favour for the family. We’re into this crisis together. And therefore, we must fight it together by becoming each other’s support.”
But after drawing a raging flak and fury, SKIMS came up with an official statement, wherein it gave itself a clean chit.
“When the patient in question expired, it was conveyed to District Administration and Health authorities by control room SKIMS, Nodal officer as well as Medical Superintendent,” the statement said.
“Delay in receiving team from concerned officials created anxiety among patient attendants when SHO Police Station Soura was contacted to receive dead body from SKIMS.”
SKIMS did away with providing ambulance, coffin and people for burial, as “they’re not part of a protocol,” the statement said.
But after passing through the harrowing experience, the Makdoomi brothers are questioning the existing norms which even make the decent burial a tormenting experience for the departed person’s family.
“By providing dirty stretcher, expecting already grief-hit family to do burial and carry coffin-less body on their own, the SOP for dead body seems to have been reduced to zero SOP in Kashmir now,” Rameez said.
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