Nagesh Waghmare (56), a Class IV employee of the civic-run Yeshwantrao Chavan Memorial (YCM) Hospital, recently performed the last rites of a deceased person though he had no ties with the man, who had succumbed to Covid-19. Relatives of the patient had refused to get involved in his last rites.
Waghmare said he was on the first shift in the hospital when he was told to take the body of a Covid-19 patient to the crematorium located on Pimpri-Chinchwad Link Road.
The patient had died the previous day and his body was kept at the mortuary on YCM Hospital compound.
Usually, four YCM employees have the task of carrying bodies to the crematorium. But on that day, three deaths had already taken place at the hospital, so the ward boys appointed for this job were busy.
“First, I faced the problem of carrying the body to the ambulance… I approached the relatives, but they got busy on their phones and moved away. Then I had to convince the ward boys to help me take the body to the crematorium. Somebody then helped me put the body on the stretcher and carry it till the ambulance,” said Waghmare.
Two ward boys sat next to the driver while Waghmare sat next to the body. “I had to ensure that the body didn’t move when the ambulance came across potholes or speed-breakers,” he said. “… I had to take care of the body, as no relative was ready to step inside the ambulance. After all, he was a human being…. I tried to call the relatives, but they acted as if they did not hear me,” he added.
Two relatives of the deceased, on a two-wheeler, followed the ambulance to the gates of the crematorium.
When it was time to pull the stretcher out of the ambulance and carry it till the crematorium for the final rites, the driver and ward boys were hesitant to help. Waghmare said when he pleaded with the relatives to step forward, they simply walked away.
The crematorium is located about 150 metres from the gate. “… To move the body, we needed at least six people. Only three of us had PPE… the driver didn’t have it… we somehow managed to lift the stretcher and carry it till the electric crematorium…,” said Waghmare.
Since no close relatives were present, Waghmare had to perform the last rites. “The presence of relatives is very important …It is only after the relative says the body belongs to them that the cremation is performed. I had to perform the last rites and then handed over the body the crematorium worker…,” he said.
Waghmare said relatives of Covid-19 patients, who have died of the infection, are often scared of coming close to the bodies. “Forget about last rites, they don’t even want to come close to the bodies. They all stand at a distance and then disappear,” he said.
PCMC’s official photographer Devdutt Kashlikar, who was also at the spot, said, “It was a shocking sight. There were no relatives in the vicinity when the individual was to be cremated. And no one was there when the last rite was performed… I had no PPE gear, otherwise I would have helped.”
Dr Rajendra Wable, dean of YCM Hopsital and Medical College, said, “I have learnt about the incident…It is unbelievable. That particular day, we were also facing manpower shortage.” Dr Wable said fear about contracting the virus from the body was misplaced. “… The body is tightly packed in double-bag plastic. And after the cremation, the virus is completely destroyed as the body turns to ash,” he said.
PCMC Additional Municipal Commissioner Santosh Patil said,”People need not panic so much and become insensitive. We need to take care but should also remain humane and sensitive.”
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