Pune doctor recalls how coronavirus has also attacked emotional bonds

Siddharth Gadkari
Saturday, 25 April 2020

Virus knows no religious affiliations, socio-economic strata or political lines when it infects a person. However, the coronavirus has taken a different dimension by breaking emotional bonds and has made people heartless.

Pune: Virus knows no religious affiliations, socio-economic strata or political lines when it infects a person. However, the coronavirus has taken a different dimension by breaking emotional bonds and has made people heartless.

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has set up a system for the cremation of the COVID-19 dead bodies within four hours. Earlier, it was taking a long time. PMC Assistant Health Officer Dr Kalpana Baliwant, who is handling the COVID-19 dead body management, shared some unusual and unexpected incidents with Sakal Times.

Commenting on the current epidemic, she said, “I used to manage dead bodies during the H1N1 outbreak. But this situation is very different and difficult. From crematorium staff members to families of dead persons, everyone is under threat. Duty, emotions and life are at stake. I never experienced such a situation to date in my career.”

Narrating a heart-wrenching incident, Dr Baliwant said, “Being a mother of two children, I will never ever forget an incident, which I experienced recently. A COVID-19 person died a week ago. After completing formalities at the Sassoon Hospital, our staff members transported the body of an old woman to the Vaikunth crematorium. Her two sons were present at the crematorium and were waiting for the body. 

After it arrived, our staff members requested the sons to help them remove the body from the van. Both of them refused to touch the plastic-covered body packed as per the central government guidelines. Our staff called me up and told me about that. I offered the sons PPE kits so that there could be no fear of infection in their mind. Yet they refused to help the staff and told me on a phone that it was the duty of my staff and PMC was paying for that. I was shocked. How could they refuse to lift their mother’s body?”

She narrated yet another incident, where the son refused to claim his mother’s body and told the civic administration to cremate her and refused to accompany the staff.

Giving details about the initial hiccups in the dead body management, she said, “There was a lack of coordination among the different departments when the first COVID-19 death happened in the city. PMC had received the guidelines before the first death. Later, we conducted sessions for our staff and instructed them to follow the norms strictly.”

“The staff was also helping. However, when the number of deaths started increasing, the staff started showing reluctance. Following continuous counselling, they started working without any hesitation and fear. We spray sodium hypochlorite on the body and cover it with yellow plastic with a ziplock,” Dr Baliwant added.

Explaining the procedure of how a COVID-19 dead is cremated, Dr Baliwant stated, “We inform their family members. If they don’t claim the body, we take a call and cremate the dead. If family members are quarantined or kept in an isolation ward, we take a written NoC to cremate the dead person. Earlier, family members used to be reluctant to be present in the crematorium, now they come.”

“Three NGOs are helping PMC in this process. We have set up a central control room for better coordination and communication. We have formed two WhatsApp groups - COVID-19 last ritual (for government hospitals) and COVID-19 crematorium (private hospitals),” she concluded. 

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